Friday, February 26, 2010

André Breton on Analogy: Inspiration, Poetry and Mysticism

Only on the level of analogy have I ever experienced intellectual pleasure. For me the only manifest truth in the world is governed by the spontaneous, clairvoyant, insolent connection established under certain conditions between two things whose conjunction would not be permitted by common sense. As much as I abhor, more than any other, the word therefore, replete with vanity and sullen delectation, so do I love passionately anything that flares up suddenly out of nowhere and thus breaks the thread of discursive thinking. What comes to light at the moment is an infinitely richer network of relations whose secret, as everything suggests, was known to early mankind. It is true that flare quickly dies out, but its glimmer is enough to help measure on their dismal scale the exchange values currently available that provide not answer except to basic questions of a utilitarian nature.


Poetic analogy has this in common with mystical analogy: it transgresses the rules of deduction to let the mind apprehend the interdependence of two objects of thought located on different planes. Logical thinking is incapable of establishing such a connection, which it deems a priori impossible. Poetic analogy is fundamentally different from mystical analogy in that it in no way presupposes the existence of an invisible universe that, from beyond the veil of the visible world, is trying to reveal itself.... When we consider the impression it creates, it is true that poetic analogy seems, like mystical analogy, to argue for an idea of a world branching out toward infinity and entirely permeated with the same sap. However, it remains without any effort within the sensible (even the sensual) realm, and it shows no propensity to lapse into the supernatural.

(André Breton, "Ascendant Sign," trans. Michel Parmentier and Jacqueline D'Amboise; in Literary Debate: Texts and Contexts)

Friday, February 19, 2010

Discovery of the Golden Bough?

From the Telegraph via Agade:

By Nick Squires in Rome
Published: 6:30AM GMT 18 Feb 2010
Golden Bough from Roman mythology 'found in Italy'

In Roman mythology, the bough was a tree branch with golden leaves
that enabled the Trojan hero Aeneas to travel through the underworld

They discovered the remains while excavating religious sanctuary built
in honour of the goddess Diana near an ancient volcanic lake in the
Alban Hills, 20 miles south of Rome.

They believe the enclosure protected a huge Cypress or oak tree which
was sacred to the Latins, a powerful tribe which ruled the region
before the rise of the Roman Empire.

The tree was central to the myth of Aeneas, who was told by a spirit
to pluck a branch bearing golden leaves to protect himself when he
ventured into Hades to seek counsel from his dead father.

In a second, more historically credible legend, the Latins believed it
symbolised the power of their priest-king.

Anyone who broke off a branch, even a fugitive slave, could then
challenge the king in a fight to the death. If the king was killed in
the battle, the challenger assumed his position as the tribe's leader.

The discovery was made near the town of Nemi by a team led by Filippo
Coarelli, a recently retired professor of archaeology at Perugia

After months of excavations in the volcanic soil, they unearthed the
remains of a stone enclosure.

Shards of pottery surrounding the site date it to the mid to late
Bronze Age, between the 12th and 13th centuries BC.


In Aeneid 6, the Sybil says to Aeneas:

A bough is hidden in a shady tree;
its leaves and pliant stem are golden, set
aside as sacred to Proserpina.
The grove serves as its screen, and shades enclose
the bough in darkened valleys. Only he
may pass beneath earth's secret places who
first plucks the golden-leaved fruit of the tree.
Lovely Proserpina ordained that this
be offered her as gift. And when teh first
bough is torn off, a second grows again--
with leaves of gold, again of that same metal.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Within My Fantasy

I am in the middle of teaching Dante's Divine Comedy (the "Divine" purportedly added by Boccaccio), and lines that catch my attention at every reading is in Purgatorio, which, by the way, is my favorite of the three cantica.

Of fantasy, you that at times would snatch
us so from outward things--we notice nothing
although a thousand trumpets sound around us--

who moves you when the senses do not spur you?
A light that finds its form in Heaven moves you--
directly or led downward by God's will.

Within my fantasy I saw impressed
the savagery of one who then, transformed,
became the bird that most delights in song;

at this, my mind withdrew to the within,
to what imagining might bring: no thing
that came from the without could enter in.

Then into my deep fantasy there rained
one who was crucified; and as he died,
he showed his savagery and his disdain.

(Dante, Purgatorio 17:13-27)

In this ode to fantasy, Dante is describing his dreams, but there is something else about it. Fantasy, a word repeated three times ("O fantasy," "my fantasy," "my deep fantasy") may be an adequate term to describe the creative act itself. It is something that begins in one's brain, one's mind: "my mind withdrew to the within." It recalls Augustine's Neoplatonic emphasis on interiority (as seen in my previous post) of God being within. But when Dante withdraws to the within, he does not see God. One might see a reference to the Trinity: the "one who was crucified." But as the subsequent--unquoted lines--indicate it is actually not Jesus, but Haman, an arch villain. Nonetheless, this passage has the Augustinian feel about it.

Nonetheless, Augustine's interiority is based upon a theory of memory (Confessions book ten), while it seems to me that Dante's interiority is based upon something else and "fantasy" captures it quite well. "Fantasy" is more than memory; it "anticipates" Montaigne's power of the imagination. I think, however, that this passage is metonymic of the entire Comedy as a whole: Dante travels through hell, purgatory, and heaven through his imagination, through his deep fantasy within himself. The fantasy within is the source of all creativity, and, thereby, the source of one's self.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

A Love Poem from St. Augustine

Late have I loved you,
Beauty so old and so new:
Late have I loved you.

And see, you were within
And I was within the external world
And sought you there,
And in my unlovely state
I plunged into those lovely created things
which you made
The lovely things kept me far from you
Though if they did not have their existence in you
They had no existence at all.

You called and cried out loud
And shattered my deafness
You were radiant and resplendent,
You put to flight my blindness.
You were fragrant,
And I drew in my breath and now pant after you.
I tasted you,
And I feel but hunger and thirst for you.
You touched me,
And I am set on fire to attain the peace which is yours.

(Augustine, Confessions X.xxvii (38))