Poetry: Angelus Silesius

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*

Der unerkannte Gott

Was Gott ist, weiß man nicht. Er ist nicht Licht, nicht Geist,

Nicht Wahrheit, Einheit, Eins, nicht was man Gottheit heißt.

Nicht Weisheit, nicht Verstand, nicht Liebe, Wille, Güte,

Kein Ding, kein Unding auch, kein Wesen, kein Gemüte.

Er ist, was ich und du und keine Kreatur,

Eh wir geworden sind, was er ist, nie erfuhr.

*

The Unknown God

No one knows what God is. He is not Light, not Spirit,

Not Truth, Unity, One, not anything one calls Divinity.

Not Wisdom, not Intellect, not Love, Will, Goodness,

No Entity, no Nonentity either, no Being, no Spirit.

He is what neither I nor you nor any other creature,

until we have become what he is, can know.

*

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The 17th century German mystic Angelus Silesius on God, in preparation for upcoming posts on Franz Kafka. Is this not Das Schloss in six lines? I think so, anyway.

Photography from my sister, as ever. Translation my own.

Art: Dada and Bread & Puppet

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I went down to Chelsea last night to see a traveling performance of the Bread and Puppet Theater in the old town hall. The setting was classic Vermont–tiny town surrounded by green hills, dusty wood-floored room with paneled ceiling and folding chairs in front of the stage. A space and a part of the state I love.

I had heard of Bread and Puppet, but had never seen one of their performances. Founded by a German baker in New York and now located in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, the group has spent the past half-century baking bread, writing manifestos, and presenting provocative, surrealist, and occasionally anarchic spectacles in New England and around the world. They are Cheap Art and Political Theater, they say–art is for everyone, art is food, art wakes up sleepers!

The show I saw  was based on a series of Renaissance paintings and entitled, quite lengthily, Piero Della Francesca’s Legend of the True Cross: A series of tableaux vivants depicting the legend of the true cross as seen in Piero’s murals in Arezzo, mounted on a stage which resembles the Death of Adam lunette, with the Contemporary Crucifixion of an Oppositionist by Bread & Puppet Butchers and Bureaucrats.

Indeed. The four performers mixed larger-than-life puppetry, instruments, and sung and spoken word–sometimes shocking, sometimes beautiful, always with an underlying layer of absurd humor. The portrayal of the Christian religion was sometimes satirical (was God perpetrator, victim, or spectator?), sometimes deeply respectful and almost reverent (the tableau of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba with a recitation of the Song of Songs, for instance). In keeping with the group’s motto, Biblical archetype met Newsweek drama in the last scene, where contemporary “oppositionists” were symbolically crucified–the last being, rather predictably, Edward Snowden. 

If you are in Vermont and get a chance to see them, do. The gritty, vital feel of the evening and the political/artistic philosophy of the company were, to me, quite reminiscent of various avant garde movements of the early 20th century, and particularly of Dadaism. Tristan Tzara’s brilliant and insane Unpretentious Proclamation, for instance, somehow fits right in. I include it below, as it too loud to be ignored.

How different this type of artistic expression is–Dada and Bread and Puppet–than the order and rigor of a Renaissance painting, the self-conscious profundity of a Mann or Dostoevsky novel. How much more playful, unstructured, irreverent–yet still provocative, shaking us up and making us reconsider, trying to get at what it means to be human and live in the world and create.

Art is crazy. Above the rules of the Beautiful and its inspection, indeed.

Tristan Tzara

Kunst: Rainer Maria Rilke’s Sankt Sebastian

Guido Reni Sebastian 2

Wie ein Liegender so steht er; ganz

hingehalten von dem großen Willen.

Weitentrückt wie Mütter, wenn sie stillen,

und in sich gebunden wie ein Kranz.

*

Und die Pfeile kommen: jetzt und jetzt

und als sprängen sie aus seinen Lenden,

eisern bebend mit den freien Enden.

Doch er lächelt dunkel, unverletzt.

*

Einmal nur wird eine Trauer groß,

und die Augen liegen schmerzlich bloß,

bis sie etwas leugnen, wie Geringes,

und als ließen sie verächtlich los

die Vernichter eines schönen Dinges.

 

Saint Sebastian

So he stands like someone lying down; fully

held back by his great will.

Distanced, reveried, as mothers when they nurse,

and bound into himself like a ring.

*

And the arrows come: now and now

as if they sprang from his own loins,

iron-quaking with their free ends.

Still he smiles darkly, not yet wounded.

*

Only once is his sorrow great,

his eyes laid bare in pain

until they deny something slight and mean,

as if they scornfully set free

the annihilators of a beautiful thing.

 Rilke_Signature

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A lovely and disturbing poem. [Poor] translation my own. Painting from Guido Reni. More to come later on St. Sebastian and Death in Venice.

Zum Spaß: Exams….

Wittenberg University, late 1590s.

Scene: 2:30am. A dark, gothic study hall, a sort of Faustian “dumpfes Mauerloch.” Tall black windows, wooden table with half-burned candles and stacks of parchment. Hamlet and Horatio are pulling an all-nighter for their Philosophy exam the next morning.

Hamlet is the worst study partner imaginable.

Hamlet: (emphatically not studying, staring into space in a metaphysical manner) Words, words, words…..

Silence from Horatio, surrounded by stacks of parchment and dutifully color-coding his notes.

Hamlet: (beginning to chew the end of his quill pen, poetic but unhelpful) When midterms come, they come not single spies but in battalions. (silence) –eh, Horatio?

Horatio: (scribbling furiously) Shut up, Hamlet. Study! Or at least let me study.

(silence)

Hamlet: (struck by an idea, gesturing dramatically) But there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy! Let’s go find some food.

Horatio: (shoving a stack of the 16th-century equivalent of index cards in Hamlet’s direction, exasperated) Yeah, well, we need to get all of the stuff we do know in out heads so we can put it on paper tomorrow. Now come on! Quiz me!

Finis.

______________________

The idea of Hamlet and Horatio cramming for midterms appeared rather hilarious to my roommate and myself very late last night. It’s that time of the semester…..  : )

Any resemblance to various members of the Hillsdale student body is entirely intended.

Kunst: Rilke

…Wandlung

Hymnen im Innern, Tanz vor der Arche,

Aufruhr und Aufzug im reifenden Wein.

 

…Metamorphosis

Hymns in the soul, a dance before the Ark,

Uproar and gathering in ripening wine.

~~~~~

Rose, oh reiner Widerspruch, Lust,

Niemandes Schlaf zu sein unter soviel Lidern.

 

Rose, you pure oxymoron, joy,

that no one sleeps behind so many eyelids.

Rainer Maria Rilke 1875-1926