The ideal Energeia


Manet - Bar at the Folies Bergere

I was unfair to Proust in my last post and he took sweet revenge; the last few hours of reading have left me with that delightful rapture which comes from dips into nostalgia and musing. Some of the most provocative passages in these volumes are so because they seem to me to be like portals: small windows through which I can glimpse a heaving sea waiting to be explored, experienced, overwhelmed by. Frequently, these portals open onto questions on art:

I had been able to apprehend the strange summons which I should henceforth never cease to hear, as the promise and proof that there existed something other, realisable no doubt through art, than the nullity I had found in all my pleasures and in love itself, and that if my life seemed to me so futile, at least it had not yet accomplished everything.

Or:

it is not true that those elements--all the residdum of reality which we are obliged to keep to ourselves, which cannot be transmitted in talk, even from friend to friend, from master to disciple, from lover to mistress, that ineffable something which differentiates qualitatively what each of us has felt and what he is obliged to leave behind at the threshold of phrases in which he can communicate with others only by limiting himself to externals, common to all and of no interest--are brought out by art, the art of Vinteuil like that of Elstir, which exteriorises in the colours of the spectrum the intimate composition of those worlds which we call individual, but which, but for art, we should never know.

I was walking through the Morgan Library's exhibit of Rembrandt's etchings and then through those spectacular halls of wealth and grandeur, and I was thinking that there must be nothing more challenging and yet more fulfilling than to be an artist. To be able to put outside of your own head something that you have felt or seen or loved or been repulsed by, to make it with your own hands, conceive it with your own mind, and then find it realized in the great open space of the world, no longer in your control but still entirely representative of some facet of your mind: how terrible and how yet how wonderful!

I used to want to be a muse, I think thats fairly common, but I also think that was a cop-out because I am terrified by the idea of true artistic capacity. Skill is something I can understand, in my brief sallies in different media (intricate embroidery, miniature fantastical drawings, pencil shaded views), I have always been able to execute quite easily. I am, however, fickle with my media and quite generally uninspired. No specific form of art persists for very long and I instead fall back on those easiest of "arts," writing sloppily. (This is another of my constant debates: the lack of curation or even editing in the way so many people write today).

But I long to have that crystallization of an idea, and then the meticulous and at times furious execution of it, and that final horrified pride at having created something that was supposed to be powerful and other, but has only ended up as some awful mannequin of a thought you're now sick of and never want to encounter again.

I feel a bit like Sartre's Roquentin, who, at the end of his upheaval of reality and perception and existence seizes upon the buoy we always have at hand:

Couldn't I try...Naturally, it wouldn't be a question of tune...but couldn't I, in another medium? ...It would have to be a book... A story, for example, something that could never happen, an adventure. It would have to be beautiful and hard as steel and make people ashamed of their existence.


The mind loves to close up when it is confronted with the greater, and I think this tendency has become even stronger today when there is just so much to divert one's attention from the abyss of dark thoughts that are clouded and confused and clothed in mystery. Even if we seize upon some piece of the puzzle, what is to be done with it? How is our truth, our gleaming shard of light, how is that communicated to another mind, itself dimmed by quotidien cares?

I imagine that the truly creative life would feel at times like the performance of a detailed autopsy on one's own living self: taking the bright scalpel to a memory and pulling it apart delicately, laying its parts out on the dry canvas and then glossing them over, re-arranging, blurring edges and fading out some of the pain felt in the process of taking something so intensely personal and bringing it into light and air.

There would also be pride, the hubris of one who has been able to step outside of himself and to bring a piece of himself along. The hubris of one who has created.

But I speak too much of a certain thread of the creative process, I know nothing of the ease of creation, that felicitous talent bestowed upon certain people who I will always envy no matter how hard I try not to. To be able to create, to express a thought in some way that persists, that is a gift that humanity often takes for granted, one which it never, ever should. It is the one activity that strives to build bridges and stride gulfs. It's the connectivity of the entire world, of the infinitude of individual, unknown little worlds.