Monday, June 15, 2015

`I Am Dealing with Something Bigger Than Me'

Marius Kociejowski is fond of asking, with W.S. Graham, “What is the language using us for?” More than other mortals, writers flatter themselves imagining they are solely in charge. In fact, this craft of composition mingles transcription and something knottier and less romantically pleasing, problem solving. Half the words, or more, just appear. Then begins the erasing and rearranging. No one is original. No slate is blank. Genuine novelty would amount to speaking in unknown tongues, an atavistic cul-de-sac. Consider Zbigniew Herbert in his essay “Animula” (The Collected Prose 1948-1998, 2010): 

“One of the deadly sins of contemporary culture is that it meanspiritedly avoids a frontal confrontation with the highest values. Also the arrogant conviction that we can do without models (both aesthetic and moral), because our place in the world is supposedly so exceptional and can’t be compared with anything. That’s why we reject the aid of tradition and stumble around in our solitude, digging around in the dark corners of the desolate little soul.” 

There is no “anxiety of influence,” only “the aid of tradition.” Herbert continues:

“I always wished I would never lose the belief that great works of the spirit are more objective than we are. And that they will judge us. Someone very rightly said that not only do we read Homer, look at frescoes of Giotto, listen to Mozart, but Homer, Giotto, and Mozart spy and eavesdrop on us and ascertain our vanity and stupidity. Poor utopians, history’s debutants, museum arsonists, liquidators of the past are like those madmen who destroy works of art because they cannot forgive them their serenity, dignity, and cool radiance.” 

The best writers, the inexhaustible ones, blend equal parts pride (or perseverance) and humility (before the language and precursors). It's never merely about the self but the self is ever the prerequisite. In his chapter about the Brazilian artist Ana Maria Paceco in God's Zoo, Kociejowski reports her saying:

"Who cares about what happened to me as a child? These things are irrelevant, but once they are put into images they begin to make sense because then it is no longer about myself. I am dealing with something bigger than me. Of course everything one does, whether it is writing a poem or making a sculpture, is inevitably about oneself--it is folly to deny that--but when one gets in touch with this larger thing then there is no room left for the irrelevancies of one's daily life." 

No comments: