What lies between stars

[Julie Morstad via Atelier]

[Continuing my work on Valéry's aesthetics]

I left off with Valéry's realization that for the artist, the artistic creation is born from a host of accidents, of arbitrary happenings, but gradually takes on the qualities of the necessary.

He makes some conclusions at the end of the essay 'Aesthetics' which themselves launch into a different area of concern.

There is a form of pleasure which cannot be explained; which cannot be circumscribed; which is not limited to the sense organ from which it springs, nor even to the realm of the sensibility; which differs in its nature or its causes, in its intensity, its scope, and its consequences, according to the person, his age, his circumstances, the era in which he lives, his culture and environment; which incites to actions without universally valid causes, directed toward uncertain ends, and committed by individuals who seem to be scattered and random among a people; and these actions result in products of different kinds, whose value and exchange depend very little on what they are. And here is our final negative statement: all men's efforts to define, regularize, regulate, stabilize, or insure this pleasure and its production have thus been vain and fruitless; but since everything in this realm is, and is bound to be, impossible to circumscribe, they have only been imperfectly vain, and their failure has sometimes been curiously creative and fertile.

There's a cyclical result of artistic creation -- a dependence of sorts. Some form of pleasure -- of desire or striving or motion or whatever else we might call it -- we are moved by something, and in being moved, move something else. It's basic and primal and known by all who take a moment to recognize it. In being moved we are moved to respond -- and our responses, as varied as the moments which cause them -- they can be 'curiously creative and fertile.' This seems to be an essential element of humanity, this responding process --

We cannot see constellations in the sky without tracing lines between their stars, and we cannot hear sounds that are relatively close to each other without conceiving of them as a sequence, having an action within our muscular apparatus which, for the plurality of these distinct events, substitutes a rather complicated process of generation.

The need to complete, to respond by producing either the symmetrical or the similar, the need to fill an empty time or space, to satisfy an expectation, or to hide the ungainly present beneath gratifying images -- are they not all manifestations of a power which, increased by the transformations effected by the intellect with its multitude of methods and techniques borrowed from our experience of practical action, has thus become capable 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?


That final paragraph seems to encapsulate so much truth, so much I want to assent to. That sort of business -- of making, moving, acting, that seems to me to be the truest activity of human experience. I remember some of the catchphrases: man is a social animal, man is a political animal, man is a thinking animal -- but man is also a making animal. I sometimes feel pained in the midst of an experience -- there are those sensations that we want to never cease -- as Alan Lightman wrote in Einstein's Dreams -- of time as a flock of nightingales which, if caught under a bell jar could be kept and time stopped -- the capturer could forever be in possession of the moment -- the captured smell of cinnamon or white double violets. And yet life is inexorable and trots on whether or not we'd like to keep up.

So we respond -- and in wanting to live in a moment of experience, in wanting to work with it or act on it or whatever, we annul it.

It would seem as though the main business of our life consisted in turning some sort of index of our sensibility back to zero, and in finding the shortest way to restore a maximum of freedom or availability to ourselves.

And in resetting this index [a process I don't quite understand], we give room to our second response --the tendency or desire to preserve, prolong, reproduce. At this point, both Valéry and I seem to have resorted to using trios of vivid words to try and convey something which is quite difficult to speak of, and perhaps resists this sort of description and definition. Nevertheless, we proceed -- he concludes his brief essay, which is a transcription of a lecture he gave to some eminent group of philosophers with this statement:

Satisfaction receives need, response renews demand, absence generates presence, and possession gives rise to desire... in this universe of sensibility there is a kind of reciprocity between sensation and the anticipation of it; endlessly one demands the other, just as in the 'universe of colors,' complementaries alternately replace one another, starting from powerful impression on the retina.

He calls this the 'aesthetic order' and all that emphasis is utterly his. There's so much more I could copy out -- but I feel a bit like I feel after reading Orlando or To the Lighthouse -- this is all just too easy to affirm for me. It runs too parallel with my own partially-molded thoughts and is too easy to just pick up swiftly and put in my pocket.

I do still plan to speak to mutable texts and Pierre Menard -- all of this has become quite monstrous in size and in the amount of notebook sheets it covers.