Never Mind All of That

The previous post now seems premature. Sitting here at work I was just visited by the ghosts of beloved books past. I was listening to an npr recording of an interview with Edward Mendelson on his book Seven Novels and Why They Matter (haven't read this but am now going to).

During the interview they read a passage from Woolf's Between the Acts, that brilliant passage where she describes the toad-choked snake--the "birth the wrong way round--a monstrous inversion."

There are so many memories of reading moments--the moments when words on a page become so much more, when you feel that grip on the heart and a resonance in the mind--as if somehow, mysteriously, a group of words written in fire and gold have been found interleaved in your own oft-dull mind.

I remembered beautiful passages written by A.S. Byatt, the description of the color of a plum or the shore with the Van Gogh boats and burning salt-sand. And then I remembered the wind and rain in the Brontes, and how much I learned as I read through all of their books, Anne, Emily, and my beloved Charlotte. And Dylan Thomas and Hemingway and Flaubert. And rediscovering poetry.

For me, it's the words that matter, the words and their ability to invigorate. Its just a question if they're enough.

Never Mind All of That

The previous post now seems premature. Sitting here at work I was just visited by the ghosts of beloved books past. I was listening to an npr recording of an interview with Edward Mendelson on his book Seven Novels and Why They Matter (haven't read this but am now going to).

During the interview they read a passage from Woolf's Between the Acts, that brilliant passage where she describes the toad-choked snake--the "birth the wrong way round--a monstrous inversion."

There are so many memories of reading moments--the moments when words on a page become so much more, when you feel that grip on the heart and a resonance in the mind--as if somehow, mysteriously, a group of words written in fire and gold have been found interleaved in your own oft-dull mind.

I remembered beautiful passages written by A.S. Byatt, the description of the color of a plum or the shore with the Van Gogh boats and burning salt-sand. And then I remembered the wind and rain in the Brontes, and how much I learned as I read through all of their books, Anne, Emily, and my beloved Charlotte. And Dylan Thomas and Hemingway and Flaubert. And rediscovering poetry.

For me, it's the words that matter, the words and their ability to invigorate. Its just a question if they're enough.

Futility

[Vermeer: Woman Holding a Balance]

One of the morning's first groggy thoughts was that I really needed to write some apologetic note on my blog for the utter lack of creativity, interest, and volume to my writing of late. And that I am going on a self-imposed hiatus, at least until something changes and I'm breathing a little more freely.

But then I opened Man Without Qualities to where I left off last night (Hagauer has sent Agathe the letter telling her that he absolutely cannot agree to divorce, and then Agathe and Ulrich have a discussion wherein Ulrich does not say the correct things and Agathe leaves in a whirlwind of despair and defeat). As Agathe is wandering and trying to lose herself in her surroundings to forget her hurt, she encounters a man (or is encountered by). He says to her:

'It's a modern superstition to overestimate the personal. There's so much talk today about cultivating one's personality, living one's life to the full, and affirming life. But all this fuzzy and ambiguous verbiage only betrays the user's need to befog the real meaning of his protest. What, exactly, is to be affirmed? Anything and everything, higgeldy-piggeldy? Evolution is always associated with resistance, an American thinker has said. We cannot develop one side of our nature without stunting another. Then what's to be lived to the full? The mind or the instincts? Every passing whim or one's character? Selflessness or love? If our higher nature is to fulfill itself, the lower must learn renunciation and obedience!'

All it takes is a passage like that to prick my mind and bring some energy back to it--so while I may not have much to say anymore, I can at least repeat the words which make me sit up straight and remember the questions and problems that used to occupy me all day long.

Futility

[Vermeer: Woman Holding a Balance]

One of the morning's first groggy thoughts was that I really needed to write some apologetic note on my blog for the utter lack of creativity, interest, and volume to my writing of late. And that I am going on a self-imposed hiatus, at least until something changes and I'm breathing a little more freely.

