Tag Archives: art

… old thinking, new thinking …

We mostly think through conventional forms and givens, for practical reasons, while another way of thinking embraces invisible and unknown dynamics via intuition – like the seeming particle/wave paradox in quantum mechanics, where a local particle also exists as a non-local wave. The two perceptions can potentially mingle creatively, but, notably in times of social uncertainty, they clash, and fewer people maintain the ability to tolerate negative capability.

The way autocratic opinions over divisive issues are sensationalised by some tabloids, sends my thoughts flitting through the mutable and nuanced zones of shadow lands. I write the glut of absurdities off my chest, only to delete the drafts, not having the talent or guts for the iconoclastic fun Marina Hyde pours into her articles for the Guardian.

The tit for tat race of opposing interest groups that blame, attack and counter attack each other eludes any balanced comprehension of events. Opportunists, generously funded, like to whip up the chaos for their own benefit. Fertile ground for tyrants. This will go on until the churning oceans calm and offer deeper reflections.

My early education was unremarkable, but I fondly recall a few teachers who made space for ambivalence, encouraging us to question everything and value respectful, if inconclusive, debates. Glib opinions and self-righteousness were mocked and laughed at.

In the early seventies, doing a short apprenticeship with a small Dutch advertising firm in London, we had weekly meetings, where ideas, no matter how crazy, were explored. Every person working in the building was asked to the table, including caterers and cleaners. This inspirational seedbed sparked successful projects and maintained a motivated team.

Decades later, during a part time stretch at Social Services, policy makers introduced a new computer programme for tick-box client assessments, a software developed without involving the people who were meant to use it – us. Sparing you the specifics of this nonsensical scheme, the nightmare in its wake resulted in multiple nervous breakdowns by employees. Since I had a private psychotherapy practice I escaped the hell and resigned.

A relentless trend towards greater efficiency continued despite loud social backlash. Over and over I listened to the stories of my stressed clients suffering from the overbearing changes in public institutions and private companies. The forced procedures insulted the intelligence of workers, who felt the stupidity and pain of it all in their guts, as did I. The harmful effect on mental health, family life, education, small traders and community venues … is ongoing.

Recently I re-read a 1970s lecture by my Sufi teacher, Fazal Inayat Khan – Old Thinking, New Thinking – also used as title of a small collection of his controversial talks, published in 1979 by Harper & Row. Some of Fazal’s students insisted on this publication. He reluctantly agreed. I’ll share here a few notions that struck me form the lecture, Old Thinking, New Thinking:

The end of real is false, while the greatest false is real.

The real is about form, the false (non-evidenced) is about essence. Fazal addressed two qualitative different ways of thinking, both beneficial if used in the right time and context. Those supporting form and tradition set out to protect stability, whereas those who seek essence knock over the stable towards the freedom of the unknown. Imaginative people, including scientists and artists, tend to overshoot crumbling realities.

The sad logic of power driven politicians is to manipulate social anxieties by promising simple fixes to allay feelings of uncertainty. In such times people tends to grope towards old thinking, to what can be predicted and depended upon, thus moving away from the immeasurable independence of anything beyond facts.

Old thinking relies on valid knowledge; however, to apply this knowledge intelligently requires new thinking, so essence can find expression once more.

Old thinking will bring achievement, notwithstanding that without new thinking it will have achieved nothing. Traditions wedded to established forms exemplify old thinking. Yet for a tradition to remain sincere and dynamic new thinking is required.

In other words, only what changes stays functional. Much as we dislike it, life could not continue if it were not for the transient growth and death phases of nature. The same applies to cycles that call for the expansion of consciousness.

How is one to value both form and essence in complex times and stay sane? No way around it, we must suffer the anguish of holding the tension between static knowledge and intuition in our hearts. Not easy. Perhaps because I experienced the 1960s new thinking surge, any leaps of goodwill from young people still brings tears to my eyes. I’m interested in everything. I’m interested in bridging divides. I even occasionally delight being in the spirit zone, with the effortless flow of things. (A Zen concept)

Deep, maybe very deep down, every one of us knows the bliss of being in the zone.

Old thinking is a sorting process – new thinking is a melting process

Old thinking is a claim – new thinking is an aim …               Fazal Inayat Khan

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…Brexit – the exhausted old man …

Last week I had visitors, Fred, Kit and Mirre, dear friends from Holland. Their invigorating presence took me away from my mordant addiction to the UK Brexit drama, for a while, anyway.

We went to a nearby Sculpture Park.

    seen in Churt Sculpture Park

The particular sculpture on the right was pointed out to me by Fred, or I might have missed it. The body of the old man impressed and his image lingered on. It conveys interiority, a bowing down towards earth, in memory of its elements.

The old man sits still, listening to the hidden part of the soul below the surface of busy things. He may contemplate regrets, feel clichés evaporate and the linear progress of his life fade, together with familiarities of the past. For me, the sculpture also encapsulates a phase when ideals are crumbling during a homecoming to mystery, and hopefully a guidance from the spirit of ‘the one being’ we are part of.

The shape also evokes my father, who died almost a year ago, having nearly reached a century of existence. The most touching thing he said during the last years in a dreamlike moment was … ‘I want to be where you are’ … which took me by surprise, since he disapproved of my choices in life. I can only assume it was a slip of the tongue, or a desire to shed his history for an expanded imagination and another future.

as seen in Churt Sculpture Park

Bless my dad, he’s moved on …

Transformation happens unseen, much like in this present dark moon phase all of us experience within and without – sensing deep down that the eternal is ever now, and there’ll emerge another healing well, another spring of joy and renewal … the wildness of the unknown.

I deeply thank natural cycles, mirrored in seasons, world affairs and the lifespan of creatures.

 

Were it not so, humans would have no chance for reflection, redemption, renewal, and a fresh dance of love.

        seen in Churt Sculpture Park

‘We are the mirror as well as the face in it.                       We are tasting the taste this minute of eternity.            We are pain and what cures pain. We are                        the sweet, cold water and the jar that pours.’

Versions of Rumi from Open Secrets (transl. by John  Moyne and Coleman Barks.

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… poetic trash – miniature sculptures …

Miniature scupture - 2981The eye-catching miniatures created by Yuji Agematsu pulled me back to my student phase in Munich during the 1970ies, when a group of friends looked out for small items like roots, twigs, leaves, seeds, grasses, feathers, stones, shells, dried or fresh flowers, the occasional bottle top or bits of shiny sweet wrappers, and sampled such bits into cellophane bags. We then handed these tiny poetry worlds to pedestrians or people sitting outside cafes in the then student district of Munich, Schwabing. It gave us thrill when recipients expressed a shock of surprise.

Yuji Agematsu is drawn to trash. Since mid-1990, his daily ritual is collecting small debris from New York’s streets. From the harvest he creates dreamlike dioramas inside cellophane sleeves of cigarette packets.

In this delightful interview (press for link to a separate page) he shares how his passion for collecting started during his childhood. Here a few more snippets: ‘I see each object as a notation in terms of music. Each has its own sound and rhythm,’ or, ‘Each person has to find his or her own sense of scale,’ or ‘… my objects are accidental objects, already consumed. The object itself stimulates me. The subject relationship is reversed. I’d say that one is consciously unconscious, and the other is unconsciously conscious.’

The last thought rhymes with a recent thought of mine I shared on twitter … my mind is unconsciously magical, while my unconscious mind is irrationally pragmatic …  Like most poetically inclined people I embrace paradox to be able to function in daily life .

Yuji’s search for trash treasures developed into a language that emotionally embraces urban archaeology. He attracts bits of litter we may regard with a smirk, mostly ignore or simply not notice. While his miniature installations are scaled down to finger size sculptures, the mind-expanding and transformative effect equals grand scale installations. My experience, apart from the cognitive surprise, was being left with a bodily sensation, a deep feeling connection with these miniatures.

world objects 1 - smaller

World objects from my sand tray

This deep feeling of wonder can happen in sand play therapy; where in a tray of fine sand world objects are brought into relationship. The imaginary process can symbolise models of operation in the life of a client, bringing with it emotional clarity.

I have miniature installation in my home, on windowsills … unable to resist picking up feathers,  seeds, leaves, driftwood, pebbles and so on, which often hold the story of an eternal moment in time.

A small black stone, for example, features prominently  as a protagonist in my novel, Course of Mirrors..

 

You can glean more information about Yuji Agematsu and his impressive work here in this Guardian gallery, and in this article in Frieze … here.

The earlier images of Yuji Agametsu’s work are courtesy of the Miguel Abreu gallery, NY.

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Our Souls at Night – Kent Haruf – talking in the dark

In my last post I touched upon the half-imagined essence shining through a work in progress – via incubation, the search for one’s language (in whatever form,) through the heart. This kind of search is bound to involve deep personal experiences, be it related to an outer or inner place, as the myth of one’s existential journey, which, when authentically communicated and shared tends to assume universal significance.

Kent Haruf –  (Feb 1943 – Nov 2014,) a humble, kind and unbiased writer, developed a powerful language. He shaped words until the essence of his characters stood clear – endearingly visible through sparse dialogues, exposing silent inner dramas all the more. The way I see it, his characters are letting sorrow be – a pragmatic yin approach that helps one to move along with the relentless forwarding force of life.

It is high art that sketches a story with modest words that slip right into the reader’s heart.

‘Our Souls at Night,’ is Kent Haruf’s last novel, published after his death. The story opens with possibilities: “And then there was the day Addie Moore made a call on Louis Waters.”  The courageous elderly Addie propositions Louis, a neighbour, widowed like herself, to share her bed during lonely nights. She scarcely knows the man, but acts intuitively on her need for companionship.

Talking in the dark, their hands occasionally touching, Louise and Addie come to value their fragile pact. Even Addie’s abandoned visiting grandson is wooed by the loving regard between his grandmother and her new friend, and their tolerance and tender concern for him, which is, the way I read it, the initiation of a small boy into the wisdom of respect. While the petty gossip of townsfolk adds to the fun of their social transgression and strengthen the closeness they’re forging, the jealous objections of Louis’s daughter and Addie’s son are truly hurtful, and in the end decisive.

Making less use of the environmental atmosphere that sparkles in earlier books;  this last story keenly sharpens on the inner sanctuary of lonely people.

The backdrop to these novels about ordinary fates is the sleepy fictional town ‘Holt’ on the high plains of Colorado, which embodies the writer’s reclusive childhood.

In an essay published in the Granta magazine, Haruf movingly shares about his difficult early life, and how it advantaged him later on – follow this link, it’s worthwhile …  – The Making of a Writer.

… ‘Years of unhappiness and isolation and living inwardly to myself have helped me to be more aware of others and to pay closer attention to what others around me are feeling. Which are good things if you are trying to learn how to write fiction about characters you care about and love’ …

And he has a message for fellow writers …

… ‘You have to believe in yourself despite the evidence. I felt as though I had a little flame of talent, not a big talent, but a little pilot-light-sized flame of talent, and I had to tend to it regularly, religiously, with care and discipline, like a kind of monk or acolyte, and not to ever let the little flame go out.’ …

Le Guin wrote that Haruf’s “courage and achievement in exploring ordinary forms of love – the enduring frustration, the long cost of loyalty, the comfort of daily affection – are unsurpassed by anything I know in contemporary fiction”.

Kent Haruf’s novels will certainly enrich your reading list during the coming festive day.

And, my wishful thinking, have a sneak at my mythical quest: Course of Mirrors, to be followed by its  immersive sequel, Shapers. Funds allowing, please consider supporting my efforts at Patreon

Related … don’t miss this short video about the most compelling story of a woman who found a language for her myth – think of incubation, cocoon, deep, deep desire to protect …

The blue-highlighted links in this post will open new pages – so you won’t lose this page. Thank you for reading.

