Friday, May 15, 2009

klee and merton on making and seeing...

"abstract formal elements are put together like numbers and letters to make concrete beings or abstract things; in the end a formal cosmos is achieved, so much like the creation that a mere breath suffices to transform religion into act."
paul klee

"the perfect act is empty. who can see it? he who forgets form. out of the formed, the unformed, the empty act proceeds with its own form. perfect form is momentary. its perfection vanishes at once. perfection and emptiness work together for they are the same: the coincidence of momentary form and eternal nothingness. forget form, and it suddenly appears, ringed and reverberating with its own light, which is nothing. well, then: stop seeking. let it all happen. let it come and go. what? everyting: i.e. nothing.
thomas merton

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8 Comments:

Blogger ArtSparker said...

Hmm, there is the age-old argument which I'd counter the Merton with, that making/creating emerges from discontent with what is. I feel sort of guilty criticizing Merton though, having read how little he seemed to be able to enjoy of ordinary happiness, I wonder if what you quoted is advice to himself which he longed to take.

11:43 AM  
Blogger sroden said...

i'm not sure that one could say that making/creating emerges ONLY from discontent with what is, as most certainly for many folks the creation or making is inspired by the love of what is. some of merton's work certainly comes from a discontent with people, values, thinking, etc. but some also comes, of course, from inspiration and being touched by things that are "right". it's interesting you see merton as unable to enjoy ordinary happiness. i am not a scholar or anything other than someone who has taken a rather idioysyncratic path with his works, but as for my own reading of him, in his poems, diaries, and most recently a book about his visual works, it does seems as if he's always trying to dig deeper, but never at the expense of finding happiness in ordinary things. obviously certain life decisions were fueled by discontent, but i see this as a kind of social discontent, rather than a discontent with the world - and ordinary happiness in my mind relates more to stones and trees than a political situation or the morals of a culture... i think he's speaking more in relation to zen thinking and sounding a lot more like john cage (where form and formless could be sound and silence or order and chance...) it seems more to be about expectation, and how if you look for something specific you may never find it because you are looking too hard and excluding so many other potentials; but if you are open, the thing you are looking for might appear before you even know you are looking for it... a bit like agnes martin too...

2:33 PM  
Blogger ArtSparker said...

You know, I've read Seven Storey Mountain, which made a vivid impression on me, and that is what I was thinking of - he just seemed to find himself unacceptable when he wasn't finding circumstances unacceptable. But I haven't read his other work, so I'm only speaking from my recollections of that.

A new biography of Gerard Manley Hopkins has just been published, he is supposed to have been a restless spirit (speaking of poet monks).

3:03 PM  
Blogger sroden said...

oh, that's interesting. i've never read seven story mountain, but i know a few who have and have had the same image of merton from it. i believe it was written before he became a monk, and also i know he wrote a much later preface to that book when republished that kind of apologized for some of the things in the text, indicating his mindset or look at life had clearly changed overtime, and certainly his outlook on life changed later as he became more and more interested in zen.

i heard about the hopkins bio, hopefully at some point will find time to enter his world as well...

4:12 PM  
Blogger ctorre said...

BARTON FINK
. . . No, I've always found that writing comes from a great inner pain. Maybe it's a pain that comes from a realization that one must do something for one's fellow man - to help somehow to ease his suffering. Maybe it's a personal pain. At any rate, I don't believe good work is possible without it.

MAYHEW
Mmm. Wal, me, I just enjoy maikn' things up. Yessir. Escape...It's when I can't write, can't escape m'self, that I want to tear m'head off and run screamin' down the street with m'balls in a fruitpickers pail. Mm . . .
(He sighs and reaches for a bottle of Wild Turkey.)
. . . This'll sometimes help

9:02 PM  
Blogger ctorre said...

Also... I would like to think Merton came to an understanding of his own distance from the world. I would like to think GM Hopkins did as well. It is a pure cold comfort but I must adhere to it for the sake of idiotic hope... It might be important, perhaps, for us still living to emphasize the false or controversial anecdote as a counter-narrative; it might be worthwhile to work against those filiments that have built up around the lives of poets, of poor Dickinson, or even Johnny Thunders, or Dallas Wiebe, still alive, waiting out the end. I think we ought to emphasize that obscurity need not be catastrophe.

9:25 PM  
Blogger sroden said...

indeed, but unfortunately catastrophe often seems to be part of it, although one hopes not always on the level of johnny thunders, whose music was one of the things that got me into punk rock circa 1979. i was pretty obsessed with the heartbreakers and it took a few years before they came out to LA and played a show at the whiskey. it was possibly my most anticipated show (other than PIL's first gig here) and thunders came out so f-ed up on heroin that someone literally had to stand behind him and hold him up for the entire show. every time the band started a different song, he sang the same lyrics each time, always wrong, and finally just sort of collapsed. i'm amazed he lived as long as he did... in merton's case i'm not sure he was as detached from the world as it may seem. he had quite a social calendar at his hermitage, he was able to travel to asia and even new york while a monk, he managed a traveling exhibition of his work dealing with numerous people in all walks of life, and the amount of correspondence he kept is pretty staggering. in a way it seems his distance from the world of everyday distraction allowed him to actually be nearer to the world because he had so much focus. but there have of course been many obscure and hermit-like who have found happiness and made good things and led uneventful lives without catastrophe... but the norm is never the stuff of legend...

12:09 AM  
Blogger ArtSparker said...

Re uneventful lives: According the the review, part of Hopkins' problem was the lack of interest a fellow-poet treated his work with. It's a question of some from of being recognized and understood in the world that feels important...and of course, I have to drag Wallace Stevens in, who wrote that happy poem when he got his big promotion at the Hartford.

10:48 AM  

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