Between a Rock and a Place


This morning, when I saw so many yellow leaves make of the cement a fibrous washi paper, I imagined that if leaves can make text of stone, words can etch the resistant matter of the mind. If it is the last thing we do, to etch a thing of beauty with its thorns of warning: some have disappointed themselves out of dreams and curse the land they walk on...
Such are the winds that try to huff us out of craft and home. And so it happens that some lives and art leave this planet without a trace, if we do not forge invisible lines, at least - or at most? - in one other heart, or through our hopes and dreams if we've learned to mediate the concrete.
To stay alive - it was Rilke's impetus to go to Russia, where he learned "how to see", and how to gain access to things that in the West people only fetishized or consumed. Some Russians rejected Rilke's idealist vision of their country: calling him naive, hopelessly Romantic. Yet many accepted him as one of their own for his mystical attraction to their motherland. So I ask: is it not mystical idealism that feeds us life when reality beats us down? Like that written by petty bureaucrats (parroting I'm DOCTOR so-and-so) or flamboyant hobo writers, making money off their lands by living or chumming overseas: claiming to be representatives of their nation, but rarely deigning to step foot in it or to take a slap on the face for it.
I take refuge against such ugliness in Rilke's defense of the country he loved: "the profound, the real, the surviving other Russia has only fallen back on her secret root system... gathering its forces.. invisible to its children". I prefer not to believe what people make of their homelands today; it is the wrong side of the story.
I take refuge, too, in idealising those who tend to the country or to craftsmanship - like Cobbett, or Rilke, who continued to trust in the vitality of the peasant soul - it was they who were "patient and introspective enough to live in harmony with themselves and unself-conscious enough to still be nourished by their communities." Such a category of person is crucial to human existence. And for all those people who've written that peasants and their crafts are RIP, like Walter Benjamin in The Storyteller, Rilke had a response: it is we who must take up those forms. I am the peasant. We are the ones who can make of stone, paper. If we love something, we must find it, paint it, engage it, carry it forwards - even if subsurface, covered in myth.

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