thanks to shannon moore
The world’s darkening never reaches
to the light of Being.
We are too late for the gods and too
early for Being. Being’s poem,
just begun, is man.
To head towards a star – this only.
To think is to confine yourself to a
single thought that one day stands
still like a star in the world’s sky.
M. Heidegger, Aus der Erfahrung des Denkens
And death shall have no dominion.
No more may gulls cry at their ears
Or waves break loud on the seashores;
Where blew a flower may a flower no more
Lift its head to the blows of the rain;
Though they be mad and dead as nails,
Heads of the characters hammer through daisies;
Break in the sun till the sun breaks down,
And death shall have no dominion.
The moon, the stars dissolve. The mounting tide becomes a limitless sheet of water. This is the interval of a night of Brahma.Vishnu sleeps. Like a spider that has climbed up the thread that once issued from its own organism, drawing it back into itself, the god has consumed again the web of the universe. Alone upon the immortal substance of the ocean, a giant figure, submerged partly, partly afloat, he takes delight in slumber. There is no one to behold him, no one to comprehend him; there is no knowledge of him, except within himself.
Suppose the world were only one of God’s jokes, would you work any the less to make it a good joke instead of a bad one?
George Bernard Shaw, in a letter to Tolstoy
[ Tolstoy had criticized Shaw for his facetious tone in Arms and the Man, saying that one “should not speak jestingly of such a subject as the purpose of human life, the causes of its perversion, and the evil that fills the life of humanity today.” ]
Is there any place on land or sea where there is no war?... Blackout. Blackout. Blackout. Blackout. Everywhere people stumblin’ in the dark. Is there to be no more light in the world? Is there no place in this dark land where a man who’s drunk can find a decent bit of fun?
Aloysius Driscoll, The Long Voyage Home, drunken reflections on the war-torn world.
His tongue is like no other. It is the tongue of the basilisk, a hundred-forked and quick as flame. As it is written in the learned Nathaniel of Mainz: there shall come upon the earth in the time of night a man surpassing eloquent. All that is God’s, hallowed be His name, must have its counterpart, its backside of evil and negation. So it is with the Word, with the gift of speech that it the glory of man and distinguishes him everlastingly from the silence or animal noises of creation. When he made the Word, God made possible also its contrary. Silence is the not the contrary of the Word but is guardian. No, He created on the night-side of language a speech for hell. Whose words mean hatred and vomit of life. Few men can learn that speech or speak it for long. It burns their mouths. It draws them into death. But there shall come a man whose mouth shall be as a furnace and whose tongue as a sword laying waste. He will know the grammar of hell and teach it to others. He will know the sounds of madness and loathing and make them seem music. Where God said, let there be, he will unsay.
George Steiner, The Portage to San Cristobal of A.H.
The words that I have collected around these images are like vultures following the living presence into the desert. The language has no hope of feeding upon this flesh. My desire is that they will merely trail along behind the images, occasionally circling, never descending. They are not captions. They are not descriptions. They would not exist without the images. And the images will always endure beyond the predatory attempts of language to grasp hold of their manifold meanings.
Benjamin stated that “at the base of every work of art is a pile of barbarism”. If we are to take this as fact, then most of what is called art in our culture is mostly a radical turning away from the pile of bones at the barbaric base, in short: kitsch. As such, the range of response we might have for something as terrible as the death of God has become epitomized by a generic Hallmark card expressing sympathy through the a soft focus photograph of a kitten on a pillow.
Clearly, the vocabulary, the imagery, must be extended.
Just BAM! BAM! BAM! Shooting those skeletons all to pieces. But, you know, them bones don’t die. They just shake all around and run back together and make a skeleton again. I tell you, God was sure busy that day. See: they was all trying to tear God’s skin off and eat his flesh. Nothing skeletons likes better than Godflesh, you know? They teeth was all just a clattering with the thinking of eating God right up. Now, God was damn good shot, but he was running outta ammo. And them skeletons were clacking back together all around him. And things didn’t looks so good for the Old Man. That’s when I woke up. And I hear God saying to me: Bonesy! Get on out here to the Desert and gives me a hand. And that’s where I sure as hell went.