But then I opened Man Without Qualities to where I left off last night (Hagauer has sent Agathe the letter telling her that he absolutely cannot agree to divorce, and then Agathe and Ulrich have a discussion wherein Ulrich does not say the correct things and Agathe leaves in a whirlwind of despair and defeat). As Agathe is wandering and trying to lose herself in her surroundings to forget her hurt, she encounters a man (or is encountered by). He says to her:

'It's a modern superstition to overestimate the personal. There's so much talk today about cultivating one's personality, living one's life to the full, and affirming life. But all this fuzzy and ambiguous verbiage only betrays the user's need to befog the real meaning of his protest. What, exactly, is to be affirmed? Anything and everything, higgeldy-piggeldy? Evolution is always associated with resistance, an American thinker has said. We cannot develop one side of our nature without stunting another. Then what's to be lived to the full? The mind or the instincts? Every passing whim or one's character? Selflessness or love? If our higher nature is to fulfill itself, the lower must learn renunciation and obedience!'

All it takes is a passage like that to prick my mind and bring some energy back to it--so while I may not have much to say anymore, I can at least repeat the words which make me sit up straight and remember the questions and problems that used to occupy me all day long.

The Multiversal "I"

[Amy Cutler's Army of Me (found here)]

There's nothing like a snowstorm to make me lament the fact that I no longer have snow days, snow pants, a fireplace (with my father who would make fires every day of the year, if he could), and a bowl of stew shared with my family. I found myself lapsing into daydreams all day long, revisiting the multitude of snowstorms, with their ice forts and sledding and accidents, moving from those memories to the tree forts and childish projects and plans.

And then I had a dentist appointment, which involved an awful lot of drilling, and found myself lying in the dentist's chair, mouth open, pain intensifying, and absolutely blindsided by a rush of of the past. I don't know if the drilling had something to do with it, or if it was an attempt to turn from thinking about how uncomfortable I was, but I felt like my present self was becoming unravelled, diffused into the past or set adrift.

It was uncanny and disorienting and I began to think again about the idea of an accumulated self and about the trajectory of life and the image of the individual as a sort of constellation of selves. It just seems so mysterious, the way we live and think and act. So little like the purposeful progression that is generally described.

Perhaps it's something personal to me, but I don't feel very distant from the smaller self I was remembering during the snowstorm. I have acquired some shinier trappings, and a few gleaming ideals, maybe even learned some lessons, but the same core of being still resides deep within.

It may be time to read Woolf's Orlando again...

The Multiversal "I"

[Amy Cutler's Army of Me (found here)]

There's nothing like a snowstorm to make me lament the fact that I no longer have snow days, snow pants, a fireplace (with my father who would make fires every day of the year, if he could), and a bowl of stew shared with my family. I found myself lapsing into daydreams all day long, revisiting the multitude of snowstorms, with their ice forts and sledding and accidents, moving from those memories to the tree forts and childish projects and plans.

And then I had a dentist appointment, which involved an awful lot of drilling, and found myself lying in the dentist's chair, mouth open, pain intensifying, and absolutely blindsided by a rush of of the past. I don't know if the drilling had something to do with it, or if it was an attempt to turn from thinking about how uncomfortable I was, but I felt like my present self was becoming unravelled, diffused into the past or set adrift.

It was uncanny and disorienting and I began to think again about the idea of an accumulated self and about the trajectory of life and the image of the individual as a sort of constellation of selves. It just seems so mysterious, the way we live and think and act. So little like the purposeful progression that is generally described.

Perhaps it's something personal to me, but I don't feel very distant from the smaller self I was remembering during the snowstorm. I have acquired some shinier trappings, and a few gleaming ideals, maybe even learned some lessons, but the same core of being still resides deep within.

It may be time to read Woolf's Orlando again...

Acting

[J. Whistler: Symphony in Flesh Color and Pink: Portrait of Mrs. Frances Leyland]


Is there such a thing as reverse vertigo? I can't walk through these streets anymore without feeling a little dizzy, the distance of everything above me mysteriously growing more ominous and uncomfortable.

I'm into Volume II of Man Without Qualities and it has taken a slightly unexpected turn, resulting in passages like:

'When did we ever lie with our faces in the dust, so that it was bliss to be uplifted? Or try to imagine literally being seized by an idea--the moment you were to feel such a thing physically you'd have crossed the border into insanity! Every word demands to be taken literally, otherwise it decays into a lie; but one can't take words literally, or the world would turn into a madhouse! Some kind of grand intoxication rises out of this as a dim memory, and one wonders whether everything we experience may not be fragmented pieces torn from some ancient entity that was once put together wrong.'

