sexta-feira, 7 de março de 2008

Perceptions of reality

by Ricardo Domeneck (written for Flasher)

How much of the presentation of reality is influenced and filtered through the lens of an artist's personality and immediate context? How much will this individual perception of an artist "creating" reality determine the collective manner we (as readers and viewers) perceive our surroundings? Much of the imagery used in our understanding of modernity came from artists in the beginning of the 20th century, but their reaction to their own historical environment has been as varied as their personalities and our own motivations to understand what surrounds us as viewers. In 1922 T.S. Eliot published his poem "The Waste Land", which would set some of the strongest imagery for his time. Erected from the ruins of the First World War, through which he lost the carefree atmosphere of his Paris years, but also one of his best friends, the poet Jean Verdenal, working gloomy jobs in rainy London, he begins his perception of reality by saying that

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing

Memory and desire, stirring

Dull roots with spring rain.

(T.S. Eliot)

It is the beginning of spring, everything is in movement, as we can see in the insistence of ending the lines in the gerund forms "breeding", "mixing", "stirring", all in copulation, excitement, but Eliot (who named the opening sequence of his poem "The Burial of the Dead"), can only see cruelty in the persistence of survival, cyclical movement of life, even after tremendous tragedies. Spring ceases to be the time for revival:

The river bears no empty bottles, sandwich papers,
Silk handkerchiefs, cardboard boxes, cigarette ends

Or other testimony of summer nights. The nymphs are departed.

And their friends, the loitering heirs of city directors;

Departed, have left no addresses.

(T.S. Eliot)

But why is it that another American, springing from the same tradition and writing at the same time as Eliot, "chose" to see "reality" in a different way? For at the same time Eliot was writing "The Waste Land", published in 1922, William Carlos Williams was writing the poems for his 1923 collection Spring and All, whose striking differences to The Waste Land begin in the title. Part of the title poem reads:

All along the road the reddish purplish,
forked, upstanding, twiggy

stuff of bushes and small trees

with dead, brown leaves under them

leafless vines-

Lifeless in appearance, sluggish
dazed spring approaches-

They enter the new world naked,

cold, uncertain of all
save that they enter. All about them
the cold, familiar wind-

Now the grass, tomorrow

the stiff curl of wildcarrot leaf

One by one objects are defined-

It quickens: clarity, outline of leaf

But now the stark dignity of

entrance- Still, the profound change

has come upon them: rooted, they

grip down and begin to awaken.

(William Carlos Williams)

In this poem, the winter deadliness is happilly, not cruelly, revived by "sluggish, dazed spring". Eliot is steeped in the reality of a metropole, London, whose life had been shaken by death and loss through the First World War. Williams is surrounded by pastoral American life, where he remained, and can see nothing but life "breeding, mixing, stirring" around him, sluggish and awakening. And one must only survey what was being done in other parts of the world at the same time, to understand how the cultural and personal context will determine a poet's view of reality, which we later adopt, being hard to know how much a poet sees before it becomes obvious to others and how much he defines what we see. Also from the guts of another city: S
ão Paulo, but without reasons to link it to destruction, Mário de Andrade would write in his "Hallucinated City", also published in 1922:

The streets all naked
The houses in darkness

"Let me bring my handkerchief to my nose.

I have all of Paris perfumes

(Mário de Andrade)

though his melancholy personality would also guide his eyes towards death:

Deep down. My filthy chest.

Look at the building: Continental Slaughterhouses.

Vices corrupting me in adulation without sacrifices

My soul hunchbacked like St. John Avenue.

(Mário de Andrade)

And one could go on for pages, poet after poet relating to his historical moment through the lens of his personality, all in context, contextual reality, personal and collective hard to distinguish one from the other. Bertolt Brecht, in 1925 Germany:

We have sat, an easy generation,
In houses held as indestructible

Thus we built Manhattan's tall boxes

And thin antennae to communicate the seas

Of those cities will remain their visiting wind

The house entertains the eater: he lays it empty.

We know we're only temporary tenants

And what replaces us is not worth discussion.

(Bertolt Brecht)

closer to the war-like atmosphere of Eliot, but filtered through Brecht's laconic and earthly refusal of searching for transcendence; or Vladimir Mayakovsky in Moscow:

Again and again
nuzzling against the rain,
my face pressed against its pitted face,
I wait,
splashed by the city's thundering surf.

(Wladymir Mayakovsky)

blasting in enthusiasm for his time, though we all know his later desperation and suicide. The only thing we can consider universal is our dependence to context.

- Ricardo Domeneck
(written for the American magazine Flasher in 2006)

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