Relativity

What happened when the light changed.

The ants were marching one by two, hurrah, and from a chrysalis came particles of light. The old light waved from the shores we had left, and there was no going back. Clocks melted in these new sands at our tentative feet and soon after, the bodies on canvas began to separate from themselves and from any of the forms we thought we knew. It became possible to be neither in or out of being, but both at once, and above it as with dreams. The ants were going somewhere but here was another unknown among the unseen worlds, now in catch of our breaths.

Vanishing Points

How does a body emerge from a cave, except by studying the interplay of light over living forms?

These days, it’s easy and modern seeming for any semi-conscious person to feel alienated in a dark place, but fortunately it’s also possible to find relief. I’ve been reading odds and ends from those writing in the Dark Ages during a time when the greatest artistic and scientific achievements of Western civilization had been demolished in a misguided bout of religious fervor. Whole civilizations had regressed to illiteracy, and yet. Even from these dark ages came the stained glass of great cathedrals, promising that the light of another world was dominant, and once inside the nave, it was possible for the vulgar desolation to diminish, eyes drawn upward to the light filtering above, in tinted bands that called to mind images of a divine presence reaching in––not to mention the flourishing illuminations of non-Western civilizations of which the Western mind was largely still ignorant, whether by hubris or circumstance. I was reading about these times and the gradual and then sudden awakening that followed. Naturally, one arrives upon discussions of certain shifts in insight that marked the movement from one era to another, and among these are Leon Battista Alberti’s 1435 treatise, Della Pitura (On Painting) from the translation by John R. Spencer (revised, 1966).

The following is adapted in my usual manner of a hungry person looking for something to live on, and borrows phrases from the translated text. 

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While the process of learning may fatigue, it is good to remember, art is not unworthy of consuming all our time. This because of its divine force, which makes absent men present and the dead seem to live. To paint a god beautiful is to strengthen the heart’s instinct to worship, and what is this painting, anyway? Consider it a matter of describing a space, organizing contents, and receiving light.

Consider also that a thin veil can be of use, to place between the eye and what is seen. May the lines be so fine they are invisible.

It is so difficult to imitate the movements of the soul. Doubters should try painting laughter on a face. Tell me that it doesn’t look like weeping. You can’t, can you? Thought so. Let’s begin. 

In Loving Attention

It’s in the details.

I have heard of counting worlds in grains of sand, and the angels on the head of a pin, but Look. Notice this toucan smaller than a pencil tip, mouth open, the articulated wings, spreading. Attention to such detail, in this moment, is as an act of radical love.  It began with a sense of awe, the artist explains, at the body of an insect. It was the magnificent fragility that moved her. There is no way to do this, she says, except by accepting the storm of tremors in the heart and hand, the sandstorm of breath against dust. Everything cracks on this scale, she says, and flies when you cut, and all you are doing is making and remaking, twig by twig.

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Inspired by (and using found phrases from) Sara Barnes’ MyModernMet article “Artist Carves Impossibly Small Bird Sculptures You Need a Microscope To Fully Appreciate” about the work of Marie Cohydon.

About Face

Veiling and unveiling.

Notice a center in the chaos, a face gathered in the netted folds.

You need a frame to hold it. To find the frame, first be hollow.

Wait in emptiness, then select materials. From? Where you are.

Notice the changing light: solid fluid, transparent form,

shapes like clouds, like smoke. Face them.

Notes:

Inspired by the artist Benjamin Shine’s series of face sculptures in tulle fabric, as described in this MyModernMet article I found this morning. 

Soul at Night

Considering the architecture of passage.

If, in the middle of these days, it’s time to leave, 

if we consider time a mid-point, holding histories, 

here is genesis, here an afterlife, and here

a map on fire.

Mineshaft, funnel, honeycombed monolith

buried in earth, nine rings of illuminated

heralds, the light blinds.

Next, a big freeze: saws, tridents, snakes.

Now the ghost-bodied eagle, the rule of

law, what recompense can follow?

Grip the talons, fingers in the sockets

of an ancient skull, soar. Hold it, this

reverence to bear other rays.

An Elegant Intelligence

Is it the stone that makes the statue beautiful, or something else?

The following is a meditation culled from ideas and phrases emerging from time spent this morning with Plotinus, namely with his treatise “On the Intellectual Beauty” from his Fifth Ennead, written between the years 300-305 A.D. Plotinus was of the group of Neoplatonists that located reality “in a transcendental spiritual realm that gives meaning to the visible world” (from the Norton Anthology introduction).

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Plato may have distrusted the storytellers, but I’d rather hear them than any new ideas.

Rather than pale imitation of more perfect forms, art is the access point for transcendence.

Nature is an emanation from a higher realm, its source the same as art. Here we are, between the worlds.

Let’s go to the realm of magnitudes. Suppose two blocks of stone, side by side: one untouched, another wrought by an artist’s hands into a fine statue, concentrating all loveliness of form. Is it the stone that makes the statue beautiful, or something else?

The form is not the material, but the design, held not by crude equipment, but participation. Revelation happens when the resistance of the materials is subdued. The resistance? Stone, yes, but also these hands, these eyes, this stubborn heart. Every prime cause, indwelling, more powerful than its effect. What is musical comes from music itself. You may call it God, although I won’t.

Also note how the elegance will not depend on magnitude. Where does it come from, if not an original power? All gods are august in grace beyond our speech, and why? All there is, is heaven. Truth, then, is mother and nurse. All transparent, light running through light, all only mirrors.

Eyes in the divine, no satiety to call for its ending: to see is to look at greater length. Wisdom is not built of reasonings, but primal, complete from the start.

Powers of fire and the like may be thought great, but it is through their failure in true power that we see them burning, destroying, wearing things away––slaving toward production, they destroy because they belong to the realm of the produced.

There is no beauty outside being. Only in self-ignorance are we ugly. Light upon light, shine.

Naming Our Songs

After listening, how to explain?

There is no music center in the brain

the doctor observed. 

Just a dozen scattered networks

Try to describe it, then: adiago, allegro, aria. 

Barcarolle, crescendo, elegy, etude;

Fugue, glissando, hymn. Nocturnes never fail.

Poco a poco crescendo, requiem

Sforzando is fitting here: to play with sudden and marked emphasis

Tremolo, hold it.

Vibrato, here we are. Waltz.

Present, Past

In memory of the work of Walker Evans, American photographer.

In honor of the birthday of Walker Evans, the American photographer credited as the “progenitor of the documentary tradition” with an “extraordinary ability to see the present as if it were already the past,” today’s post is assembled from phrases from Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, the work of Evans’ collaboration with writer James Agee, chronicling the lives of Depression-era sharecropping families (quotes above come from The Met Museum’s page on his work).

These eyes, blank and watchful: neither forgiveness for unforgiveness, heat nor cool, or any sign of understanding, were not the first to look away.

The hallway in mud, and underwater, rain beating on rain beating on rain, out the brains of the earth. Steady rave and the breakage of thunder. The lamp is out, room breathing cool like a lung, ripe with the smell of rain on earth, and kerosene.

Where are the introductions now? Each mind disguised again in lack of fear, and busy.

Moon Life, Revisited

Inspired by the visions of the naturalist-artists from centuries past.

October is a great month for moons and all manner of star gazing––and perhaps, in this vein, also for attempting to throw the mind back to the imagined lives of those ancestors who knew nothing of video footage of astronauts stomping in lunar dust, nothing of the desolate-looking gray surface against black sky, whose thoughts of visiting the orb were in the same category as musings on Atlantis, the afterlife, and other wonderlands. With imagination as the chief informant, one gets documentation like that of Bishop John Wilkins, the distinguished natural philosopher who penned the mid-seventeenth century text, The Discovery of a World in the Moone, Or, a Discourse Tending to prove that ‘Tis Probable there May be Another Habitable World on the Planet. I came across images of the text this morning, in reference to the work that inspired Italian engraver Filippo Morghen’s 1776 Suite of the Most Notable Things, a series of fantastical etchings of moon life, no doubt inspired by discourses by Wilkins and other scientist-dreamers.

In this version of the moon, there are obvious parallels to New World mythology, complete with (predictably, perhaps) savages who ride winged serpents while battling a beast with porcupine spikes. The beasts are so large that the savage lunarians need to fashion a sort of guillotine-device, of a blade as tall as a circus-tent pole suspended by ropes from a tall tree, in order to cleave the bodies “from head to tail,” a process that is presumably a favorite pastime, second only to riding in carriages drawn by sails catching lunar winds, and fishing in vessels of hollowed-out pumpkins with sails attached. One may live in the pumpkins also, which provide excellent protection from any beasts that have managed to escape the giant knives. If a pumpkin sailboat is not to your liking, there are other models, wherein a standard canoe may be fitted with a pair of enormous wings. After a day on the water, one may dock at the pumpkin house, to summon the geese that will pull the carriages to the next planet, with the beat of an enormous drum. 

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Inspired by this article in The Public Domain Review: “Filippo Morghen’s Fantastical Visions of Lunar Life (1776)”

Nest

Imagine we gather, here.

It has been a long time since we have gone home.

Let’s gather.

We will meet in the nest.

I have hidden the meal, over that hill. See, in the distance.

In the forked branch of the second tree?

We will feast on what we find. Bring what you find.

Or bring nothing. We will share. 

There is a round table in the nest, and six chairs.

Around the table, we will feast inside our nest.

Come.

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Inspired by the art of Charlie Baker, as described in this article

and by birds everywhere.