|The Calumny of Apelles by Boticelli - source|
The allegory is certainly flexible enough to encompass several disparate interpretations.
I have been stimulated by the artist Shelton Walsmith's explorations of the Enigma, that down in the working engine of art, there is a fundamental mystery. One of the problems we face as a hyper-literate online society (culture here is in question) is how much we take for granted. What widening gyres of massive computing pulse underneath the simplest of searches - literally and metaphorically? What shaping forces are working behind the scenes, restricting our views of the world, channeling our thoughts? In the days before internet, the invention of books worked as the extension of our memory. In the days before books, poetry and myth, rhapsodic recitation of epic dramas, contained our cultural (the word here relevant) meaning, as a sacred vessel might contain intoxicating wine. Metaphor is naturally enigmatic. Looking back to those first recorded Western attempts to understand the world, metaphor was supreme: the Universe is made of earth, air, fire or water or some other enigmatic combination.
There, powering this engine of thought, is the metaphor, this bridge of understanding that takes two frames of reference and bridges them together.
His face is an open book.
Love is a bleeding wound in my heart.
Death is an endless night.
What amazes me is how often I, we, use this powerful tool to communicate with no thought to the essential enigma of how it works. Burroughs spoke of the "Third Mind" when referring to the mysterious presence that arises when two separate entities work together. Two artists collaborate and the resulting work will have a "life of it's own". Or, take two photos and montage them together and the resulting image has a resonance never dreamed of. Eisenstein wrote:
"The combination of two hieroglyphs of the simplest series is regarded not as their sum total but as their product, i.e. as a value of another dimension, another degree: each taken separately corresponds to an object but their combination corresponds to a concept. The combination of two ‘representable’ object achieves the representation of something that cannot be graphically represented."
To paraphrase and extend: something that cannot be graphically represented but which has a felt presence is an enigma.
Wittgenstein said of the poems of Georg Trakl:
“I do not understand them, but their tone makes me happy,” he wrote to Ludwig von Ficker, Trakl’s patron. “It is the tone of true genius.”
I have thought the same. The best and most memorable poetry (much the same to me), through it's highly rarefied metaphorical juxtaposition, gives rise to this "Third Mind" or "tone of genius".
I was first introduced to Trakl's poetry through Heidegger and his beautiful exploration of one line from Trakl's poem, Ein Winterabend / A Winter Evening (Hofstadter, trans.):
Window with falling snow is arrayed.
Long tolls the vesper bell,
The house is provided well,
The table is for many laid.
Wandering ones, more than a few,
Come to the door on darksome courses.
Golden blooms the tree of graces
Drawing up the earth’s cool dew.
Wanderer quietly steps within;
Pain has turned the threshold to stone.
There lie, in limpid brightness shown,
Upon the table bread and wine.
The line that haunted Heidegger and which in turn became a kind of mantra of endurance for me is:
Pain has turned the threshold to stone.
Standing in line at the DMV, stuck in traffic, hitting my thumb with a hammer, drinking alone at a bar, waking up from dream of deep sorrow, moved to tears by a sudden memory of someone dead, in each of these, I have recalled that Trakl line, not as an anodyne, but as an enigmatic prayer that offers no explanation, but renders a form of absolution.
It's been a long time since I have seriously involved myself in writing on a daily basis. There once were those days when it was the bread and butter and blood of my day. I have always had admiration and envy for Walsmith's daily practice of painting. I have questioned and doubted my commitment to writing and The Word and The Work. I have been haunted and hectored by the real possibility that it is too late for me. My ship set sail long ago. But you know, when the ship was at the dock so long ago I wasn't ready in many ways (intellectually, emotionally, spiritually) to get on it. I was always suspicious of my writing, that I was merely an idiot savant automatically filling page after page with pseudo-divinely inspired scribbles. I wanted control of the daemon moving my hand. I wanted an experience and maturity that could only be gained through time. And so now, on the other side of the ocean of time, I'm no longer worried about the ship coming in.
I am out here on the edge of the world digging up all the corpses I once buried in a madness of predatory preparation, knowing I would need them "some fair day" up here in the future. One of those corpses was Georg Trakl. Over the years, I had left piles of words and prayers on his grave. Re-collecting those words, I felt like a bear awakening from hibernation, knowing precisely where he needed to go first to find the honey he needed. According to my fascination with bones, I remembered that over 10 years after Trakl's unfortunate death, his remains were disinterred from a cemetery in Krakow and transported to a cemetery in Switzerland - where he was buried next to a friend. I often thought about this extraordinary event. The practical aspects of it. Wondering if anyone would ever be inclined to do that for me. And why would a friend want to do that. Anyway, these thoughts danced around with each other in my mind.
Also present was an image I have often had of myself as a dancing bear - sort of variation of Hesse's Steppenwolf. While I was in Bellingham, I often felt like a trained bear performing with my ball, this ball being an enigmatic symbol of inexpressible desire and also something ephemeral, maybe hope or a nostalgic longing for a home that was not home: expressed in the Portuguese word saudade or the Russian toska.
There is always an aura of the enigmatic to the allegory. That metaphorical bridge mysteriously constructed between two worlds to imply a third is never fully comprehended, graspable. It's amusing to me that often when I consider allegory, the image of Bottecelli's Calumny of Apelles comes to mind. Years ago, I stood in the Uffizi mesmerized before this painting. I read everything the museum had available concerning the subject matter, but it continued to perplex me. It was all radiantly beautiful but possessed with an opaqueness of meaning that I worried over like a man who believes he has a missing tooth, constantly probing around his mouth with his tongue, but never finding the empty place. After all these years, the painting still fascinates me.
With all of this in mind, I figured to write an allegorical story of a dancing bear being abandoned in a forest as a sort of homage to Georg Trakl and as a "word mirror" wherein I might re-present something of my present condition. In the later drafts, I have tried to make this less enigmatic, if not more clear, by adding more information about Trakl: the date of his final burial, accenting the references to Krakow.
The Allegory of the Bear