the task of the artist

I was reading W.H. Auden's 1939 review of a Rilke edition published in English earlier today, and marvelled at many aspects of the article. The part I thought indicative of the modern age was the end: "What is important for us and future writers is not the truth or falsehood of their conclusions, but their conception of the writer's real task and the lifelong and humble evolution which they brought to it." The task of the writer is lifted above that of the good life. One is allowed, and potentially even encouraged, to live in delusion, providing that one's work show work. What a curious idea. And this notion of evolution. Quite problematic, and happily even contradictory to other points Auden made in the same article, which is to say that evolution might sound very feasible in the modern age with the superior and maturing ever older generation of i-phones, but "to sit still and pray... may be the wisest and most helpful course" - Auden's words! We cannot speak of evolution if we undertake the timeless pursuit of honestly engaging with ourselves.
One of the parts I most enjoyed in the article was Rilke's own description of art: "Art cannot be helpful through our trying to keep and specially concerning ourselves with the distresses of others, but insofar as we bear our own distresses more passionately, give now and then a perhaps dearer meaning to endurance, and develop for ourselves the means of expressing the suffering within us and its conquest more precisely and clearly than is possible to those who have to apply their powers to something else."
It also reminds me of that Sufi verse: "But the body's desires, in another way, are like an unpredictable associate, with whom you must be patient. And that companion is helpful, because patience expands your capacity to feel love and peace."

I often write of the inscription at the Delphic Temple of Apollo, where the oracle was delivered: γνῶθι σεαυτόν, gnothi seauton. If we do not have an elementary understanding of our nature, then our labours can lead ourselves - and others - astray. Again, at the risk of being repetitive in these posts, is Aristotle's golden mean: if one exaggerates in virtue, one will end up doing harm. How many times do I see this, and how hard it was to learn this myself. Part of the problem here is the ego: wanting to appear good. But sometimes, paradox of paradoxes, doing the right thing makes one look bad!
And to think that millions and millions of books and artworks are produced by people who think, "What is important for us and future writers is not the truth or falsehood of their conclusions, but their conception of the writer's real task"! Think of Nietzsche. The wild poet, Nietzsche, who some people take seriously, not poetically...
From Heidegger's time, if not before, certain thinkers saw some of the piéges, the traps, of the modern age. Heidegger called for poetry as an antidote to the exaggeration of technology. Auden echoes this in the Rilke book review: "When the ship catches fire, it seems only natural to rush importantly to the pumps, but perhaps one is only adding to the general confusion and panic; to sit still and pray seems selfish and unheroic, but it may be the wisest and most helpful course."
Yes, I so agree. But I do not agree with how Auden understood Rilke in the second to last paragraph. Rilke bore characteristics in his soul that marked many of his poems with an orthodox Christian tone. Books have been written about this - yet it can only be seen by those who already know what to look for.
It is very curious how the lives of artists and even their works can be promoted or demoted according to their reception (which this article shows is largely determined by the actions taken by the artist's families after their deaths). So, in a way, even if the artist knows who they are, a lot is needed for that message to reach us, unscathed.
Communication is definitely a battlefield. And what I'd say about this today is that it helps to be ready for the right signs, and to strive to be working towards a good conclusion; the right symbols - the ones that help us thrive and create and love, not the ones that cut us off, or make us unhappy.

Elements: frames, dots and circles: Animus, crosswords: Atomic Affliction.

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