‘True Impressions’ – the essential necessity of art

Art, books, fiction, Life, literature, society

paulcard

 

‘And art and literature – what of them? Well, there is a violent uproar but we are not absolutely dominated by it. We are still able to think, to discriminate, and to feel. The purer, subtler, higher activities have not succumbed to fury or to nonsense. Not yet. Books continue to be written and read. It may be more difficult to reach the whirling mind of a modern reader but it is possible to cut through the noise and reach the quiet zone. In the quiet zone we may find that he is devoutly waiting for us. When complications increase, the desire for essentials increases too. The unending cycle of crises that began with the First World War has formed a kind of person, one who has lived through terrible, strange things, and in whom there is an observable shrinkage of prejudices, a casting off of disappointing ideologies, an ability to live with many kinds of madness, an immense desire for certain durable human goods – truth, for instance, or freedom, or wisdom. I don’t think I am exaggerating; there is plenty of evidence for this. Disintegration? Well, yes. Much is disintegrating but we are experiencing also an odd kind of refining process.’1

 

 

This paragraph of wisdom was gleaned from Saul Bellow’s lecture in 1976, and encapsulates some of my recent thinking.  I both applaud and deplore the recent breakthrough in technology , bringing the immediate and the virtual to practically every home or person via internet and smartphone.  I am aware of the changing awareness it provides me – the gratification of satisfying curiosity quickly and easily , whilst simultaneously eroding my capacity for concentration. I am a gadfly, settling momentarily for bites of informative , entertaining distraction rather than entering into a thorough investigation of one area of interest.  That is possibly character led – I have never been the model for applied intelligence, but even within my own modest parameters I feel an unease at how I limit my attention to reading matter in particular. And yet the other side of the coin gleams attractively – the range of newly discovered channels of information is thrilling. I watch video of life on earth previously undreamt of in even my mother’s generation, introducing whole facets of human and other strands of life that can only inspire further exploration and discovery. The vast multitude of available paths is itself discombobulating – sometimes paralysing. It can be both inspiring and frightening, to be open to so much possiblility can overwhelm and freeze , halting the desire to progress. So I cheer the idea  of Bellow’s ‘quiet zone’.  I know that we are so much further on too, than when this was written- forty years is after all, a lifetime to some. We are experiencing a world in flux -it has ever been thus – and still we need to champion the Arts as a way of life, one which explores, enhances and illuminates the human condition.  It is not only in the world of the novel that the ‘individual’ is petrified – never more than now has our species depended on the interconnectedness and the application of that knowledge of interconnection in order not only to flourish, but to survive , both in a literal and a metaphorical sense.
We grow our technology at a rate that imperils our planet and ourselves. We grow our technology in order to save the planet and ourselves. Both are versions of the same reality. We choose, as individual human beings how to behave, both individually and collectively. Some of us choose our governments to act on our behalf, some are less fortunate, but all of us are responsible for the reality we choose.

Saul Bellow’s lecture discussed the value of literature in exposing the ‘true impressions’ to ourselves.  It is as prescient today as it was then;

‘The value of literature lies in these intermittent “true impressions”. A novel moves back and forth between the world of objects, of actions, of appearances, and that other world from which these “true impressions” come and which moves us to believe that the good we hang onto so tenaciously – in the face of evil, so obstinately – is no illusion.’

It is the artist’s gift to show us what is generally unnoticed by us.

The march of technology will continue to move us through different method of exploring that creative expression and I have no problem with that. When I thought about it, the popular mass of human beings on the planet have not enjoyed the easy access to books for that long, perhaps reading is only part of a creative journey to be taken by a comparative few. Perhaps the experience of being human and expressing paradox and complexity will follow different routes of expression, but express it we must. As Joseph Conrad explained, and Saul Bellow related:’ the novel tells us that for every human being there is a diversity of existences, that the single existence is itself an illusion in part, that these many existences signify something, tend to something, fulfill something; it promises us meaning, harmony and even justice. What Conrad said was true, art attempts to find in the universe, in matter as well as in the facts of life, what is fundamental, enduring, essential.’

