18 January, 2012

Two Notes

Throughout the last post Maritain's Creative Intuition in Art and Poetry was very much on my mind.  While discussing the surrealists, he talks about how theories inherently destructive to art can be held by very good artists: the key is that since the theory is destructive to art, the art they produce is produced outside of that theory. They're accomplishing something other than what they're attempting. Just another example of how artists are usually the worst at figuring out what's actually going on in a piece of art. The trouble starts when they begin using vague terms like "irrationality," "anti-rationality," "the beyond," "magic," etc. Oy.

Also, does this bit from Maurice Maeterlinck's "Fauves Las" remind you of anything?

Les chiens jaunes de mes péchés,
Les hyènes louches de mes haines,
Et sur l'ennui pâle des plaines
Les lions de l'amour couchés !
Awkward literal translation: "The yellow dogs of my sins,/ The squint-eyed hyenas of my hates,/ And on the pale ennui of the flatlands/ The lions of love lying down." Later there's the great phrase "les brebis des tentations": "the sheep/flock of temptations."

The first two lines in and the "flock of temptations" made me think of Eliot (no surprise there). For comparison:

Those who sharpen the tooth of the dog, meaning
Death
Those who glitter with the glory of the hummingbird, meaning
Death
Those who sit in the sty of contentment, meaning
Death
Those who suffer the ecstasy of the animals, meaning
Death

 It's from "Marina," and  while the two poems are not similar in much else (the former is the quintessential anti-narrative poem, while the latter is much more narrative-driven than the usual poem), the use of animals as symbolic of things with which they have no conventional association is a classic symbolist move on Eliot's part. If anything, Maeterlinck's yellow dogs and squint-eyed hyenas are closer to being conventional symbols than Eliot's dogs and pigs. You can interpret the dog, hummingbird, pig, "ecstasy of the animals" as representing four of the seven deadly sins, of course. But then, interpretation is welcome in symbolist poems; it's just not going to be internally verifiable (contrast Wordsworth's reaper: he's a symbol too, but Wordsworth spends a whole poem interpreting him for us).

4 comments:

Turin Hurinson said...

I'm not convinced that when bad theorists make good art they're necessarily producing art outside their theory. It seems more like art is a hill that they're on but they're starting to roll off it in a particular direction and setting down works of art as they roll. Their art may be still on the hill but it could easily be dislodged. This dislodgment is what deconstructionists do.

In other words, maybe their theory takes a tendency in their art to a logical extreme that's bad for art, but it's still useful for understanding what they're doing.

This isn't a worked out theory, just a thought.

Greg Piv said...

So you're saying that anybody, who succeeds in fulfilling a theory-destructive-to-art, is in fact a failed artist in the general sense of "accomplishing good art"? The contrapositive of the statement is also true. So are they reaching beyond the scope of art and unwittingly remain within its bounds, or are they being facetious and trying to make a show of stretching the bounds, yet remain within the nebulous bounds of "good art" that perhaps have not yet been defined by humans?

Therese said...

Turin: agreed that "bad theory," whatever that may mean (I say that because I'm not sure how to define bad theory myself), can still be in play when artists are producing art, and your description sounds valid, if I'm understanding it correctly, for most "bad" theorists. However, I'm indicating not so much bad theory generally as theory "inherently" destructive of art, such as surrealism or dadaism, or, according to some understandings of art, symbolism. When I say "inherently destructive" I'm thinking of theories of art that would completely reject art's communicative function in favor of a totally solipsistic mode of writing, painting, etc. Since I understand art to be inherently communicative, I don't think that a theory like that, at least not in its pure form, can go along with the creation of good art. This is, of course, presupposing that one of the necessary conditions for something to be considered art is for it to attempt to and to succeed at communicating something. There are, of course, many ways one could take that statement even so, and many complications potentially involved, but that's how I'm seeing it now. The book I reference in the post, the one by Maritain, elaborates very well on this idea.

Greg: Yes, I think that if your theory goes against the essentials of what art is, then you can't stick to it and produce great art. Then again, when it comes to the schools which I have in mind, and which I describe above, I don't think it's really possible at all to "stick" to them completely. An obvious example of what I'm talking about would be certain dadaist attempts to make "art" of nonsense, resulting in an art that is accessible only to the individual who wrote it, unless some reader could also somehow read the author's mind. An element of this disconnect between author and reader does of course exist in all written art to some extent, and so it can be debated where the "solipsism" problem actually comes into play in practice. The reason I suspect it would be impossible for anyone creating something to stick completely to a solipsistic theory is that certain perceived elements of the work, even if the author goes so far as to reject words or pictures, will be recognizable to the audience/reader as long as there is anything there at all; for instance, even a blank page in a book does communicate something, though perhaps less than a good work of art (in my opinion) should.

Therese said...

Again to Greg: The "facetious" idea is an intriguing one. There's definitely an element of facetiousness in the works of the better adherents of such ideas. I'm thinking of Magritte, Maeterlinck's later plays, Apollinaire (still trying to figure out where he fit in with all this, admittedly), Ionesco, Beckett, etc. And yes, the "show" thing is probably a good description, I'd think. It's almost, for many of them, like they're putting outrageous, nonsensical ideas out there just to show how unconventional they are. And then when it comes down to it, all they're really doing is, as you say, "stretching the bounds" of workable communication.