28 May 2016

Diversity in creatures… labortime re artistry

For no reason, here is a screen shot from the 1988 video game Narc.

Dear diary,

Often I lament the fact that humankind has killed off so many of the exotic animals that would’ve been native to this place—like zebras, bears, and peacocks—for fear that these creatures might kidnap our children at night and teach them poetry; but then I reflect that even if only a single species were to remain, its individual members would present more than enough uniqueness to baffle my mind—my wonderings would just become subtler. Squirrels, for instance, are the only beings left here in my hometown, other than humans; that’s why I mention them so much. If you think that all squirrels are alike, think again: for they are as different, one from the next, as any two devils. Have you ever watched Hieronymus Bosch paint hell? He brings out a lot of variety in its inhabitants. But I should have said “unfallen beings” in place of “devils,” because the leftmost panel of The Garden of Earthly Delights has more and better diversity of life than the far right; and that delightful, fantastic, at-once-holy-plus-bizarre condition is what I most frequently notice in squirrelkind.

The other day I was walking near a steep grassy embankment, and I came to a narrow stairway that had been built into the surface of its side: it was wooden, and it went all the way up to the top. Very slim and rickety; almost more of a ladder than a staircase. Up near the highest stair, I saw an eyeball: black and round—it was staring at me. Then I noticed that it belonged to a rabbit—his fur was gray, the same color as the stairs, so he blended right in. The fellow was sitting there in peaceful quiet; and when I stopped and faced him, a line from William Blake came to my mind—this proverb names a different type of creature; but the sentiment is the same, for I was standing far below him on the path:

When thou seest an Eagle, thou seest a portion of Genius. lift up thy head!

I wonder: How would having a narrow skull with big, bulging eyes affect one’s artistic creations? I’m sure that rodents will begin with works of cubism and then proceed to increasingly “representational” art: I imagine they’re more comfortable with fractioned signals, so they’d note less achievement in abstract collages than monkeys do. Monkeys get so perplexed by certain works of Picasso or Braque that they’ve been known to leave the gallery in a rage. Their preference is for still lifes from around the late 16th century. For subject matter, they seem most to enjoy flowers, fruit, and dead animals. They also like pictures of drinking glasses. And I agree with them on this last point; I like the way that selected masters capture the light reflecting from transparent surfaces.

Why do I feel the compulsion to record my every impulse into this diary!? I just want to copy one line-and-a-half from James Merrill’s modern epic The Changing Light at Sandover (which, by the way, I can’t stop re-reading — it’s a surrealist-approved marvel). If I understand right and haven’t mixed up the characters (that’s always a big “if,” for me), this utterance, delivered in all-caps via the letters of the Ouija board, is from a something-or-other (alien? being? spirit? daemon?) named “741”—just so, a three-digit number—in response to the poet’s lines: We will try to remember that you are not / A person, […] not a bat; / A devil least of all—an impulse only / Here at the crossroads of our four affections.

…OR MAKE OF ME THE PROCESS SOMEWHERE
OPERATING BETWEEN TREE & PULP & PAGE & POEM

I now realize, it’s too involved to quote effectively; you really have to lose yourself in the entire three volumes of text… I write this just to assure myself, in case my memory has faded by the next time I skim over my words here, that the book is sublime… therefore: Dear Future-Bryan, keep re-reading The Changing Light at Sandover.

But 20 years!—that’s a long time to work on a composition (Merrill apparently spent that much of his life completing it). Among other masterpieces, I think Goethe’s Faust took roughly that long; at least Part Two. Also, Joyce spent a lot of time on the Wake; 1922–1939 are the dates listed at the back of my copy: that’s three shy of the target. Now here’s a quote from Edward Lear’s “The Jumblies”:

…in twenty years they all came back,
In twenty years or more…

But there are also many works from my favorite writers that were composed rapidly. I think Nietzsche wrote some of his books very fast. I know that Giordano Bruno did. The poet John Ashbery writes at or beyond the speed of light—he even uses a computer (I don’t know if he does this always, but I recall him saying that he created “Hotel Lautréamont” by typing it into a word processor, and that he chose this route because of how easy it was to copy-and-paste the repetitious lines of the pantoum verse form).

In the end, tho, I care less about how much time was expended in artistic creation than about how much MAGIC resulted. Now all this talk of effort makes me think of Yeats’s poem “Adam’s Curse.”

I said, ‘A line will take us hours maybe;
Yet if it does not seem a moment’s thought,
Our stitching and unstitching has been naught…’

I want to stop writing this entry, but I can’t think of a suitable way to end it. Even if no one ever reads it—not even I—the conclusion should appear attractive to potential pollinators, however imaginary: for I think of one’s readership as pretend honeybees that enter the flower of one’s weblog in search of make-believe nectar and then… Ah, forget it. This entry is endless.

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