The lecture can be read or listened to in full via the  link in the citation.

Citation:

1 ; MLA style: “Saul Bellow – Nobel Lecture”. Nobelprize.org. Nobel Media AB 2014. Web. 11 Feb 2016. <http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1976/bellow-lecture.html&gt;

Please do not reuse the images on my site without prior permission.

Kopong

anthropology, culture, daily living, earth, Life, mankind

page five (2)

This seems particularly pertinent and moving at a time when the world is watching the displacement of people from all over the globe.  Perhaps we need to ritualise a little more, eat together, work beside one another to feel we are all living the same history.

Among the Ku Waru people of New Guinea, for example, children become kin through an essential substance called kopong (grease) which originates in the soil. The Ku Waru call both father’s sperm and mother’s milk kopong, and it is through these two sources that conception of a child is said to occur. However, sweet potatoes and pork also contain kopong, and when people share these foods, the same fundamental connection emerges between them as does between parent and child: they become kin. The offspring of two Ku Waru brothers, Sahlins says, are ‘as much related because they were sustained by the same soil as because their fathers were born of the same parents’. The children of immigrants to the community become full kin with those who share no genes with them by carrying out socially inscribed practices around kopong.

Barbara J King is professor of anthropology at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia

Equanimity

blogging, conservation, culture, meditation

IMG_1149

                   Equanimity  is a perfect, unshakable balance of mind, rooted in insight.

Says the Master:

For one who clings, motion exists; but for one who clings not, there is no motion. Where no motion is, there is stillness. Where stillness is, there is no craving. Where no craving is, there is neither coming nor going. Where no coming nor going is, there is neither arising nor passing away. Where neither arising nor passing away is, there is neither this world nor a world beyond, nor a state between. This, verily, is the end of suffering.

— Udana 8:3

From  “The Four Sublime States: Contemplations on Love, Compassion, Sympathetic Joy and Equanimity”, by Nyanaponika Thera. Access to Insight (Legacy Edition), 30 November

We are the music while the music lasts with Alan Watts

culture, Life, philosophy

Don’t forget to dance.

‘To understand music, you must listen to it. But so long as you are thinking, “I am listening to this music,” you are not listening.’

I was walking alongside the overgrown paddock this morning, which has developed into a sea of buttercups, grasses and purple clover.  It is a thing of beauty. Each buttercup is a miracle in itself – a dizzyingly shiny yellow miracle, and yet , when it is no longer shining brightly alone, but hid amongst a host of fellow buttercups, it still retains its wonder.  And when my eye wanders along that wave of brilliant primary and is distracted by the long grasses swaying sensuously in the wind, the host of buttercups is not diminished in its loveliness. It’s loveliness is enhanced with the collision from the purple of the clover, augmented by the movement of the grasses within. The whole is wholly  magnificent in its diversity and in the spectacle of the collusion from its individual parts.

Lucky us, to be here.

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Tread Softly

photogaphy, poetry

He wishes for the cloths of heaven

 Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
 Enwrought with golden and silver light,
 The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
 Of night and light and the half-light,
 I would spread the cloths under your feet:
 But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
 I have spread my dreams under your feet;
 Tread softly, because you tread on my dreams.

William Butler YeatsIMG_0823watercolourWoods at Purleigh Essex. Photo my own.

‘Three candles that illuminate every darkness: Truth, Nature, and Knowledge’

Art, medieval literature, poetry

blog

I am Taliesin. I sing perfect metre

I am Taliesin. I sing perfect metre,
Which will last to the end of the world.
My patron is Elphin…

I know why there is an echo in a hollow;
Why silver gleams; why breath is black; why liver is bloody;
Why a cow has horns; why a woman is affectionate;
Why milk is white; why holly is green;
Why a kid is bearded; why the cow-parsnip is hollow;
Why brine is salt; why ale is bitter;
Why the linnet is green and berries red;
Why a cuckoo complains; why it sings;
I know where the cuckoos of summer are in winter.
I know what beasts there are at the bottom of the sea;
How many spears in battle; how may drops in a shower;
Why a river drowned Pharaoh’s people;
Why fishes have scales.
Why a white swan has black feet…

