Even more

[Emmanuel Polanco - H]

I love moving from one text to the next -- the threads that weave between words astound me.

I picked up Czeslaw Milosz's The Land of Ulro today -- a borrowed book -- and began reading:

Memory was once regarded as the mother of the Muses: Mnemosyne mater musarum. I can testify that it is really so, that when perfection summons, it is untrappable except as the detail recalled: the polished wood of a handrail, towers glimpsed through a breach in the green, a sunbeam on a very particular lake bay. From what does ecstasy come, in a poem, in a painting -- if not from the detail recaptured. And if distance is the essence of beauty, that distance by which reality is cleansed -- of life's willing (Lebenswillen), of our grasping lust for power and possession, Schopenhauer, that great theoretician of art as contemplation, would have said -- then there is also a distance to be gained by bodying forth the world in recollection.

True -- but the reverse is no less true. Because a moment is not movement, or duration, is in fact its opposite; and just as a group of men and women in a Giorgione painting is the more evocative for its being fixed, arrested, so it would lose much of its power as soon as it, their
moment, were to speed by like a film frame. The past conceived as movement, as duration (be it the past of a nation, a continent, or a civilization, known to us secondhand, or our own past, that of an individual), is a realm where those who once lived are as shadows, so that the closing centuries of Assyria or Babylon, disposed of by Friedrich Hegel in a single page, might stand as a caricature of every past. And what power can restore life to shadows? It is here that life becomes embattled with movement, on behalf of the moment, and whatever is restored to brilliance becomes, so to speak, a moment torn from the throat of motion, a testament to the durability of even the most ephemeral instant, to the trickery of nullifying memory.

So perhaps it is another, more bountiful memory, one twinned with Imagination, which is the mother of the Muses. In victory, works drawn from the stuff of memories are a store of living images; in defeat a 're-creation' of movement, of characters' thoughts, emotional states, internal rhythms -- 'fiction,' in other words -- and unless an author expressly intends a fairy tale, the whole is subverted by that dullness proper to the pallid existence of shadows.

I haven't gotten much farther in my reading, but I did scribble down some notes at the cafe this afternoon:



I need to revisit the idea of the artwork as a mutable, active thing -- something involved in processes. It's more complicated. This isn't a black or white situation but rather an example of the difficulty of definition.

Art is also about freezing, arresting -- even in the midst of trying to convey a multitude. I kept thinking of Whitehead's Prime Being -- a multitude within a unity. This is the source of the power I think -- this polarity.

And I was thinking of Virginia Woolf, her attempt to write of the messiness of the moment. She describes the multitudinous unity -- not as if our experiences can be sliced free of life and frozen, but that they can be understood in specificity -- we can isolate, revisit, and dwell in previous moments of extraordinary occurrence. It's obvious when one is confronted with a success of this sort -- and perhaps this is what Valéry meant when he spoke of ...

those great works by a few individuals who from time to time achieve the highest degree of necessity that human nature, as though in response to the variety and indeterminateness of all the possibilities within us, can obtain from its ability to make use of the arbitrary.


This topic resonates so strongly with me -- though I don't really see what I'm trying to elucidate or accomplish. It seems more as though all of this thought is an exercise -- an endeavor to understand something I already experience.