This book is gaining in stature for me, and quickly moving to my highest tier of "books to be read throughout life." It's just so majestic and complicated, and such a joy to read.

And just as I (dangerously) identify with Frau Chauchat in Magic Mountain, there's an overwhelming part of me that wants to cast myself in the role of Agathe, Ulrich's sister. Come to think of it, I seem to always be drawn to the inwardly active, outwardly inactive heroines -- Lucy Snowe as well.

Perhaps its a craving for leisure and laziness, for a detachment from the bustle of things -- a craving for quiet, limpid days where thoughts don't have to come erratic and fiery, as forced through the narrow channel of a stifled and constricted mind, but can rather pool and swirl together, allowing for greater depth and reflection.

Or perhaps I would just like to experience more often the state of mind described here:

Sometimes they strolled in the garden, where winter had peeled the leaves from the bare shrubbery, exposing the earth beneath, swollen with rain. The sight was agonizing. The air was pallid, like something left too long under water. The garden was not large. The paths soon turned back on themselves. The state of mind induced in both of them by walking on these paths eddied in circles, as a rising current does behind a dam, When they returned to the house the rooms were dark and sheltered, and the windows resembled deep lighting shafts through which the day arrived with all the brittle delicacy of thinnest ivory.

Acting

[J. Whistler: Symphony in Flesh Color and Pink: Portrait of Mrs. Frances Leyland]


Is there such a thing as reverse vertigo? I can't walk through these streets anymore without feeling a little dizzy, the distance of everything above me mysteriously growing more ominous and uncomfortable.

I'm into Volume II of Man Without Qualities and it has taken a slightly unexpected turn, resulting in passages like:

'When did we ever lie with our faces in the dust, so that it was bliss to be uplifted? Or try to imagine literally being seized by an idea--the moment you were to feel such a thing physically you'd have crossed the border into insanity! Every word demands to be taken literally, otherwise it decays into a lie; but one can't take words literally, or the world would turn into a madhouse! Some kind of grand intoxication rises out of this as a dim memory, and one wonders whether everything we experience may not be fragmented pieces torn from some ancient entity that was once put together wrong.'

This book is gaining in stature for me, and quickly moving to my highest tier of "books to be read throughout life." It's just so majestic and complicated, and such a joy to read.

And just as I (dangerously) identify with Frau Chauchat in Magic Mountain, there's an overwhelming part of me that wants to cast myself in the role of Agathe, Ulrich's sister. Come to think of it, I seem to always be drawn to the inwardly active, outwardly inactive heroines -- Lucy Snowe as well.

Perhaps its a craving for leisure and laziness, for a detachment from the bustle of things -- a craving for quiet, limpid days where thoughts don't have to come erratic and fiery, as forced through the narrow channel of a stifled and constricted mind, but can rather pool and swirl together, allowing for greater depth and reflection.

Or perhaps I would just like to experience more often the state of mind described here:

Sometimes they strolled in the garden, where winter had peeled the leaves from the bare shrubbery, exposing the earth beneath, swollen with rain. The sight was agonizing. The air was pallid, like something left too long under water. The garden was not large. The paths soon turned back on themselves. The state of mind induced in both of them by walking on these paths eddied in circles, as a rising current does behind a dam, When they returned to the house the rooms were dark and sheltered, and the windows resembled deep lighting shafts through which the day arrived with all the brittle delicacy of thinnest ivory.

The Full Circle

img21

[Karen Elson in a W Mag editorial, by Mert Alas and Marcus Piggot]


I just realized that I've hit a milestone of sorts... I have now been a blogger for one full year. Is this the sort of thing I can start putting on my CV?

Thank you to everyone who takes the time out of their busy, interesting lives to read what I have written and comment so thoughtfully. It's been a lovely conversation.

The Full Circle

img21

[Karen Elson in a W Mag editorial, by Mert Alas and Marcus Piggot]


I just realized that I've hit a milestone of sorts... I have now been a blogger for one full year. Is this the sort of thing I can start putting on my CV?

Thank you to everyone who takes the time out of their busy, interesting lives to read what I have written and comment so thoughtfully. It's been a lovely conversation.

Indecision

[Redon, as always: The Red Sphinx]


It's funny--I keep opening this "create post" window, typing a few lines of garbage, deleting the whole thing, and then staring at the screen, wondering where the thoughts have gone.

I used to form new little theories of art or thought or life, mostly fluff, but occasionally quite pleasant to contemplate and try and flesh out.

Lately, the only thing I've been thinking of that provides any sort of thrill is what I tend to call the cultivation of detachment. I've had a few fantastic conversations with friends about how so many people are completely unwilling to talk about ambiguous concepts like faith or hope or wonder because they seem spineless and archaic, or perhaps just sentimental and trite.

I have also been interested in genius/greatness, as I always am, and so, at the risk of covering well-trod ground, I'm quoting Nietszche, from Beyond Good and Evil:

Everything that is profound loves the mask: the profoundest things have a hatred even of figure and likeness. Should not the CONTRARY only be the right disguise for the shame of a God to go about in? A question worth asking!—it would be strange if some mystic has not already ventured on the same kind of thing. There are proceedings of such a delicate nature that it is well to overwhelm them with coarseness and make them unrecognizable; there are actions of love and of an extravagant magnanimity after which nothing can be wiser than to take a stick and thrash the witness soundly: one thereby obscures his recollection.

Many a one is able to obscure and abuse his own memory, in order at least to have vengeance on this sole party in the secret: shame is inventive. They are not the worst things of which one is
most ashamed: there is not only deceit behind a mask—there is so much goodness in craft. I could imagine that a man with something costly and fragile to conceal, would roll through life clumsily and rotundly like an old, green, heavily-hooped wine-cask: the refinement of his shame requiring it to be so. A man who has depths in his shame meets his destiny and his delicate decisions upon paths which few ever reach, and with regard to the existence of which his nearest and most intimate friends may be ignorant; his mortal danger conceals itself from their eyes, and equally so his regained security. Such a hidden nature, which instinctively employs speech for silence and concealment, and is inexhaustible in evasion of communication, DESIRES and insists that a mask of himself shall occupy his place in the hearts and heads of his friends; and supposing he does not desire it, his eyes will some day be opened to the fact that there is nevertheless a mask of him there—and that it is well to be so. Every profound spirit needs a mask; nay, more, around every profound spirit there continually grows a mask, owing to the constantly false, that is to say, SUPERFICIAL interpretation of every word he utters, every step he takes, every sign of life he manifests.

(This passage is one of the ones that sticks most firmly in my mind--it is so rooted in myth and seems so personal that i can't help but return to it again and again--my quoting N. is also probably largely due to his presence in Man Without Qualities)

So I guess my essential questions are:

What is the shame?
Does genius arise from detachment?
Does genius require passion?
How do passion and detachment work together?
Are these questions highly individual?
Why do we need to believe in genius and/or greatness?

(Throw in necessary questions to argue the definition of "shame" "detachment," "passion," "individual," and "genius.")

Some additional questions:

Why do I want belief, hope, and wonder to be the greatest things in life?
Why do I wish for more mystery and silence?
Why does part of me equate the above with sentimentality?

And to mitigate the above, I end with this wonderfully snide description of Expressionism, courtesy of Musil:

There was also something known as Expressionism. Nobody could say just what it was, but the word suggests some kind of squeezing-out; constructive visions, perhaps, but inasmuch as the contrast with traditional art revealed them as being destructive, too, we might simply call them structive, which commits one to nothing either way, and a structive outlook sounds pretty good.

Indecision

[Redon, as always: The Red Sphinx]


It's funny--I keep opening this "create post" window, typing a few lines of garbage, deleting the whole thing, and then staring at the screen, wondering where the thoughts have gone.

I used to form new little theories of art or thought or life, mostly fluff, but occasionally quite pleasant to contemplate and try and flesh out.

Lately, the only thing I've been thinking of that provides any sort of thrill is what I tend to call the cultivation of detachment. I've had a few fantastic conversations with friends about how so many people are completely unwilling to talk about ambiguous concepts like faith or hope or wonder because they seem spineless and archaic, or perhaps just sentimental and trite.

I have also been interested in genius/greatness, as I always am, and so, at the risk of covering well-trod ground, I'm quoting Nietszche, from Beyond Good and Evil:

Everything that is profound loves the mask: the profoundest things have a hatred even of figure and likeness. Should not the CONTRARY only be the right disguise for the shame of a God to go about in? A question worth asking!—it would be strange if some mystic has not already ventured on the same kind of thing. There are proceedings of such a delicate nature that it is well to overwhelm them with coarseness and make them unrecognizable; there are actions of love and of an extravagant magnanimity after which nothing can be wiser than to take a stick and thrash the witness soundly: one thereby obscures his recollection.

Many a one is able to obscure and abuse his own memory, in order at least to have vengeance on this sole party in the secret: shame is inventive. They are not the worst things of which one is
most ashamed: there is not only deceit behind a mask—there is so much goodness in craft. I could imagine that a man with something costly and fragile to conceal, would roll through life clumsily and rotundly like an old, green, heavily-hooped wine-cask: the refinement of his shame requiring it to be so. A man who has depths in his shame meets his destiny and his delicate decisions upon paths which few ever reach, and with regard to the existence of which his nearest and most intimate friends may be ignorant; his mortal danger conceals itself from their eyes, and equally so his regained security. Such a hidden nature, which instinctively employs speech for silence and concealment, and is inexhaustible in evasion of communication, DESIRES and insists that a mask of himself shall occupy his place in the hearts and heads of his friends; and supposing he does not desire it, his eyes will some day be opened to the fact that there is nevertheless a mask of him there—and that it is well to be so. Every profound spirit needs a mask; nay, more, around every profound spirit there continually grows a mask, owing to the constantly false, that is to say, SUPERFICIAL interpretation of every word he utters, every step he takes, every sign of life he manifests.

(This passage is one of the ones that sticks most firmly in my mind--it is so rooted in myth and seems so personal that i can't help but return to it again and again--my quoting N. is also probably largely due to his presence in Man Without Qualities)

So I guess my essential questions are:

What is the shame?
Does genius arise from detachment?
Does genius require passion?
How do passion and detachment work together?
Are these questions highly individual?
Why do we need to believe in genius and/or greatness?

(Throw in necessary questions to argue the definition of "shame" "detachment," "passion," "individual," and "genius.")

Some additional questions:

Why do I want belief, hope, and wonder to be the greatest things in life?
Why do I wish for more mystery and silence?
Why does part of me equate the above with sentimentality?

And to mitigate the above, I end with this wonderfully snide description of Expressionism, courtesy of Musil:

There was also something known as Expressionism. Nobody could say just what it was, but the word suggests some kind of squeezing-out; constructive visions, perhaps, but inasmuch as the contrast with traditional art revealed them as being destructive, too, we might simply call them structive, which commits one to nothing either way, and a structive outlook sounds pretty good.

Hibernation

N05805_9

[Samuel Palmer: Coming From Evening Church]


I was fortunate enough to have some spare time in DC last Friday to visit the National Gallery. I absolutely love that museum, and have found myself missing it lately, especially as I attempt to swallow my quick-to-flare frustration at the crowds in most NY museums. The thing about the National Gallery that I love is that it rarely feels crowded to me. On Saturdays, perhaps, and during the Cezanne exhibit definitely, but last Friday afternoon was just perfect.

The Rembrandt exhibit was, above all, instructive, often presenting multiple states of the etchings/drypoints/etc. which allowed for new comparisons, and on my part, some close scrutiny of details. I've never played around with the drypoint method but am finding myself to be quite mesmerized by it, even the little museum-made placards made it sound lovely--the little curls of copper like soft riverbanks alongside the deep marks made by the stylus. You could also see the difference in the amount of ink wiped from the plate and the effect that would have on the composition (like Rembrandt's Three Crosses which was shown in a series of four states, each with a different amount of ink left on the plate)

I toured the British Romantics exhibit next, where the crowd was smaller, despite two fantastic Blake images, some fine Rossettis and Burne-Jones, and a handful of Samuel Palmers which I loved. I found out about Palmer quite a few years ago when I was visiting London. We were at the Tate Britain (another of my favorites for museum-going experience, though the Pre-Raphaelite rooms are always mobbed) which had a small exhibition of British prints and drawings, including many of Palmer's. I love the rustic, deeply spiritual and symbolic quality to his images, drawing of course from Blake, but reminding me also of Gauguin's Breton paintings and classic storybook illustrations.

