What thou lovest well

Have been reading about art lately.  Adrian Stokes, author/artist, fused a psychoanalytic approach (via Melanie Klein) with a deep knowledge of Renaissance sculpture & painting.  (Came to this discovery by way of a stray tweet by Jeremy Noel-Tod, about a Carcanet book he had edited, collected poems by R.F. Langley, a British poet much influenced by Stokes.  All this has been delightful new territory for me.)

It has some relevance to my latest unrealistic writing project, Ravenna Diagram, which has something to do in places with triangulating Venice-Rimini-Ravenna.  Ezra Pound is buried in Venice; Dante is buried in Ravenna; and both Pound & Stokes were fascinated with Rimini. (I guess they also crossed paths at some point.)

So these recent preoccupations of mine coincided with the latest ISIS atrocity in Syria, the murder of Khalid al-Asaad, longtime director of antiquities in Palmyra.

Asaad's devoted life & iconic death reminded me of some remarks by Russian poet Osip Mandelstam, about how a person's death somehow sums up and defines their life.  This was certainly true in his own case : Mandelstam died a victim of a personal vendetta by another Osip (his evil twin), Joseph Stalin - after Mandelstam had written a brief satirical poem featuring Stalin as its target.  Not a prudent thing to do in 1930's Russia (nor in today's Russia either, as a matter of fact).  Yet Mandelstam had a commitment to something beyond his personal survival.  As did Khalid al-Asaad.  This is perhaps the "true" form of martyrdom, which, unlike the standard model popular today, does not require the mass murder of innocent bystanders in order to achieve its glorified apotheosis in Paradise.  No, you only have to give up your own life.

Melanie Klein's neo-Freudian psychology focuses on childhood development.  The personality of the  infant & very young child is shaped by a dynamic & dramatic relation with the nurturing & distanced mother : Klein (& Stokes as well) reads deeply into adult experience grounded in this primal & primary & ambivalent/conflicted relationship.

For Stokes, art presents models of human victory & plenitude, through the integrations of these subconscious conflicts by way of the hard-won justification of the beautiful (the work of the artist).

In view of some such angle of vision, the depredations of ISIS against anything that threatens their "control of the narrative" comes across as the panic of the child who has rejected his mother.  Maybe Judaism & paganism & Christianity, the whole Syrian melting-pot out of which Islam emerged in the first place (in about the 7th century) comes across as a subconscious feminine threat, from the vewpoint of fundamentalist (Saudi, Salafist, ISIS) Islam.  I don't know, maybe ISIS is frightened of the Jewish mother against which it has gone to irrevocable war.

Judaism and Christianity have also fostered similar strains of iconoclastic rejection of art and images. After all, one of the Ten Commandments prohibits the making of any "graven images" of Yahweh.  The idols of the pagans, in the eyes of monotheism, are regarded as wooden follies of darkened minds.  Scriptural Puritanism rejected medieval Catholicism on similar grounds.  ISIS simply takes this direction to its "logical" conclusion : all art is verboten, all art is from the "infidel".

I wonder what images they see when they sleep at night, if they are able to sleep at night.  Do they ever see their mothers in their dreams?  Or perhaps they glimpse fleeting snapshots of the mothers of the "kaffir" young women they have enslaved and violated?  Maybe they don't need to sleep.  They can thrive, momentarily, on their canned & indoctrinated daydreams of paradise.  Livin' the propaganda dream, courtesy of their cynical Ba'athist warlords.  (Ba'athism, by the way, modeled its modus operandi on Stalinism.  Stalin was one of Saddam Hussein's heroes.)

My own particular confessional tradition has to do with the Incarnation, the appearance of God as Man, in the body, in one particular place & time - so I am inexorably committed to the idolatry of physical timebound mortal earthly existence & all its consequences.  This does not put me in good stead with the extreme iconoclasts of whatever theological persuasion.  I would rather stand with Khalid al-Asaad, devoted as he was to some local piles of classical statues & pillars & broken ancient ruins.  His devotion & his death reminded me of some lines of another fanatic old codger, Ezra Pound (from Canto LXXXI) :

What thou lovest well remains,
                                                  the rest is dross
What thou lov’st well shall not be reft from thee
What thou lov’st well is thy true heritage
Whose world, or mine or theirs
                                            or is it of none?
First came the seen, then thus the palpable
        Elysium, though it were in the halls of hell,
What thou lovest well is thy true heritage
What thou lov’st well shall not be reft from thee

No comments: