Friday, March 19, 2010

What Have I Learned? Or, What To Do With One Fold

Much of the Beauty that arises in art comes from the struggle an artist wages with his limited medium.
- Henri Matisse

I was born on this day.

I have never been more acutely aware of the "limited medium" of my self, this "shell" that my spirit resides within.

Spiritually, I feel less and less limited every day. This is beautiful.

Limited with my human being... here is the struggle, here is the enormous* sorrow, here is the daily, hourly, every single instant, awareness of abject forlornity, despair and anguish.

I imagine a poor hermit crab - nevertheless, still an inspiration for one of the more beautiful books I have read in recent years: Celeste Olalquiaga's The Artificial Kingdom: A Treasury of the Kitsch Experience:

A messenger of death, dust is the signature of lost time. 

The perfect golden proportions of the nautilus' shell is inhabited by the deformed and monstrous shape of the hermit crab. As the crab grows, it discards its shell to find a larger one. I imagine I'll cultivate a relationship. This seems all too appropriate. And I shall call my crab, Basil Hallward.

So here on the day of my birth, what have I learned?

A great secret (in that it was occult to me): I have learned the limits of my medium, of my self.

And I now have the wretched** and anguished awareness of everything that I will never be able to do. It sits on me like Fuseli's Nightmare. It is an enormous burden. Every time I wake from a world of dreams to the lineaments of my cold and grey existence, I am greeted with this terrifying-happy-puppy-cutely-licking-my-face awareness. (See "kitten on a pillow.")

Dayadhvam: A prisoner who dreams of the key wakes to confirm his imprisonment. Not thinks, dreams.

Or here, in this room with me now, the truly monstrous Skull of A God: long dead, long abandoned, even his bones forgotten.

Am I sad?

Not in the way most might think.

I am sad like Schellling:

This is the sadness which adheres to all mortal life, a sadness, however, which never attains reality, but only serves the everlasting joy of overcoming. Whence the veil of depression, of heavy-heartedness which is spread out across the whole of nature, hence the profound, indestructible melancholy of all life.

I am undoubtedly becoming more Teutonic in temperament.

I kid.

Happy Day to me. Here's how I plan to celebrate:

I'll raise my misshaped claw like Beethoven on his death-bed and shake it at the Great No One.

I'll stand next to Thanus in the stern and add voice to make certain his message is heard on Palodes.

So when we came opposite to Palodes, and there was neither wind nor wave, Thanus from the stern looked toward the land and said the words as he had heard them. "Great Pan is dead." Even before he had finished, there was a great cry of lamentation not of one person, but of many.

I'll blow out the torches, pick up the glasses and give the Last Call in the Gardens of the West.

It is closing-time in the gardens of the West and from now on an artist will be judged only by the resonance of his solitude or the quality of his despair.

I'll drink Black Milk with the shade of Paul Celan.

And while I have Celan at hand, I will make him carve the Holderlinic words he last underlined into my flesh:

Sometimes this genius goes dark and sinks down into the bitter well of his heart but mostly his apocalyptic star glitters wondrously.
And then he and I will swim for seven days in the Seine.

And I will have my cake, as they say, finally understanding why I cannot also eat it.

With this Achilles sprang from his seat and killed a sheep of silvery whiteness, which his followers skinned and made ready all in due order. They cut the meat carefully up into smaller pieces, spitted them, and drew them off again when they were well roasted. Automedon brought bread in fair baskets and served it round the table, while Achilles dealt out the meat, and they laid their hands on the good things that were before them. As soon as they had had enough to eat and drink, Priam, descendant of Dardanus, marveled at the strength and beauty of Achilles for he was as a god to see, and Achilles marveled at Priam as he listened to him and looked upon his noble presence. When they had gazed their fill Priam spoke first. "And now, O king," he said, "take me to my couch that we may lie down and enjoy the blessed boon of sleep. Never once have my eyes been closed from the day your hands took the life of my son; I have grovelled without ceasing in the mire of my stable-yard, making moan and brooding over my countless sorrows. Now, moreover, I have eaten bread and drunk wine; hitherto I have tasted nothing." - The last book of the Iliad, XXIV

And I will spend all day long alone in my room making origami blumphhs.

Fossil of a Whale Skull
"It had teeth and was a powerful predator that captured large fish, perhaps sharks, maybe even other whales."

*enormous = "a monstrous wickedness"
**wretched = something beautiful, twisted just once

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Blood even on the hand that had not held the knife

Down to the Bone

Doing some landscaping with an electric Bushwacker, clearing out a briar patch in the garden, moving too fast. Blades just kissed the fleshy pads of two fingers. Middle finger cut down to the bone. Ring finger no so bad. Time slows. I can admire the clean triangular geometry of each wound. The brain perceives the damage done to the flesh. Then just closes the door. Goes upstairs and stands on the balcony overlooking the pain. Pain claws at the door like a cat on fire. Brain calls down from above: I know that's got to hurt, but you are not getting in.

I go inside the house to wash out the blood, see how bad it is. Still no real pain. I figure that I must have a little shock reaction going on. The family advises a trip to the hospital. Down the road into the fluorescent institutional miasma. They stick me in a small room in triage. Sit for a while. I flash to the last time I was in a hospital, about nine months back, sociopathic, suicidal, paranoid, hallucinating helicopters and hell on drugs. I study the small wounds in my flesh. I can pull back a big chunk of flesh on my finger to see down to the bone. The pain is there. But it is out there. Not in my head. It seems rather easy to separate myself from it. 

A doctor comes in, washes it out with iodine. Tells me I need stitches. I tell him I don't want any. He looks at me. Shrugs. Says he might be able to glue them shut. He gets the shallow cut glued back but the deeper one is bleeding too much. Outside, we hear that a four month old child with cardiac arrest is being brought in. The doctor tells me to wait. Walks out. I wait about 15 minutes and walk out. They have more important issues to take care of than my cut fingers.

It has been just over 90 days since I have last used drugs. I remember it all like yesterday. I imagine that there are physical scars or lesions in my brain as a result. But more, I know without doubt that there are scars upon my soul. Every time I loaded up a rock into the stem, those blades were cutting into my soul. I can see now that I wanted that spiritual pain. I wanted to fall all the way down to the bottom of the of the world. To a place where I could be lost amongst the lost, where nothing was expected of me, where no one knew my name, or face, or spoke any language that I could understand. I wanted to cut myself down to degree zero. I wanted to know and to burn within the lowest circles of Hell. 

And I did. 

In the Divine Comedy, Dante tries at the beginning to take the way up. His path is progressively barred by three allegorical animals: a leopard, symbolizing sins of malice and fraud; a lion, symbolizing sins of violence and ambition, and a she-wolf, symbolizing sins of incontinence such as lust and adultery. So he must go down, take another path - "a te convien tenere altro viaggio" - through the Gates of Hell, abandoning all hope, down to the darkest pits of sin, before he can hope to ascend again. The path, as always, leading from the Dark Wood to the White Rose.

I imagine that most mature adults have their own particular allegories, myths, poems and prayers that they live their life by, that provide them with meaning. For me, it is the Divine Comedy and Wilde's Picture of Dorian Grey. I suppose that in some ways what I have been attempting over the last 90 days is to unlock the room where my "portrait" was hidden, to bring it to out "into the light" for all to see how I have cut and scarred the figure of my soul. It is only though this outward catharsis that have been able to take this first few steps upwards, with no fear of the leopard, the lion or the she-wolf.

A new life! That was what he wanted. That was what he was waiting for. Surely he had begun it already. He had spared one innocent thing, at any rate. He would never again tempt innocence. He would be good.

As he thought of Hetty Merton, he began to wonder if the portrait in the locked room had changed. Surely it was not still so horrible as it had been? Perhaps if his life became pure, he would be able to expel every sign of evil passion from the face. Perhaps the signs of evil had already gone away. He would go and look.

He took the lamp from the table and crept upstairs. As he unbarred the door, a smile of joy flitted across his strangely young-looking face and lingered for a moment about his lips. Yes, he would be good, and the hideous thing that he had hidden away would no longer be a terror to him. He felt as if the load had been lifted from him already.

He went in quietly, locking the door behind him, as was his custom, and dragged the purple hanging from the portrait. A cry of pain and indignation broke from him. He could see no change, save that in the eyes there was a look of cunning and in the mouth the curved wrinkle of the hypocrite. The thing was still loathsome--more loathsome, if possible, than before--and the scarlet dew that spotted the hand seemed brighter, and more like blood newly spilled. Then he trembled. Had it been merely vanity that had made him do his one good deed? Or the desire for a new sensation, as Lord Henry had hinted, with his mocking laugh? Or that passion to act a part that sometimes makes us do things finer than we are ourselves? Or, perhaps, all these? And why was the red stain larger than it had been? It seemed to have crept like a horrible disease over the wrinkled fingers. There was blood on the painted feet, as though the thing had dripped--blood even on the hand that had not held the knife. Confess? Did it mean that he was to confess? To give himself up and be put to death? He laughed. He felt that the idea was monstrous. Besides, even if he did confess, who would believe him? There was no trace of the murdered man anywhere. Everything belonging to him had been destroyed. He himself had burned what had been below-stairs. The world would simply say that he was mad. They would shut him up if he persisted in his story.... Yet it was his duty to confess, to suffer public shame, and to make public atonement. There was a God who called upon men to tell their sins to earth as well as to heaven. Nothing that he could do would cleanse him till he had told his own sin. His sin? He shrugged his shoulders. The death of Basil Hallward seemed very little to him. He was thinking of Hetty Merton. For it was an unjust mirror, this mirror of his soul that he was looking at. Vanity? Curiosity? Hypocrisy? Had there been nothing more in his renunciation than that? There had been something more. At least he thought so. But who could tell? ... No. There had been nothing more. Through vanity he had spared her. In hypocrisy he had worn the mask of goodness. For curiosity's sake he had tried the denial of self. He recognized that now.  - The Picture of Dorian Gray