Monday, June 27, 2005

Life and Art

This is in no way complete or free of typos: check and add to later.

{amended/ appended 28.6.05}

Reading this and that in blittworld, came to an oft thought: frequently more interested in the creative person's life and how he tries to create his words or paintings or photographs, {and the world he wants to have in which to do all these things [28.6.05] } than in the work itself. Wood's Lot mentioned Rilke and fragments. This gathered my attention, not because I know Rilke's works - admit freely and without embarassment his poetry is a closed book to me (so far), {though am learning slowly, piece-meal about who he was, how he thought and his mileau [28.6.05] } - but that to start with he took my interest simply because he had stayed and written in a place I, too, had visited. That was Ronda and The Spanish Trilogy {No idea if it is one of his good works because can't find a complete text by Googling! [28.6.05] } Trying to find out more about his stays in Ronda made me learn more about him as a person and a writer. { He lived for a month or so at a time for several years at a hotel there which retains his room as a museum of sorts which can be visited by appointment [28.6.05] } I was, still am, trying to find out why creative people flocked to Ronda, and instead simply learnt more, genrally, about the people themselves. Rilke's story is fascinating even if you never read or read and never understand his poetry. I am fascinated by the millieu and the creative processes or should one say stratega (-ums sounds better), neuroses and complusions of the writer.

I now know what it was that drew them to Ronda, but not especially from anything I read. It was because I went out into the country surrounding the town and saw what they probable saw from the back of a burro as intrepid Victorians tended to do. For example: a few miles down the road, the Cuevo de Pileta with its massive complex of tunnels and Gaudi-esque caverns with paintings supposedly going back 25,000 years, including an at least 18" long fish which looks vaguely reminiscent of a whale. A few days after visiting the caves it dawned on me that they lived most of those long winter days in total darkness (how else could they have made their fuel and oil last?) and that their wall drawing and painting was a reflection of this dark world, occasionally lit for necessity or ritual. Indeed, as my imagination ran riot, I saw them deliberately drawing, with light of course, in order to have something to comfort and entertain when they did light up on rare occasion during the day or night. One other thing: as many prisoners know, and which has a long and distinguished literature attached to it, it is the difficulty in keeping tab on the passing of the days or to know when it is night or day.

There is a lot more to the cave art and their creators than that. But this to illustrate how writers and artists need inspiration and often get it by walking about, coming across interesting things by chance which spur their imagination and will to create. Common to all humans, certainly, not just the greatest creative minds. To be human is to be creative to some degree or another. What is so surprising to those who find the creative urge so predominates their lives is that others who they know, or assume, must have some similar urges in them at some times, seem in the main to have it squashed out of them so easily by modern living. An occaisional visit to an art gallery or play is not the same as engaging oneself, and not half as fun. it doesn't have to be writing a novel or painting though. Iit could be designing the ultimate deck-chair, or a home book-case system that works like those basement picture holders which slide alng the ground on massive rails. Technology is a creative act.

Trying to write something and faltering before the end, I stopped writing the beginning of this piece, feeling I had lost where the final threads lay, only to switch on after a short nights sleep BBC Radio 4 to catch almost all of the Something Understood where there was much more erudite discussion of the creative process, which turned me back to my fragment: realising I had a long way to go in finding something new or original to say, but nonetheless happy that I, too, had thought through similar things and played with a few notions.

Then, opening the sunday paper, a review by John Carey of At Days' Close: A history of Night-time' by Roger Ekrich, in which Carey begins:

"Artificial light destroyed half of human reality. In the centuries before we learnt to banish darkness simply by pressing a switch, night-time developed a separate culture with its own beliefs, customs, rituals and fears...."

He mentions the use of the electric light coincided with Nietzsche's declaration: "God is dead!"

Although the early train of arty types probably didn't roll into Ronda specifically because of their interest in speleology, or Stone Age men - though the limesone experience is special - visiting another country, which happens to have a very different, long and well-established culture, is always a spur to new thinking.

They knew their
books and their books told them about the 700 years old Islamic Spain and
thinkers such as Maimonidies. They wanted to suck in the same air.

According to Wikipedia:

'The first complete English translation was "The Guide
for the Perplexed", by M. Friedlander, with Mr. Joseph Abrahams and Reverend H. Gollancz, in 1881'.

The educated people who came to Andalus in the 1890s
and early 1900s will have read it or commentaries on it { and of course were still very much theologically well-read knowledgeable }. It is post Origin of Species generation we are talking about.

Knowing a bit about Muslim Spain before setting foot on it, I then visited some of its artifacts. When clambering, semi-lost, up Rio Secos, find little orange groves at heights of 1000 metres, miles from the nearest village, and the neat little irrigation canals that seem to be lined with clay hard as rock, it is at this point, with some of the read facts already to hand, that the people who lived and died here and what their accomplishements were, exactly, came to life. Their magnificent architectural achievements do this for you too, but a simple water channel or two half way up a mountain did it as well.

As the old, but still serviceable, cliche goes: 'travel broadens the mind'. Even today, Andalucia is visited and loved by many because it is deemed to be somehow more interesting, more authentic, even if, and because, backward economically.

I have become a bit a topographically fixated myself on this area, for about a year: thinking the other day about what was so special about this newly visited set of rocky outcrops over those of my own country, which are pretty fine and were inspiring enough to the likes of Wordworth and Coleridge. Though of course they all did their European cultural tours, too.


Returning to Rilke: the idea of fragments both in themselves - incompleteness (in life or art) is so tantalising - and as a part of the literary process, appeals to me. Although probably just a proclivity, it may be a reflection of both how my mind works as much as in the notion itself. I have already mentioned most of my writing and drawing or designing tends to accummulate - would be seen by the outsider - as fragments rather than wholes. Not even the greatest writer has no fragments. Their archives show this. Proust's has words and phrases on scraps, choice words being tried out for letters which were probably not sent and maybe used later in dialogues.

People can and do create in wholes. I tend to believe ( said several times in these posts) the fragmentary nature of much or most creativity does mirror the brain's working and is universal amongst writers and artists. Though novels and works of art do get finished, in the main the creative process on any one thing is often a patchwork of ideas over time and is in no way guaranteed of completion. Being facetious, we might define a novelist as not one who writes a novel but one who has written one. So all you budding writers can say "I'm writing a novel", but won't won't be novelists till finished, read by someone and/or published. Don't think of putting 'novelist' in your passsport till you've actually produced one, says this argument. Though you are on safer ground with 'essayist', because of its etymology.

From time to time searching files for a unfinished writing on a topic without knowing the file by name - my genus/species/variety naming system precludes the necessity for or losing texts in subfolders and makes for easier scanning - I open files along the way to the ones searched for and before arriving at them, open a few old ones to find myself continuing pieces which might have been started years before, often as if I had only left them yesterday. Coming across ten lines without an obvious ending - it might be three or four sentences with the final sentance incomplete - in the right 'writing mood', it often seems pretty easy to carry on the argument or dialogue as it had never been left. In a proper sense you are going through your fragments.


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