Repost: From The NY Times Via A & L Daily: Helen Vendler On Wallace Stevens ‘The Plain Sense Of Things’

Full review here.

Vendler reviewed John Serio’s then new “Selected Poems”  of Wallace Stevens.

“Stevens’s conscience made him confront the chief issues of his era: the waning of religion, the indifferent nature of the physical universe, the theories of Marxism and socialist realism, the effects of the Depression, the uncertainties of philosophical knowledge, and the possibility of a profound American culture, present and future.”

and

“Stevens’s poetry oscillates, throughout his life, between verbal ebullience and New England spareness, between the high rhetoric of England (and of religion) and the “plain sense of things” that he sometimes felt to be more American…”

See Also On This Site:  Trying to stick something against his poems: Wednesday Poem: Wallace Stevens-Anecdote of The JarWednesday Poem: Wallace Stevens, The Snow ManFriday Poem: Wallace Stevens And A Quote By David Hume

Two Links To Rod Dreher On How To Live And What To Do

Arguably, the influence of religious belief as well as Natural Law/Natural Right doctrines, traditionally profound influences on American civic life, continues to diminish.  So, the thinking goes, we are fast arriving at an increasingly divided civic and political life.  The logic of Left political radicalism becomes ever more entrenched in our universities, media and politics, entrenching a more Right-radical, European-style response.

It didn’t have to be this way.

Rod Dreher (The Benedict Option), points to what he believes are signs of the obvious failure of modern, liberal doctrines to replace the kinds of meaning such religious doctrines have provided.

Here are two recent blog posts containing this worldview of his, about which I’ve provided additional summary and commentary (please let me know what I’m missing).

Advice For A Weary Ghost-A 35 year-old woman feels empty inside, writing to ‘The Cut‘ for advice.  She doesn’t have a husband and can’t seem to maintain deep, meaningful relationships.  She’s had jobs but not a career.  Maybe it’s not just her.

The adviser promotes a surburbanely popularized vision of the rebellious and Romantically-inspired artistic life, reaffirming much of what Dreher and his commenters see as inadequate for most people, most of the time.

This view, I presume, utilizes the wrong maps to steer one’s (S)oul and inform life decisions.  Perhaps it allows one to succumb to materialist concerns and potentially materialist doctrines (too strongly measuring one’s life largely by economic, professional and outward successes/failures).  It also perpetuates the woman’s confessedly empty, Self-interested pursuits, cutting her off from the happiness of family and loved ones without much to show for it.

The ‘-Isms’ (feminism, environmentalism, political activism etc.) are poor substitutes for a moral, meaningful life.  The Church might just the place to be, but Catholic Church leadership, too, is corrupt and covered with the dust of this world.  There will increasingly be witch hunts upon religious believers by the new SJW believers.

The lady’s probably not going to be an (A)rtist, the lady giving advice probably ain’t so great an (A)rtist either.

Can the humanities become a lifelong source of wisdom and meaning?

Manufacturing Consent To Gender Ideology‘-Boys wanting to be girls, and vice versa, is the latest (C)ause. These outliers upon distributions of human sexual behavior, often shunned, mocked and condemned to limited lives, must not only be included in everyone’s moral concern, but celebrated.  Through social activism and protest, they are to become exemplars of the new normal.

Doctrines promising radical liberation, hinging upon revolutionary praxis, go about attacking and reforming current traditions, institutions, laws and arrangements, often grossly mischaracterizing and misrepresenting them to gain advantage. The grudging acknowledgement of freedoms gained through progressive activism and radical thought always come with costs.

And, given the natural ignorance of the human condition, and the basic desire humans have for group meaning, authority, security, identity and purpose, this latest (C)ause which promises liberation, will end-up delivering something quite different.

Cycles of utopianism and dystopianism await, and more disgruntled individuals drifting around aimlessly looking for an ad hoc ethics and politics, sometimes flirting with authoritarian and totalitarian Leftist doctrines as those doctrines become more mainstreamed:

How to live and what to do?

A reasonable summary and comentary?

Are you convinced of such a vision?

On this site, see:

Roger Scruton On Moral Relativism And Ross Douthat On Bill Maher…Catholics, Punditry, Progressives & Rubes-Ross Douthat At The NY Times

Moral Relativism is actually quite hard to define:

Ross Douthat made similar arguments some years ago while promoting his book ‘Bad Religion:

‘…what is the idea of universal human rights if not a metaphysical principle?  Can you find universal human rights under a microscope?

The Brothers Weinstein put forth one of the deeper defenses of Enlightenment principles I’ve heard while also remaining of the Left, simultaneously pushing against the radical elements of The Left:

Allow The Glow-Some Random Neon And Non-Neon Links On Place & The American West

Via Mick Hartley, Steve Fitch Photography has neon motel signs glowing into the Western night.

He also has a book simply titled ‘Motel Signs:’

“To me, neon really figured in the migration movement on Route 66. The farther you go out West, the more neon you’d see, especially as a presence on motels. You can see towns like Tucumcari, New Mexico, coming from 20 miles away.”

I may harbor skepticism regarding a more anthropological, back-to-Earth Romantic primitivism found in certain quarters (Berkeley, especially), but I certainly appreciate good composition. Click through for more photos and less pre-judgment.

As posted, what’s more American than an exiled member of the Russian aristocracy intimately making his way into the English language and peering out from a thousand Motor Lodges?

Nabokov in America:  On The Road To Lolita.

Michael Dirda review of the review here.

“Nabokov in America” is rewarding on all counts, as biography, as photo album (there are many pictures of people, Western landscapes and motels) and as appreciative criticism. Not least, Roper even avoids the arch style so often adopted by critics faintly trying to emulate their inimitable subject.’

Well, there’s Donald Judd and Marfa, Texas, which looks interesting:

As previously posted, The Critic Laughs, by Hamilton:

Do you long for the days of unabashed American consumerism? Are you nostalgic for nights lit only by a soft, neon glow on the underbellies of clouds? Return to a time when America broadcast its brash, unironic call to the heavens.

But it can be empty, and lonely, and full of hard work and suffering:

MT-3 Storm Breaking-3

Montana Pastoral
I am no shepherd of a child’s surmises.
I have seen fear where the coiled serpent rises,

Thirst where the grasses burn in early May
And thistle, mustard and the wild oat stay.

There is dust in this air. I saw in the heat
Grasshoppers busy in the threshing wheat.

So to this hour. Through the warm dusk I drove
To blizzards sifting on the hissing stove,

And found no images of pastoral will,
But fear, thirst, hunger, and this huddled chill.

And because this blog likes to keep things a bit mysterious, I think ‘New Slang’ by the Shins (James Mercer) captures three strands I can identify:  Western U.S. cowboy folk (Home On The Range), English (England) folk, and Pacific NW hipsterdom, which is interesting to me, and because in the arts, I like to like a song, and think about what’s going on afterwards:

That hipsterdom part likely connects with a lot of powerful modern and postmodern strands which could be affecting all of our institutions sooner or later, but, you know…it’s also just a song.

Click here.

Is that a real tower against a painted sky?

Go West.

Tuesday Poem-William Butler Yeats

The Wild Swans At Coole

The trees are in their autumn beauty,
The woodland paths are dry,
Under the October twilight the water
Mirrors a still sky;
Upon the brimming water among the stones
Are nine-and-fifty swans.

The nineteenth autumn has come upon me
Since I first made my count;
I saw, before I had well finished,
All suddenly mount
And scatter wheeling in great broken rings
Upon their clamorous wings.

I have looked upon those brilliant creatures,
And now my heart is sore.
All’s changed since I, hearing at twilight,
The first time on this shore,
The bell-beat of their wings above my head,
Trod with a lighter tread.

Unwearied still, lover by lover,
They paddle in the cold
Companionable streams or climb the air;
Their hearts have not grown old;
Passion or conquest, wander where they will,
Attend upon them still.

But now they drift on the still water,
Mysterious, beautiful;
Among what rushes will they build,
By what lake’s edge or pool
Delight men’s eyes when I awake some day
To find they have flown away?

William Butler Yeats

Three Snippets Of Poetry & Prose

From ‘The Wind Bloweth Where It Listeth’

“Live like the wind, he said, “unfettered,
And love me while you can;
And when you will, and can be bettered,
Go to the better man.’

Countee Cullen (found here)

From ‘Under Ben Bulben’

Cast a cold eye
On life, on death.
Horseman, pass by!

W.B. Yeats (found here)

From Shirley Jackson’s ‘The Lottery:’

“Well, now.” Mr. Summers said soberly, “guess we better get started, get this over with, so’s we can go back to work. Anybody ain’t here?’

The PDF of ‘The Lottery’ was found at Middlebury College, of all places.

Maybe it’s time for another read?:

 

Repost-A Few Thoughts On Thomas Cole’s ‘The Voyage Of Life’

A good decade ago, while visiting D.C., I saw Thomas Cole’s ‘The Voyage Of Life:

It’s a four-part series: Childhood, Youth, Manhood, Old Age.

One person’s life, and all of our lives, can be broken-down into four allegorical stages, pregnant with visual and universal symbols.

From Cole’s bio:

‘Although Cole had ample commissions in the late 1820s to paint pictures of American scenery, his ambition was to create a “higher style of landscape” that could express moral or religious meanings.’

