Saturday, January 31, 2015

deny that the impressions of beauty are in any way sensual

He'll find an idea, Ruskin, and follow the force of that idea, unless it is something like the Indian statue of a bull, and then he rams himself shut, "it may rest in the eternal obscurity of evil art" -- but not afraid to follow a small piece of the world, like the dirty foot on one boy in a painting, or the rust on fence rails, and so naked he is willing to be, revolted by his fence railing, saddened by his fence railing, and looking at the audience with this fence railing in his mouth and calling it "an uneducated monster" while the engineers sit and wonder, Did he just tell me that iron is morally good? -- and all his writing is extruded very intimately from his art criticism, which is an aesthetic criticism, or morally "theoretic" for him -- theoretic is the word he picked when he was young, and the man circled around his principle.

Now the term "æsthesis" properly signifies mere sensual perception of the outward qualities and necessary effects of bodies, in which sense only, if we would arrive at any accurate conclusions on this difficult subject, it should always be used. But I wholly deny that the impressions of beauty are in any way sensual,—they are neither sensual nor intellectual, but moral, and for the faculty receiving them, whose difference from mere perception I shall immediately endeavor to explain, no term can be more accurate or convenient than that employed by the Greeks, "theoretic," which I pray permission, therefore, always to use, and to call the operation of the faculty itself, Theoria.

(Modern Painters, Vol. II)

If beauty is moral then the journalists making fun of Turner are not wrong but evil because what other word can express it, "the crying evil which called for instant remedy" (this is feeling, not analysis, you think, reading the whole passage, in which he insists that it is analysis, evil intellectually determined, but I call it the hammer word, the word by which he commits himself, the magical word, evil and good his own shaman words of transcendent explosion); and meanwhile Turner himself is moved upwards by his art: "nothing so great or solemn but that he can raise himself into harmony with it," until painting is "the most exalted truth, and the highest ideal," an idea affecting the writer so much that when he sees it in the artist he will follow the paint with his prose.

"It will be found in this picture (and I am now describing nature's work and Turner's with the same words) that the whole distance is given by retirement of solid surface; and that if ever an edge is expressed, it is only felt for an instant, and then lost again; so that the eye cannot stop at it and prepare for a long jump to another like it, but is guided over it, and round it, into the hollow beyond; and thus the whole receding mass of ground, going back for more than a quarter of a mile, is made completely one -- no part of it is separated from the rest for an instant -- it is all united, and its modulations are members, not divisions of its mass. But those modulations are countless -- heaving here, sinking there -- now swelling, now mouldering, now blending, now breaking --"

(Modern Painters, Vol. I)

"The eye" is "guided over [the sentence] and round it, into the hollow beyond … it is all united, and its modulations are members, not divisions of its mass ... heaving here, sinking there." And this shape of the writing only becomes active when he reaches the description of that painting. A moment earlier he was discussing a painter who didn't impress him, and the prose is not like that. This prose will not be extricated from the subject matter, and he is pressing towards a unity that is a moral unity, believing that the form of writing should not be separated from the form of morality itself, which is the form he understands in Turner; and the words pushing towards that form, fragments in unity, which he loves everywhere, for his entire life, but also the freedom of things, the fireflies that he mentions in two different books, coming into town and seeing them "moving like fine-broken starlight through the purple leaves."

Fine-broken, therefore done beautifully and intentionally by whatever created them. "Broken" on its own would have been different.

"Is it not strange to find this stern and strong metal mingled so delicately in our human life, that we cannot even blush without its help?"

Because the iron in the hills is also the iron in your blood.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

without some legitimate cause

In conclusion (tapping pages on the podium and licking my thumb), Knut Hamsun is ambiguous, and I like Geoffrey Hill when he says

... glowery is a mighty word with two meanings
if you crave ambiguity in plain speaking
as I do.

Hamsun is a plain word; he tells you he's plain, and so this is part of his ambiguity, the plainness, while Hill plains you with these puns or rhymes so daggy that I'm consternated, writing

Spot on

in Clavics and what is this, you wonder: John Skelton?

Then I stop feeling consternated because I believe that it is indeed John Skelton, revenant with influence.

Now that I have read Best European Fiction 2010 as well as Knut Hamsun I have decided that a writer should always be a bit stupid or not-knowing of themselves, the way that Gertrude Stein advises in Paris France, because the writers in Fiction all seem to know who they are and what they're doing, they write wittily in vignettes or they write towards a clear end (the teenage prostitute is going to go from disaster to disaster in that one story and you know it); they might surprise yourself but not themselves. It was so eerie that I fell into a melancholy and thought, "How can these authors be alive?"