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… story – art – quest for the cypher – symbol …

As painters or sculptors do, I frequently step back from my writing projects, searching for the core, a half imagined essence to shine through and re-animate the creative flow. Skills alone don’t do it, techniques alone don’t do it, nor style. As long as the essence of what I try to express floats in the unconscious, my efforts will baffle and tease me.

Having listened to thousand and one stories during my 30 years of working as a transpersonal psychotherapist, I conclude that when we tell our story to ourselves, or others who watch and listen, we trace a rhythm, a sound, the distant bubbling of a spring – a theme. While sourcing and shaping words we ideally become aware of how we translate experiences, string up memories and weave a pattern that gives meaning, purpose and direction to our story. We may re-weave the past and change how we perceive life. Even a single image, too evanescent to fit ordinary reality, can assume significance. An ideal may sharpen – and with it a vision of what not yet exists, revealed by the imagination.

Sensual impression, dreams, primary images and the love/hate of relationships, present a puzzle we try to arrange in some kind of order, waiting for a theme to become intelligible, and therefore transmittable. Finding a structure to express our experiences through words, images, movements, sounds, music, or numbers is insufficient. We must play with the fragments – take out bits, or add bits, until a satisfying narrative suggests itself.

World objects from my sand tray

Fairy tales, heroes and villains of myth, historical figures, cartoon characters or pop stars may do the magic by evoking a psychic resonance and providing a metaphor, or a precious symbol to ease the pressure of the archetypal demand lurking in the unconscious.

Not only those we call artists, but all creative people respond to what holds sensual and cognitive fascination for them. I include trades, crafts, makers, men and women with affinities to certain elements, who explore the quality and beauty of materials, like weavers, potters, wood workers, printers, plumbers, electricians … I include technicians, engineers, inventors, scientists and mystics. Curiosity and passion for a subject deepen knowledge and intuition as to how things connect outside, and, vitally, how they connect inside us.

Ashen – directing a film in the woods.

My fascination with creating stories was revived while doing a film degree (as career brake) during the late 1990s. I’m curious about consciousness, relative perception of time, and the interplay of characters for which I invent pasts and futures, where ideals are the means to a goal, while as soon as the goal is reached, a new ideal looms over the horizon. If this were not so, evolution, our whole story would stop. Ursula Le Guin once wrote –

‘In eternity there is nothing novel, and there are no novels.’

My ongoing writing project, a trilogy of stories, involves three soul sisters, Ana, Cara and Mesa. The first (already published) book of the trilogy, ‘Course of Mirrors,’ (see book page) narrates the quest of Ana, which is really the myth of the story teller, Cara, whose theme is seeking a balance for the enigma of clashing feminine and masculine principles. The sequel, ‘Shapers,’ (not yet published) introduces Cara in the twentieth century as she follows the characters of Ana’s myth into a far future society where emotional expressions are outlawed until the experiment breaks down under its duplicity.

In a third book, ‘Mesa,’ a work in progress, same characters move to a realm where time has slowed down to such extend that ‘novelty’ has to be rescued for life to continue. This story calls for a deep dive into the heart of my imagination.

I’m once more held in the cocoon stage. Given the ideological power games around the globe, I feel foolish about these musings, since I’ve been sharing the ups and downs of my quest here for the last seven years.

Do you, my reader, recognise the pressure to bring something into existence? How do you search for the cypher (the wild uniqueness in the soul) that informs your creative process?

*    *    *

A definition of Symbol … from ‘The Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn ‘Arabi’ by Henry Corbin, transl. by Ralph Manheim, Bollingen Series XCI, Princeton University

The symbol announces a plane of consciousness distinct from that of rational evidence; it is a ‘cipher’ of a mystery, the only means of expressing something that cannot be apprehended in any other way; a symbol is never ‘explained’ once and for all, but must be deciphered over and over again, just as a musical score is never deciphered once and for all, but calls for ever new execution.

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… the film Albatross – elegy to beauty & grief for love lost …

Truly witnessing the tragedies on our planet is not the same as passive looking,  witnessing expands and transforms consciousness. As an individual I feel helpless, unable to solve the overwhelming problems, but by witnessing and accepting the sad truth of what is happening, and by grieving the losses, I, each of us, in a small way, can contribute towards a necessary and crucial paradigm shift.

Chris Jordan’s film about the Albatross, a labour of love that took eight years of intense collaborations – is a gift to the world, free to watch or download.

When you find a quiet hour, click here to watch the film.

The unusual documentary reveals stunningly beautiful, poignant and intimate openings into the life of these ancient bird families. The spellbinding scenes, shot on the lone Pacific island of Midway halfway between America and Asia, touches way, way deeper into our psyche than any factual or statistical report about the insanity of our throwaway cultures could ever do.

It is a meditation on love. And the soundtrack is an art in itself.

The birds mate for life (up to 60 years) and their mating dance, filmed in slow motion that reaches into the reality of their time, shows a mirroring ritual of sheer poetry, of a grace that sweetly chimes in our deepest cellular being. Once the egg arrives, the parents take turns to keep it warm and, with endless patience, guard the chick’s struggle as it squeezes itself out from the hard shell. It’s a tough and drawn-out entry, but help would not be helpful, since the little one’s birth-struggle develops the resilience needed for survival.

What made the stunning images possible is that these majestic animals have not learned to fear humans, whose latest habits hasten their demise. Without natural enemies, they trust life, and the ocean, which offered them food for millennia, even though it now includes plastic tidbits that spell their demise.

 

Some scenes near the end of the film bring home powerful metaphors – like what it takes to fly. Fledglings, to lighten their weight, must empty their stomachs of everything fed to them by their parents (in this instant plastic.) Mothers, forgive yourselves. We can hardly avoid dumping stuff on your offspring, be it psychic or material. Many fledglings don’t manage, but if lucky, and if the right wind comes along, their wings will carry them across the sea towards their adult adventure.

Click here to find out about the story behind the film.

And check out Chris Jordan’s other projects, or follow him on twitter @cj_artist

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… Alhambra – The Red One …

Me … less than a month ago at the Alhambra. I wonder how many people over the centuries sat on this ledge to gaze out over the Albayzin. Adding to my last post, and my images … ‘sunny places,’ these are images taken by my son on his IPhone … 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Visiting the inspiring studio of a local artist.

Entry to our friend’s house.

‘Moto,’ our friend’s venerable old cat likes to be comfortable …

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Talk of fitness … my son ran every morning 5am miles into the hills above Gualchos to catch the sunrise..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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… an early phenomenon of recycling …

Marie was one-of-a-kind, a unicum, einzigartig. Considered a fool, she was waddling through the streets of my childhood village in search of rejected items.

Based on a few photos my dad took during the nineteen-fifties, I put a challenge to my Patrons  inviting a short story (250 to 500 words) to include in a post here. I’m starting with my version, in the form of a monologue.

Sweet are the uses of adversity
Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,
Wears yet a precious jewel in his head;
And this our life, exempt from public haunt,
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in everything.  (As You Like It)

Marie found good – even in the flawed. She says:

… I have you know, my great, great, great grandmother, add one, was a noblewoman in Russia with more material means than King Ludwig of Bavaria, and an equal flamboyant imagination. Like the Fairy King’s life, hers was cut short through envy.

My life, too, is in service to art of some kind, though nobody envies me.

At least that’s what I thought for a while … some do envy me – the treacherous bunch in this village, the ones chased by hungry spirits hovering over their houses. They resent and envy my freedom. I scare them, because I remind them of the ravages of time. I’m beholden to no one, which is why they spread lies about me. I’ve sharp ears.