I have been a blue salmon,
I have been a dog, a stag, a roebuck on the mountain,
A stock, a spade, an axe in the hand,
A stallion, a bull, a buck,
I was reaped and placed in an oven;
I fell to the ground when I was being roasted
And a hen swallowed me.
For nine nights was I in her crop.
I have been dead, I have been alive.
I am Taliesin.

Anonymous

Eleven medieval Welsh tales collectively referred to as the Mabinogion have been widely influential  providing the basis of much European and world literature including Arthur and Merlin.  In the mid 19th century Lady Charlotte Guest published her translation of 11 medieval Welsh folk tales under the title The Mabinogion,ironically  incorrect but used ever since, from when the tales came to prominence. They are concerned with the themes of fall and redemption, loyalty, marriage, love, fidelity, the wronged wife, and incest  set in a magical landscape  corresponding geographically to the western coast of south and north Wales,in which white horses magically  appear, giants, beautiful, intelligent women and heroic men.

I love the lyrical quality of Ifor Williams translation above, a reknown Welsh scholar who made Old Welsh his main field of study.

Artwork my own.



					

Men of the Porch

Life, philosophy

Sadly I cannot make this event  http://blogs.exeter.ac.uk/stoicismtoday/2014/10/20/stoic-week-2014-everything-you-need-to-know/ but we live in a virtual world for which I am grateful.  Nevertheless, it may be worth consideration if you are in London this week.  If not there is always the possibility of downloading the book free until the end of this week, just go to the site with the link above.

book3dcover

I have been drawn to Marcus Aurelius and Seneca amongst other classical authors and they have informed my life since I was a teenager.  The interest in Stoicism will be timeless, and the blog is an interesting read.  I am not sure how faithfully I would follow any formal approach to practice as I have been averse to that mode of instruction since forever. I am more likely to dip into a broad spectrum of source material and reflect as and when my mind thinks fit. But I would have been a frequent visitor to the porch in the central market of Athens when Zeno was hanging around.

If you click on the image below, there are a few treasures worth collecting.

stoicism

‘What a piece of work is man’

books, culture, literature, poetry

wit Shakespeare

I can’t help it, but after trawling through piles of material on Shakespeare I am now feeling very melancholy; that isn’t a stretch for me as my natural inclination is one of profound disturbance around the meaning of being human.  Anyway, in learning more about the man, and I think I have despite all his attempts to evade any sort of factual capture ( he managed to live in London for seven years without signing on the dotted line, it was a legal requirement to observe Sunday service and sign a name against an address, but he didn’t).

The number of tributes to the man was enormous, and so effusive in the language – before we had Oscar speeches and BAFTA awards.  I am talking serious praise from serious people.

‘The morning star,the guide and the pioneer of true philosophy’      Coleridge

‘He is really, really the genius; he has gone to the bottom of everything, divined everything, said everything. He is always true to nature.’        Alexander Dumas

‘Shakespeare is a great psychologist and we learn from him the lessons of Nature’.    Goethe

‘The great master who knew everything.’   – Charles Dickens

So after reading a number of  poems penned by previous poets praising the Bard for his authorship, I came across this one from Matthew Arnold which touched me.  That’s what poets are meant to do – and it is what Shakespeare unfailingly achieved time after time, showing us the joys and tribulations of what it means to live life on earth.  The magic is in the alchemy of turning words into arrows of emotion, mixed with the unprecedented (at that time) unravelling of the human pysche in drama;  he wrote the truth . He wrote it well.

matthew Arnold

references;  worldly wisdom;  http://hdl.handle.net/2027/loc.ark:/13960/t5db8q05g?urlappend=%3Bseq=77

Tributes To Shakespeare;  http://hdl.handle.net/2027/uc2.ark:/13960/t3319w18c

Although reading the tributes has brought out some sadness in me, my greater emotion is one of wonder and awe that ever one human managed to walk the streets of London and know so much about human nature, then be able to communicate it by not one medium, but two. Writing plays is not the same as writing poetry, and I get the feeling Shakespeare had quite a lot of lightness of heart when he left for London to become part of the dramatic ensemble, so when the theatres got shut down for some time because of plague, he turned his attention to poetry and stormed it.

