“Through Imagination, spiritual truths are transformed into visible forms. Although he took issue with Swedenborg on certain matters, Blake felt much closer to his system than to that of Dante, whom he accused of atheism. Blake’s Marriage of Heaven and Hell is modeled on Swedenborg, and he would have been amused by an inquiry into whether he had ‘really’ seen the devils and angels he describes. The crux of the problem—and a serious challenge to the mind—is Blake’s respect for both the imagination of Dante, who was a poet, and the imagination of Swedenborg, whose works are written in quite pedestrian Latin prose…. Neither Swedenborg nor Blake was an aesthetician, and they did not enclose the spiritual within the domain of art and poetry and oppose it to the material. At the risk of simplifying the issue by using a definition, let us say rather that they both were primarily concerned with the energy which reveals itself in a constant interaction of Imagination with the things perceived by our five senses.” — Czeslaw Milosz, from his essay “Dostoevsky and Swedenborg,” in Emperor of the Earth: Modes of Eccentric Vision (boldface added)
Note: In my paperback copy of Emperor of the Earth, the word “Imagination” appears with a capitalized “I,” but in online sources I found, including the one linked above, it is not always capitalized. For Milosz’s purposes, I think it’s fitting to capitalize the first letter of Imagination as a way to designate it as something larger than what Coleridge would call, in contrast to Imagination, mere “fancy.”
“When art is used as a tool for evangelism, it is often insincere and second-rate, devalued to the level of propaganda. I would call this a form of prostitution, a misuse of one’s talent.” — H.R. Rookmaaker
Also see Auden Explains Poetry, Propaganda, and Reporting.
In part of this post on William Carlos Williams’s poem “The Pot,” Thomas F. Bertonneau suggests meaning is bigger than mere associations between things, images, ideas, etc. He seems to be saying the ability to make meanings has its source in common grace. “Meaning is not only a type of synchronicity; it is a type of Grace. It takes an occasion, such as the careful composition of ‘The Pot,’ to bestow itself, although undeserved, on the percipient. A sense of this drove the humanities at their constitution, but as Western culture has gradually repudiated basic notions like the beauty that is truth lauded by Keats in his Ode, as it has expelled the supernatural, the Christianized sacred, and the pre-Christian sacred, it has impoverished itself of meaning, which it now in fact disdains, pretending to ‘deconstruct’ it. In the 1980s, when I attended graduate school in Comparative Literature at UCLA, the old guard of the professoriate still clung vestigially to the institutions of meaning; they still urged their young acolytes to acquire as much knowledge as possible so that as many things as possible might at any moment be brought into constellation by an instance of meaning.”
Ou Li Da
The poem to which this essay’s subtitle refers is one of the much-excerpted and much anthologized verse-interpolations in the Menippean combination of verse and prose, Spring and All (1921), that the New Jersey poet William Carlos Williams (1883 – 1963) produced at the acme of his self-consciously Imagist phase in the years after the First World War. The poem carries no title, but, according to the tenets of Imagism, presents itself to the reader as an instance of res ipso loquitur or “the thing speaks for itself.” In a later phase of his insistent creativity, Williams would adopt as his poetic motto the formula, “no ideas but in things,” the implication of which is that experience is not solipsistic, nor consciousness hermetic, but that any self-aware navigation of the world presupposes an intentional relation between the navigator and the world that he navigates, which he records as…
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Posted in Christian Humanism, common grace, Humanities, poetry
Tagged art, consciousness, culture, grace, humanities, imagist, meaning, poems, sacred, The Pot, William Carlos Williams
At the Museum Of Modern Art today.
Mondrian and My Shirt.
This is Bjork, projected on a wall at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC. At least two other short films at MOMA also involved the Icelandic artist known for her innovative music and ethereal voice. This past Tuesday, I saw the one called “Black Lake.” For that one, we entered a darkened room the size of a small movie theater. I wish I could say “Black Lake” accomplished something. Projected simultaneously on two screens in a darkened room, on walls facing each other, the only curious thing was the occassional differences between the scenes accompanying the same music. Bjork’s voice was at once lovely and unintelligible. Even the floor and ceiling speakers were under-used. Her performance-artist dancing brought nothing to the indecipherable message, or indecipherable emotion, or indecipherable indecipherableness. The landscapes and settings — cave, rocky passageway, green plain near mountains — redeemed some of the 10 or so minutes I stood stuffed amongst strangers wondering when I would have something to grasp mentally or emotionally. Oh, and among those landscapes and settings, not one black lake. I guess an exotic appearance and an angelic voice allows a woman to take over the MOMA for no apparent reason other than Bjorkness.
Updated with this preamble to the photo: I’ve been fascinated with winged gods, goddesses, monsters, and other creatures, mostly from the pre-Christian era. So I will share several upcoming photos, which will include sculptures and other renderings of pre-Christian gods, goddesses, monsters, and other creatures that look a lot like Christian angels yet originate in pagan classical civilizations.
I’m curious about imagination and how it creates unreal, or at least unseen, things. What is it about the human imagination, or about ancient civilizations, that brought about these winged beings?
Maybe it wasn’t much of a step for the mind to see wings and imagine them on human bodies. Maybe — although it seems very unlikely to me — these creatures exist in some other dimension or some Platonic realm of forms. Whatever the source or sources of winged things, through the course of the past 6 years, my curiosity drove me to take hundreds of photos of ancient and medieval art, sculpture, and architecture in England, Germany, Austria, Hungary, and Italy.
A Roman griffin in the Vatican Museum, photographed Oct. 10, 2014.
Updated to correct the photo and add another.