Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Progress is not the aim, but circulation

Approach to the poem must be from afar off, even generations off. A reader should close in on it on converging lines from many directions like the divisions of an army upon a battlefield. A poem is best read in the light of all the other poems ever written. We read A the better to read B (we have to start somewhere; we may get very little out of A). We read B the better to read C, C the better to read D, D the better to go back and get something more out of A. Progress is not the aim, but circulation. The thing is to get among the poems where they hold each other apart in their places as the stars do. - Robert Frost

Monday, June 18, 2012

Georg Büchner - the action of his art

     Büchner’s theme may indeed be the hopelessness of social and political life and, even further – as we shall see in Woyzeck – the degradation of the self in a world of outrage, but the action of his art has nothing to with categories like pessimism and optimism. His art is in fact a testament to an indestructible, if “impractical” and non-utilitarian, confidence.
     The point is that to make imagination speak like this in the face of despair about life is to perform an action that is as much a part of life as any other, and is therefore, in the most paradoxical-seeming way, an act of faith. More than that, Büchner’s alternative to history – which is what imaginative art might be thought of – constitutes his triumph over the very forces that on the level of sheer physical experience cause him to despair. In writing Danton’s Death Büchner added to life a new fact which is both a recognition of disaster and a cure for thinking it all there is. Like the classic writers of tragedy, he leaves us not in despair but in possession of a means for confronting what would otherwise have killed us behind our backs. - Richard Gilman

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The gaze we knew as a child

“People who look for symbolic meaning fail to grasp the inherent poetry and mystery of the images,” writes René Magritte, and I could not agree more. Nevertheless, this requires some clarification. There are really three kinds of images. First, there are those seen with eyes open in the manner of realists in both art and literature. Then there are images we see with eyes closed. Romantic poets, surrealists, expressionists, and everyday dreamers know them. The images [Joseph] Cornell has in his boxes are, however, of the third kind. They partake of both dream and reality, and of something else that doesn’t have a name. They tempt the viewer in two opposite directions. One is to look and admire the elegance and other visual properties of the composition, and the other is to make up stories about what one sees. In Cornell’s art, the eye and the tongue are at cross purposes. Neither one by itself is sufficient. It’s that mingling of the two that makes up the third image. - Charles Simic

Monday, June 11, 2012

The phenomenon of stickiness

An infant, plunging its hands into a jar of honey, is instantly involved in contemplating the formal properties of solids and liquids and the essential relations between the subjective experiencing self and the experienced world. The viscous is a state half-way between solid and liquid. It is like a cross section in a process of change. It is unstable, but it does not flow. It is soft, yielding and compressible. Its stickiness is a trap, it clings like a leech; it attacks the boundary between myself and it. Long columns falling off my fingers suggest my own substance flowing into the pool of stickiness. Plunging into the water gives a different impression. I remain solid, but to touch stickiness is to risk diluting myself into viscosity. Stickiness is clinging, like a too-possessive dog or mistress. - Jean-Paul Sartre

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Art & Spiritual Practice

Human beings fall rather easily into the consciousness of purposeful action: "I want this, so I will go get it." "I need this." "I have to do that." "If I don't do this, something bad will happen and I will die." Such is the basic murmur of mammalian consciousness. Spiritual practices (along with other basic lineaments of human culture, of course) are in part a set of techniques to free a person from unquestioning enslavement to that imperative mind. They allow us to look around, to step back and see things as they are, to apprehend thoughts, impulses, concepts as part of the larger whole. Art does this as well, and art plays a role in a human life that is probably not unrelated to spiritual ritual. Both stop you in your mammalian tracks and let you see and know your life through larger eyes and ears.

- Jane Hirshfield

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Rhythm as so much of art (and life)

Ex. the first stanza of The Second Coming by Yeats:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

vs it rewritten in regular iambic pentameter:

The falcon turns and turns in a wider gyre.
He cannot hear the cry of the falconer.
The center of the cosmos cannot hold.
Mere anarchy is let loose on the world.
The tide that's dimmed by blood is loosed.
The ritual of innocence is drowned.
The best have lost their firm convictions.
The worst are full of fierce intensity.

- via Carl Dennis