poetry

With my teeth, I have seized life

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No one had previously looked specifically at the differing responses in the brain to poetry and prose.

In research published in the Journal of Consciousness Studies, the  team found activity in a “reading network” of brain areas which was activated in response to any written material. But they also found that poetry aroused several of the regions in the brain which respond to music. These areas, predominantly on the right side of the brain, had previously been shown as to give rise to the “shivers down the spine” caused by an emotional reaction to music.

{ University of Exeter | Continue reading }

art { Bridget Riley, Arrest 3, 1965 }

Hanging? Wait till I show you.

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You’re getting older everyday, you ought to love someone

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I myself spent nine years in an insane asylum and I never had the obsession of suicide, but I know that each conversation with a psychiatrist, every morning at the time of his visit, made me want to hang myself, realizing that I would not be able to cut his throat.

{ Antonin Artaud, Van Gogh: The Man Suicided by Society, 1947 }

No one personifies the thorny entanglement between modernism and the science of the soul better than Dr. Gaston Ferdière, the psychiatrist who administered no less than 58 electroshock treatments to the Surrealist playwright Antonin Artaud during the Second World War. Determined to reconcile poetry and medicine, Ferdière had studied under “Professor Claude”— target of Breton’s anti-psychiatric rants—at Sainte-Anne while at the same time passing as a “star of Surrealism in the bistros” of Paris in the mid-1930s. A friend of Breton, Desnos, Péret, and Crevel, the young Dr. Ferdière arranged to have a mural painted in the Sainte-Anne guardhouse by an artist close to the movement, and he even published several volumes of poetry himself.

By the time Artaud showed up on his doorstep at Rodez psychiatric hospital, Ferdiére had long since abandoned his poetic aspirations. Yet his old interests were rekindled in long conversations with the Surrealist playwright, whose talents he sought to revive by a combination of “art therapy”—writing, drawing, translating Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass—and shock treatments—six courses ranging from 4 to 13 sessions each between June 20th, 1943 and January 24th, 1945. Electroshock was still in its experimental phase—the machine had hardly rolled in the door at Rodez—and the convulsions were so severe that Artaud fractured a vertebra in his neck during one of the treatments.

The strange case of Ferdière and Artaud remains a source of controversy to this day. On the one hand, there can be little doubt that the psychiatrist saved Artaud’s life by taking him in. The playwright had been confined to various mental hospitals since suffering a psychotic break in 1936, but with the outbreak of war the Nazis restricted food supplies to asylum patients, and by 1943 Artaud was on the brink of starvation. Spirited out of Occupied France to the “free zone,” he quickly recovered under the care of Dr. Ferdière, who openly defied the restrictions and kept his patients well fed by working the black market.

{ Yale University, | PDF | Antonin Artaud (1896 – 1948) was a French playwright, poet, actor and theatre director. | Wikipedia }

artwork { Robert Motherwell, Africa Suite, Africa 6, 1970 }

‘So strong is the belief in life, in what is most fragile in life – real life, I mean – that in the end this belief is lost.’ –André Breton

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We are still living under the reign of logic: this, of course, is what I have been driving at. But in this day and age logical methods are applicable only to solving problems of secondary interest. The absolute rationalism that is still in vogue allows us to consider only facts relating directly to our experience. Logical ends, on the contrary, escape us. It is pointless to add that experience itself has found itself increasingly circumscribed. It paces back and forth in a cage from which it is more and more difficult to make it emerge. It too leans for support on what is most immediately expedient, and it is protected by the sentinels of common sense. Under the pretense of civilization and progress, we have managed to banish from the mind everything that may rightly or wrongly be termed superstition, or fancy; forbidden is any kind of search for truth which is not in conformance with accepted practices. It was, apparently, by pure chance that a part of our mental world which we pretended not to be concerned with any longer — and, in my opinion by far the most important part — has been brought back to light. For this we must give thanks to the discoveries of Sigmund Freud. On the basis of these discoveries a current of opinion is finally forming by means of which the human explorer will be able to carry his investigation much further, authorized as he will henceforth be not to confine himself solely to the most summary realities.

{ André Breton, Manifesto of Surrealism, 1924 | Continue reading }

Surrealism had the longest tenure of any avant-garde movement, and its members were arguably the most “political.” It emerged on the heels of World War I, when André Breton founded his first journal, Literature, and brought together a number of figures who had mostly come to know each other during the war years. They included Louis Aragon, Marc Chagall, Marcel Duchamp, Paul Eluard, Max Ernst, René Magritte, Francis Picabia, Pablo Picasso, Phillippe Soupault, Yves Tanguey, and Tristan Tzara. Some were “absolute” surrealists and others were merely associated with the movement, which lasted into the 1950s. (…)

André Breton was its leading light, and he offered what might be termed the master narrative of the movement.

No other modernist trend had a theorist as intellectually sophisticated or an organizer quite as talented as Breton. No other was [as] international in its reach and as total in its confrontation with reality. No other [fused] psychoanalysis and proletarian revolution. No other was so blatant in its embrace of free association and “automatic writing.” No other would so use the audience to complete the work of art. There was no looking back to the past, as with the expressionists, and little of the macho rhetoric of the futurists. Surrealists prized individualism and rebellion—and no other movement would prove so commercially successful in promoting its luminaries. The surrealists wanted to change the world, and they did. At the same time, however, the world changed them. The question is whether their aesthetic outlook and cultural production were decisive in shaping their political worldview—or whether, beyond the inflated philosophical claims and ongoing esoteric qualifications, the connection between them is more indirect and elusive.

Surrealism was fueled by a romantic impulse. It emphasized the new against the dictates of tradition, the intensity of lived experience against passive contemplation, subjectivity against the consensually real, and the imagination against the instrumentally rational. Solidarity was understood as an inner bond with the oppressed.

{ Logos | Continue reading }

Once more the ruby-coloured portal opened, which to his speech did honey passage yield

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Venus and Adonis is a poem by William Shakespeare, written in 1592–1593, with a plot based on passages from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. It is a complex, kaleidoscopic work, using constantly shifting tone and perspective to present contrasting views of the nature of love.

The poem contains what may be Shakespeare’s most graphic depiction of sexual excitement.

Venus and Adonis comes from the 1567 translation by Arthur Golding of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Book 10. Ovid told of how Venus took the beautiful Adonis as her first mortal lover. They were long-time companions, with the goddess hunting alongside her lover. She warns him of the tale of Atalanta and Hippomenes to dissuade him from hunting dangerous animals; he disregards the warning, and is killed by a boar. Shakespeare developed this basic narrative into a poem of 1,194 lines. His chief innovation was to make Adonis refuse Venus’s offer of herself.

{ Wikipedia | Continue reading }

And at his look she flatly falleth down
For looks kill love, and love by looks reviveth;
A smile recures the wounding of a frown;
But blessed bankrupt, that by love so thriveth!
The silly boy, believing she is dead
Claps her pale cheek, till clapping makes it red;

(…)

He wrings her nose, he strikes her on the cheeks,
He bends her fingers, holds her pulses hard,
He chafes her lips; a thousand ways he seeks
To mend the hurt that his unkindness marr’d:
He kisses her; and she, by her good will,
Will never rise, so he will kiss her still.

{ Venus and Adonis | full text }

‘Fair I was also, and that was my ruin.’ –Goethe

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On the other side of a mirror there’s an inverse world, where the insane go sane; where bones climb out of the earth and recede to the first slime of love.

And in the evening the sun is just rising.

Lovers cry because they are a day younger, and soon childhood robs them of their pleasure.

In such a world there is much sadness which, of course, is joy…

{ Russell Edson, Antimatter from The Childhood of an Equestrian, 1973 | Thanks James! }

‘The loser is always at fault.’ –Vasilii Nicolaevich Panov

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The principle of all things entrails made


Of smallest entrails; bone, of smallest bone,


Blood, of small sanguine drops reduced to one;


Gold, of small grains; earth, of small sands compacted


Small drops to water, sparks to fire contracted.

{ Lucretius quoted by Ralph W. Emerson | Continue reading }

How is it that the clouds still hang on you?

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In attempting to be more like photography, the poems actually become less. (…)

Loydell makes the reader do all the work, rarely offering his own interpretation, or even a helpful signpost to meaning.

Which wouldn’t be so bad, if he didn’t keep asserting that there is some sort of deeper meaning to be found here. Every poem of the collection ends with the refrain “the condition of our lives”, tantalisingly hinting at revelations about the human condition, and all that poetry at its best strives to encapsulate. But merely stating it, in amidst such a hap-hazard stream of language does not elucidate anything, does not paint a picture for the reader, or delineate shades of meaning, or even hint at a conclusion which we can draw for ourselves. This isn’t so much Pointillism as join-the-dots. Without the numbers.

Loydell also doesn’t seem to understand the concept of a ballad.

{ Sabotage Reviews | Continue reading }

photo { Luke Stephenson }

It must be a movement then, an actuality of the possible as possible

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Beyond the practical experiences and impressions being held for ages from ancient times, the scientific observations and surveys indicate that psychopathological symptoms, especially those belonging to the bipolar mood disorder (bipolar I and II), major depression and cyclothymia categories occur more frequently among writers, poets, visual artists and composers, compared to the rates in the general population. Self-reports of writers and artists describe symptoms in their intensively creative periods which are reminiscent and characteristic of hypomanic states. Further, cognitive styles of hypomania (e.g. overinclusive thinking, richness of associations) and originality-prone creativity share many common as indicated by several authors.

Among the eminent artists showing most probably manic-depressive or cyclothymic symptoms were: E. Dickinson, E. Hemingway, N. Gogol, A. Strindberg, V. Woolf, Lord Byron (G. Gordon), J. W. Goethe, V. van Gogh, F. Goya, G. Donizetti, G. F. Händel, O. Klemperer, G. Mahler, R. Schumann, and H. Wolf. Based on biographies and other studies, brief descriptions are given in the present article on the personality character of Gogol; Strindberg, Van Gogh, Händel, Klemperer, Mahler, and Schumann.

Further example is the enigmatic silence and withdrawal from opera composing of Gioacchino Rossini (1792-1868), which is still a matter of various theories and explanations. Until his life of 37 years he composed 39 operas and lived almost another 40 years without composing any new one. Biographies show that severe depressive sufferings played a role in that withdrawal and silence, while in his juvenile years most probably hypomanic personality traits contributed to the extreme achievements and very fast composing techniques. Analysing the available biographies of Rossini and the character of music he composed (e.g. opera buffa, Rossini crescendo) strongly suggests the medical diagnosis of a bipolar affective illness.

Comparing to the general population, bipolar mood disorder is highly overrepresented among writers and artists. The cognitive and other psychological features of artistic creativity resemble many aspects of the hypomanic symptomatology. It may be concluded that bipolar mood traits might contribute to highly creative achievements in the field of art. At the same time, considering the risks, the need of an increased medical care is required.

{ Orv Hetil, 2004/PubMed }

‘Everything one invents is true, you may be perfectly sure of that. Poetry is as precise as geometry.’ –Gustave Flaubert

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{ Florian, Fables, The Mirror of Truth, 1802 }

and

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{ Florian, Fables, True Happiness, 1802 }