I finished this quick tour with the very interesting exhibit on Netherlandish diptychs. I have a soft spot for Northern Renaissance art and loved these intimate little pieces. Many of them were displayed so that you could walk around the unfolded frames to see the back panels, which are often left hidden from sight. My favorite may have been the small Rogier van der Weyden image of St. George and the Dragon (the Met has a great collection of van der Weyden also), which the National Gallery had paired with what they were describing as the long-sundered other half of a diptych. The single small panel gleaming with George's armor, the dragon's scaly green, and the lush puzzle of detail, this piece now appears to have been accompanied by a serene Madonna and Child image.

I'm still reading Man Without Qualities (and loving it), and I'm still thinking about Magic Mountain, especially one of the final images in that book, of the fruit of life which is pregnant with death and was sired by death. I've also been tangled up in the "poem" of Holger which is paraphrased by Hans. I must have missed it the first time reading through, or at least missed its significance in tying up many of the far-reaching ideas.

Other than that, I've been struggling to stay warm, motivated, and not mind-numbed at the thought of the long stretch of time before I can go back to the academic way of life, surrounded by books and words, and comfortable cocooned away from this massive, frequently-overpowering city which is starting to get to me.

Hibernation

N05805_9

[Samuel Palmer: Coming From Evening Church]


I was fortunate enough to have some spare time in DC last Friday to visit the National Gallery. I absolutely love that museum, and have found myself missing it lately, especially as I attempt to swallow my quick-to-flare frustration at the crowds in most NY museums. The thing about the National Gallery that I love is that it rarely feels crowded to me. On Saturdays, perhaps, and during the Cezanne exhibit definitely, but last Friday afternoon was just perfect.

The Rembrandt exhibit was, above all, instructive, often presenting multiple states of the etchings/drypoints/etc. which allowed for new comparisons, and on my part, some close scrutiny of details. I've never played around with the drypoint method but am finding myself to be quite mesmerized by it, even the little museum-made placards made it sound lovely--the little curls of copper like soft riverbanks alongside the deep marks made by the stylus. You could also see the difference in the amount of ink wiped from the plate and the effect that would have on the composition (like Rembrandt's Three Crosses which was shown in a series of four states, each with a different amount of ink left on the plate)

I toured the British Romantics exhibit next, where the crowd was smaller, despite two fantastic Blake images, some fine Rossettis and Burne-Jones, and a handful of Samuel Palmers which I loved. I found out about Palmer quite a few years ago when I was visiting London. We were at the Tate Britain (another of my favorites for museum-going experience, though the Pre-Raphaelite rooms are always mobbed) which had a small exhibition of British prints and drawings, including many of Palmer's. I love the rustic, deeply spiritual and symbolic quality to his images, drawing of course from Blake, but reminding me also of Gauguin's Breton paintings and classic storybook illustrations.

I finished this quick tour with the very interesting exhibit on Netherlandish diptychs. I have a soft spot for Northern Renaissance art and loved these intimate little pieces. Many of them were displayed so that you could walk around the unfolded frames to see the back panels, which are often left hidden from sight. My favorite may have been the small Rogier van der Weyden image of St. George and the Dragon (the Met has a great collection of van der Weyden also), which the National Gallery had paired with what they were describing as the long-sundered other half of a diptych. The single small panel gleaming with George's armor, the dragon's scaly green, and the lush puzzle of detail, this piece now appears to have been accompanied by a serene Madonna and Child image.

I'm still reading Man Without Qualities (and loving it), and I'm still thinking about Magic Mountain, especially one of the final images in that book, of the fruit of life which is pregnant with death and was sired by death. I've also been tangled up in the "poem" of Holger which is paraphrased by Hans. I must have missed it the first time reading through, or at least missed its significance in tying up many of the far-reaching ideas.

Other than that, I've been struggling to stay warm, motivated, and not mind-numbed at the thought of the long stretch of time before I can go back to the academic way of life, surrounded by books and words, and comfortable cocooned away from this massive, frequently-overpowering city which is starting to get to me.