Charles “Bonesy” Jones
So this nun is leaving the rectory to go to the market to buy some food for dinner. She arrives at the fish market and sees the clerk there and asks him if he has any specials today. He replies with “Well, I have all of this Goddamn fish here to sell!” The nun replies with “Please, I am a nun, you should not use language like that with me.” He replies, “No, that is the name of the fish. It’s really good.” The nun decides to buy a few pounds and returns back home to the rectory. Later that afternoon the priest walks in, and asks, “What’s for dinner?” The nun replies, “Nothing special. Just some of this Goddamn fish.” The priest then expresses his displeasure at the use of God’s name taken in vain, and the nun explains the fact about the name of the fish. About an hour later, the bishop pops in and asks the same thing, going through the same steps as the priest just has. Afterwards, he also announces that the Pope will be stopping by for dinner on his way back to Vatican City. They all sit down to eat, and after the meal the nun leans back and says “That’s the best Goddamn fish I ever ate!” In turn, the bishop then exclaims, “that Goddamn fish was really good!” And, in like manner the priest then says, “I’ve eaten alot of fish, but this Goddamn fish is the best fish I ever had!”
The Pope, beaming, says to everyone, “I love you fucking guys!
The first question which you will ask and which I must try to answer is this, "What is the use of climbing Mount Everest?" and my answer must at once be, "It is no use." There is not the slightest prospect of any gain whatsoever. Oh, we may learn a little about the behavior of the human body at high altitudes, and possibly medical men may turn our observation to some account for the purposes of aviation. But otherwise nothing will come of it. We shall not bring back a single bit of gold or silver, not a gem, nor any coal or iron. We shall not find a single foot of earth that can be planted with crops to raise food. It's no use. So, if you cannot understand that there is something in man which responds to the challenge altitudes, and possibly medical men may turn our observation to some account for the purposes of aviation. But otherwise nothing will come of it. We shall not bring back a single bit of gold or silver, not a gem, nor any coal or iron. We shall not find a single foot of earth that can be planted with crops to raise food. It's no use. So, if you cannot understand that there is something in man which responds to the challenge of this mountain and goes out to meet it, that the struggle is the struggle of life itself upward and forever upward, then you won't see why we go. What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy. And joy is, after all, the end of life. We do not live to eat and make money. We eat and make money to be able to enjoy life. That is what life means and what life is for.
George Leigh Mallory, 1922
[Climbers who found Mallory’s body in 1999 believe he probably
died before he conquered the peak.]
And there on the table cut over with scar, like might have been the last place God lay his Sorrowfull Head, was… The Skull of God, Godskull. The Holy Fool sat down there cross from it, doing some hard thinking about Who Knows What. After a time, he reach out to it, turn it round and get damn near lost inside those empty eyeball holes. Figuring that had best get, he takes up the Godskull in his hands and with all his strength, lift it up to his lips and kiss thos cold white teeths. And, lo, it was that that Ole Holy Fool didn’t spook hisself some there and let the Godskull fall to clatter down upon that table.
Charles “Bonesy” Jones
"The Aleph?" I repeated.
"Yes, the only place on earth where all places are -- seen from every angle, each standing clear, without any confusion or blending. I kept the discovery to myself and went back every chance I got. As a child, I did not foresee that this privilege was granted me so that later I could write the poem. Zunino and Zungri will not strip me of what's mine -- no, and a thousand times no! Legal code in hand, Doctor Zunni will prove that my Aleph is inalienable."
I tried to reason with him. "But isn't the cellar very dark?" I said.
"Truth cannot penetrate a closed mind. If all places in the universe are in the Aleph, then all stars, all lamps, all sources of light are in it, too."
"You wait there. I'll be right over to see it."
Jorge Luis Borges
In Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.
Orson Welles as Harry Lime, from the film, The Third Man
The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes, than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours. You have offended him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his prince; and yet it is nothing but his hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment. It is to be ascribed to nothing else, that you did not go to hell the last night; that you was suffered to awake again in this world, after you closed your eyes to sleep. And there is no other reason to be given, why you have not dropped into hell since you arose in the morning, but that God's hand has held you up. There is no other reason to be given why you have not gone to hell, since you have sat here in the house of God, provoking his pure eyes by your sinful wicked manner of attending his solemn worship. Yea, there is nothing else that is to be given as a reason why you do not this very moment drop down into hell.
