Unreal Nature

September 26, 2015

God in the Charcoal Dust

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:02 am

… the pressure for something to be there: the need …

… The meeting of the paper, the membrane between what is us, and what is outside us …

Continuing through Six Drawing Lessons: The Charles Eliot Norton Lectures, 2012 by William Kentridge (2014):

… We anthropomorphize the animal, not to say it is like us, but to get closer to that part of it and us that we cannot reach.

[ … ]

The Panther at the Jardin des Plantes
Rainer Maria Rilke, Paris 1902

Ceaselessly the bars and rails keep passing
Til his gaze, from weariness, lets all things go, for
it seems to him the world consists of bars and
railings, and beyond them the world exists no more.

Supple, strong, elastic is his pacing
and its circle much too narrow for a leap
like a dance of strength around a centre
where a mighty will was put to sleep.

Yet from time to time, the pupils’ curtain
rises silently. An image enters, flies through
the limbs’ intensive stillness
until, entering the very heart, it dies.

…………………………………. (translation by Richard Exner)

… I first saw the poem with the precise lines of [this] English version … in 1984. It was as if those lines were being waited for. They were like advice that we only hear or heed when it corresponds to what we already know. The sense that the lines fit a space waiting for them. So one thinks, “How can a poet writing in Paris in 902 have such a sense of who I am in Johannesburg in 1984?” A point of connection.

… What caught me when I read the poem in 1984 was not the description of the panther as camera, as photographer [i.e. the last verse], but the two lines:

Like a dance of strength around a centre
Where a mighty will was put to sleep.

They correspond so closely to what it felt like to be in the studio. The urge to make something, a gathering of energy around … Around what? The blank page, the empty paper. An energy gathered, but not knowing what it should do. The impulse to make something, to draw or to paint something; but waiting for a clear instruction. What is to be done? What are the images to be made?

… In the studio, this manifested itself in the split between an energy of tensing of muscles (sometimes this energy and impulse to work are located here, at the edge of the pectoral muscles, where we can almost taste the activity to come) — a split between this energy, and a lassitude, an inability to keep awake, that would sometimes come over. A defensive sleeping. An inability to know what should be made, or how to make, or why it should be made, masquerading as tiredness. A real tiredness, masking a fake tiredness. The need and not-need to make something. This is not an image I am burning to show, or story or experience I need to tell: this is the not-need; but the pressure for something to be there: the need.

Rilke wrote the poem “The Panther” when he was working as a secretary for the sculptor Auguste Rodin. He was stuck with the WHAT of writing: knowing he was a poet, and not knowing what the words should describe. Rodin sent him to the zoo, with the instruction not to come back until he had written about something he had seen. This is one of the great poems of the last century, and it started life as a homework exercise.

… God in the charcoal dust. The pacing, and the gap. The meeting of the paper, the membrane between what is us, and what is outside us, what we can comprehend, and the animal unconscious, unknowingness that sits inside of us. Here is not just a distant sending of signals from the outside world to us, but something that pulls the two together.

My most recent previous post from Kentridge’s book is here.

-Julie

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