“We Knock Upon Silence for an Answering Music”

May sees the creative act as an encounter between two poles. A dialectical process between the subjective pole – the artist – and the objective pole – that which the artist is contemplating. It is in the moment of encounter between them that newness occurs.

He quotes Archibald MacLeish on this, who sees these two poles more fundamentally as ‘being and not-being’, and recalls a Chinese poet saying ‘We struggle with being to force it to yield being. We knock on silence for an answering music.’ “Thus“, MacLeish continues, “the poet’s labour is to struggle with the meaningless and silence of the world until he/she can force it to mean; until he/she can make the silence answer and the Non-being be. It is a labour which undertakes to ‘know’ the world not by exegesis or demonstration or proofs but directly, as a man knows an apple in the mouth.

Part of the journey that Vaux started in me and others was to discover something about the connections between spirituality and aesthetics. Others are taking this way further than I could ever, but I’m genuinely excited by what they might uncover, and these sorts of passages confirm for me that they are more closely bound than we think.

One need only think about the above in terms of our quest for communion (encounter) with God, the Other, this Non-being who I struggle to understand, and the ‘knocking upon silence for an answering music’ becomes a symphony of synapses saying ‘yes!’

Exegesis? Here’s to eating apples.


7 responses to ““We Knock Upon Silence for an Answering Music””

  1. Hi Krusty, hope yer all tickedy-boo.
    I don’t know if I agree or not with th above so allow my fingers to tap a while and see where I go…
    I am an artist, have been successful in my time and continue to be. Now I also teach art (those who can’t do; teach. Those who can’t teac; teach art! Those ho can’t teach art inspire their pupils instead!!)
    So, don’t get me wrong, I follow a lot of Eastern pholosphical traditions, but I confess that the essential belief in nothingness doesn’t sit well with me at all. I suppose this is why my attention turned to Samurai tradition that is able to look simultaneously within and without. Such teachings show us that subjectivity and objectivity don’t really exist. In fact, when I read your quotes I realised that I see the creative process in quite the reverse to May: this lies in what is considered to be inspiration. My inspiration is usually life; or that lived subjectively by those around me, to which I am often the objective observer – like the Dirty-Poet role – but simultaneously I am the subjective neighbour living with and in my muse; perhaps this is how God is, being simultaneously within and without – like a Samurai – both objective and subjective (no blasphemy intended). Perhaps it is human to be subjective and Godlike to be objective; and our response to inspiration wavers according to the need for a more humanly-God or Godly-human creative response.
    Still, I feel that inspiration clamours like a planet filled to bursting, just out of reach until I realign myself – from objective to subjective, or v/v – for the world to gravitate towards me. I create from over-whelming fullness, not emptyness. Although the process often requires that I am empty.
    Krusty, I dare you to make sense of that lot!!!!
    Damn out.

  2. To be honest I’m happy for both views to co-exist. I don’t think it’s a case of one or the other, and their might be a case to argue about it being down to particular seasons or personality types.
    I certainly wouldn’t want to throw the “struggle with the meaningless and silence of the world” out completely. I think it is a vital part of what is it to be both artist and human that we face that which is ‘other’ and struggle with it. My problem with always creating out of fullness is that, as a metaphor at least, it doesn’t necessarily bring with it the idea of going beyond oneself. The empty place can end up being vital.

  3. Kes,
    Yet again, dead interesting. The western subject/object thing’s a hard one.
    Just not a problem in the East. It reminds me of a fantastic Augustine quote about living ‘floris’, ‘outside himself’. He see’s his journey to God (and himself) as inwards and upwards. He also tends to eschew imagination, which he categorises as ‘external’. Mainly as it utilises the same ‘raw material’ as the objective world. The relevance of all this and something I’m struggling with at the moment. Is that if you adhere to this particular Christian tradition (essentially apophatic). It has huge implications for the role of art. As you say, God being ‘other’ renders all language redundant at some point, including art. This may or may not be a good thing. So in the process of deification, where do aesthetics fit in?
    Giles Fraser started all this! He flagged Denys Turners amazing book: The Darkness of God. Warning: Never phone Giles Fraser when Chelsea are playing!

  4. God being ‘other’ renders all language redundant at some point, including art. This may or may not be a good thing. So in the process of deification, where do aesthetics fit in?
    Huge question. Which I’m hoping you’re going to answer this year. Perhaps this is what is meant by ‘graven image’. In other words, there’s no point saying ‘this is a true image of God’, because you can’t make one. Similarly, that passage could then be used to say ‘don’t make a graven text’ – ie, at no point will our theology be ‘right’. Language just won’t ever do it.
    The message? We’re never arriving. Nothing is ever perfect. But to keep trying is the only way to keep living.

  5. 1 year. The pressures on!
    Defo’ with the ‘graven image’. The Abstraction clause within Islam and Judaism was probably just functional. It can’t be done, stupid. Maybe, also why Eckhart talks about a ‘gap’ between you and the Godhead. Who knows?
    However, I do think abstraction is the key. Materiality and all that. Laters.

  6. Mark Rothko fought this his whole “career” – to try to represent God without any reference to icon, form or symbol, etc.
    If you haven’t done this, go find an original – or a true-sized print – and stand so it fills your whole pereiferal vision. His work becomes a landscape. I got kicked out thew Guggenhiem for doing it – blocked the causeway apperently.
    Rothko rocks. Rothko for Miss Teen USA!