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How I knew and how I saw it all!

December 7, 2015

_DSC5057When I read Rilke’s “Letters on Cezanne” (1907), I sometimes get dizzy, for after Rilke has been to see any one of Cezanne paintings his pure joy of living and being alive overwhelms the senses – as if all of life can happily be found in an afternoon spent at the Salon d’Automne, or at the Louvre.

I admire painters and love to go to art galleries, but I am never moved to ecstasy the way Rilke was – which I believe to be a fault of mine, and not his.

For me ecstasy is when I walk through a forest, spending a December afternoon in a milkweed patch, or when I read Kundera, or Anais Nin.

When I was seventeen and lying naked in a field with a girl, the horses across the way, I assumed everyone understood what ecstatic divination was – what it was to talk to God – seeing all of Creation in a field of grass, the curve of a leg, or in the knot of a tree.

We’d lie there looking at sun-dappled birches, magnificently white, and we thought we were in a Greek Temple, or in our version of Stonehenge.

I never realized until much later in life that most people have complicated relationships with this idea of ecstasy.

I knew a woman in university who would not allow herself to have an orgasm. She confessed that she had an almost morbid fear of what might happen to her if she did.

Another woman I knew, also would not allow herself to have an orgasm – even though she was so obviously horny enough to try anything once – but she was a strong Catholic, and for her, a pre-marital orgasm made it all sinful. She drew a line in the sand she thought God could agree to, and she stuck to her side of the bargain.

But I do not want to digress into assuming that sexual transcendence is the only path to ecstasy.

But, if you stop for a moment, you do know it is true that we do have a complicated view of ecstasy.

We have all been at that house party where we have gotten off to the side with someone and a conversation has been struck up, quite naturally, organically even, when suddenly one of you stops yourself short and says something like “Oh dear, this is interesting, but I think we are getting too serious”.

We pull back from this glorious moment, for we fear –

but what it is that we fear is the hard thing to put a finger on –

intimacy, revelation, irrationality.

If you were to go into the Salon Room at the Art Gallery of Ontario, and if you were to sit and look and listen and place yourself in 1700’s France – if you were to swirl in the rich Spanish red walls of the room, imagine yourself in that one place caught – suspended for all time – in one or two or three of the paintings hanging there, and if you were to run out afterwards, like Rilke, and rush to a write a friend and say:

Apples and Oranges Paul Cezanne.jpg“…how I never knew, and how I never saw…Here all of reality is on his side: in this dense quilted blue of his, in his red and his shadowless green and the reddish black of his wine bottles…and the humbleness of all his objects…it was Balzac who had foreseen or forefelt that in painting you can suddenly come upon something so huge that no one can deal with it…[he] so incorruptibly reduced a reality to its color content that it resumed a new existence in a beyond of color, without any previous memories…

 Still Life with Peppermint Bottle.jpg               …how one painting is everything we encounter, how related one thing is to the next, how it gives birth to itself and grows up and is educated in its own nature, and all we basically have to do is to be, but simply, earnestly, the way the earth simply is, and gives her consent to the seasons, bright and dark and whole in space…no one before him ever demonstrated so clearly the extent to which painting is something that takes place among the colours, and how one has to leave them alone completely, so that they can settle the matter among themselves…all talk is misunderstanding. Insight is only within the work.”

Is it even possible to think such things in our post-modern world? When to feel such exaltations opens one up (internally and externally) to the most critical of ironies.

With two hundred years of Science as our Religion, the emotional, the irrational, has been replaced by the strong drink of rational discourse. Ecstasy and transcendence are “funny business” best left to the new-agers, children, and those about to meet their Maker.

And while we all see through the consumer populism and mass advertising that has us believe that an ice-cold Coca Cola is as mystical as Salvador Dali’s The Temptation, we have been bent at the wheel of 24/7 inculcations that a new car, new dress, new watch, bigger breasts, harder penis, better pecs, flatter abs, is where ecstasy now lies. Even the most cynical have a hard time thinking otherwise.

And I am no better than the rest. I too am a bastard beggar child of the 20th century, and its crushing wars, run-amuck technologies, crude peasant populist mentalities. I too have this plastic wrap between me and the world – between me and my deepest inspirations – between me and All, or One.

Each of us, all of us, at some point walk out of the Garden of Eden. We leave the naked ecstasy of our innocence, and spend a lifetime covering ourselves in our shame. Layers upon layers upon layers until we feel little, see nothing, deaf and dumb, sleepwalking from yesterday into tomorrow.

_DSC5104I thought of Rilke today, a little, as I left the milkweed patch that is up on the back hill of our farm – milkweed that reminded me of fish, aquariums, coral reefs, great beaches that I have seen – Indonesia, Australia, Hawaii, the Florida Keys – places where parallel universes exist:

 “the Salon is closing today. And already, as I’m leaving it, on the way home for the last time, I want to go back and look  up a violet, a green, or certain blue tones which I believe I should have seen better, more unforgettably…my blood                 describes it within me, but the naming of it passes by somewhere outside and is not called in…” _DSC5096



One Comment leave one →
  1. December 7, 2015 11:16 am

    Ah. Thank you.

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