Jonathan Edwards, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God
The poet may choose to be obscure in order to achieve certain specific stylistic effects. He may find himself compelled towards obliquity and cloture by political circumstances: there is a very long history of Aesopian language, of 'encoding' and allegoric indirection in poetry written under pressure of totalitarian censorship (oppression, says Borges, is the mother of metaphor). The constraints may be of a purely personal nature. The lover will conceal the identity of the beloved or the true condition of his passion.
It is the poet's aim to charge with supreme intensity and genuineness of feeling a body of language, to 'make new' his text in the most durable sense of illuminative, penetrative insight. But the language at his disposal is, by definition, general, common in use. Its similes are stock, its metaphors worn down to cliches. How can this soiled organon serve the most individual and innovative of needs? There have, throughout literary history, been logical terrorists who have taken the implicit paradox to its stark conclusion. The authentic poet cannot make do with the infinitely shop-worn inventory of speech, with the necessarily devalued or counterfeit currency of the every-day.
George Steiner, On Difficulty
Ich fürchte, wir werden Gott nicht los, weil wir noch an die Grammatik glauben.
[I fear we will never be rid of God as long as we still believe in Grammar.]
These cursed lips of mine, which dishonoured my Maker! O these cursed appetites and passions, and this obstinate will, which have wrought my ruin! This cursed body and soul, that have procured their own everlasting wretchedness! These thoughts will be like a gnawing worm within, which will prey upon the spirit for ever. The fretting smart arising from this vexatious worm must be painful in the highest extreme, when we know it is a worm which will never die, which will for ever hang at our heart, and sting our vitals in the most tender and sensible parts of them without intermission, as well as without end.
I was just a little kid when God took me down to the Boathouse and taught me how to catch the Big One. Pole, line, hook, sinker, bobber. And I caught a Big One. Sure did. And then God taught me how to separate the flesh from the bone. And what to do when they got all messed together. Sure did. And then I got lost in the world and forgot it all. And God just sat waiting down in the Boathouse for me to come back around. And finally, one fine day, I did. And then I understood what he had really taught me: that the Flesh was the Dream and the Bone was the Reality. I understood the fishing was languaging. The pole and line and hook and all were the grammar. I saw it all there of a sudden. And God sure was laughing at me that day. Sure was.
Charles “Bonesy” Jones
|What Huxley teaches is that in the age of advanced technology, spiritual devastation is more likely to come from an enemy with a smiling face than from one whose countenance exudes suspicion and hate....When a population becomes distracted by trivia, when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainments, when serious conversation becomes a form of baby-talk, when, in short, a people become an audience and their public business a vaudeville act, then a nation finds itself at risk; culture-death is a clear possibility.|
Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death
He tasks me; he heaps me; I see in him outrageous strength, with an inscrutable malice sinewing it. That inscrutable thing is chiefly what I hate; and be the white whale agent, or be the white whale principal, I will wreak that hate upon him. Talk not to me of blasphemy, man; I’d strike the sun if it insulted me. For could the sun do that, then could I do the other; since there is ever a sort of fair play herein, jealousy presiding over all creations. But not my master, man, is even that fair play. Who’s over me? Truth hath no confines. Take off thine eye! more intolerable than fiends’ glarings is a doltish stare!
Herman Melville, Moby-Dick
Parvati once wanted to take a bath and created a boy from the dirt of Her own body, asking him to stand as a guard outside while She bathed. In the meantime Shiva returned home to find a stranger at His door, preventing Him from entering. In anger, Shiva cut off the boy’s head, upon which Parvati was stricken with great grief. In order to console Her, Shiva sent out His troops to fetch the head of anyone found sleeping with his head pointing to the north. They found an elephant sleeping thus and brought back its head.
Shiva then attached the elephantine head to the body of the boy and revived him. He named the boy Ganapati or commander of His troops, and granted Him a boon that anyone would have to worship Him (Ganesha) before beginning any undertaking.
From the Shiva Purana
In the pasture of this world, I endlessly push aside the tall grasses in search of the Ox. Following unnamed rivers, lost upon the interpenetrating paths of distant mountains, My strength failing and my vitality exhausted, I cannot find the Ox. I only hear locusts chirring through the forest at night.
Commentary: The Ox has never been lost. What need is there to search? Only because of separation from my true nature, I fail to find him. In the confusion of the senses I lose even his tracks. Far from home, I see many crossroads, but which way is the right one I know not. Greed and fear, good and bad, entangle me.
