"One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture
and, if possible, speak a few reasonable words." ~Goethe

~ also, if possible, to dwell in "a house where all's accustomed, ceremonious." ~Yeats

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Thoroughly Modernism

A Bar at the Folies-Bergère by Édouard Manet


Manet's Folies-Bergère was part of Fry's exhibit

as was Cezanne's Great Pine

(click to enlarge & see Item #20, bottom left)

Roger Fry's 1910 Exhibition of Manet and the Post - Impressionists marked a new direction for impressionism, so distinct in fact that Virginia Woolf hailed it as the onset of Modernism:
"And now I will hazard [an] . . . assertion, which is more disputable perhaps, to the effect that on or about December 1910 human character changed. I am not saying that one went out, as one might into a garden, and there saw that a rose had flowered, or that a hen had laid an egg. The change was not sudden and definite like that. But a change there was, nevertheless; and since one must be arbitrary, let us date it about the year 1910. The The first signs of it are recorded in the books of Samuel Butler, in The Way of All Flesh in particular; the plays of Bernard Shaw continue to record it. In life one can see the change . . . All human relations have shifted . . . And when human relations change there is at the same time a change in religion, conduct, politics, and literature. Let us agree to place one of these changes about the year 1910." (4 - 5)
"Mr Bennett and Mrs Brown", 1924

In addition to the 1910 Exhibition, another good place to look for the essence of Modernism is James Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. By way of Stephen's theorizing, this novel contains all the major characteristics of Modernism and becomes a kind of textbook dramatization of these tenets. Stephen makes a conscious decision to break away from previously upheld beliefs. Taking an essentially Modernist stance, Stephen follows a spiritual and aesthetic path of complete abandonment and reorientation rather than trying to salvage or maintain the status quo: "His soul was still disquieted and cast down by the dull phenomenon of Dublin" (78).

What makes Stephen Dedalus a Modernist? He resorts to his imagination in a crisis. He triumphs over his enemy through language. He conquers through irony. Portrait is ultimately ironic and irony, which becomes a distinction of the Modernist canon. Even as a child, Stephen employs imagination, language, and irony, envisioning his own death and the disgrace of Wells:
"Wells too would be there but no fellow would look at him. The rector would be there . . . and there would be tall yellow candles . . . And they would carry the coffin out of the chapel slowly and he would be buried in the little graveyard . . . And Wells would be sorry then for what he had done. And the bell would toll slowly.

". . . How beautiful the words were where they said Bury me in the old churchyard! . . . He wanted to cry but not for himself: for the words, so beautiful and sad, like music. The bell! The bell! Farewell! O farewell!"(24 - 25)
What makes Stephen an artist? Because he wants "to meet in the real world the unsubstantial image which his soul so constantly beheld" (65). He wants to resolve conflict. Take, for example, the discussion of religion, country, and family which arises at the dinner table. The self - evident truth that these three factors or even two of them cannot be reconciled leads to such an unreliable and undesirable state that Stephen is eventually motivated to create a realm of beauty in contrast to the unsavory chaos of reality. Unfortunately, recognition of the conflict is also admission that the problem is unsolvable, that despite moments of ostensible harmony, the world is a fragmented mess:
"How foolish his aim had been! He had tried to build a breakwater of order and elegance against the sordid tide of life without him and to dam up, by rules of conduct and active interests and new filial relations, the powerful recurrence of the tide within him. Useless. From without as from within the water had flowed over his barriers: their tides began once more to jostle fiercely above the crumbled mole . . .

" . . . it wounded him to think that he would never be but a shy guest at the feast of the world's culture and that the monkish learning, in terms of which he was striving to forge out an esthetic philosophy, was held no higher by the age he lived in than the subtle and curious jargons of heraldry and falconry." (98, 180)
In the face of fragmentation and uncertainty, the artist's role in Modernism is to try one solution after the next. In his artistic growth, Stephen experiments with (1) the desire to be his own father, to generate himself out of and into perfect autonomy, reflecting the goal of Modernism that the text creates itself; (2) his sense of order, perceived via integitas, consonantia, and claritas, thus arriving at quidditas; (3) the questions he has set himself, the answers to which explain his aesthetic ("Is a chair finely made tragic or comic? Is the portrait of Mona Lisa good if I desire to see it? Is the bust of Sir Philip Crampton lyrical, epical or dramatic? If not, why not?"); (4) the need to separate himself from the world and even from his work, "like the God of creation . . . within or behind or beyond or above . . . indifferent"; (5) his reliance on "silence, exile, and cunning" and fearlessness (212, 214, 215, 247):
"You made me confess the fears I have. But I will tell you also what I do not fear. I do not fear to be alone or to be spurned for another or to leave whatever I have to leave. And I am not afraid to make a mistake, even a great mistake, lifelong mistake and perhaps as long as eternity too. . . . I will take the risk."
I have always admired Stephen's list and been intrigued by the possibility that his declamation alone is enough to increase his courage and confidence. Whereas T.S. Eliot and Evelyn Waugh show us "fear in a handful of dust," James Joyce portrays fear as a call to action. Although Stephen Dedalus says the opposite, he enumerates the very things he fears the most and, by denouncing, conquers them.

