Sunday, June 04, 2006

The Artist as a Suffering Hero

 we will discuss two writers who passed through the path laden with suffering and death. First let us discuss the journal of Cesare parese.

Cesare Parese began writing around 1930. His style is flat, dry, and unemotional. One remarks the coolness of Cesare Parese fiction, though the subject is often violent. This is because the real subject is never the violent happening but rather, the cautious subjectivity of the narrator. The typical effort of Parese hero is lucidity; the typical problem is that of lapsed communication. The novels are about the cries of conscience, and the refusal to allow the crises of conscience. A certain atrophy of the emotion, a elevation of the sentiment and bodily vitality is presupposed. The anguish of the prematurely disillusioned, highly civilized people alternating between irony and melancholic experiments with their own emotions is indeed familiar.

The journal gives us the workshop of the writer’s soul. And why are we interested in the soul of the writer? Not because we are interested in the writer as such,
“But because of the insatiable modern preoccupation with psychology, the latest and most powerful Christian legacy of the tradition of introspection, opened up by Paul and Augustine, which equates the discovery of the self with the discovery of the suffering self. For the modern conscience of the artist (replacing the saint) is the exemplary sufferer. And among artist, the writer the man of words is the person to whom we look to be able best to express his suffering”.

The artist is an exemplary sufferer because he has found both the deepest love of suffering and also a professional means to sublimate his suffering. As a man he suffers, as a writer he transforms his suffering into art. The writer is the man who discovers the use of suffering in the economy of art, as the saints discovered the utility and necessity of suffering in the economy of salvation.

The unity Parese diaries is to be found in his reflection on how to use, how to act on, his suffering. Literature is one use. Isolation is another, both as a technique and for inciting and perfecting his art. And suicide is the third, ultimate use of suffering, but as the ultimate way of action of suffering.

Thus we have the following remarkable sequence of thought, in a diary entry of 1938. Parese writes:
“ Literature is a defense against the attacks of life. It says to life: you cannot deceive me. I know your habits, foresee and enjoy watching your reaction, and steal your secrets by involving you in cunning obstructions that halt your moral flow… the other defense against this in general is silence as we muster strength for a fresh leap forward. But we must impose that silence on ourselves, not have it imposed on us, not even by death. To choose a hardship for ourselves is our only defense against that hardship…those who by their very nature can suffer completely, utterly, have an advantage. This is how we can disarm the power of suffering, make it our own creation, our own choice: submit to it, a justification for suicide”.
The diaries are in effect a long series of self-assessment and self-interrogation. What parese has to say about love is the familiar other side of romantic idealization? Parese discovers, with Stendhal, that love is an essential fiction: it is not that love sometimes makes mistakes, but that it is, essentially a mistake. What one takes to be an attachment to another person is unmasked as one more dance of the solitary ego. However, the error remains a necessary one, so long as one sees the world, in Parese’s words, as a ‘jungle of self interest’. The isolated ego doe not cease to suffer. “Life is pain and the enjoyment of love is an anesthetic”.

Many of Parese remarks on love seem like case history of supporting the thesis of Denis De Rougement and other historians of the western imagination, who traced the evolution of the imager sexual love since Tistian Isolde as a ‘romantic agony’, a death wish. Susan sontag on her part does not see this cult of love as a part of the Christian heresy (Gnostic, Manichean, catharisist), as Rougement suggest, but expresses the central and peculiarly modern preoccupation of the lose of feeling.30 For life begins in the body, as Peres observes in another entry: and continually gives voice to the reproach, which the body makes to the mind. If civilization may be defined as that stage of human life at which, objectively, the body becomes a problem, then our moment of civilization may be considered as that stage at which we are subjectively aware of, and feel trapped by, this problem. Now we aspire to the life of the body and reject ascetic tradition of Judaism and Christianity, but we are still confined in the generalized sensibility, which that religious tradition bequeathed us. Hence we complain; we are resigned and detached; we complain. Peres’ continual prayer for strength to lead a life rigorous seclusion and solitude (the only heroic rule is to be alone, alone, alone) are entirely of piece with his inability to feel. Here is where the modern cult of love enters. It is the main way in which we test ourselves for strength of feeling, and found ourselves deficient.