This is the last image in the collection. The source for it has not yet been found.
Written in hand on the reverse of a proof copy of the image:
“Sometimes this genius goes dark and sinks down into the bitter well of his heart - but mostly his apocalyptic star glitters wondrously.”
It was not noted by Jones but research has uncovered that this is a quote from a biography of the German poet Holderlin. It was also the passage underlined by the poet Paul Celan before he committed suicide.
Because their language had served at Belsen, because words could be found for all those things and men were not struck dumb for using them, a number of German writers who had gone into exile or survived Nazism, despaired of their instrument. In his Song of Exile, Karl Wolfskehl proclaimed that the true word, the tongue of the living spirit, was dead:
Und ob ihr tausend Worte habt:Das Wort, das Wort ist tot.
Elisabeth Borcher said: "I break open stars and find nothing, and again nothing, and then a word in a foreign tongue." A conclusion to an exercise in linguistic-logical analysis, which Wittgenstein carefully stripped of all emotive reference, though he stated it in a mode strangely poetic, strangely reminiscent of the atmosphere of Holderlin's notes on Sophocles, of Lichtenberg's aphorisms, had turned to a grim truth, to a precept of self-destructive humanity for the poet. "Whereof one cannot speak, one must be silent."
Was he always to be burdened by his past? Was he really to confess? Never. There was only one bit of evidence left against him. The picture itself-- that was evidence. He would destroy it. Why had he kept it so long? Once it had given him pleasure to watch it changing and growing old. Of late he had felt no such pleasure. It had kept him awake at night. When he had been away, he had been filled with terror lest other eyes should look upon it. It had brought melancholy across his passions. Its mere memory had marred many moments of joy. It had been like conscience to him. Yes, it had been conscience. He would destroy it.
All that we perceive is a world of surfaces. The real center is never seen. But it is just that which the artist should strive to find and body forth. I try to reach the essential and to give it form -- to express it.
Albright focused on a few themes through most of his works, particularly death, life, the material and the spirit, and the effects of time. He painted very complex works, and their titles matched their complexity. He would not name a painting until it was complete, at which time he would come up with several possibilities, more poetic than descriptive, before deciding on one. Such an example is Poor Room - There is No Time, No End, No Today, No Yesterday, No Tomorrow, Only the Forever, and Forever and Forever Without End (The Window), the last two words actually describing the painting (it was as such the painting is generally referred). Another painting, And Man Created God in His Own Image, was called God Created Man in His Own Image when it toured the South. One of his most famous paintings, which took him some ten years to complete, was titled That Which I Should Have Done I Did Not Do (The Door), which won top prize at three major exhibitions in New York City, Chicago, and Philadelphia in 1941. The prize at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York earned him a $3,500 purchase award and a place in the permanent collection, but, not willing to part with the work for less than $125,000, Albright took the First medal instead, allowing him to keep the painting.
In 1943 he was commissioned to create the title painting for Albert Lewin's film adaptation of Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray. His realistic, but exaggerated, depictions of decay and corruption made him very well suited to undertake such a project. His brother was chosen to do the original uncorrupted painting of Gray, but another artist's was used in the film. Ivan's was a great success, and made him somewhat of an instant celebrity.
Albright was a prolific artist throughout his life, working as a printer and engraver as well as a painter. He made his own paints and charcoal, and carved his own elaborate frames. He was a stickler for detail, creating elaborate setups for paintings before starting work. He was obsessive about lighting to the point that he painted his studio black, and wore black clothing to cut out potential glare.
Something of a writer and poet, Albright gave his paintings long, evocative names: in 1928, he dubbed a painting "Flesh", but continued the title in parenthesis, "Smaller Than Tears Are the Little Blue Flowers." A year later he painted an aging, sagging ballerina whose haunted eyes are clearly staring Albright's vision of human mortality in the face; he titled this work, "There Were No Flowers Tonight (Midnight). Over the next couple years he completed another study of the tragedy of time and lost beauty: "Into the World There Came a Soul Called Ida" depicts another moldering Albright figure sitting forelornly at that piece of furniture we have so aptly given the name "vanity".
It matters little whether I paint a squash, a striped herring, or a man. The space, the light, the motion, the position have one thing in common -- decay.
- From Time Magazine, 1942