You know who, down the road, claims I’ve put a spell on his family, so his wife will only bear girls. The bully doesn’t know his blessing. A son would topple him. And his trickster of a neighbour, you know who, blames me for his impotency. He doesn’t know his blessing either. The mishaps some people complain about may actually save them from much, much worse. Just saying.

And so from hour to hour we ripe and ripe,
And then from hour to hour we rot and rot;
And thereby hangs a tale.’ (As You Like It)

There you have it. Ask me anything and you get truth, since I’ve got nothing to lose. The absurdity of human behaviour makes rejection bearable. I learned to live with it. Consequently, my brain cells can’t help being impressed by discarded objects. It’s compulsive. When you get there one day, remember me, the woman in the street, shouting, ‘We ripe, we rot, it’s all the same. Do as you like.’

Nothing goes to waste with me. My backyard is the showroom of my art, for all to see. I give every item the freedom to be and decay, ache over its beauty, and let it speak for itself.

That rusty teapot hanging from the tree over there has outlived its owner. If you gave the pot a voice it would tell you how it was used to kill a burglar, a scoundrel, bringing misery to his family. Blood still crusts its metal edge. There’s justice for you.

That scruffy carpet leaning against the fence, which had three generations walk, dance, fight, puke and sleep on it, holds a rich legacy of tales. The well-used tools in that box among the dandelions could still fix and dismantle implements. And the mangled doll on top was once loved to bits. With your mind at rest you can hear kids scream and battle over its possession.

Each thing stacked up here has a Sermon to tell.

And now you want to see what’s in my shack? You’re a nosy one, aren’t you? I tell you a secret. It’s hellishly empty.

A link to the Shakespeare quotes.

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… everything matters – nothing matters …

Having succumbed to waves of nostalgia, I’m unsure what will emerge next, which is fine for now. My father’s death at 99, while sad, is also a relief. During the last two years I’ve been on tender hooks, waiting for the telephone call, and the prospect of sorting and processing a left-behind-part of my life. As anticipated, the reality of it was exhausting. There’s no financial reward, since what’s left of my father’s estate will just about cover the bills. His furniture was too damaged to be accepted at auctions, and anything else of value he had given away to people whose support he appreciated. He resented me for not living up to his ideas, and I resented him for his total lack of support. He had fun, spending a fortune on years of luxury cruises around the world with his second partner. While often justified, resentment is entirely useless. I tried my best, so I’ll drop my misgivings and wish my dad’s soul a good journey onwards. It frees up my life.

It’s ironic, because my Dad had artistic leanings resembled my own. We only occasionally clicked, for a short while, especially when he needed me, after which he retreated into his controlling paranoid mode. He may have been jealous of the self determining freedom available to my generation. I should add that his psyche was injured by the last horrific war.

Friends in Munich and other places were my rescuers. I deeply appreciate their existence. Around the world, we shared the magical April moon.

It’s an apt moment to remember a wondrous Sufi saying – ‘Everything matters, nothing matters,’ which, for me, means I have a choice as to what things matter to me.

Once the horizon clears, I’ll pick up my editing and writing, and attend to you, my WordPress friends, and my Patreon friends: https://www.patreon.com/user?u=10520241

In case you missed my daring venture, I took the courage to ask for support from people who value the sharing of my quirky reflections. A little support goes a long way. I’m still exploring how the Patreon platform works. Beyond regular postings, I’ll share more private stories and images there, and offer rewards that only Patreons can access. It’s given me a boost to have found two friends and supporters there – big cheers and a Celtic hug to them.

For now, here are some Haiku style thoughts on time and perception, to be continued …

… a glimpse of turnings …

earth has countless realms

each held in their private time

the one-day wonders

such as mayflies and drone ants

surreal creatures in dark seas

faint glowing planktons

trillions of unknown microbes

nature dances our cells

in the whirling waltz of spring

we glimpse time turning

during rare blissful moments

the whole of our life

may rise up as one in death

curving through our myths

the worlds without and within

where we deeply imagine

and create the yet unknown …

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… visability – Italo Calvino – imagination – writing …

A tile made for me by E. Cordier for photos in his studio.