Next Fortnightly Post
Friday, August 14th

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

I Will Show You Modernism In A Handful of Dust

Painting by Leonard Orr ~ Handful of Dust in the Wind
Mimi Allin writes:
"land sky heaped feathered leading discouraging
porcupined lit bloated muffled"

This Fortnightly's connections are all about the Ache of Modernism, the sudden tortured awareness of the unlived life, the life which dared nothing -- or not enough. As Carolyn Heilbrun writes of D. H. Lawrence (1885 - 1930): " . . . he understood that the mortal risk was not, or was no longer, death; it had become the possibility that life, the lived life, might be evaded." Historical discontinuity, alienation, asocial individualism, existentialism, melancholy -- these were the issues at hand. Horror to horror. Dust to dust.

Unlike the Romantic movement, which can be dated from a specific event -- the publication in 1798 of the Lyrical Ballads, Modernism begins less deliberately (unless you ask Virginia Woolf; more on this next time). There is not an initial document, such as the "Preface to the Lyrical Ballads," which sets forth the tenets of Modernism and heralds a movement to which writers may rally. Instead, one must look in the works themselves to locate the key concepts shaping the tone of the canon. In chronological order, here are a few of my favorites:

Joseph Conrad / Heart of Darkness (1902):
"He cried in a whisper at some image, at some vision, —
he cried out twice, a cry that was no more than a breath —
'The horror! The horror!'" [emphasis added]

Henry James / "The Beast in the Jungle" (1903):
"So he saw it, as we say, in pale horror, while the pieces fitted and fitted. . . . It was the truth, vivid and monstrous, that all the while he had waited the wait was itself his portion. This the companion of his vigil had at a given moment made out, and she had then offered him the chance to baffle his doom. One’s doom, however, was never baffled . . . The escape would have been to love her . . . This horror of waking-- this was knowledge, knowledge under the breath of which the very tears in his eyes seemed to freeze." [emphasis added]

E. M. Forster / Howards End (1910):
"Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer. Only connect, and the beast and the monk, robbed of the isolation that is life to either, will die.” [emphasis added]

T.S. Eliot / The Wasteland (1922):
" . . . I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you:
I will show you fear in a handful of dust. [emphasis added]

Jessamyn West / The Friendly Persuasion (1945):
"He, a live man, to die. He extended his hand, recalling its cunning, marveling at the way stiff, unpliable bones could be so cushioned and strung together as to be capable of music, of grafting a tree, of lifting a foal from it's mother's torn flesh -- and that hand to be dust. And the enemy present . . . He saw objects two ways, now, both as more beautiful and more pitiable: those which would stay, endure beyond men, stones, trees, the moving air, had new beauty, that of their own endurance and of his leaving; but men and women were more pitiable . . . Man's a sizeable hulk reared - up on his wagon seat and pulled about the earth by horses; dead, no more'n a spoonful of dust, not enough, spread thin, to take a small - sized horse track" (147 - 150). [emphasis added]

Alan Sillitoe / "The Fishing Boat Picture" (1959):
"Then optimism rides out of the darkness like a knight in armour. If you loved her... (of course I bloody-well did)... then you both did the only thing possible if it was to be remembered as love. Now didn't you? Knight in armour goes back into blackness. Yes, I cry, but neither of us did anything about it, and that's the trouble." [emphasis added]

Iris Murdoch / The Black Prince (1973):
"The whole room breathed the flat horror of genuine mortality, dull and spiritless and final . . . (38)
"You understand nothing of -- the horror -- no wonder you can write real books -- you don't see -- the horror -- (224, emphasis added)
"The evening was overcast . . . I could smell dust, as if the quiet tedious streets all around me had dissolved into endless dunes of dust. I thought about this morning and how we had seemed to have all the time in the world. And now there seemed to be no more time. I also thought that if only I had had the wit . . . (285)
I awoke to a grey awful spotty early morning light which made the unfamiliar room present in a ghastly way. The furniture was humped shapelessly about me . . . Everything seemed to be covered with soiled dust sheets. . . . I experienced horror, then memory." (341)

William Stafford / "A Ritual To Read To Each Other"
(1977, or somewhat earlier):

If you don't know the kind of person I am
and I don't know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
storming out to play through the broken dyke.

And as elephants parade holding each elephant's tail,
but if one wanders the circus won't find the park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.

And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider--
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give--yes or no, or maybe--
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep. [emphasis added]

Kansas / "Dust in the Wind" (1977)
Click to listen:
I close my eyes
Only for a moment and the moment's gone
All my dreams
Pass before my eyes with curiosity
Dust in the wind
All we are is dust in the wind

Same old song
Just a drop of water in an endless sea
All we do
Crumbles to the ground, though we refuse to see
Dust in the wind
All we are is dust in the wind

Now don't hang on
Nothin' lasts forever but the earth and sky
It slips away
And all your money won't another minute buy

Dust in the wind
All we are is dust in the wind
Dust in the wind
Everything is dust in the wind

Dust Bowl

Next Fortnightly Post
Tuesday, July 28th

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading