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14 March 2006

Why bother?

I’m going to add this to each post/comment, and I encourage you to do so too:

Today I’ve listened to: Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5, the “Emperor”

Today I’ve read: Many Dimensions by Charles Williams


Yesterday was a fantastically beautiful Spring day. 80º, sunny, perfect. I sat outside listening to the myriads of birds, thinking, “Who needs music when we have the melodious and harmonious calls of birds? Who needs poetry describing nature when the real thing is so much more real and so much more satisfying? Who needs novels when the world and people and even trees have more depth and colour and meaning? Why do we bother with art, anyway?”

Then I picked up Many Dimensions. And I knew the answer. Whether or not I can articulate it, I knew and felt it. Nature is what it is and does what it does, but there was that book. It was alive. No, the characters were alive. No, they are something different and better than living. They are permanent, though they pass through my mind only while I read and when I think on it, or dream the story into my life as I did last night. The crisp psychological detail, the spiritual enormity, the trueness of it is unparalleled and indispensable. I almost venerate those characters. Yes, I want to emulate them. The stillness of Chloe, the silent acquiescence of her will to God’s, makes me want to change my name to Serena and live in tranquility. I ate that book up as a goat grazes away all things green, as a man in the desert consumes water. I wanted to read it as fast as I could, yet I grieve now that it is finished.

That is one reason to do art: to keep us starving and fed, to take us away from family and duty but give us back to spirit, to submerge us and lift us below and above all this beautiful material existence.

3 comments:

Rosie Perera said...

Read: Several Robert Frost poems; Leo Tolstoy's essay "On Truth in Art"; part of Undoing Perpetual Stress by Richard O'Connor.

Listened to: "A Canadian Requiem" by Peter Dent.

Sorina asked: "Who needs music when we have the melodious and harmonious calls of birds? Who needs poetry describing nature when the real thing is so much more real and so much more satisfying?"

Yes, the bird songs are beautiful, but there is a richness in a symphony which is something new that did not exist in nature. The whole structure of it, how themes are developed and inverted, transposed and recapitulated, and then how different orchestras interpret and play that symphony with different expressions, volumes, tempi: these provide endless variety and interest. Bird songs never get old, but they also by themselves would not provide us all that we need to listen to in order to be fulfilled as humans.

Similarly, nature is unsurpassedly beautiful, but who can compare watching sunsets and going for walks in the forest with reading the likes of Milton's Paradise Lost or Dante's Divine Comedy? We would be impoverished if we had to live without either one or the other.

In the Tolstoy essay I read, he says that there is often more truth in fairy tales, parables, fables, and legends in which "marvellous things are described which never happened or ever could happen" than there is in true accounts of events which really did happen, because the stories show the truth of the will of God, whereas writing which merely describes what is, portrays a world of evil, which is not God's truth.

What a corrective that is to the notion current in some Christian circles that fairy tales and fantasy stories are of the devil. I remember a time when I was a small child when my mother, as a new believer, went through a period (influenced by other well meaning Christians, no doubt) where she didn't let us read fables, fairy tales, legends, and the like, because she thought they were lies and would be harmful to our impressionable young minds; I don't even think she allowed herself to read fiction during that period -- she was afraid of it. Thank God she quickly outgrew that phase and was able to integrate her new faith with her previous love of literature.

Mehitchcock said...

I really really love your wording, "nature is what it is and it does what it does. I've just been adapting a short story into a one act play and in the process had thought a lot about what a story does or what a play does. So when I read this statement I felt it resonating with me. It seems to make nature into a form of art.
There are so many books that try to emulate real life instead of doing what they do. I realized this when I read Steppenwolf. Well, not when I read it, but when I told someone it was my new favorite book. They asked me what it was about and I told them. My answer was approxamately as interesting and complex as the previous sentance.
Ever since then, I've been more mindful of books that give me an experience and I've read less.

Anonymous said...

Oops!
Forgot.
-Read: "Lines On Listening" (the poem just two posts back)
-Listened to: (and sang) Liebeslieder Walse by Brahms.