In a previous post I mentioned my erratic filing, which, when working on a writing project, results in phases of strolling through my inner jungle in search of a spot marked for attention, often years back, or wandering through a library in a kind of trance, ignoring categories, with only a vague sense of purpose. On route, I explore seemingly unrelated and often incongruous themes, before a match creates coherence in a new context.

While searching for an invisible gestalt, I tend to reread authors that inspired me. Last week it was Six Memos for the next Millennium, by Italo Calvino (translated by Patrick Creagh.) Like him, I’m all for the shared magical. His Memos are lectures he prepared during 1984 for presentation at Harvard University. It was the year when computers moved into our lives. Maybe he was concerned about Orwell’s dystopian Newspeak being just around the corner. In any case, it made Calvino reflect on a set of literary values. His sudden death meant he never presented these lectures, and only five Memos made it later into print:  Lightness – Quickness – Exactitude – Visibility and Multiplicity … keywords, expanding on ways we perceive.

Though it’s a small volume, the material is too rich and diverse for my humble post. Still, I want to share a few quotes and reflections from re-reading the chapter on visibility. Calvino wrote …

… For successful imagery, writers must do two things: convert the visuals of the mind into words, and at the same time make sure that the words are so well-crafted that when read, the reader can instantly visualise every setting, every character, every chosen detail as if they were looking at it directly, and not at a page. It’s a deliberate process, this transmogrifying from image to text and back to image ….

He describes the progression … something that is painstaking but not necessarily painful, from the moment you grasp the significance of a single image and then associate it with other images, forming a field of analogies, symmetries and confrontations, and then organising this material, which is no longer purely visual but also conceptual, to try and give order and sense to the development of a story. Here the writing, the textual product, becomes increasingly important. From the moment you start putting black onto white what really matters is the written word, first as a search for an equivalent of the visual image, then as a coherent expansion of the initial stylistic direction, so that eventually it is the image that is being pulled along by the text, and not the other way around …

My poems, and certainly my first novel, started with a spark, a solitary image, like a cypher compelling me to uncover its meaning. An unfolding message can be drowned or crowned. Writing (like any creation energised by passion and craft) occasionally achieves such a finely tuned nuance that an invisible quality resonates deeply through the visible.

During my recent reading of Calvino’s chapter on visibility I recalled my entry into black and white photographic processing, which, before digital technology, happened in the darkroom  … to start with, in complete darkness, with the celluloid film being developed in a chemical bath, regularly shaken, like the preparation of a homeopathic tincture, then rinsed and fixed in another bath, rinsed again and dried. Creating prints is the next stage, for which red light is allowed. The negative is placed into the enlarger, from where it is projected through a lens with a sharp beam of measured light onto a light-sensitised sheet beneath. Correct duration of the beam results in a positive print that, at best, develops very slowly in a tray of chemical developer.

Watching the print of a well exposed negative emerge under the red light has always given me enormous pleasure. Like a dream emerging from the unconscious and becoming visible.

The image first appears as a sketch, until grey and dark tones assume saturation, ideally without losing highlights. Once perfection is achieved, the print is shortly rinsed and transported into the fixation bath for a while. Only then is it safe to introduce daylight, for further rinsing and drying of the print on a hot press.

No doubt the experience of a slowly developing image in the darkroom influenced my writing. A sketch to start with, suggesting a mood, a lightness of touch, and, with some stroke of luck, an emerging symbolic element, which black & white photography is particularly well suited for. In short, a feast for the imagination, inviting associations for … poems, stories, and even cosmologies.

Are you a visual writer – in Calvino’s sense? Do you bring vision into focus with your eyes shut? Do you use images to think, and words to imagine what never existed?

Back in 2012 I posted a very short review of Italo Calvino’s Six Memos on Goodreads

related post – imagination …

 

 

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