I was so riveted or spelled that I read the whole book slowly in that dreary mood.

There was a mismatch between myself and these writers who were proceeding absolutely smartly or knowingly to the end of the story, but there is also a mismatch between themselves and Ruskin, who was not calm in what he knew; he will stand there in public and sound bewildered even while he is telling you what's what; he will still behave raggedly if it seems true to him to do so; on one hand he is trying to persuade you, and he wants it forcefully, but on the other hand it is not right not to acknowledge his puzzlement; he sees that he is not completely correct and he will not gloss over it, he must say it; he won't pretend.

I can understand, in some sort, why people admire everything else in old art, why they admire Salvator's rocks, and Claude's foregrounds, and Hobbima's trees, and Paul Potter's cattle, and Jan Steen's pans; and while I can perceive in all these likings a root which seems right and legitimate, and to be appealed to; yet when I find they can even endure the sight of a Backhuysen on their room walls (I speak seriously) it makes me hopeless at once. I may be wrong, or they may be wrong, but at least I can conceive of no principle or opinion common between us, which either can address or understand in the other; and yet I am wrong in this want of conception, for I know that Turner once liked Vandevelde, and I can trace the evil influence of Vandevelde on most of his early sea painting, but Turner certainly could not have liked Vandevelde without some legitimate cause.

(Modern Painters)

It would have been easier to pretend that his hatred for Dutch seascape painters was only mild, and to have pushed the difficulty away like that, and to have looked serene at the end instead of puzzled (it's probably what I would have done. I am a coward), but instead he insists that people who like Dutch seascape painters are a mob of loons, which is a good thing for him to say because it will leave everything disturbed and unsettled. Turner likes them, he likes Turner, what can he do? "There is another man within mee that's angry with mee, rebukes, commands, and dastards mee," says Thomas Browne.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

a light crown of tufty scum standing high

A proposition affirms every proposition that follows from it.

Wittgenstein, tr Pears/McGuinness, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus

Now, at the end of the spring runoff, dead creatures were everywhere. Osmotic shock had killed shrimp outnumbering the flies. Corpses, a couple of centimetres each, lay in hydrogen-sulphide decaying stink. Interlayered with the oolites on the bottom of the lake was a kind of galatine of brine shrimp, the greasy black muck of quintillions dead.

John McPhee, Basin and Range

In an enclave of rocks the peaks of the water romped and wandered and a light crown of tufty scum standing high on the surface kept slowly turning round: chips of it blew off and gadded about without weight in the air.

From the diary of Gerard Manly Hopkins, August 16th, 1873

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

with a string of pearls

Ruskin writes in his Ariadne Florentina, "Do you suppose I could rightly explain to you the value of a single touch on brass by Finiguerra, or on box by Bewick, unless I had grasp of the great laws of climate and country; and could trace the inherited sirocco or tramontana of thought to which the souls and bodies of the men owed their existence?" -- as if each object, box or touch, was a marshalling of chaos, and by approaching it you approach a universal nexus point, and as if, by knowing enough, you could comprehend, absolutely, the various phenomena united there; and once you believe that you will believe that any bit of information is useful, the author himself remembering, in the Harbours of England, how he once spent his time after a meal at an inn outside London measuring the dining room. "I found it exactly twice and a quarter the height of my umbrella." Not wasted.

"Great laws" are not flowing into the nexus point calmly, and resting there; this is what I think when I remember the way that the younger Hamsun makes parts of Overgrown Paths seem dubious, though the older Hamsun, who is writing them, says that he wants to be plain. When I say "the younger Hamsun" I mean the mode of writing that he represents, hysteria, provocation, and dry ludicrosity, which appears, for example, in a memory of the memoirist in "the days of my youth" giving up his seat to a woman on a tram while he was in France visiting Versailles.

She was a handsome old lady in a widow's veil and with a string of pearls around her neck, perhaps a duchess of the blood, forsooth -- she could have adopted me. Anyway, I gave those gentlemen, those Frenchmen, a lesson in courtesy which they won't forget, I was first.

"Perhaps a duchess of the blood," he says, and, "she could have adopted me," and with that he is larger than the event; he is the agent of disproportion. A nexus-point showing its influences is also infected by them. Ruskin writes, in the Poetry of Architecture, "It is always to be remembered, that he who prefers neatness to beauty, and who would have sharp angles and clean surfaces, in preference to curved outlines and lichenous color, has no business to live among hills." There's a vision of responsibility, not-infection, and cleannness.