Sunday, June 07, 2009

Reinforced Concrete or Platonic Realm

TLS June 5 2009

from Tom Holland's review of Theodore Ziolkowski's Minos and the Moderns, and Cathy Gere's Knossos and the Prophets of Modernism:

Far more than the narratives associated with other legendary captials--Troy, Mycenae, Thebes--"the matter of Knossos" came with comparatively little baggage attached. No wonder, then, that throughout the twentieth-century, this combination of a clean cultural sheet with an undoubtedly archaic resonance should have inspired so many writers and artists to jump onto the Minoan bandwagon.

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Many of the novels, poems and paintings that [Ziolkowski] describes in his book were veritable mazes of symbolism. So potentially resonant is a figure like the Minotaur, for instance, and yet so lacking in culturally sanctioned signification, that it seems that he can be made to stand for almost anything. Indeed, perhaps it is precisely the ability to play Theseus, to pin the monster down, to defy the tendency of the Cretan myth to overwhelm all those who would handle them, that can serve as the mark of authentic achievement. Joyce showed it, of course, and so too did Friedrich Durrenmatt who fashioned out of the story of the Minotaur a grim retrospective commentary on the twentieth century's experience of alienation. Most potently of all, perhaps, there was Picasso, whose masterpiece "Minotauromachy" (1935) is feted by Ziolkowski, and by many others, as "the finest graphic work of the twentieth century". It is telling, no doubt, that Crete was far from the only inspiration for Picasso's lifelong obsession with bulls. In painting after painting, of which "Guernica" was merely the most celebrated example, imagery conjured up from the Minoan labyrinth shaded into scenes drawn from the bullring of his native Spain. Antiquity and modernity, as a result, often ended up indistinguishable. "To me," Picasso declared ringingly, "there is no past or future in art": a manifesto perfectly suited to the swagger of his creative machismo.

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The fabulously ancient palace of Knossos enjoys, as Gere points out in her arresting first sentence, "the dubious distinction of being one of the first reinforced concrete buildings ever created on the island". The complex of buildings gawped at by thousands and thousands of tourists every year owes less to the masons of the Minoan age than it does to the example of modernist archittecture. On Crete, the archaic and the contemporary, both of them recreated in the image of the other, would end up generating a cultural Mobius Strip. 

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from Christopher Reid's review of Ian Hamilton's Collected Poems:

There [In Conversation with Dan Jacobson] he speaks of how, for him, the "need for a controlled structure" arose from "the sense of being involved in someone else's suffering while being helpless to do anything about it". Shortly afterwards, he offers this understanding of his own drive to write, or to catch, poems:

The "it" [he is picking up Jacobson's wording] you imagine out there to be discovered by you, or that will visit you, with its mixture of passion and control, is a poem of perfection. So you listen out for the poem, if you like, and you imagine it. It's as if the poetry you write is what you don't seem to be able to express in your ordinary day-to-day transactions. There's a sort of platonic realm of discourse that you occasionally manage to tune into. That is the impulse behind the poem--to be able to say in the poem what ordinarily doesn't and cannot get said or understood or listened to.

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