But look, the morn in russet mantle clad
Walks o’er the dew of yon high eastward hill.
But look, the morn in russet mantle clad
Walks o’er the dew of yon high eastward hill.
Facetious men with fallacious philosophy,
Fashioned fictitiously with fleeting flecks of fallacy,
(Having finished from their fill of bottled ferment)
Went, fully bent on the firmament,
To flippantly fill their mental facets
With frivolous fineries from far. And at the tacet,
They plied their music farther, and forte phrased it:
“What was it that that fickle father has writ?
That man whose wit were twice as great as those of they
Who claim the greatest part of man today?
Said he ‘fair is foul and foul is fair’?
Or does my drunken mind cause me to err?
Indeed I think ’twere truly written just so,
And so it was ev’n if ’twere not, I know,
For my reality is relative,
To me, my thought and truth correlative.
If I am drunk on wine and think me sober,
A prudent man may perpetually pester me as a prober
Into the amber contents of my intoxicating drink,
‘What’s this?’ he asks ‘that masks your mind in manic—
This malice makes my tempered reason panic—
What causes you to inebriated think
That night is day and day is night, and light
Is dark, dark light? ‘Tis not right.
To what end do you let your wisdom end?’
But he is wrong to think me wrong, ‘My friend,’
I say, ‘the drunkenness that you perceive inside me
Is but a coloured tint of your sobriety;
You’ve drunk too much the air, who fills the mind
With sense and reason to the times behind.
Most truly are you drunk and I am dry,
Although but my drink may be less dry than thine,
For not a man is there who roams the earth
And drinks not of something, whether plainly or in mirth.
In earthly mirth do I make my mind to medal
And shall not care to take offence and meddle
In your affairs, your truths and doctrines prodigious;
You may have your hypocrisies religious.
Prodigious doctrines, religious hypocrites,
Their enough to give the fondest follower antic fits!
Away with you! Go your ways! But I
Will find a fouler function for my inner eye.’
And so would I repel him, with drunken errored verse,
Neither drunk nor errored, for his ways are worse,
Though there’s not such a thing, than mine. But i’ th’ sanity of madness
Let me go, and retire to relative bliss.”
And so he faltered off to fill his mind
With foolish fortunes—that man of mankind.
I too, a poetic stander by, cannot
Help but sympathise with the dry man’s lot,
The one who felt the man who spoke to himself
Was not true. Though foolish folly is wealth
On this repugnant earth, I think the worldly
Is wrong about reality. Surely,
If man calls fair the evil thing that’s foul,
Then in his tongue I must say ‘fair’ is foul.
And if he calls by ‘Foul’ the Beauty fair,
I also lie and use his language there.
A just life is a dance ‘top burning coals,
A careful weaving through the mortal holes;
We learn to play the game ‘gainst fools, and sing
The song that best might quickly freedom bring.
But quietly and carefully, my reader,
Avoid the drink but use the words in meter
With the twisted world. You too will indeed seem drunk;
Your sober secrets private as a monk,
But come, brave soul, and in this find consolation:
The drunken man’s wanting consummation
Will never bring a fruitful final day—
Unless you might use a different backward phrase—
But words won’t last, and so that language is lost
Is not a matter to we who know the cost
Of ill and worth of True Benevolence,
So yet we look on Right with reverence.
But woe to you who head this quiet verse,
For on this earth your mortal life is worse
(There being such a thing, the drunkard … right)
Than that of him who carless mocks the song.
I have, in my various intellectual crusades and what have you, brought up this very subject from time to time, and the most common response I get is a condescending roll of the eyes accompanied by some dismissive rhetorical question such as “when are you going to start living in the present or in real life?” Of course this question is rhetorical, for both I and my companion know well before it is asked that the answer is “never.” In fact, I’m not sure I can say I understand well why you people spend so much time in either of those two realms; they are both excessively boring and arduously laborsome˚. But with considerations of my romantic and quixotic mind aside, I urge you, nonetheless, to consider this idea most carefully before you dismiss it; it certainly can’t hurt, for “it is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain an idea without accepting it†.”
And now a quote from the most compelling tragedy I have ever read:
“There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance. Pray you, love, remember. And there is pansies, that’s for thoughts. … There’s fennel for you, and columbines. There’s rue for you, and here’s some for me; we may call it herb of grace o’ Sundays. You must wear your rue with a difference. There’s a daisy. I would give you some violets, but they withered all when my father died. They say he made a good end.”
-Hamlet IV.v.199-209 (Ophelia)
What is this crazy lady talking about? (Or is she crazy?)
Our dear Ophelia is here, in her “madness,” referring to the Victorian concept of the “Language of Flowers” or “Floriography.” It’s quite simple–each flower is symbolic of a certain sentiment or feeling that cannot be or, perhaps, is not appropriate to put into words. Rosemaries and pansies she explains for us, but as for the others: fennel represent flattery and deceit*, rue, sorrow and repentance, daisies, dissembling˚, and violets, faithfulness†.
As I have implied, this “Language of Flowers,” didn’t really take off in England, or get its name for that matter, until the Victorian era (1800’s), though it really has been around as long as history can record, and will probably continue to exist while humanity still possesses its sovereignty of reason. However, what has gone extinct is the use of flowers as a means of communicating that which cannot or should not be said in words. It was common practice, in the Victorian era, for a lover to express his feelings to his lady via the gift of flowers. He might assemble a bouquet and give it to her as a gift, and she, upon receiving, would not only acquire the lovely, physical gift, but also the immeasurable meaning behind it. This was especially useful and popular in those days when it was considered unbecoming of a gentleman to take the hand of a lady without her offering it, or impolite for a lady to be too forward towards a gentleman, among other things.
Perhaps this whole idea sounds ridiculous to us in today’s world; after all, who knows, or has time to know, what a chrysanthemum symbolizes? or even what a chrysanthemum is? That all is perfectly understandable; it is not up to us to ensure that culture stays exactly the same over hundreds of years; in fact, it should grow and change over time. But allow me to raise this question: what has it grown into? Has society blossomed into something better than it was before thanks to all the hard work, dedication, and sacrifices of so many over the years? Or have we declined?
I don’t think I should bother to answer this question, because if you have read very much of my writing at all, then you probably already know my thoughts on this subject. But what do you think? Is it better, today, that we can be in constant communication with people online and via text messaging? that we can tell people all kinds of thing without even thinking about it?
Today, dating is much easier than it was a few hundred years ago. A guy can tell a girl he likes her however he pleases, and the two–and God save them–can meet as often as they like and wherever they want, and do many other things with, or in utilization of, each other that I do not care to mention here. And even when they part, they are always just a text message away. What used to require hours of careful planing and consideration followed by the labors of acquiring flowers now is done in a matter of seconds. The forming of a bond is no longer dependent on a structure laid down by the protocol of a rich, authentic culture, but on the base, animal impulses of a homosapien. It is culture that makes us human, for culture is the collection of the highest parts of a society. Animals do not have culture because they do not communicate ideas, but we have culture because the ideas we communicate are shared and developed into better ones collectively. We require a language; without it, we are just moving piles of flesh*.
Now, I am by no means sharing this merely to depress you. Of course none of us is capable of making society suddenly regain consciousness, and that is not what we are called to do. We are, however, each called to do our part in the healing of our broken world, and that means we are called to be human. As for now, in a world that lacks common sense and cultural depth, I might even go so far as to say that our calling is to be something much more than human. We are in fact, all required to be Sons of God. And though this is a task never to be achieved on this side of death’s door, the virtue is in the strife.
And so, don’t be human, requiring a culture to tell you what to do, but be a Servant of Christ Himself. As I have described elsewhere, it seems we have come to a point where God is no longer using the pagan faculties (such as culture) to develop immortal beings (or at least not doing so to the extent He used to). Rather, as humanity as a whole ascends further and further up to la cima del purgatorio, our models become more and more refined. We are less dependent on our means of knowing Him, and more acquainted with Him directly. We no longer need to believe that Jesus is literally sitting on a pearly-gold throne in the sky somewhere at the right hand side of His Dad. And likewise, we don’t need to be told how to live through a well-crafted culture, but can start taking orders from God Himself, as we find Him in His Word and in His body˚. The risk in all this, of course, is that instead of refining our models, we throw them out all together, which is, as I have already implied, what the rest of the world seems to be doing.
Maybe we don’t need a language of flowers to practice artful communication, maybe relationships can even be richer without it, but let’s make sure they are.
˚ laborsome: -shax (thank goodness it’s a word!)
* perhaps referring to her boyfriend killing her father–“I was all the more deceived”
˚ possibly implying that Ophelia’s madness is just coded sanity
† the faithfulness of Hamlet and Ophelia’s father that “withered when he died.”
* this is me not answering my questions.
˚ again, I am not suggesting that humanity has, in this way, completely changed from one thing to another, but rather that we have further progressed from here to there.
It is most common, in the music compositional world, that upon meeting a new person and discovering some of his or her thoughts or attitudes about art, one quickly finds that he or she is the sort of person for whom music is an outward action possessing little more personal connection to the self than the physical appearance. I do not wish to overly condemn the use of the physical appearance as a means of communication. Though I am utterly appalled at the modern, superficial obsession with the body and all things temporal, I do not object to, but, on the contrary, encourage, the use of the outward appearance as a means of conveying the inward, and therefore it is even appropriate that the physical appearance should, at times, be considered a part of the entity that we call a mortal human being. It should, however, never be forgotten that all this is merely the mortal expression or embodiment of an everlasting splendor. That being the end for which we have the outward appearance, we must consider how one should ‘design’ such a faculty.
Consequentially, it seems to me quite clear that the physical appearance should be among the least important parts of the embodiment. While the way one carries, dresses, or takes care of one’s self physically does say a small thing about him or her, it is, doubtlessly, among the most impersonal of his or her means of expression. It is also, therefore, the most barbaric and inhuman. Thus, to hold art in a similar fashion seems to me utterly absurd, and even irresponsible, considering that it is capable of so much more. Rather than holding it at such a distance, we should let it contain our very hearts in much the same way that our bodies contain them physically. Not that it is our ultimate love, but that it is among the most intimate embodiments of ourselves. Art is not something that exists outside of us, that we may sit around drinking tea and making rhetorical comments about˚. No, art is the embodiment of the human experience; it is something that we are all invited to become a part of.
The acceptance of that invitation is an act that requires great courage and sincerity. It is no small task to become a part of the human experience, the mortal beginnings of the immortal body of Christ, but that is the very thing that art demands of us. We are not to be observers but members of art. There should be no human scope which exists outside of the scope of a work of art–art is to be real.
It is for this very reason that great courage and sacrifice is required of the artist additionally. No man should call himself an artist who creates a mere bit of light entertainment. Art is not merely entertainment, an “escape from reality,” but rather the fuller realization of reality–there is a big difference between craftsmanship and artistry. The artist is demanded to exist and to allow his existence to beget his art–thus making the perfect imitation of God’s creation of us. He should, in fact, feel as though he has lost a part of himself into the work he has created†.
Indeed, there is no act of greater intimacy with the soul than that of artistic creation. It is the act of stripping the spirit free of its mortal clothing leaving behind nothing but bare, naked humanity–or so is its goal. Just as every other act done on the face of the earth, the act of art is incomplete. It is the striving for freedom from mortal limits, but those limits remain ever in place until the end of earthly living. We have but ‘la cima del purgatorio’ to await, and then too shall our souls be free of the outward appearance.
This is why John Milton so classically describes angels as being free to put on whatever physical form they desire at any given moment. It leaves the soul (or, equally, the will) entirely exposed, bound to no immutable appearance, but entirely expressed in its every quality.
˚ The irony is that I am writing this post about art and actually drinking tea throughout the entire process! To be technical, the remark is more about the treatment of a work of art rather than of the subject of art in general. Additionally, this point uses the notion of ‘the mockery,’ a concept about which I will likely post in the future (so tune in next time!).
† Art is much like the “tithing of the soul” in that it is an opportunity for the artist to give his soul back to God, to whom it belongs anyway (much like money), and in so doing display his absolute confidence that God will continue to provide.
Oh dear, I really have to stop being so self amusing with my titles.
A note to the reader: good luck.
Most recently I got myself into a discussion, as I have a most curious way of doing, about the absoluteness or relativeness of aesthetics. My friend and I got to discussing the effects of frame of reference on the understanding of a work of art. We both agreed that it was possible for an artist to create something that is excellent in his own culture and “artistic language” and horrid in another. Where my friend and I differed, or perhaps, ironically, where we were unable to properly resolve our misunderstanding, was on the conclusion that should arise from such an axiom. The reality is that while a work of art is not absolute, what a work is about is. I may have been less than clear about this in my discussion.
What makes a work of art excellent is not that it is universally understood in all frames of reference, no work is, but rather that what it means is absolutely good. That is, if art is bound to language, then of course its quality is relative and temporal, but its content need not be. If I were to write the sentence “God is good” on a sheet of paper and mail it to someone in China, I should not reasonably expect the recipient to have the faintest understanding of it, but that doesn’t mean that God is not Absolutely good, that He is good here in America but not in China, it simply means that most people in China don’t speak English. This example might seem rather trivial, but it is, I believe, the very heart of the issue.
We live in an age where Indian music is just a click away, African dance can be seen on TV, and Hispanic cultures are flourishing in our own neighborhoods. What used to be an incalculable expanse of mystery and wonder, the earth, is now a small collection of stimuli that can be accessed right from our living rooms (or at least it seems this way)†. But the truth of the matter is that we no nothing about Islamic sacred art, though we often might think we do. Just because people in Japan find things to be beautiful that we do not doesn’t mean that there is no such thing as beauty, but rather, as I’ve been telling you all along, that Virgil is a pagan.
Every tribe and nation has a language and an art, and within that art and language they can say lovely things and horrible things. But the art itself is not the lovely thing or the horrible thing, it is merely a means of communicating that thing. Good art tells the story of God in mortal words, bad art doesn’t; it’s that simple˚. But no art is God. We may call a butterfly ‘beautiful,’ but only a pagan would worship a butterfly; in reality, the butterfly is not beautiful, but is rather a reminder of that which is beautiful, that of which we all know deep within our hearts but are yet to see face to face. Butterflies are like Virgil.
In the classical world, it was less practically important that this distinction be made, but today, society stands no hope without this understanding. As the world continues to progress in its complete accessibility, we draw perceptibly nearer to the end of time, “La cima del purgatorio,” and it becomes necessary for humanity to choose between art and beauty, Virgil and Heaven. The world has always been full of Pagans, but never has Paganism posed so great a threat to the heart of mankind as it does today. In classical times, paganism was among the most useful tools for building the church–for causing the “Word to become flesh.” This is why Dante’s guid is so important to Him. God built the church by transposing, as Lewis calls it, his fractal truth into something that could be held in the mortal minds of humanity. He used language and art, pagan faculties, to communicate that which is immortal. But now we are coming to the point where those faculties have served their purpose and are no longer needed, where “the word of the Lord has reached every nation.” Mind you, I do not wish to say we are quite there yet, nor do I wish to comment on how close the end of time is (though it has always been very close), I merely wish to point out that this is the direction in which we are moving.
Please do not misunderstand me, La cima del purgatorio is much more than an artistic movement, but like most things in the scope of reality, it plays itself out over and over again in all different ways and on all different levels. In art, we are reaching La cima del purgatorio where the mountain that sits below us is a symbol of the work we have done to understand language. We are now coming to the point where we no longer need to believe that a work of art is Absolutely good or bad, but rather that Beauty and Goodness are Absolute and art is but the mortal expression of those immortal, Divine characteristics. Our model of aesthetics has reached a new level of purity. This is what the purgatory analogy is all about: we humans work and work to refine our models, our relationships with God, and our very beings, for this is good for us to do, even with our knowledge that all our toil does not even begin to close the gap between us and Heaven (the doctrine of sanctification). But there soon comes a point where we no longer need to work and God reaches down through His son and carries us home.
Reality is fractal, that is why, while our older models are true within their own scopes (thanks to the complex), they can always be “refined.” We are essentially stretching their scopes. It’s as if I thought my family was out of orange juice and so I told someone that I was going to go to the store to get some, but when I looked in the fridge I realized that we had orange juice but were instead lacking milk and went to get that instead. If after returning from the store with milk a family member asks me if I had gone to the store yet or if we had orange juice now, I may report that both are true and create for them a function accurate model of the truth; however, that model may further be refined if I told them the whole story. In this example, the whole story is a finite set of facts; in the case of reality, the whole story is fractal. Therefore, part our purpose as humans, while were here this short while, is to continue to refine our models–not so they can encompass the “whole story,” they never will, but rather because it is simply Good, in an Absolute sense, for us to do this. It is an exercise of our finite love for God. After all, it is out of this finite stuff that He is going to make us infinitely refined beings in Heaven; it is our duty to have faith the size of a mustard seed.
If good is infinite, it should not surprise us that there would be infinite finite ways to worship Him. If God is Absolute, it should not surprise us that there would be ways to not worship Him.
† This is a good example of why paganism must now die in a sense that it has not hitherto: the earth used to seem so beyond Human comprehension that one could get away with worshiping it or casting their worship of the true God onto the earth out of their ignorance of His name. Now as the earth ‘shrinks,’ paganism begins to pose a new threat to humanity.
Art is trying to do the opposite, see “A Timeless Shakespeare”
˚ “There are two kinds of music: good music and bad music” -Louis Armstrong