From this more interactive page:

‘In the late 1830s, Cole was intent on advancing the genre of landscape painting in a way that conveyed universal truths about human existence, religious faith, and the natural world. First conceived in 1836, the four pictures comprising The Voyage of Life: Childhood, Youth, Manhood, and Old Age fulfilled that aspiration.’

These scenes in the Romantic style can have an emotional pull for me, as generally does the work of the Hudson River School. Such allegory certainly tends to function as a vehicle into memory (Cole’s work has really stuck with me…in a sort of haunting way, mixed with some thought of how I’m supposed to live and what might be coming next).

Also, the wild, untamed nature we Americans have often faced is perhaps requiring of a spirited and grand attempt at putting our experiences within Nature into some context: To soar as high as our hopes often do.

Or at least, to find in paintings: Familiarity. I like to see the roll of a hill like I’ve seen, or an opening of clouds, sky and light like I’ve seen.

Perhaps Wild Nature can be ordered in a Romantic, neo-classical or more modern way. Perhaps Nature can be made, with the tools at our disposal, to conform to some of our deeper ideas about Nature, mirroring our hopes in some recognizable fashion; giving some basic comfort and meaning.

Maybe, after all, we can find a home here.

On the other hand, allegory with overt moral/religious meaning can also come across as heavy-handed, sentimental, and moralistic. Too lush and pretentious; perhaps a bit anachronistic.

Do I really have to hunt for all the symbols and put the puzzle together?

‘So, you’re going to reveal universal truths, eh?’

This can seem distant from the experiences of the modern viewer, often finding himself a little further down the modern/postmodern ‘river’, where such attempts at universality might seem a wash.

Much more common these days are the very personal shards and glimpses of the inner life of an artist, attached to high ambition and great talent surely in some cases; as well to form and tradition, but generally making less bold claims to knowledge than ‘The Voyage Of Life‘.

In painting, I’m reminded of the abstract expressionist movement seeking meaning in reducing experience to the abstract in order to reveal something essential within Nature, or essential about our relationship to Nature: A transcendent place where shape, form and color can be isolated from anything immediately recognizable in the world.

Or maybe, I’m being too generous?

‘The movement’s name is derived from the combination of the emotional intensity and self-denial of the German Expressionists with the anti-figurative aesthetic of the European abstract schools such as Futurism, the Bauhaus, and Synthetic Cubism. Additionally, it has an image of being rebellious, anarchic, highly idiosyncratic and, some feel, nihilistic.[5] In practice, the term is applied to any number of artists working (mostly) in New York who had quite different styles, and even to work that is neither especially abstract nor expressionist.’

The exploration of the Self is often pursued, as well as that of Nature, but the general hope that it might all make sense (life, death, Nature, purpose etc) in many more modern movements is often left abandoned.

Or so often, as we’ve seen in the past few generations: The pursuit of The Self can easily become subsumed to the pursuit of fame, celebrity, and money.

***

Towards a theme: Perhaps you’ve also heard of the Rothko chapel, in Houston, Texas.

Mark Rothko undertook the idea that within the modern context, one could create temples of universal meaning through aesthetics, art, and beauty:

‘The Rothko Chapel, founded by Houston philanthropists John and Dominique de Menil, was dedicated in 1971 as an intimate sanctuary available to people of every belief. A tranquil meditative environment inspired by the mural canvases of Russian born American painter Mark Rothko (1903-1970), the Chapel welcomes over 60,000 visitors each year, people of every faith and from all parts of the world.’

There’s even a suite of music by Morton Feldman, entitled ‘Rothko Chapel’

See Also On This Site: Trying to stick something against his poems: Wednesday Poem: Wallace Stevens-Anecdote of The JarWednesday Poem: Wallace Stevens, The Snow ManFriday Poem: Wallace Stevens And A Quote By David Hume

Some Updated Links On Postmodernism

Repost: From The NY Times Via A & L Daily: Helen Vendler On Wallace Stevens ‘The Plain Sense Of Things’

Some Sunday Songs-Metal, Myth, American Romanticism And The Civil War

Within A Bank Of Modern Fog-Another Link To Robert Hughes On Jeff Koons

Meekly You Keep The Mortal Rendevouz-Monday Poem

On The Manner Of Addressing Clouds

Gloomy grammarians in golden gowns,
Meekly you keep the mortal rendezvous,
Eliciting the still sustaining pomps
Of speech which are like music so profound
They seem an exaltation without sound.
Funest philosophers and ponderers,
Their evocations are the speech of clouds.
So speech of your processionals returns
In the casual evocations of your tread
Across the stale, mysterious seasons. These
Are the music of meet resignation; these
The responsive, still sustaining pomps for you
To magnify, if in that drifting waste
You are to be accompanied by more
Than mute bare splendors of the sun and moon.

Wallace Stevens