Every one knows that Christian society have a different and much more emphatic view of love between the sexes than the ancient Greeks and Orientals, and that the modern view of love is an extension of the spirit of Christianity, in however alternated and secularized form. Christianity from its inception (Paul) is the romantic religion. The cult of love in the west (Christian) is an aspect of the cult of suffering. Suffering as s the supreme token of seriousness (the paradigm of the cross).31 We did not find among the ancient Hebrews, Greeks and the Orientals the same value placed on love. Because we do not find there same value placed on love and suffering. Suffering was not the hallmark of seriousness; rather seriousness was measured by one’s ability to evade or transcend the penalty of suffering, by one’s ability to achieve tranquility and equilibrium. In contrast, the sensibility we have inherited identifies spirituality and seriousness with turbulence, suffering, and passion. Thus more often, it is not love which we overvalue-more precisely, the spiritual merits and benefits of suffering.

Marcel Proust is the author writer in whom we cannot distinguish between sickness and health. He lived his life on memories. What inspired Proust in the face of death also shaped him in his intercourse with his contemporaries.

The thirteen volumes of Marcel Proust’s Remembrance Of The Things Past are the result of an un-construable synthesis in which the absorption of a mystic, the art of a prose writer, the verse of a satirist, the erudition of a scholar and the self consciousness of a monomaniac have combined in an autobiographical work. The conditions under which it written, were extremely unhealthy: an unusual melody, extra ordinary wealth and an abnormal disposition. This is not a model life in every respect; but everything about it is exemplary. The outstanding literary achievements of our time is assigned a place in the heart of the impossible, at the center- and also at the point of indifference of all dangers, and it marks this great realization of a lifework’ as the last few a longtime. The image of Proust is the highest physiognomic expression, which the irresistibly growing discrepancy between literature and life was able to assume. This is the lesson, which justifies the attempt to evoke this image.

The provocative, unsteady quality of the man affects even the reader of his works, suffice it to recall the endless succession of remembrance, by means of which an action is shown in an exhaustive, depressing way in the light of the countless motives upon which it has been based. And yet these paratactic sequences reveal the point at which weakness and genius coincide in Proust: the intellectual renunciation, the tested skepticism with which he approached things. “Proust approaches experiences without the slightest metaphysical interest, without the slightest penchant for construction, without the slightest tendency to console”.33 Proust that aged child fell back on the bosom of the nature not to drink from it, but to dream to its heartbeat. One must picture him in this state of weakness to understand how felicitously Jacques Riviera interpreted the weakness when he wrote: “Marcel Proust died of the same inexperience which permitted him to write his works. He died of ignorance of the world and because he did not know how to change the conditions of his life which had begun to cruse him. He died because he did not know how to make a live or open a window”. And be sure of his psychogenic asthma.

The doctors were powerless in the face of this malady; not so the writer, who very systematically placed it in his sense. To begin with the most external aspect he was perfect stage director of his sickness. For months he connected, with devastating irony, the image of an admirer who had sent him flowers with odour, which he found unbearable.

Even as a writer of letters he extracted the most singular effect from his malady. “The wheezing of my breath is drowning out the sounds of pen and of a bath which is being drawn on the floor below.”
But that is not all, nor is it the fact his sickness removed him from fashionable living. This asthma became part of his art, if indeed his art did not create it. Proust ’s syntax rhythmically and step by step reproduces his fear of suffocating and his, ironic; philosophical, dialectic reflection invariably are the deep breath with which he shakes off the weight of memories on a larger scale, however, the threatening, suffocating crisis was death, which he was constantly aware off, most of all while he was writing. This is how death confronted Proust, and long before his melody assumed critical dimensions- not as a hypochondriacally which, but as a new reality, thus new reality whose reflections on things and people are the marks of ageing.

For the rest, the closeness of the symbolism between the particular creativity and this particular malady is demonstrated most clearly by the fact that in Proust there never was a break of that heroic defiance with which other creative people have risen up against their infirmities. And therefore one can say, how another point of view, that so close a complicity with life and the course of the world Proust would inevitably have led to ordinary, indolent contentment on any basis but that of such great and constant suffering. As it was, however, this melody was destined to have its place in the great work process assigned to it by furor devoid of desires or regrets. For the second time there arose a scaffold like a Michelangelo’s on which the artist his thrown back, painted the creation on the ceiling of the Sistine chapel: the sickbed on which Marcel Proust consecrated the countless pages which he covered with his handwriting, holding them up in the air, to the creation of his microcosm.



At 1:28 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

No by-line for Walter Benjamin ? Purely lifted from his book "Illuminations" pg 197 The image of Proust published in 1973 by Fontana. Some slight editing, not to its benefit either.


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