Thomas Kuhn’s 1962 book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions1 elucidates four stages of the history of a science: the pre-paradigm phase (where all facts are seemingly relevant because the science starts from scratch), normal science phase (where research is conducted; puzzles are solved; knowledge of facts are highlighted and we acquire presuppositions), a period of crises phase (where human error is often cited, anomalies occur and “observed facts do not match up with what a paradigm has led us to expect”)2 and lastly, the revolution phase (where paradigms which are more adequate replace present paradigms—not because of observational data alone— but because, for one out of two different scientists, theory A might appear simpler than theory B, the two theories do not dialogue well together yet, for the two scientists will use the same terms to mean different things).
In June, 1900, Nikolo Tesla published a groundbreaking article in Century Illustrated Magazine that addressed the “energy situation.” That article, entitled “The Problem of Increasing Human Energy with Special References to the Harnessing of the Sun’s Energy,” contained Tesla’s own vision regarding the future of human technology. 114 years after the release of Tesla’s article, we no longer speak or read about the “energy situation.” We speak or read about the “energy crises.”
We hear or read stories about how we, as a planet, have two-hundred years of crude oil left, how there are more draughts, higher temperatures, wilder weather, change in rain and snow patterns, shrinking sea ice, melting glaciers, less snowpack, thawing permafrost, increased ocean acidity, warmer oceans, rising sea level, as well as what has been called “the greatest nuclear disaster in human history” in Fukashima, Japan, whose radioactive fall-out has already raised counts and radiation doses on Geiger counters on the beaches of San Francisco.
The combustible engines used in our cars (primitive to many engineers and inventors) have not been in use that long, given how long we have lived on this planet without them. Yet, already, the very commodity used for fueling the combustible engine is scarce enough that it itself is approaching depletion. What is to be done? Blame bankers who have hijacked governments through “economic terrorism”—who fund invasions of countries and continents, who have ravaged Africa, ravaged Central America, and have done the same in the Middle East?
Since the industrial revolution, Western imperialism went into hyper-mode for diamonds, gold, and oil. Industrial nations went after natural resources that could facilitate the even-flow of the liberal-democratic system. This was done, at first, with the ruse that it was for solely for national interest; now, however, it’s safe to say it’s not for national interest. It is Machivellian, for a group of elitists, with the entire world being bought up, re-traded, and re-sold.
Why is the agricultural sector of the world facilitated by inter-governmental interest groups? These groups or conglomeration of groups already know there is hard science for over-unity devices that can produce free energy to power our homes and our commercial centers, as well the hard science for the electro-magnetic propulsion of our cars and airplanes.
Inventors in Ireland, in Russia, as well as the U.S. were persecuted and silenced for knowledge of these technologies.3 Many of these inventors, who were not always academics and are on the fringes of the mainstream scientific community, attempted to show the world how an over-unity device—the Motionless Electromagnetic Generator—that they had constructed, worked. The “normal scientific community” questioned the accuracy of the “measurements.” Think-tanks and government-sponsored probes were formulated in an attempt to discover relations between these over-unity devices and the theories of Nikolo Tesla (whose experiments were acquiesced by the U.S. government upon his death). Unsurprisingly, these fringe inventors were mocked. “Normal science” seemed to have won—while theoretical physicists at universities, academic engineers and IT people, instead, continued and still continue to indoctrinate their graduate students, with outdated scientific dogma about the laws of thermodynamics by claiming the results produced by these inventors were simply “impossible.”
These academics refused to accept how free energy, also known as Zero-Point Energy, could be harnessed from a sub-atomic field. Free energy had been harnessed without using an external power source and academics were left scratching their heads, musing on the anomalies. Then on March 26th, 2002, Patrick Stephen L; Bearden Thomas E; Hayes James C; Moor Kenneth D; Kenny James L. received a U.S. Patent of the Motionless Electromagnetic Generator.4 Many academics conceded there was, indeed, no loss of energy at the quantum level, which befuddled “normal scientists.”
Since the scientists know, the governments know there is a collective interest in the research, development and manufacturing of over-unity devices, which would allow for a dramatic Energy Revolution in the next fifteen years. The influence of these technologies will re-contextualize what it means to be a citizen of the world. Countries have been invaded for energy; coups have been staged for energy. A scientific revolution—getting off of oil completely—could lead to geo-political catastrophe. Old Money will hold onto their imperialist investments before they themselves invest in the new technologies. They would need to create new wars and stay in those wars. The pretext for it is set already for the sake of “national interest.” Everything must get unbearably worse, to the point of utter hopelessness, I think—with wars, false imprisonments, refugee crises, the censoring of intellectuals, arbitrary manipulation of gas prices, spying on green militia groups, complete surveillance of the world over, further destruction of foreign lands, instilling doses of hysteria through mass media and cultural production, kidnappings, sieges upon and seizures of private property—until it is clear to people that the exploitation is real and that elite are really terrified of New Science.
Perhaps, when this generation is beaten down enough and it comes to understand it’s really that serious, and it’s not about babble, or about theories anymore, but about taking action, the external conditions will literally force us to inspire change. The world economy is the way it is now because of foreign policies and alliances that are trying to delay the advent of new science. Anyone who understands the relation between ecology and economics, understands what you consume and the way it is consumed is the collective impetus behind the ruling ideology, which allows markets to be given privilege and/or dominion of the human bio-sphere. Remember the topic of Cold Fusion in the early 90’s? It was cast aside. We did not hear about it for two decades until now. Why now? Free, open-sourced energy is our future.
© 2014 Paul Rogov
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this website, or portions thereof, in any form.
1 Kuhn, Thomas S. (1996). Third Edition. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press. pp 1-110.
2 Brown, C. (2011). Some Notes on Thomas Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions
3 Telsa, Nikolo (1900). Century Illustrated Magazine. Vol. LX, No. 2.
4 Fischer, Douglas (2012) The Scientist: Jim Hansen Risks Handcuffs to Make His
Research Clear. http://www.dailyclimate.org/tdc-newsroom/query/scientist-hansen
5 Bearden, Tom. (2003). The Motionless Electromagnetic Generator, Extracting Energy
from a Permanent Magnet with Energy-Replenishing from the Active Vacuum.
Seraph of all my Augusts, Anastasiya, phoenix of Russian-American twilight: of the dry-eyed blues of unveiling worlds entire—I write you now with sleight of hand and perfect tenderness.
No matter how steadily I sip my cup, without true knowledge of what is in there, I still imagine our kisses, Anastasiya. I imagine those kisses, Anastsayia. I imagine them spilling upon the earth: lumbering down, bombarding the planet like silent meteorites—every shard of them, penetrating every inch of every kilometer of sky in the atmosphere, every dwarfish cloudlet, every secluded stratus cloud—hurling through every gale or blooming tempest, knowing all too well how the entire totality of oxygen in the earth, however layered, rich and good, quite simply, is not thick, nor deep enough to contain us.
On my knees I’m writing this, bleeding, kneeling on tile, writing on a toilet seat, donning an Angelica smock and County-issued treaded socks, five-minutes before bed-check, transposing everything that I wrote earlier on grocery bags I have been saving onto real paper as I contemplate the radiance of everything you are to me and everything I have become.
Ever since ETS gave me the materials necessary to write, I realized there were truly no great love stories anymore. Romeo and Juliet are struck dead in high school drama classes. Tristan and Isolde are buried, cut out, then used as skeleton-tropes in unreadable books. You got scared, ran back to Belarus, got married, and perhaps think little of me now. But I am still here, Anastasiya. I’m still here loving you for who you once were and are—because my love for you is the only thing left in me that’s good right now. I’ve lost my mind too many times to understand this. I wiped everything else away from my life and see you there like a splinter of light in darkness.
You were my first love, my Woman, my Virgin, my Magdalene, my earthly salvation in world that is cold. It was all always about human humidity with us. It was always about the adipose tissue at your hips, and the way I would grasp your pelvis. It was always about the words that tumbled from your lips when we would lie awake in the darkness, knowing that your father’s death was based on politics at the core of its premeditation, or another complication, another ingredient, another way to make tragic what had dauntingly been life-affirming and real for us.
I can almost hear the blood rushing between your sternum, up towards your plastysma, your sternocleidiomastoideus as your hand slithers along your neck—the other holding this letter—as your mind responds to my claustrophobic zealotries. Why are those who remain so fascinated with other people’s sins? How stubborn are they who totter on a pivot, gamble with the false conviction supposedly upholding the meaning to their lives? They have nothing else to do but envy. And therein resides our secret: we envy no one. Could you imagine “taping” what has happened to us? In space and on the earth? Before the war and after the war? Before the Chip was implanted: before the execution of my father, wherein AmeriState did not relent for one instance and searched for your mother’s will? It would certainly make for a compelling avant-garde film. But we are not glamorous, child. We do not shine. We are not stars. We do not burn. We create burning. If it’s sea-foam and other people’s orgasms they want, they should read about sea-foam and other people’s orgasms—better yet still, read Virginia Woolf or James Joyce or Thomas A. Kempis for all I care. For you and I must dive deeper, love, become cooler, stiller.
I will (and can) never forget what happened in Andromeda that summer. I will keep the promises I made to Mama and Papa. I will not falter. I will never give up. I want you to know the afternoons I spend in in Triple CMS conditions reminds me of that time, when we did not speak for hours only to guess one another’s thoughts. I am Pesach ben David. The archipelagoes of my visions and dreams are outlined here before you, as they start leveling the world like a terrible child.
I must stop writing now and put on my wool cap.
I am signing yellow grid paper like this—
Pesach ben David, AKA Rogziel of the Ein Sof.
© 2014 Paul Rogov
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this website, or portions thereof, in any form.
John Milton likes ladyfingers. I was compelled to see if there was some self-imposed duty to even re-read the dead man (for he was clearly bones and ratty clothing), and I wanted the conversation to flow, but all I could think of was his death and the death of literature. I had fallen through a worm-hole, see, and ended up in another dimension. It wasn’t William Blake that I imagined I would meet; instead, I suspected I would be having tea with no one other than John Milton.
Despite British revolutions and personal losses (the death of two of his own children), Milton went blind and continued to write. I looked over at him, feeling pity for him, yet he did not say a word; he did not need to say a word. I just sipped my tea and glanced over at him from time to time. I then took a break and re-read the British author in my “Completed works of” copy in order to “check” if the words that Milton once wrote were actually “still there.” I even re-read the Italian Sonnets and Paradise Regained.
I devoured the tome. It took me a matter of four months, but I had completed the formidable task: to read the entire body of work of one author in order to gain insight to his role in the Western canon.
Milton’s conjuring of syntax and diction is nearly Hermetic, its unscrupulous authority, his almost reeking combination of Anglo-Saxon with Latinate words illuminate my claim that the 17th century as well as the beginning of the 18th century in British Literature, (Edmund Spenser included, roughly 1603 to 1714) was the peak of English Letters. After two hours of jumping from Milton’s poetry to his prose, I became convinced that Milton was a better rounded writer than Homer, Virgil, and Dante combined. He was not only a poet. He was a man of letters, a philosopher, a classicist, a theologian, an activist, a man of ideas.
I don’t read Paradise Lost as a re-telling of Genesis. I re-read it as a account of the birth of subjective individualism, that of Lucifer’s freedom from God in Christian lore, who has his own freewill independent of the Almighty Creator. Whoever instructs someone to read Paradise Lost in tandem with the Book of Genesis, should re-consider why it the most “obvious” reason to read it that way (as parallel to the Biblical account) is even necessary or productive. Recall: there is only one mention of Lucifer in the entire Bible and it’s in the book of Daniel, referring to the “light-bearer,” “the morning star,” or in historical terms, the King Nebuchadnezzar II, who ruled the Neo-Bablylonian empire from c. 605 BC – 562 BC.
When I listen to (and I mean listen to Milton’s words echoing back in the grottoes of my own skull) the triumphant universe of Paradise Lost’s setting, the vastness of its song, the mellifluous tangents filled with music, pauses, beats, all the images combined, like a juggernaut, smash through a maze of mirrors so that we can face the limit of the expanding universe, approach the Dragon of the Sublime.
Casting William Shakespeare (the dandy actor and R-rated playwright) and Geoffrey Chaucer (the allegorical pervert known for his sex and fart jokes) aside, led me to the conclusion that pound for pound, it is, in fact, John Milton that is the greatest poet of the English language.
I do not make the claim for no reason. I will tell you why he is the greatest.
Because he was the right writer, with the right ambitions at the right time, in the right place, historically situated precisely when England needed such a writer.
Remember Descartes’ famous “I think; therefore I am” (cogito ergo sum)? This famous statement is a statement about subjectivity and it correlates to the historical backdrop by which English and Continental literature gained traction for mobilizing the subjective “I.” In Paradise Lost, Satan has a subjective “I” domain. He performs “speech acts.” Yet who is the “I” in Shakespearean sonnets? Surely, in Don Quixote we have a subject that is comparable to the Cartesian cogito, and yet the subjective “I”, it appears, did not come forth until after the Protestant Reformation and after the Counter-Reformation, where Protestants and Catholics alike warred over proper doctrine.
The Church of English, of course, was no exception. The relation between the Church of England and the British monarchy is the historical background to the writing of Paradise Lost—it is not simply a clever poetic version of the fall of humankind from it pre-lapsarian state in the Garden of Eden. In Christian lore there are two falls; one from celestial history (theological claims) wherein Satan and a third of heaven plummeted down to Hell, and then a second fall, that of humankind, which was based on ill-fated decision for humankind to, like Satan himself, acquire freewill, that is, a will different than God’s will.
As much as I like William Blake, Edmund Spenser, Dylan Thomas, W.B. Yeats, Milton already sets the bar in the 17th century by sitting quietly, observing all Creation, with salvation and celestial history as the context. Who does this today? Even Shelley’s verse compared to Milton seems like a drunken game of Battleship and Lord Byron’s verse comparable to a game of Connect Four. Milton transforms the pathos and ethos of Keats—the poet who wrote “beauty is truth and truth is beauty.” Milton focuses on Lucifer, the most beautiful being that God had ever created, who would go on to betray Him, wage war on Him, set siege to the Monarchy of Heaven with a third of host of rebel angles having fallen with him. In that metaphysical context, Milton makes Keats’ feelings and lyric poetry look like a fat Robert Smith from the band, The Cure, moaning for an abstract love that only exists when one is a teenager.
Now, I realize there are other beloved poets in other languages than English that equal if not surpass Milton in aesthetic beauty, but as far as the English language goes: Milton is the poet of the English sublime par excellence. I’m not talking about his epic poem alone here. I’m talking about the vastness of space and time that Milton thought in.
Deeper into the Introduction of Paradise Lost (which uses diogesis and mimesis):
he it was, whose guile
Stird up with Envy and Revenge, deceiv’d
The Mother of Mankind, what time his Pride
Had cast him out from Heav’n, with all his Host
Of Rebel Angels, by whose aid aspiring
To set himself in Glory above his Peers,
He trusted to have equal’d the most High,
If he oppos’d; and with ambitious aim
Against the Throne and Monarchy of God
Rais’d impious War in Heav’n and Battel proud
With vain attempt. Him the Almighty Power
Hurld headlong flaming from th’ Ethereal Skie
With hideous ruine and combustion down
To bottomless perdition
Milton mystifies me. Sometimes I hate him and judge him to be wholly irrelevant by associating him with a Christian story. Nevertheless, when the tea was all gone from the kettle, and Milton and I shook hands, he disappeared and left a blank book where he once sat. He never said a word, I guess he didn’t have to.
He had said enough by creating the first anti-hero in epic poetry and that is fine by me.
© 2014 Paul Rogov
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this website, or portions thereof, in any form.
Mannerism is a transitional artistic style (circa 1535- 1610), therefore difficult to pinpoint.
Mannerist paintings are caliginous; they possess a methodical removal from harmony, subject matter that is either deliberately obscure or treated so that it becomes forbidding to understand.
The perspective is often intemperate as figures are jammed into small, dark spaces, illumined by candlelight.
There is play between light-shadow, subtlety-grandeur, contemplation- emotion; tone is blotched.
Human bodies and faces are contorted, longing for something unclear.
The composition wholeness, in this sense, is of utmost importance (Seiferth).
The composition is spryly held together almost to the point of bursting off the canvas; it aims at generating awe.
Thematically speaking, however, some have argued that Mannerism is, more or less, a forced incarnation of sorts: “a universal and universally present spiritualization of the earthly world which however retain[s] its patent sensuous reality” (Auerbach 19).
Precipitated by the Protestant Reformation, literary Mannerism, like its visual counterpart, recoiled from its Renaissance roots, focusing on “illuminating” the laity on the political and religious reordering of their reality. To put it bluntly, political and religious subject matter “got creepier.” Despite the mystical writings of St. Theresa St. Teresa of Jesus, commonly known as St. Teresa of Avila (1515-1582), St. John of the Cross (1542-1591), and the founder of the religious order always identified with the Counter Reformation, St. Ignatius Loyola of the Society of Jesus (1491-1556), many have claimed that the beginnings of the Mannerist trend in literature may most clearly be identified in vernacular writing. In the development of such extremely artificial prose styles as those in Lyly’s Euphues: The Anatomy of Wit (1578) and Euphues and His England (1580) and Sidney’s The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia (1590).
Mannerism allowed for a “spiritualization” of England’s historical situation. Along those lines, Shakespeare also seemed to have employed Mannerist tendencies, particularly in Hamlet, Act V, where a strange, restless conversation between Hamlet and a gravedigger (who does not know with whom he is speaking) about “Hamlet’s madness” takes place in a grave. One may, in this vein, treat Mannerism as an anxiety ridden stylistic tendency, very aware of its historical situation which “tend[ed] to emphasize dexterity and formulas” (Murray 31).
Based on a Thomistic hermeneutic model of language, where allegorical meaning and anagogical meaning hinged on the moral meaning, such a mannerist tendency was very much open to the possibility that discordant contrasts could hint at European unity, frank artificiality conclude a European realism, extreme perspective at something “in one’s face.” That the past could be reconciled upon the Christ-Event for future glory, the unveiling European vision was forcefully hinged upon biblical hermeneutics—and as such, attempted to bring Post-Reformation Europe back to its “moral purpose.” As Europe changed, Europeans had witnessed their confidence in the order of their “splitting” universe—both theological and political—–also change. A “dark palette adopted,” Tridentine ideals became more subversive (Wright 228).
Preoccupied with death, straining to keep subject matter together within a very confined place, literary mannerism became an exemplar of Counter-Reformation aesthetics.
Counter-Reformation aesthetics is not an a posteriori concept like Eurocentricism, which implies—by virtue of cognizing abstract historical space—some deliberate placement of the European identity within the width of a specific circle. Identity, in this vein, resembles a dot within its own boundary, yet ignores the implications of its stylistic means. The style is the “act,” the actual means to get to reestablish or reconsider the Post-Reformation European identity, one which at that time was confused and disillusioned. Counter-Reformation aesthetics should, therefore, be seen as an a priori tendency more than anything else: a historically active intention or sentiment in the consciousness of a searching Catholic mind for a “moral purpose” during the Late Renaissance.
Supported by a kind of theia mania that returns Europe to the Christ-Event, the aesthetic depicts “afflicted individuals themselves…caught up in some unspecified participation, and in which, moreover, a certain innercorruption, impossible to define, coincides with an inescapable and fateful external destiny” (Pieper 24). In such a way, the past, the present, and the future of European identity lie splattered upon the canvas of the hermeneutics of salvation history. Through deliberate style and willful mystification, mannerist aesthetics elucidates Renaissance Europe’s sense of being-beside- its own moral purpose, the Christ-event which brings the past and the future together. However, in attempting to “spiritualize” their sensuous reality, a divided Christendom had to reevaluate its tropological pivot in relation to a setting/time where such a pivot was less in theological and political confusion. There was an enemy to Christendom, indeed. It was itself; The Reformation attested to this. Yet, if, for the Christian, the Christ-Event subsisted with the past allegorically as well as with hope for future glory, how would Post-Reformation Europe understand its own identity? There needed to be, not only a common ground, but a common enemy, an Other—a single obstacle that repressed the actualization of achieving a interdependent “European good.”
Tarquato Tasso’s epic poem about the First Crusade, Gerusalemme liberata is indicatory of Manneristic allegory, attempting to consolidate a split Europe’s return to one God. Post-Reformation Europe experienced great melancholy in respect to the past and overwhelming uncertainty regarding the future. The Reformation and Counter- Reformation in Europe was not simply a period of one canon retaliating against the other. There was a loss of a baseline, a commonality. Catholics and Protestants alike felt that Europe might never see itself the same way.
Recalling a truce meeting in 1580 five years after the publication of Tasso’s epic) between both sides, Protestant Francois de la Noue, expresses in his memoirs a sense of helplessness:
Each urged the other to peace and to persuade
the great to listen. Some, standing a little
aside, considered these things more deeply and
deplored the public discord, source of future
evils; and when they came to think that all the
caresses then being given would be transformed
into bloody murders if the commanders should give
but a sign for battle, and that the visors being
lowered…brother would be pitiless to brother,
tears flowed from their eyes (Hale 129).
Tasso’s Gerusalemme liberata is motivated by the nostalgia for Christendom’s once clearly defined umbrella of inclusiveness, the multitudes under the single Christ-Event, which protects European identity from losing itself, past or future. (Gal. 3, 28) The subject matter, therefore, is a historical victory in accord with an Eurocentric spiritual victory. By displacing the historical facts of the conquest of Jerusalem, Tasso promotes an open, abstract temporality: one of an ambiguous, aesthetically deliberate past or an unrealized indeterminate future, held upon the pivot of its moral purpose. In the poem, the characters must return to a common moral purpose to procure a victory as a single Christian army, yet must do so as individual warriors before that may take place. Tancred overcomes his earthly desires, his love for Clorinda—a pagan warrioress—before being spiritually fit enough to slay Argante.
He is torn between the fascination with the Other and this idea that the Other can still participate in salvation history, as Clorida’s conversion suggests. Erminia, a pagan in love with Tancred, on the other hand, just fades away into a subdued anti-courtly world, hidden from action. Europe’s Other in the poem, therefore, works hand in hand in bringing about a resolution to the spiritual trials ofthe Christians for they are the road to get there. The identity of Europe, bound to its understanding of salvation history, sees the Other as a trope by which the Europe may reclaim its political and theological solidarity to the Christ-Event independent of Martin Luther’s condemnation of the Church as a final authority. Momentously, God enters Tasso’s poem only to assist his flock, rather than unilaterally secure a Christian victory. The European himself makes the spiritual victory possible—much like Lutherism itself suggests. Standing against the Other’s outside influence or heresy, in the poem’s case, ‘the infidels,’ Protestant and Catholic have no distinction from each other because the conquest is of Jerusalem, or, more specifically, the European participation in the moral purposefulness that glues together Christendom’s hermeneutic model of allegory and history.
Written in the vernacular, however, Tasso’s epic was not only intended for Catholic scholars. It is written for Europe in general and the form of Gerusalemme liberata must be considered in this critical context. Tasso, a Catholic poet, does not speak or utter his ambitious vision, rather “sing[s] the reverent armies, and that Chief who set the great tomb of our Savior free” (I, 1,1). He celebrates the outcome before the reader has the opportunity to know what how his melody will be phrased. Here, Tasso instantiates a leader, Godfrey, who is emblematic of Christian responsibility; yet, if one considered the beginning of the poem as one bookend, the other bookend is Godfrey’s actualization of Tasso’s song of freedom, for the last stanza of the poem mirrors the beginning:
So Godfrey has attained his victory.
And leads, in the last light glowing in the west
The victors into the city now set free
And to the place where Christ was laid to rest.
To the temple with the other chiefs goes he,
Nor does he set aside his blood-stained vest.
He hangs his arms here, with devoted brow
Adores the great tomb, and fulfills his vow (XX, 144).
The “last light glowing in the west” is not only the last vestige of illumination. It is also the candle which is held to ghastly subject matter, calling to view “on general massacre, [and] heaps and mountains of corpses”(XIX, 30, 1-2). Tasso’s forcing together of classical elements with chivalric poetry attempts to contextualizethe moral battle. If the battle is not for Jerusalem, temporal victory, it is for spiritual victory—one of theChristian soul returning to God. Notwithstanding, Tasso is surgical in his fusing of the genres of epic and romance, admitting that a stringent aesthetic must be implemented t give a sense of awe to the reader. In Discorsi, he writes:
In my judgement it is very necessary that any
heroic poem include the marvelous, that which goes
beyond the usual action and even beyond human
possibility, whether it be presented as the power of
the gods as in the poems of the pagans, or as the power
of the angels, devils, and magicians as in all modern
poetry (Kates 36).
The focus on the marvelous in dialogue with the poem’s moral purpose is contradictory. While paying homage to classical epic by establishing a historically displaced account of the first crusade, Tasso’s aesthetic decision to bring in a chivalric polemic into the mix appears to problematize the moral purpose of the text. Tasso’s “brush[ing] with honey the brim of a cup,” however, does just that—attempt to justify the moral purpose. The reader must drink “the bitter juice and cannot tell—it is a mistake that makes him well” (I, 3,7-8). The inconsistency, however, serves the purpose of illuminating, not derailing the reader from the poem’s intention; it desires “what goes beyond the usual action and even beyond human possibility.” It follows that with a contrived aesthetic, irreverently open to classical conventions of epic, Tasso can, in effect, retain his moral, though “with sewn embroideries of the truth in any place” (I, 2, 7).
Tasso wishes his reader to look beyond “the mistake”—the prettiness of the moral purpose—return to God anyway go through the poem’s aesthetic and come out the other side. The lopsided-ness of the poem, with its varying degrees of delay and genre-synthesis, might very well lead a reader to do so: proceed through the poem and stay in one piece, intuitively locating the moral allegory “in terms of hints…informally suggested…rather than a full-blown theory of art based on Christian assumptions” (Teselle 36).
The theo-political framework of the poem make the power of the allegory more unwavering. Protestants rejecting the Church’s allegiance to temporalizing God, in the very same light, might accept “the mistake” (the prettiness of the moral purpose)—and reconsider if Tasso’s allegory truly represents an apologetic return to European solidarity before Luther’s Reformation. However, it is clear Tasso did not intend the epic solely for theologians, Protestant or Catholic alike. In a letter to Scipione Gonzaga of July 1575, he writes:
I never proposed to please the stupid mob;
but, on the other hand, I would not want to
satisfy only experts and connoisseurs [i maestri
de l’arte]. I am truly most desirous of the
applause of average men [uomini mediocri];
I seek the good opinion of such people as much
as that of the more knowledgeable. Therefore,
I ask your Highness what you can learn of the
reactions of the refined people at court [cortigiani
galanti] and of average men (Kates 38).
Tasso’s tendency towards an super-mitigated inclusiveness of the layman and the theologians of his time allow him to present Europe a grander contemplation of its own historical dimension so that Europe may reevaluate its identity within it. The juxtaposition between moral purpose/aesthetic purpose, romance/epic, Christian/infidel, is one specific struggle: the valiant, though manneristic, exertion for a spiritually indissoluble European whole.
Like mannerist paintings, extreme perspective, in a sense, forces the poem’s moral purpose. Before Tancred slays Argante “and none could tell the conquered from the champion,” Tasso places their duel away from the main battle (XIX, 28, 7-8):
So they turn their backs upon the city
and the armies and the tents,
And go where a winding pathway leads them on
Down many a hidden turning, whence
They find themselves in a narrow, shady dell
Lying between the hills, for all intents
As if it were a theater or ring
For chasing animals, or dueling (XIX, 8).
Deliberately moving the two warriors away from the main incident, Tasso produces “discordant contrast” even before Argante falls. Their exclusion from the rest of the armies, isolates them, and puts them in a performative space “as if it were a theater or ring.” The implications of the winding path to such a space connotes a strain, a difficulty getting to such a space. Kin to Mannerism, the main incident is pushed into the background while two men enter the forced foreground, producing an emotional effect or urgency in the battle itself. Tasso, however, analogizes the two warriors’ duel to a naval battle:
As a naval battle when winds from south and east
Are still, and the seas are calm, and fear no squall;
The ships unequal, the fight not in the least,
For this one’s quick to turn, and that one’s tall;
And the one luffs and tacks from bow to stern
To assault the other standing like a wall
(XIX, 13, 1-6).
Tancred, “lean and lithe and built to fly,” while Argante, “taller by his head held high” are not proportionally matched (XIX, 11, 1-2). “The ships unequal,” Tasso draws an image of a tall infidel, surpassing the “nimble” Tancred “in muscle and sheer weight” (XIX, 11, 4). The imbalance is certainly to Tancred’s advantage for he can move more freely. Yet, at the same time, one wonders how Tancred could “assault the other standing like a wall.” Tasso’s matching of the two men, perhaps, serves two purposes: on one hand, allowing the shorter, though quicker, Christian to overcome a Goliath (thereby exonerate Christianity’s wit over the infidel), but on the other hand, produce more anxiety about the battle for the reader. The “unequal” matching of both Tancred and Argante is a mannerist convention which underscores a disjointed dynamic between two opposites. Not only does it accentuate theallegorical element of Christian triumph over the Other, it also makes for a bizarre image. First the two are moved away from the main battle, then made the focus. They aredescribed as being inequitably matched, then likened totwo warring ships at sea. Only when Tancred is able to overcome his foe does “darkness fall..as at the eveningclose” (XIX, 28, 5). Upon his Christian victory, paradoxically, he is rewarded by darkness.
Much like Caravaggio’s David with the Head of Goliath*, Tancred’s victory is bittersweet: “he walks on, feeble and slow, by the road he’d come before, step after weary step.” There is an attempt to smoothly shift the perspective to the main battle, but Tancred collapses before it is realized. “The war which private causes helped ignite” forces him to lose consciousness (XIX, 29, 2). Tasso is keen on utilizing light and harmony ambiguously when he attempts to illuminate his audience. When Tasso uses the Other, however, to do so, it problematizes the poem’s moral purpose of a spiritual victory coexistent with a historical victory. In Canto VII, Erminia, a pagan, after dressing up like Clorinda to find her beloved Tancred, is brought to a “wooded, dark terrain,” tucked away from the chaos. Hitherto, it is questionable what kind of Otherness must be overcome for Christian Europe to be unified against a common enemy:
She fled all the night long and all the day,
Wandering without a plan, without a guide.
Her tears were all that she could ever see;
The only sound she heard when she cried.
But when the sun had nestled in the sea,
His team unharnessed from their glorious ride…
(VII, 3, 1-3).
Erminia’s helplessness not only reflects the melancholy of not finding Tancred, a Christian warrior, but the disorientation associated with war. “She and her horse have slipped too far from sight” (VII, 1, 8). She is away from all the battles. Erminia tears are the only things apparent to her as she wanders “without a plan.” With Erminia’s procession through “the dark terrain” of the first stanza through the sunset-sunrise-sunset in stanza three, time begins to lose meaning. She has no frame of reference. Instead, going to sleep at the banks of the Jordan River,“she did not waken till she heard the birds greeting thedawn” (VII, 5, 1). Even when the sun comes, however,Erminia continues to weep until “her sighs were broken byclear notes which seemed to her (and were indeed) singingof shepherds” (VII, 6, 1-3). The harmony of the shepherd’s song bleeds through the discord of her own weeping. One would question, then, if this pastoral scene is consistent with the poem’s moral purpose. If Erminia, the Other, some how reflects the spiritual and historical peace thatChristianity is supposed to offer, what are the implications of a Counter-Reformation poem written for both the layman and theologian alike? The implementation of multiple sunset-sunrises in the Canto and “her sighs by clear notes broken” is certainly disjunctive, but it is effective in conveying a sense of twilight or obscurity.
Erminia finds herself in a kind of twilight between worlds: a world of war between Christians and its Others (‘the infidels’) and a world of disavowal from war’s precepts. Erminia, however, acts as an absorber of the two worlds after hearing the shepherd “gentle words.” “His wise speech sank into her heart; her senses’ turbulent waves were soothed a little by it” (VII, 14, 3-4). The shepherd’s words do not remove her anxiety completely, only a little. Her turbulent senses undergo somewhat of a reversal of “the bitter juice”—“honey the brim of cup” metaphor in Canto I.
Tasso’s choice to sweeten the conquest of Jerusalem in a deliberate manner is much like Erminia’s bitter juice absorbing the shepherd’s “gentle words.” Before the shepherd tells his story to her, he asserts “I fear no poison squeezed into the cup; for thirst, my stream is always clear and good” (VII, 10, 5-6). Moreover, the reversal and obscure usage of metaphor by the shepherd, speaking of peace, tells her “among these shadows some small part of the weight will be lifted from my heart (VII, 15, 7-8). Erminia taking off her armor, shortly following, however, is described as being morally useful: “never could it be hid in simple garb, that sublime light of her nobility” (VII, 18, 1-2). The constant obscuring of the light/harmony motif in Canto VII not only an anti- courtly polemic, but an episode, in the context of theentire poem, that Arnold Hauser considers a mannerist tendency:
…it is impossible to understand Mannerism if one
does not grasp the fact that its imitation of
classical models is an escape from the threatening
chaos, and that the subjective over-straining of its
forms is the expression of the fear that form might
fail in the struggle with life and art fade into
souless beauty (Hauser I, 355-356).
In this respect, Erminia’s ‘intercalary’ episode forced into a poem about war and Christian victory might be initially considered superfluous; however, it does not interfere with the moral purpose of the epic. In fact,
the very forcing of an anti-courtly polemic within a heroicepic allows Tasso to “reconcile the conflicting narrative demands of unity and variety” (Kates 109). In doing so, Tasso’s allegory does not unfold as simply a little-war-here or little-non-war-there quilt job. In attempting to force an aesthetic synthesis of genre, Tasso also forces anethical synthesis. The European individual’s return toChrist—the moral pivot of the poem’s allegory—alongsidethe temporal victory of Jerusalem, in the context of theCounter-Reformation Europe, placates an anxiety to containor retain a common Other. For the Catholic Reformation,this Other is Martin Luther’s Prostestants and for theaesthetic Other in the poem, it is “the infidels”—anyonewho does not deserve to rule Christendom’s Jerusalem.
Notwithstanding, Tasso’s aggrandizing of a moral Purpose reveals the poem’s own insecurity regarding strength of its allegory. In Canto XIX, after the fateful battle between Tancred and Argante, Tasso asks
What pen has ever staged
The glorious scene? Who can describe the sight
Of a people overcome, or justly tell
of that pathetic, fearsome spectacle? (XIX, 29, 5-8).
Echoing the anxiety Francois de la Noue expresses in his memoirs, where Catholics and Protestant “each urged the other to peace and to persuade the great to listen,” Tasso’s own task overwhelms him (Hale 129). He stages “the glorious scene” and “describe[d] the sight of a people overcome.” But Tasso makes no distinction about whose people, he just says a people. In the stanza prior. Tasso’s admits “none could tell the conquered from the champion” so “a people overcome” may very well be Europe: overcome with indiscernible divisions, “pathetic,” and fearful (XIX, 28, 8). In Canto XVI, Tasso illustrates some pre-lapsarian imagery in respect to Armida, the seductress and Europe’s Other:
So mingled was the art with carelessness
You’d think that Nature had arrayed the site.
It seemed an art of Nature’s playfulness
To mimic her own mimic for delight (XVI, 10, 1-4).
Thus, the explication runs: the art was “mingled” without care. The reader would suppose realism (nature), yet somehow, an aspect of realism’s whimsicality is discerned one which copies the one who copies “for delight.” In short, the method of using the Other to convey a moral purpose has its own problems. What is behind the imagery appears natural, but there is an idealism behind the nature “to mimic her mimic for delight.” In the same way does Mannerism attempt to fuse the spiritual (or idealism) with realism (or naturalism) into a single entity (Hauser I,355-356). Murray explains:
The painter is no longer to be bound by perspective,
or by the necessity of presenting his subject in a
rational, objective manner. He my use light and
colour, chiaruscuro and proportion as he pleases; he
may borrow from any source he chooses; the only
obligation upon him is to create an interesting
design, expressive of the subject, and the various
parts need bear no relationship to each other. The
entire composition must be evocative and beautiful
itself (Murray 44).
In Tasso’s attempt to hide behind Armida through mimesis, his “interesting design” lures the reader towards the poem’s moral purpose, though in some cases, through the Other. Armida, a distraction for the Christian army, is also a distraction for the reader who is awaiting Godfrey to “restore his straying men to the banner of the Lord” (I,I, 8).Tasso, then, is free to utilize any means necessary,any “color” or “proportion” in order to evoke his message–even if it involves using the Other to force a return to European identity. He may use proportion how he pleases (with romantic interludes, heroic polemic, as well as anti-courtly polemics) and does not need to explain the relationship between the aspects of his poem to one another at any great extent. He simply needs to keep the plot going and keep it “evocative and beautiful” (Murray 44). Tasso’s narrative, set up under a model of salvation history, in this way, has the freedom to achieve what it sets out to achieve. With so many character bifurcations, dichotomies, disguises, genre birfurcations,intertextuality, it is as if Gerusalemme liberata as awhole is greater than the sum of its parts. Yet, Tasso admits to such a method early on in third stanza of Canto
You know the world delights in lovely things
For men have hearts sweet poetry will win
And when the truth is seasoned in soft rhyme
It lures and leads the most reluctant in…(I, 3, 1-4).
By luring in the reluctant, using the vernacular, Tasso succeeds in, idiosyncratically, letting the sweetness of poetry speak for its moral purpose. He “seasons” in “soft rhyme.” The aesthetics intend to season the content or truth or moral purpose, which to Tasso, will justify the allegory of a historically displaced Catholic past—the First Crusade—reacting to its Protestant present.
The straining of allegory in Gersualemme liberata becomes more peculiar when the heroic aspect of the poem is not only limited to war. It has theological implications. In Canto IX, Tasso’s “willful mystification” perpetuates an urgency to bring God down to earth. The “earthification” of the spiritual and “the spiritualization” of the sensual are tendencies to conciliate the Prostestant/Catholic disagreement on the substance of God. Reminding one of Michaelangelo’s Last Judgement, Tasso explicates God and His attributes with mannerist aesthetic conventions:
But the sublime
Monarch of heaven meanwhile from His throne
Turned His eyes towards the battle. He alone,
There seated, deals to all the universe
Good and just Law, creates the orders bright;
Over the limits of the narrow world.
Reason and sense cannot attain that height;
And from august eternity He shines
In three illuminations of one light,
His servants Fate and Nature at His feet,
And Motion too, and Time which measure it,
And Place…(IX, 55 ff).
God, all of a sudden, makes His appearance over a limited and narrow world despite the fact that He “deals to all the universe.” He is one, yet three. He is controls Fate and Nature. He is alone. Whereas Tasso reinforces to his readers that they cannot possible fathom God’s greatness, Tasso continues describing His attributes in abstract, non- temporal, and generic terms. Functionally speaking, Tasso’s description of God contradicts what he wishes to express, which is more in line with the Protestant view that God is not found upon a crucifix. Nevertheless, the indescribable God is described upon a different kind of crucifix—the whole of the poem—which contains a moral purpose alongside an aesthetically contrived Christian past. In this way, the themes of war and lust run consistent with the allegory: to temporalize a spiritual awakening in the mind of the European. The pushing of God into the foreground from “out of nowhere” is deliberate and obscure. One gets a sense of a “bird-eye- view” of the battle; however, much like Tancred and Argante’s duel in XIX, the perspective alters dramatically from “the streams of blood flowed the same on both sides” to “the sublime Monarch of heaven” “which even the blessedest visions cannot bear” (IX, 57, 7). Description of God are backed with no direct mention of war. Only when Michael, “whose warlike arms are all of burning adamant,” is sent to the battle does the reader know God “fated this” (IX, 58 ff). Here, the intertwining of two elements imannerism—spiritualism (idealism) and naturalism (realism)—become apparent (Seiferth). Must God’s intervention in the heroic poem be “marvelous” or “magical”to be consistent with the allegory of the Christian soul?
Or does the contrived aesthetic function on a different level? C.P. Brand concurs Tasso’s aesthetic principles precede the historicity of the battle for Jerusalem:
The historical material must, therefore, leave
room for invention, which has a very important
role: historical truth is only a means to an
artistic end (C.P. Brand 71).
On the other hand, Judith Kates warns:
To perceive the “heroic” as limited to the
military is to deform the poem. Tasso marshals
his imaginative resources in the Gerusalemme
liberata to represent a larger understanding
of the heroic centered on the inner life.
As one stage in such a reevaluation he does
make use of a classsical ideal of heroism, but as
only one element in the sense of the heroic
that emerges from the poem as a whole (Kates 71).
Whereas the room for invention is already in place, Tasso uses a mannerist aesthetic, lending a strange though logical cohesion to something as disjunctive as Hellenic miracles and Christian victory. Such a aesthetic treatment renews the theological commitment to God as all-powerful. At the same time, it allows for Tasso’s “mistake”—the beautification the moral purpose—to drink the bitter juice as a medicine for Europe’s own good. C.P. Brand is correct in saying that historical truth serves as “means to an artistic end,” but only in the sense that Tasso’s heroic poem is already “historically” displaced to begin with. Tasso’s displacement, however, is a premeditated tendency for Europe to stay united, which is historically grounded motivated by the schism of the Reformation. The “whole” of the poem is based upon the supposition that such a unity, or “heroic centered on the inner life” is desirable. Michael, a celestial being,
bow[s] referently before the feet of God.
He spreads his golden plumes for the great flight
With a swiftness surpassing thought,
And passes the empyreal fire and light,
The changeless glory where the blest are brought
and sees the crystalline sphere in pure perfection,
the star-gemmed sphere that whirls in the other
direction” (IX, 60, 7-8).
Leaving the God-eye-view of the universe, the archangel Michael leaves the non-temporal vantage point of the universe to the temporal world itself. Passing Jove and Saturn, Michael penetrates “our world in its constant strife of self- destruction, feeding, death, birth, life”(IX, 61). The relationship between God, his messenger Michael, and the world proves to be based on one a vague distinction between Prostestant and Catholic understandings of the substance of God, which Tasso respectively chooses to express. Tasso’s choice to do so, however, is indicatory of the poem’s allegory of returning to God. It involves a synthesis: a gathering together of the spiritualism of the inner life and the realism of a historical event: a conflation between theology and history.
This very synthesis adheres precisely with mannerist conventions in painting. Michael is described with his “golden plumes” like a phoenix coming out of the God’s ressurrective fire (thereby giving him iconoclastic attributes) that moves so quickly it “surpasses thought.” The ineffability and insensibility of comprehending the divine ring throughout; paradoxically, the scene must be comprehended for, despite its strangeness, it follows a hermeneutical model of narrative.
The moral purpose is the hinge by which the allegory can be concordant with salvation history, hint at even a great future glory. It strives for the logos, the meaning of the Christian soul’s return to God. Despite the fact that God comes to the aid of his “faithful flock,” it is the manneristic synthesis of spiritualism and realism that force the individual European reader to intuit the act of participating in the allegory (IX, 58 6). Once this is readily felt, Prostestant and Catholic alike renew kinship to the Christ-Event; they become one as if they were neversevered from one another. What problematizes this, however, is the theological implications of the political shift from Catholic Europe’s authority. In the same scene, shortly following the depiction of God’s presence in the battle, “the sun, cloud-hidden, flings its bow, and all its lovely hues unfold.” Here, spiritualism returns, dispersing “lovely hues” upon a war which is certainly not fought for the sake of beauty. One may ask, how do the “lovely hues unfold…so cleaving the midnight’s calm and liquid rest” (IX, 62, 6-7)? Does it imply a rainbow, or more specifically, a rainbow in the dark (or Hellenic miracle)? Must God’s intervention in the heroic poem be “marvelous” or “magical” to be consistent with the allegory of the Christian soul? Or does the contrived aesthetic function on a different level? Here, Mannerism rears its ugly head, once again, attempting to circumvent Europe reach for its moral pivot.
Literary Counter-Reformation aesthetics as found in Gerusalemme liberata, dark and manneristic, is, indeed, a strained tendency towards an image of a spiritually indissoluble Europe whole. Under such tendencies, moral purpose commingles with aesthetics, romance with epic, spirit with matter. Even Tasso’s usage of Otherness seems to supplant, rather than detract a poem built upon a hermeneuntic model of salvation history and in doing so, revealing how a passionate vision can often undermine the grandeur of its reach. Overcoming individual tribulations through a collective trial to refurbish unity, however, is consistent with the poem’s allegory. Tasso’s aesthetics, full of oscillating bifurcations, whether in genre or in theological commitment, are historically grounded despite his ahistorical treatment of the conquest of Jerusalem itself. The contradictions resonate with the divisions within European Christendom during Tasso’s time. By protesting against Protestant division, Tasso’s mannerism captures the odd beauty of a manic vision—one of abetrayed and depressed Europe under a single mighty God.
© 2014 Paul Rogov
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To the aesthete, the world of representations is a distinctively pronounced affair. In Joris-Karl Huysmans’ Against Nature, the protagonist, Des Esseintes is emblematic of the aesthete’s contending with the equally alienating and equally liberating impetus of living in an epicurean world of representation, that is, a world where one lives in a wonderland, where nothing is ever finished, and every book or painting possessed is equally exquisite and arcane. Escaping the torrents of Parisian life, Des Esseintes throws himself into a “here-and-now” reality of highly refined tastes, goes into his apartment, shuts the door, locks himself inside his apartment indefinitely, whose parameters confine him, yet paradoxically set him free by “literizing” his very existence. His aesthetic tastes in the novel, however, are not as statically epicurean as one might suppose; instead, his tastes are, more or less, characteristic of Schopenhauer’s “World as Will and Idea.” Des Esseintes’ epicureanism is subversion then, where the “will as a relationship to its world,”dialogues with the paradoxical constituencies of aesthetic ideals.
Des Esseintes is the prototype for the hipster that stays home.
By ascribing to himself an environment, a monastery cell as well as a den of pleasure, Des Esseintes’ epicureanism promotes a general striving for aesthetic perfection. He may, on one hand, treat his surroundings as a backdrop for his ideas, however, it is apparent that Des Esseintes expresses two oscillating world-views which are only reconciled by being presented as two-sides of the same coin. In his view, there were only two ways to arrange a bedroom: either make it into an exciting bedchamber, a setting for nocturnal pleasures; or else devise a place of solitude and repose, a retreat for meditation, a kind of private chapel (54). Des Esseintes is cognizant of the immediacy of both “perfections,” ideals, but he does not want to be tied to one or the other. Rather, he finds the “comfort” factor in both, luxuriating in their respective epicurean qualities. He indulges in the idea of a bed chamber that knows “how to envelop a woman in an atmosphere of depravity,” and then considers the importance a bedroom “contrived so as to resemble a monastic cell” (54).
Interestingly enough, Des Esseintes is keen on pointing out the efficacy in which he is bound, establishing that it is his will to furnish a depressing space with joyous objects, or rather without sacrificing the ugly character of the room, imprint upon it— by this treatment, a kind of overall elegance and distinction. His aesthetic approach of a theatrical décor in which tawdry fabrics mimic luxurious, expensive clothess, achieves precisely the opposite effect, by using magnificent materials to create the impression of rags; in short, to fit out a monastic cell which at once appeared to be genuine without, of course, actually being so (54).
Once imitation becomes essence, Des Esseintes no longer needs a distinction between the externality of his life and his will. His epicureanism in both respects, towards the profane and towards the holy, satisfies his refined tastes, in turn, sublimating his external world by way of a pure aesthetic idea. Texture and form, then, can be refashioned by the mind without “misrepresenting” reality; instead, the epicurean luxuries appropriate reality precisely as the will sees fit.
Allowing for a reversal of the external with the internal excellence of the objects in his room, Des Esseintes’ epicureanism subjugates a world of his representations to the world of his will. His room’s décor merely mimics; what is genuine is strictly implied. The imitation of a world becomes wholly enchanting to him. Rather than professing aesthetic representation as that which might limit reality, however, Des Esseintes emphasizes how his easily his will satisfies his epicurean delights:
the illusion was easy to maintain, since he led a life almost
analogous to that of a monk. He thus enjoyed the advantages of
the cloister while avoiding the drawbacks: the barrack-room
discipline, the lack of attentive service, the filth, the
promiscuity, the monotony of idleness. Just as he had mad his
cell into a warm and comfortable bedroom, so too had he made
himself a life that was normal, pleasant, full of well-being and
of occupation, and free (55).
Striving for excellence that does not separate ugly from beautiful, or rags from magnificent materials, Des Esseintes’s “World-as-Idea” exonerates the human will’s capacity for aesthetic exploration. It underscores the notion of contrivance, which although serving the “monastic” and the “promiscuous,” inevitably conveys the relationship Des Esseintes has with the world he has created. No only aestheticizing the “well being” of his inner world, he has designated that the external world is analogous to his will and in turn, sets such a world up for collapse.
Although Des Esseintes’ fabricated universe procures spiritual “well-being” concurrent with the imitation of life, the inclusiveness of the mystical with the sensible induces a collapse into an ‘inverted epicureanism.” By the end of the novel he is disgusted with the notion of treating the world as an idea when he points his disdain for concept of transubstantiation:
this idea of always being cheated, even at the Lord’s Table, is
hardly such as to reinforce a faith that is already wavering; and
then, how can one believe in an omnipotence that is hindered by a
pinch of potato starch or a drop of alcohol? These thoughts
further darkened the prospect of this future existence, making
his horizon appear more threatening, blacker (178).
Fed up “with the indignation at the ignominious spectacle he was conjuring up,” Des Esseintes rejects his “world-as-idea” as bourgeois “wish-fulfillment,” having little value. He calls “painting…a flood of vapid futilities; literature, a riot of stylistic insipidity and timid ideas” (179). Disappointed that life is not dream as he wished it to be, regretting that he “turned for help and comfort to Schopenhauer’s precepts,” Des Esseintes, “exhausted…collapse[s] into a chair” (180). Though certainly partaking in both the refined tastes of “matter” and “spirit,” feeding on the their respectively epicurean rewards, Des Esseintes migrates from a world of his own making to a world that he is unsure of:
Ah, My courage fails me and I am sick at heart! Lord, take pity
on the Christian who doubts, the unbeliever who longs to believe,
on the galley-slave of life who is setting sail alone, at night
under a sky no longer lit, now by the consoling beacons of the
ancient hope (181).
Not able to light his own sky, nor allow his “world-as-idea” to dictate the nature of his reality, Des Esseintes ironically ceases to treasure the aesthetic his epicureanism once demanded. The ammorality of his isolation problematically becomes moralized, his picureanism turned inside out by the very ideals that it was initially comprised of. As he finally realized “the arguments of pessimism were incapable of giving him comfort,” the very kind of comfort that fueled his “world-as-idea” to begin with (180).
Des Esseintes’ epicureanism collapses when the “will as a relationship to its world” comes into dialogue with the constituents of its aesthetic ideals. Desiring both the spiritual luxuries of a monastic life and that of thesensual luxuries of artifice, the protagonist inevitably falls victim to the reality underlying the two notions of perfection which were allowed to commingle with one another. Through an extravagant exposition which leads one towards a some what traumatic conclusion, Des Esseintes’ journey through the cell-block of dreams and isolation leaves the reader wondering if the ‘moralizing’ conclusion does justice to the preceding chapters. What appears counter-intuitive in the text, some how unravels itself intuitively. It is no wonder that Huysmans would later add an appendix, explicating the kinds of ideas he was entertaining when he wrote Against Nature, admitting he admired Schopenhauer “more than was reasonable” (187). Whatever the case, Huysmans’ novel examines the noble struggles of a contemplative life and its idioms—namely one that tolerates the contradictions in the postulation of passionate worlds and zealous ideas.
As Des Essenties is alone throughout Against Nature and nothing truly happens, save descriptions of him reading, it is only him, as a true aesthete, in his chamber or his bath, him reading– him excavating or mining the caverns of Time itself, looking for something beautiful, not to call his own, but to release him from the terrible prison which is the present. For Des Esseintess’ monasticism is against nature. He does not want any contact with the outside world whatsoever. He is perfectly at peace and at home with his libraries, comprised of books that can take to the time period of his choosing, and much like the protagonist of Sartos Restartus by Thomas Carlyle, Diogenes Teufelsdröckh (which translates as ‘god-born devil-dung’), Des Esseintes can escape the hustle and bustle fin-de-siecle Paris without wincing.
Has anyone ever had cabin fever? It only kind of panic that be described as mad dash for psycho-social necessity.
We have to remember once and for all that some people are hermits by nature and others are social butterflies.
The hermits live quietly and the butterfly live out loud.
This morning, I am reminded of my own cybermonasticm: yeah, this digital revolution. Here we are. It is not unlike the state I was in when I was an undergraduate at university.
Travel back in time? Let’s go.
I recall how I hated the way my Chekhov teacher lectured. I sat in the back of the class.
Recently having paid my dues at the Student Union, I realized the room the class was in—whiteboard, colored markers, seats arranged in kindergarten fashion, all facing the front. After listening to some Westerner speak of Russian Literature, I was often usually be perplexed by how Western, white liberal students had this romantic pining interest in the Russian Revolution (its unapologetic violence, its paradoxes, ironies), which was often herded by some Russophone who has written an “accessible anthology” or edited a book that was translated from Russian into English, based on the notion of the Russian Revolution and its aftermath did not sit well with my Soviet-era immigrants who lives in the States, that they did not argue with a set of presuppositions regarding what can loosely be called the “Russian difference.”
This “Russian difference,” zealously preserved by the West, always already stands in prejudicial opposition to Europe, and by extension, towards Western literature, that is, polemical, or poetic; and also, towards Western customs, that is, political, and/or cultural. In effect, the Western reader prescribes to this idea of a “Russian difference” a priori. He or she simply takes for granted the set of “Russian” choices employed by Russian writers. After all, Tolstoy certainly does take much from Flaubert. Dostoevsky certainly does take much from Cervantes. Nabokov, whether he wanted to admit or not, certainly did take much from James and Freud. Shakespeare’s Hamlet not only underscores the lack of a proverbial Slavic hero in Russian literature, but instead radically covers over this lack by allowing artifice itself to occupy this privileged position. To put it bluntly, art, the human act of creation itself—“
My Chekhov professor, a lanky silver-bobbed, eloquent shawl-donner, wrote the following comment in the margin of my final paper:
There is no need to appear an even worse enfant
terrible than you already are. Of course, you know
‘the facts;’ the introductory part of this work is one
proof of that; and I don’t think it justified, writing
in any manner (the word ‘any’ both darkened and
underlined), to claim that one is ignorant of the
The facts. What are these facts that I apparently know, I thought—am clearly not so ignorant of? Hmm. My teacher’s comment hit me strangely. I walked out of the room, out of the building, opened a pack of smokes, put a Camel cigarette to my lips and lit up Oddly cajoled, I sank into thought; having, at that moment, right then and there, decided to abandon the idea of rewriting my paper, “An Inexpensive Lesson in Lofty Ideas: Why Art Itself as Russia’s Hamlet.” L’enfant terrible. My professor loathed me.
I didn’t want to argue. I was not an academic. I was an aesthete, poet and a writer.
And yet I could think of only one lofty idea, leaning back in my writing chair when I got back to my apartment, which was couched within a building that was situated on a corner, on a sloping street, and the beginning of the steep slope of the Berkeley Hills that would be behind an onlooker facing San Francisco—one lofty idea, though one that, all of a sudden, could just as well split into three, maybe four, maybe five, smaller, less lofty ideas. For despite the 2300-plus year old allure—of tracking the relationship between the linguistic paradigm of writing and the poltico-sociological paradigm of the writer, those involved in “scholarship”—(in whatever form their rigmarole exudes; speech, article, or book—standing, or sitting with their legs crossed Turkishly)—persons accepting transcontinental nods from another, deservingly faceless nods, are simply intellectuals. These can hide all they want behind their kitschy footnotes, sip on Oxford sherry. Culture is god to them; they bask in their cybermonasticism, offering the world nothing outside their own circles, except in instances which can be gained by studying a contemporary writer for a change and retroactively posturing their revelations. At times, it is as if academic nomenclature is short-hand for a miser keeping a tab in his mind, who has a secret box of jewels that he carefully locates, puts it before himself or herself, opens it and with a fluttering heart, salivates over each held-up stones’ preciousness.
But I had a college sweetheart, see.
We are shoulder to shoulder in bed.
Sweetheart: What does it feel like to be inside me?
Me: Like I’m inside a body of glass (a breath blown up your nostrils), suction-deep, accumulating sweat.
Sweetheart: Wiping away frozen water slowly now? You feel so good. Let’s go again!
Me: And the heat. The heat. I can almost hear that squeaking sound, the event of my thumb grazing you, and the heat.
Sweetheart: (another breath, hers).
Me: And I can see a blooming flower where you’re heart should be, suspended within the crotch betwixt the absence of two lungs.
I feel violence in the English language that can only be described as democratic hypocrisy.
After two minutes or so past, we copulate.
I craned my neck, pushed out my chest, then forced out two warm streams of breath, outward through my nostrils. A sigh, I felt, right then, at that very moment, on that special day was both miraculous, and vicious—vicious enough to make me want to sigh again, though not enough to make me want remember a miracle.
Why was I alive? I thought. I thought that question for longer than is normal. I did not let it escape in the form of a passing phantasm.
I live, I thought. I am alive. Yes.
“Turn this crap off. It’s depressing me.”
The cries of 3000 some odd people silenced, and she wants to fuck more.
“Look how their pitching this to us.”
“Kinda takes the form of a Pollock-like pastiche.”
Their feeding it to the lower brain, the reptile brain. There’s a cavern for ya.
“Very funny. What did you mean that we’re going to bomb someone? What do you mean we’re going to war?”
“Their just feeding into our emotions. To the lower brain. Our parasympathetic nervous system.”
I knew we were going to war forever on September 11, 2001.
“No, I’m serious,” I said, ashing my cigarette on the carpet off the right hand side of the bed. “The adrenal glands charge our fear. Our reptile brain, our brainstem plunders other parts of our brains and in an opaque secret wants to be pillaged for the media machine cracks ours brain like eggs upon a piece of warm ham glazed in Hallidaise sauce, dripping yellow down a thin, shallow pond of pretty (an oasis, yet real) that wants to serve as an outpost to a Mad Max post-apocalyptic world for us.
The loud world, still running behind it all, right red-eye dilating, lying horizontal underneath an electronic press.
Sweetheart: “What’s Macbeth-like rhetoric?”
I once said that the reptile brain’s content was born from the raucous impetus of written words. But contemporary writers were, in my time, for the most part either too well-groomed or circus clowns who stood up on soap-box telling secular parables in made up voodoo languages that was easy for the cool people to understand.
That’s so clever, I thought: how the national anthem is supposed to bring the mind back to square one, back to the strangeness of reality, back to the morsel or semblance of reality, back to our lives as a crumb in a loaf of bread called Totality, or a body in a holocaust heap on fire. Maybe someone wants to take a bit of something and make it theirs and is starving themselves (in its various forms) for spiritual reasons, or needs to make up for the times they didn’t say “I love you.” Maybe, a mother needs to breastfeed her child, or another mother needs to stop thinking about how children grow up. It hurts, but growing up leads one to continue the long procession towards the horizon of their happy destiny with (eventually) a significant other, who is one half of the puzzle, who might pass away before you, and if so, at one time. provided not only friendship, but also underscored the importance of a symbiotic hygienic release, and genuine financial comradeship, in very, very, very, responsible Apollonian way—clean and back in focus, for the better good, because its natural, not weird, sitting across from one other, reaching for a credit card because the bill is sitting lying there between those two people (I’m pointing at them, can you see them)?, and from the look on their faces it’s not time to go gently into that good night. They are talking about a procedure or they are talking about an ultra-sound.
My naked sweetheart cups the orb of my naked shoulder.
“I love you, Paul.”
I looked at her with such desire and such hope; I blew out a stream of smoke. She scooted closer to me, her whole body, it seemed, wanted something less cerebral.
“Come back to bed. I’m cold.”
I coughed thrice, got under the cover and she took off my underwear.
From that point on, I decided I was going to live both silently AND out loud.
For there is a war in them clouds.
And yet there’s still—you and me.
© 2014 Paul Rogov