Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Life no longer weightless left in pieces at my feet...

I spoke recently about being perversely attracted to images of abandonment and loss. I also dig broken and partial things, like the newly-plowed snow above, hours earlier a solid field of white, beautiful in its own way, but to me at least, only fit subject for a photograph in that it was the absent but implied “before” that makes this “after” that much more meaningful.

I speak because I'm shattered 
- from "Red Poppies" by Louise Gluck

Or this cracked curb outside my apartment building, which I pass by daily, and seems always to have existed in a state of progressive yet suspended fragmentation; this photo is 4 years old and the curb has yet to fall apart completely. I once collected some of my favorite poems, not just ones you enjoy immensely, but the kind you read and cannot imagine how you existed before these words were part of your life, which they become, forever after. I found that a significant percentage of them employed some form or sense of the word “shattered.”

                                                      Anonymous as cherubs
                                                      Over the crib of God,
                                                      White seeds are floating
                                                      Out of my burst pod.
                                                      What power had I
                                                      Before I learned to yield?
                                                      Shatter me, great wind:
                                                      I shall possess the field.

- from "Two Voices in a Meadow: A Milkweed" by Richard Wilbur

I’ve been thinking a lot about personal, and specifically artistic, growth. I don’t buy that you need to suffer and struggle in order to be creative. But it helps. For me, it does seem that my most creative times have been preceded by an experience of confusion, despair, disappointment or outright catastrophe that quite literally broke me, mind, body and spirit, leaving me no choice but to pick up the pieces and make something entirely new out of them. Progressive fragmentation is still progress of a kind, and cycles of death and rebirth are the very essence of the natural world; once you get where you were going, it gives you that much more intense a sense of being completely alive.

Archaic Torso of Apollo - by Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Stephen Mitchell

                                            We cannot know his legendary head
                                            with eyes like ripening fruit.  And yet his torso
                                            is still suffused with brilliance from inside,
                                            like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,

                                            gleams in all its power.  Otherwise
                                            the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could
                                            a smile run through the placid hips and thighs
                                            to that dark center where procreation flared.

                                            Otherwise this stone would seem defaced
                                            beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders
                                            and would not glisten like a wild beast's fur:

                                            would not, from all the borders of itself,
                                            burst like a star: for here there is no place
                                            that does not see you.  You must change your life.

Maybe that’s why I like broken things. I can see in them not only the loss or absence of what isn’t there, but the possibility of what might yet be. Rilke’s poem about the Belvedere Torso, one of the most famous and beautiful broken things in existence, ends with the stunningly unexpected yet inevitable line above, even more impressive in the original language, which I encourage you to seek out and read aloud even if you don't know German! I wonder if a whole, smooth statue could have provoked in Rilke such a line, coming as it does seemingly out of nowhere, not to complete the poem, but to break it -- and the reader -- open to whole new worlds of thought and emotion. It speaks because it’s shattered.

Addendum: as a reminder to all to recheck any matters related to communication during periods of Mercury Retrograde, just as I was about to post this post, it came to my attention that the statue Rilke was writing about may not have been the Belvedere Torso which lives at the Vatican Museum, and I actually had the privilege of seeing when they released it for an exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum in New York many years ago, but the one pictured above, which lives at the Louvre in Paris, and is indeed archaic, a torso, and Apollo. Not to be confused with the Apollo Belvedere, below, which doesn't belong in a discussion of partial things at all.

If anyone can clear this up for me, please do. I suppose even if I've had it wrong all these years, it's a happy mistake. And Rilke probably would have written the same poem for either statue!


  1. That image of the torso of Apollo is amazing. Doesn't seem like a god at all, but a man struggling against his bonds, a futile effort as any hope of escape has obviously been cut off at the knees.

    I sense great creative bursts in my future, but I am still struggling against certain bonds, and will continue so for a little while yet. Maybe I am setting myself up for the suffering I believe I both deserve and need, idk.

  2. Hi Don, good to see you here..any follower of Mostly Absurdity is most welcome! I know from struggling against bonds, this being the three week anniversary of my chucking a desk job during which I was shackled to a computer for 8 years of gracious acceptance of more and more work with no greater reward than watching those less competent be promoted, and those in charge reorgnaize and streamline what was working just fine into a major clusterf***. This is much much better.

    If you like the torso, look up Michelangelo's Slaves, a series of unfinished statues in which the subjects are literally trapped in stone and forever trying to break free. Remember, we are not made of stone and do have options. Best of luck with your future creative bursts!