Overtime I am conditioned to the muted colors of Čiurlionis’ paintings.
It gives off a dreamy air like in Miestas , a white city shrouded in the late afternoon haze, which a moment ago I took a glimpse while in sleep, but now the memory fades further and away so that what remained are only the milky tone and a blurred architectural form. Yet these things I will soon lose hold of forever too.
Or it evokes other-planetly imageries as in Pasaulio Sutvėrimas , chiefly due to the warm color tone but also because of the peculiar structural orderliness — the almost repetitive pattern displayed by the growing things. The crystal growth over there also leads to flowering and fruit bearing; when the time is ripe, the fruit of crystallization falls to the ground into gleaming fragments, accompanied by silverly clinks (La Planète Sauvage). This low saturation could also represent a chaotic beginning of nebulous void, from which distinct thoughts emerge and disappear in the form of symmetriads, asymmetriads and mimoids (Solaris).
More often, when it comes to the religious themes, the obscurity corresponds to the inexplicable part of the primeval yearning for worshipping. In Himnas , thick clouds briefly break apart, letting through rays of sunlight onto the distant horizon that dispel the gloominess. A natural wonder alluding to a divine existence somewhere over the clouds, a path leading to eternal happiness whose entrance no mortals can reach. In Praeitis , the colossal slab that marks sunrise seems to embody ritualistic spirits in the innocent ages (even though the Macedonian sun has evidently become a cliché by the time I finished the book). And a recurring motif is the eagle messengers out of the west [82, 142], bearing blessings from the lords and disseminating hope among the mundane world.
Even a soulless person such as myself can be a bit shaken by such awe-inspiring depictions. It makes me ponder whether the urge of worshipping is a conciliation between the desire of perfection and the knowledge that it’s beyond reach. Or if it stems from their weaknesses of the constant needs to be loved, to be watched over, to anchor their inner selves at some secure place however their lives might float around.
There are numerous other examples that are more explicit on this theme. Especially towards the end, the perfect hierarchy of the universe in the artist’s mind is entirely revealed [212 – 214]. However, as I have never made peace with the rule that the last movement of a musical piece always has to climb to some apex, it also dazzles my eyes to see all that grandiose and overflowing bliss on the canvas.
Of course for me, a charming painting does not speak to me without an admirable painterly effect. Unlike the obelisk cypresses seen elsewhere, the austere Mountains and Cypresses in  become abstracted by only wild curves and color stretches that begin to flow and intertwine; the Winter forest  I’d rather consider it to be a collection of rare white leaf samples against an amiable backdrop of cosmic latte; the midnight Forest  wakes up to be a lively band of naughty ghosts, whose playful silhouettes can be dimly discerned under the sleepy stars; a rather brooding sort of Stillness  whose disquiet is betrayed by the disturbed water and air.
The overall experience browsing through Čiurlionis’ paintings is that of a positive buoyancy concisely summarized by Rojus , originating from a mind constantly exploring the infinite forms of beauty of the world as its wings grow ever broader.
The encomiums delivered by those proceeding Socrates are all fine to look at. But apart from over-generalization (Eryximachus), baseless speculations (Aristophanes), what the weakness that I dimly felt really is was specified by Socrates as “to attribute to Love every species of greatness and glory, whether really belonging to him or not, without regard to truth or falsehood”, whereas Socrates, or rather Diotima strove to reveal his innate nature and her conclusion is quite illuminating to my delight:
the love of the everlasting possession of the good… of immortality.
In deriving this, I have no objection to the assumption that
Nor is there any need to ask why a man desires happiness; the answer is already final.
– a principle I base my entire life upon! Only that -as I’m still in a sophist’s spirit- the notions of the good, beauty, virtue etc are frequently used without substantiation, which can be subject to various interpretations. Despite the minor flaw, I have to admit the mysterious idea of beauty absolute sounds so compellingly romantic even though nothing of substance is said about it. Added to its charm is an interim stage where one recognizes that
…the beauty in every form is and the same! And when he perceives this he will abate his violent love of the one, which he will despise and deem a small thing, and will become a lover of all beautiful forms…
Feeling myself on the right track, isn’t it natural that I’ll be burning with curiosity to know what sits at the destination of the trekking? Nevertheless, even though her words strike my heart ever so powerfully, I carefully reserve a space at the back of my mind not to be won over so easily. For I do not wish to despise anyone anything, especially in a sense that I want to cultivate a humble soul that does not put procreation in the rank of barbarism, ignorance and backwardness or hold a pregnant mind that conceives child of wisdom at such high esteem. (The other narcissist self is currently banging behind the bars screaming “I totally do!”) Because after all, I doubt the existence of the good absolute. Consequently I shall not sneer at others without concrete scientific evidence of my own good being compromised by that of the others.
Now it’s nice that many phenomena of love can be explained by quote (1), where immortality is the key. However, this kind of phenomena that has been so for the past thousands of years need not be so in the next thousands of years. Recognizing the finiteness of everything earthly, why cling to something that is unattainable even theoretically? I could understand and appreciate that I’m able to write down these gibberish today all thanks to countless such futile attempts accumulated in the entire human history. All of a sudden this ungrateful small fry starts to talk about abandoning this axiom that nature imprinted on all the living things and that almost exclusively defines what life means?
But I find something more axiomatic than quote (1) that is quote (2). To me, quote (1) betrays a horrible sense of self-importance. Our mind has evolved to such a degree that we have generalized numerous traditionally narrow concepts to broader senses. For example, Diotima praises poets and artists who “conceive that which is proper for the soul to conceive or contain” alluding to the inferiority of the conceiving of mortal children. We definitely could eliminate the redundant association of happiness with immortality, which is probably genetically embedded in us in the beginning. But our happiness is now more governed by the product of our minds than any other materialistic things. Therefore it’s not hard to desert the cruel path of pursuing the everlasting once we recognize that it’s filled with agony and suffering. And if I must be labelled as one who has a self-destructive tendency, I must confess my intense love for the breathtakingly tranquil ending rather than the uncomely finale that the foolish pursuit of immortality is bound to yield, all the while noting that there WILL BE an end – the question is only how.
As for this transient moment, contemplating beauty, full of love of the infinite possibilities of the mind that creates fair and noble thoughts, I could not resist but, like in a swinging crib, be swayed by such flowery rhetorics, hither and thither.
Browsing through the highlights and notes, the brilliant moments from the long journey of Moby Dick came to life again. I remember being repelled by the second half of Heinlain’s A Stranger from A Strage Land, despising its complete derailment from the story and the endless spouting of his unimportant opinions. But I totally enjoyed the random thoughts and musings Melville offered.
The narratives of the plot constitute just a small part of the volume. In an unintruding manner, the various aspects of the whaling business was laid out. If these descriptions are more out of necessity for later understanding, then what branches out from them emitting witty insights and wild deduction, touching ancient history, philosophy, social issues, are pure brain food. One example is taken from the last passage of the chapter debuting Ahab’s harpooneer Fedallah,
…according to Genesis, the angels indeed consorted with the daughters of men, the devils also, add the uncanonical Rabbins, indulged in mundane amours.
As Melville’s ambition commanded, the book also contains large quantities of encyclopedic entries. Similarly, his comments are most worthwhile paying attention to. In particular, he revealed one peculiar aspect of the whale’s vision system: the sideway positioned eyes separated by a dead wall of face, thus two completely different images at the brain’s processing center, and thus two fronts and two backs! I’m surprised how I have never thought of this amusing problem. I’m less troubled by his classification of whales as fish though. He explained reasonably, and that’s his personal choice. But it’s indeed questionable whether his description of whale’s exceptionally small brain is true by today’s standard. That aside, it nevertheless illustrates Melville’s powerful armament of similes.
… hidden away behind its vast outworks, like the innermost citadel within the amplified fortifications of Quebec.
Perhaps the tranquil tropical cruising that Melville so lavishly and untiringly depicted – which I already quoted before and had better refrain from doing so again – is truely the source of the freest thoughts seen all over the book. Yet my constant theme has always been the conflict between the strong sympathy towards the whales and reading of what the main characters are doing to them. This is intensified by the author’s own manifested contradiction of attitudes. He did not withhold any bit of admiration for or marveling at the whales’ mild profoundness and joyous swiftness. But no less praising was given to the whaling business and killing scenes. I don’t attempt to guess which side he stands, but he clearly knows what they are doing down to the core – read more …
How I’m still so fascinated by the sign of nature reclaiming abandoned towns. Whenever my eyes glaze over at the only painting on my wall – my reproduction of the iconic cover of Yokohama Kaidaishi Kikou – the flowing thoughts all reflect the same crystallized distinction between the animosity towards insect-like humans and the admiration for noble trees, which is time and again strengthened by numerous other imagery to help develop a kind of aesthetics that glides among the green, the worn-off, weary tranquility, dreamy desolation – and perhaps most important of all – that is devoid of explicit human elements.
It would seem rather unrelated that on one summer afternoon, in a hazy daydream I read that even when I listen to music alone, it is a social experience*. The evoked thoughts and emotions may or may not be what the artists hoped to convey. But the process creates a sense of connection, as if I found someone with whom I share something in common – I’m sure I don’t appreciate music purely through its sound design. To achieve the sense, of course, requires some imagination, but it doesn’t render it false**. The same goes for reading, and… looking at paintings. The only thing that makes this idea seem a bit odd to me at first sight is – apart from the implication that everything I do is a
balloon craving for social interaction – that the communication is not real-time and often one-way. But that’s all there is to it once I see it.
The soul searching was prompted following a regrettably brutal declaration during a conversation:”Humans are ugly; trees are beautiful; if I was to choose only one species to preserve, I’ll gladly let the human beings die.”*** It seemed to me so true that I could be easily delighted in nature motifs in paintings however they are portrayed, whereas I could hardly appreciate any human figures. But it’s actually because I’m more sensitive to human facial/body recognition than to anything else; I never developed that kind of nuanced standards for trees to differentiate the charming from the lesser among them. I am just like anyone else in this regard, however the opposite I strive to be. Habitual behaviors betray my nature when the thoughts didn’t notice. And the irony rose to the middle of my consciousness conspicuous and hot.
What am I really seeing in me when I gaze up into my bedroom painting? I gradually recall the primal reason was that I wish for a slow-mo, buoyant type of life with infinite time at my disposal, just like Alpha does. This could only happen after the colony size of the “human-insects” starts to decline. And why have I always shied away from depicting humans in my drawings? For I fear my skills could not live up to my picky eyes for human figures. In other words, straightforward cowardice.
Indeed, one who appreciates art cannot, by definition, be misanthropic. What’s more, one who seeks seclusion might in fact be addicted to socializing, in a certain sense.
* I had always thought I read it in one of Boards of Canada’s interviews. But I reread all what bocpages.org has and found no evidence. Apparently I was dreaming.
** M.A. van Bemmel, ‘We are Superjews, Ajax is the name’ – A study of the Jewish identity of Ajax supporters, Universiteit van Amsterdam, 2012.
*** It is regrettable that things I say in conversations always tend to be an oversimplification of what I really think. But in this case I guess the statements didn’t deviate too much from my long-held beliefs.
It’s been a month since then. Memories are fading. So I’ll group all the rest of the days together and document some highlights.
Remembering one of my Italian friends wearing a fancy suit for the Israeli aerospace conference, who told me that’s just being European, I thought I had to bring my JK uniform – the closest thing I’ve got to formal clothing. But on the way to Hyeres I suddenly realized: I packed my skirt, knee-highs, uniform shoes and even the bow knot, but not the white shirt! I soon turned from being horrified to glad for my consistency and a possible solution of buying a substitute in a local mall. As the plane approached a small rustic airport, round bales of hay which I only saw in paintings* seemed to tell me there are no malls here. At the suggestion of the Hotel reception, I went back to land the next morning and traveled to Grand Var at the outskirt of Toulon. At the first store where I bought a boy’s white shirt, I met a very nice high school girl who was helping in the store. She led me to the next store I was looking for. And when I finished shopping and found no taxi outside the mall – Grand Var is not Grand Canyon after all – the girl came out again and walked me to the exit where the taxi that a customer in her store helped me ordered was. Pimples flourishing on her sunny cheeks and forehead, she would complain about not being good with school and stuff. How nice to behold the face of a high school girl with all these innocent little troubles, thought I – the 114-year-old… …All this while she didn’t really speak English. In the end she typed her farewell message for me on Google Translate and I really didn’t know how to fully express my gratitude.
In the mall I bought three shirts in a row because all of them were somewhat casual. I thought I would leave the difficult question of which one to choose to tomorrow when I would be speaking. In the afternoon, the conference officially started. The organizer Stephane – I still miserably remember I assumed it to be a French version of Stephanie and addressed him by “Ms.” in emails, TWICE!- opened with a welcoming note. To my amazement, he came in beach T-shirt, shorts and flipflops. As if that wasn’t dramatic enough, when he needed a pointer, he grabbed a fallen tree branch taller than even me. At this point I understood that I should be glad that the difficult question was no longer relevant. And without loss of generality, let me just omit that part concerning some certain amount of Euros…
A by-product of that shopping trip was that I had a glimpse of Hyeres center, where a plethora of small-scale palaces lined up the neat boulevards. I have no idea what these eye candies are. But it was definitely nice to have walked around that place.
Before going there, we were warned that “the comfort in the conference center is limited”. But it time and again challenged my bottom line. First there was no air-conditioning in the lecture room. I managed to cool down thanks to the fresh island air. But to the bigger others, life was not easy. Second was of course the lodging. I didn’t complain about the small space which had me bump into the bed corner all the time, or the shower head – or rather the lack thereof from which the water poured down quite bluntly. The jaw-dropping fact was that there was no air-conditioning again… And no WI-FI… These definitely hit new lows. Later Julie told us this place is sort of like kids’ summer camp or military camp. Then it makes sense.
I was well aware of and prepared for sharing the space with another girl. I was confident that academia people have to be nice. This claim stands unshakable. Moreover soon it turned out my roommate was cooler than just nice. Elektra, unlike the introvert me, is an outgoing person with unrestrained bright laughter. Despite striking differences in sociability and bedtime, we both read before sleep and advocated leaving the window wide open for fresh air during the night (thus making ourselves open targets to the mosquito army).
Whenever Elektra fondly called me “μήλο my apple”, my heart stealthily turned into a sweet blossom. By the last night – the last beach time we were going to spend together – I found myself changing into bathing suit without bothering to enter the bathroom anymore. Elektra let loose her wild laugh and teased me. I rushed to explain myself ** by citing the imminent meeting time with others. But it’s undeniable that the somewhat intimate week of sharing personal space and stories, especially of witnessing Elektra’s carefree attitude with regard to changing in front of her roommate, I gradually gave up keeping that awkward distance. read more …