‘He peered thro’ nature with a prophet’s ken,
He pierced her secrets with a poet’s eye,-
With passion, power and high philosophy,
He set the spirit’s inner-gates apart;
He stripped the shackles from the souls of men,
And sacked the fortress of the human heart.

James Newton Matthers 1884

Last word has to got W.H .Auden simply because through all the research I am ploughing through I keep coming back to the idea that there is no actual mystery, the truth of the man is told in the things he wrote, and he wrote for a living. His own life he played close to  his chest, and why shouldn’t he? In a world that was on its head, civil liberties at peril after the horrendous turbulent times at the beginning of Elizabeth’s reign, spies everywhere, belonging to a family of the persecuted minority ( the Catholics), and new knowledge being disseminated changing the world view. Galileo was born in the same year as Shakespeare, he stood at the beginning of modern astronomy contemporary with Bruno, Tycho Brahe, Galileo, and Kepler.  How would a young man deal with such interesting times, one with a quick intelligence and ambition?

‘To be able to devote one’s life to art without forgetting that art is frivolous is a tremendous achievement of personal character. Shakespeare never takes himself too seriously. ‘

Lectures on Shakespeare – W.H. Auden

 

From Yu to you. Nine Follies.

culture, Life, Thoughts

 

mountains-8

A long time ago, so the legend has it,  a young man followed in his father’s footsteps and made such a good job of engineering the Chinese landscape to prevent the catastrophic flooding that plagued their land, that he was made an Emperor.  Not a bad promotion, but one he declined at first ,  agreeing when he was aged 53 . To put a date on it, we are talking about two millennia before we started counting time as a positive number.

One of the few men to earn the posthumous accolade of  ‘the Great’, Yu was applauded by Confucius amongst others as a deeply virtuous and moral man.  Few records exist from the time, and ballads were a predominant measure of popular thought, this is one  verse of many ballads at the time praising Yu for giving the people back their land to farm,

Very grand is Mt. Liang,

     Its cultivation being made possible by Yu.
     The waters of the Fung flow on to the east.
         Through the meritorious work of Yu.
     The people of the four quarters have the same
         opinion; He is truly a great ruler.

Yu had a right hand man, chief minister Kao-Yao who was responsible for defining the codes of behaviour .  I particularly admire his list below – what society would not benefit from such a list?  Though I suspect the list came a long time after, since there are virtually no historical records from that period in China.

The Nine Follies:

• To think oneself immortal
• To think investments are secure
• To mistake conventional good manners for friendship
• To expect any reward for doing right
• To imagine the rich regard you as an equal
• To continue to drink after you have begun to declare that you are sober
• To recite your own verse
• To lend money and expect its return
• To travel with too much luggage

Further reading :

http://http://www.amazon.co.uk/Rogersons-Book-Numbers-miscellany-Valhalla/dp/1781250995/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1378981721&sr=1-1&keywords=book+of+numbers+barnaby+rogerson/ct.asp?xItem=124885&CtNode=124

http://taiwantoday.tw/ct.asp?xItem=124885&CtNode=124

 

 

Ironing out the detail – what we need to know.

literature, philosophy, Thoughts, United Kingdom

St Augustine quotation Anne Corr

Good to remember , and the thought holds whilst I tackle the daily chores of ironing and domestic doery before I can settle down to the more pleasurable tasks awaiting me on the p.c.

Two commissions to do before Christmas, and one is a delight . I can’t tell you or I would have to kill you. Don’t want to do that.

Thanks St Augustine –  your words are duly digested.