Sunday, January 27, 2008

At Prayer

Sometimes, it is as if I could feel my soul expand and contract, widen, and condense again, like the waters of the lake as they freeze and melt in our spasmodic winters. The silent coldness of solitude touches me, and I build tiny lattice-works within myself, holding still the trapped twigs, and imprisoning the fish. I am kneeling, and my mind understands the complexities of my spiritual state and the dualities of my love. Then, all at once, fiery bodies collapse these carefully amassed crystals, and all Knowing flows freely with earth and air. I am lying on the floor, comprehending everything and understanding nothing. Slowly, algae flourishes in the stagnation of passion.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Feeling and Time

For Hasty, time has quality(ies), and cannot be a pure, unbroken flow. I interact with time always, all the time, every minute, etc. I feel it, and it moves me. Perhaps the most obvious quality is its speed or perceived speed. At times I feel that I can control time, and then again, in other moments, it seems to control me.

My most powerful interactions with time and its qualities, its submission and dominance, have necessarily involved music. I set up a rhythm, reaffirm it, and deny or stop it. With my hands on the keys, I cake up the form I have given to time, and with full awareness, alter it. It may be called a shift from duple to triple, but the underlying feeling of time itself and its movement changes.

Music seems to be such a direct conduit into the nature of time itself precisely because it been regarded for so long as inherently and necessarily rhythmic, and rhythm has been set up as temporal flow. If the meaning of music and the idea of temporal flow are so closely bound up in one another, then when time becomes not a pure form but a qualitative aspect of experience, then music becomes in interaction with time. Every musical event, both as a whole and as every event that occurs within that whole, marks the experience of that moment of time, holding within it the power to slow it, accelerate it, expand it, contract it, and so forth. In the case of any kind of acoustic music, this power is then ultimately transferred to the performer, and so we have arrived back at our starting point - the empowering ability to interact with time.

However, I must admit that this near abandonment to total subjectivity sometimes frightens me. I do not know what to do when faced with the fact that our only hope for common understanding becomes chance, or perhaps the proof that the duple, for example, is somehow physiologically fundamental to (almost?) everyone's perception of rhythmic events.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

This is not at all what we imagined it would be.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Reaches of the Self in Augustine and Rilke

Both Augustine's Confessions and the poetry of Rilke grapple with the same issues of eternal extension, God and the limits of the self. In book 5 of Confessions, Augustine addresses the paradox that those who would flee farthest from God attain a place where only He is, and only He will find them.

"For in truth they do not know that you are everywhere; that no place contains you, and that only you are near even to those who seek you, because even if they have abandoned you, their creator, you have not abandoned your creatures...And where was I when I was seeking you? There you were, before me; but I had gone away, even from myself, and I could not find myself, much less you." (Confessions. Trans. Albert C. Outler. New York: Barnes and Noble, 2007. p. 57-58)

The idea of endless spaces and eternal extension, when in confrontation with the limitations of the human soul, is one of the most exhilarating and terrifying concepts ever to strike me. Here, Augustine seems to confront the same issue. God, though infinite, does not fill up or occupy space; however, his presence extends everywhere, and Augustine realizes that wherever his body, or even his soul/mind goes, he will not find a place where God is not.

He speaks of being lost, and unable to find himself. This idea of going outside oneself, denying oneself, being beyond oneself, etc., appears in many contexts in literature, philosophy and the arts. Sometimes, it is used to mean a sort of spiritual distance from the earthbound and physical "self" - transcending life into a spiritual realm. In other instances, it represents a loss of control, a loss of the unity of mind and body, insanity and/or moral depravity. Here, Augustine seems to be referring more to the latter, as contextually he is lamenting his moral condition and the subsequent loss of true unity with himself.

Rilke seems to explore the same ideas in a number of his poems, both with and without direct references to God as the eternal, the infinite or the source of unity.

Take, for instance, the second half of Vorgefuehl (Premonition)

Da weiß ich die Stürme schon und bin erregt wie das
Und breite mich aus und falle in mich hinein
und werfe mich ab und bin ganz allein
in dem großen Sturm.

This second stanza is an exploration of solitude and distance from oneself. He 'spreads himself out, and falls back into himself, throws himself away, and is alone in the great storm.' This reference to the storm seems to create a space in which to lose and find himself. That is, the image of the storm forms a kind of limit upon the distance he can go from himself. At the same time, it is as if he is part of the tumultuous motion of the storm. But the fact that he is 'alone in the storm' creates a feeling of intense loneliness or solitude, similar to that of Augustine in his loss of himself and God.

In another poem ("Herbst"), Rilke describes Autumn, first in terms of the falling leaves, then the earth falling out of the stars "into loneliness," then "we all" are falling.

Die Blätter fallen, fallen wie von weit,
als welkten in den Himmeln ferne Gärten;
sie fallen mit verneinender Gebärde.

Und in den Nächten fällt die schwere Erde
aus allen Sternen in die Einsamkeit.

Wir alle fallen. Diese Hand da fällt.
Und sieh dir andre an: es ist in allen.

Und doch ist Einer, welcher dieses Fallen
unendlich sanft in seinen Händen hält.

This gradual expansion from dying leaves into the largest conception possible - that of "falling" as an intrinsic universal quality of all the universe - is once again a stretching of the imagination, seeing how far the mind can go outside itself. Once again, as with Augustine, a limit is reached, and while here Rilke does not specifically cite God, the implication of a deity is there.

The limit is a gentle, and not unwelcome one; there is "One, who holds all of this falling in his hands with endless softness." A stirring balance exists between the allowance of falling and and its being held and supported. What is particularly striking about this poem, however, is the way in which the narrator, though necessarily part of the falling ("we all..."), has achieved a viewpoint seemingly outside of it, in order that he may understand it.

This idea of simultaneous transcendence of the limits of the imagination and participation in the order of the world is a powerful one, aesthetically, emotionally and philosophically. It allows us to go beyond ourselves and our realm of experience without ever losing ourselves, and accomplishes this by providing a limit which is itself infinite. If God is this limit, then it is He who permits us to journey as far as we can conceive without ever interfering; however, He also provides the limit which allows us to conceive of any motion at all, whether physical or spiritual.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

A Lover's Gaze

For sometimes
When your eyes are
Upon me,
The world opens
and receives our belonging
Like two small rivers,
giving unto the sea.

Waves are each other's graveyards -
Rising and Falling
Share and are shared.

But if you
Shut your eyes
Because the sun
penetrates the blinds,
Then the door of your room
And the world makes me
an object of its putrid desire.

Sometimes, in the Evenings

There are times when I wish to simultaneously hide my thoughts in carefully coded ink, and simultaneously share them with all the world.

Perhaps this is why I love the forest. Where I can hide from the world, while the earth knows all of me.