Thursday, May 29, 2014

Dickinson's God vs Herbert's God

Did Our Best Moment last—
'Twould supersede the Heaven—
A few—and they by Risk—procure—
So this Sort—are not given—

Except as stimulants—in
Cases of Despair—
Or Stupor—The Reserve—
These Heavenly Moments are—

A Grant of the Divine—
That Certain as it Comes—
Withdraws—and leaves the dazzled Soul
In her unfurnished Rooms

- Emily Dickinson

This is an extremely daring version of a topic, a line of feeling, common enough in poets like Herbert and Vaughan, with this difference: that Herbert especially goes out of his way to make God's case sound reasonable if not generous. Emily Dickinson's God is a shrewd doctor with a certain interest vested in illness. He plays life and illness against one another, adjusting the proportions of each with a view to keeping himself in business, prolonging life only to the extent of ensuring a constant supply of bodies susceptible to illness. And the dazzled soul after each session of stimulation finds herself back in a "deep but dazzling darkness." And her room is bare. Emily Dickinson merely "gives the facts" without any comment except that implied by their choice and disposition. But by placing them halfway between the particular and the general, she makes it impossible for us to shrug them off either as loose generalizations or as exceptions to a divinely benign rule. - Denis Donoghue

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Fish Magic by Paul Klee


Fish Magic is inspired by the theatre, or more probably the puppet theatre. Curiously, Klee has pasted a separate piece of canvas to the left center. The resemblance between a fish tank and a stage did not escape Klee, who has fostered it by a hint of curtain at the top left corner, and by the odd little figures who look out from inside the proscenium opening. But this is no ordinary aquarium, nor stage, inhabited as it is by fish, plants and celestial bodies all together. Their timeless world is observed by two ‘representatives’ of the human race, and is invaded by time in the shape of two hour-glasses and a steeple clock lowered into the scene in a net or fish trap…the additional piece of canvas represents a zone of time, through which fish pass indifferently but which alters the character of the principal human figure, whose head it divides into halves. This little person with two faces looks solemn on the left within the human time-scale, joyous on the right within the time-scale of the natural world. Klee’s work shows many such analogues of divided humanity, contrasted with the unitary laws of nature. - Douglas Hall

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Truth and Repose

God offers to every mind its choice between truth and repose. Take which you please, - you can never have both. Between these, as a pendulum, man oscillates. He in whom the love of repose predominates will accept the first creed, the first philosophy, the first political party he meets, - most likely his father's. He gets rest, commodity, and reputation; but he shuts the door of truth. He in whom the love of truth predominates will keep himself aloof from all moorings, and afloat. He will abstain from dogmatism, and recognize all the opposite negations, between which, as walls, his being is swung. He submits to the inconvenience of suspense and imperfect opinion, but he is a candidate for truth, as the other is not, and respects the highest law of his being. - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Friday, May 2, 2014

Constantly vigilant technique and the foretaste of discovery

     Inspiration, art, artist–so many words, hazy at least, that keep us from seeing clearly in a field where everything is balance and calculation through which the breath of the speculative spirit blows. It is afterwards, and only afterwards, that the emotive disturbance which is at the root of inspiration may arise. . . Is it not clear that this emotion is merely a reaction on the part of the creator grappling with that unknown entity which is still only the object of his creating and which is to become a work of art?
     Step by step, link by link, it will be granted him to discover the work. It is this chain of discoveries, as well as each individual discovery, that give rise to the emotion . . . which invariably follows closely the phases of the creative process.
     All creation presupposes at its origin a sort of appetite that is brought on by the foretaste of discovery. This foretaste of the creative act accompanies the intuitive grasp of an unknown entity already possessed but not yet intelligible, an entity that will not take a definite shape except by the action of a constantly vigilant technique. - Igor Stravinsky