Sunday, 4 July 2010

Great was His Heavenly Happiness

The warm untroubled voice floated upon the air, and it was all part of the silence as he was part of it. Suddenly, as the voice rose, soft, dreaming, gentle, he knew that it would come floating to him from the hidden leaves and his peace was shattered. What was happening to him? Something stirred in his breast. Something dark, something unbearable and dreadful pushed in his bosom, and like a great weed it floated, rocked… it was warm, stifling. He tried to struggle to tear at it, and at the same moment – all was over. Deep, deep, he sank into the silence, staring at the tree and waiting for the voice that come floating, falling, until he felt himself enfolded. (Katherine Mansfield, Escape)

Compare with Saint Teresa of Avila:

[p]ain was so great that it made moan, and yet so surpassing the sweetness of this excessive pain that I could not wish to be rid of it (Robert Irwin, TLS 18/06/2010)

In the short story a moment of revelation, of escape, from a difficult wife, becomes a mystical experience; caught exactly by the Saint, hundreds of years before.

Something similar occurs in creative thought. That sense of unease as the words bubble and germinate; before and they run and fall, and scamper across the page. That delicious moment when the artist loses himself. Mystical bliss! And no doubt the origin of Breton’s fascination with the creative act and automatic writing – always keep to the creation’s source; hold on to that luxurious feeling! But creation is not art; just as a child is not an adult. After the legs have parted and the words popped out, the mind must start its work; to tailor and shape, to mould those images into mature form.

What is interesting in all these cases is the pain; suggesting some unbalancing of the body and the mind, a kind of birth – thus the old metaphors. But perhaps we need a qualification to that old wisdom. Is it possible that our bodies actually give birth to our ideas, and our art; that these are physical things, just like the foetus, and as they grow they prod and kick, and push their way out…

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