Thursday, July 24, 2014

pasteboard and filched laurel

When Richard Tuttle was a young man he heard that the famous artists of his time were making their art large because they wanted to represent the universe, which encouraged him to make his art small so that he could approach the same desire from a different angle. Is that a story of dissatisfaction or not, I wonder. The reviewer who wrote about Alexander Bathgate's Far South Fancies for the Literary World was more direct when he said, “if the author had been blessed with a spark of humour, the verses would have gone straight into the fire” -- criticising the writer for his lack of dissatisfaction; and saying that Bathgate was not talented at the essential skill of discontent which is also discernment: “the most zealous and earnest, therefore the most discontented,” as Ruskin refers to some “leading masters” of his day when he reviews Charles Eastlake's Materials for a History of Oil-Painting (1847).

As though these two critics believe that the artist has summoned a demon that deserves pain as a sacrificial recompense for its appearance, Ruskin even using that word, “pain,” in The Cestus of Aglaia.

I say triumphal home, for, indeed, triumphal arches which you pass under, are but foolish things, and may be nailed together any day, out of pasteboard and filched laurel; but triumphal doors, which you can enter in at, with living laurel crowning the Lares, are not so easy of access: and outside of them waits always this sad portress, Patience; that is to say, the submission to the eternal laws of Pain and Time, and acceptance of them as inevitable, smiling at the grief. So much pains you shall take—so much time you shall wait: that is the Law. Understand it, honor it; with peace of heart accept the pain, and attend the hours; and as the husbandman in his waiting, you shall see, first the blade, and then the ear, and then the laughing of the valleys. But refuse the Law, and seek to do your work in your own time, or by any serpentine way to evade the pain, and you shall have no harvest—nothing but apples of Sodom: dust shall be your meat, and dust in your throat—there is no singing in such harvest time.

When the Literary World reviewer writes “the verses” he is referring to Eric Iredale, the “most ambitious” poem in the book but “singularly fatuous,” he decides very confidently; though that confidence does not impose itself on the world firmly enough to stop The New Place: The Poetry of Settlement in New Zealand, 1852-1914 (1993, ed. Harvey McQueen) from associating Iredale with the word “fascinating.” It is “a fascinating blend of Victorian values and concerns worked into a recasting of the Ranolf and Amohia legend.” From that angle it can be fascinating and I have heard someone explain the urban fantasy book he was reading by saying that it had “an interesting concept.“ These two pieces of language go together.

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