Wednesday, May 31, 2017

An Ode to the Romans of Decadence

Romans in the Decadence of the Empire, 1847
Thomas Couture

The Spirit of Decadence 

It is natural to dream of ascent toward the Heavens, in which the noble soul ascends by means of the "noble" ... winged horses ... of the gods ... soaring upward, as is the rule of the universe. 

Our imagination working like the light of the sun on Icarus's wings ... we droop in our flight and at last settle on solid ground, but this descent to earth is an imaginative eidos, essential in the sense of "essence" and also as an idealization of other worlds. 

Here is our "heaven" ... the pastoral retreat, the ideal Republic, the Golden Age. 

Necessarily imagined as departures from other worldly experiences to higher spheres or manifest spheres in the absence of matter. The essential and the accidental are mixed in formal concepts like objects of logic and a whole series of conditions that essence reveals. 

Above and beyond the intuition, "essences" concern their conditions into existence. The pursuit of essences involves the consideration of paradoxical instincts in the notion of ideality of all, the cosmic symphony. 

It is no wonder the Romans were so decadent 

The Devolution 

In an acceptance of the conditions of earth, the sensual and intellectual possibilities of life and poetry, the possibility of transcending, of touching another human being, and of letting go of time-bound existence, death, and the limits knowing enables, an essential condition of being becomes "event" ... 

In extremis the affirmation occurs in a world proud and strong and also in the withdrawal to stellar pallor. To touch this poverty is to know autumnal space between words complete and essential to being on earth, and touching that which one is and which one is not. 

Vivid expressions of the conditions of earth's aesthetics mirror divine harmonies. Historically, or mythically, the descent plummets "essence" to earth. Exalted images of floods of white that burst from the clouds and the winds that blew life forth contort strength around the sky, until it swoops down in a notable fall. 

Here the world becomes noble even in its raucous sociability, as in Couture's Romans ... the poet is the earth's metaphysician in the dark, twanging a wiry string that gives Sound to passing rightnesses, the noises of Shakespeare and the sweet airs of New Caledonia that give delight and hurt not. Humming in our ears is an echo of instruments chosen as analogies to the modern mindset, arguing only with analogy and historical influence. 

The ideas alternate in movements toward heaven and earth and accessible in the light of eidos, without need for explanation, is the idea of the depreciated concept of being human, an essential element in Shakespeare's many plays. Pointing to our earthiness and our experiences of noises we create the accompaniment: 

The music

The Meditative of Earth

Our experience of earth's noises confuses and fuses our senses into what is natural and what is created and plays onward toward that which we create and that by which we are eluded. Beings are subjective and objective, internal and external. Self identity expresses earth's many harmonies and is experienced as "rightness" by both poet and actor. 

The impulse to soar, to rise above idealized otherness, is implicit in those that neglect worldly ends. Dedicated to closeness with the notion of "the One" in a perceived betterment of an already perfect existence is the mind, the dukedom's library large enough to fit legions of civilizations hoist one upon the other in a never ending symphony of ideas and tragedies. 

Our commonwealth is the knowledge that this is a shared experience. No need for magistrate, no riches, no poverty, no service, no occupation, no idleness and no purity or innocence. This is the dream of the golden age, of excelling and excellence giving way to delight and sensation. 

The primordial is antithetical to the ordered, controlled state of Plato. Rome rests comfortably and fruitfully in earthly harmony. The imposition of control and discipline in such a world cedes, and the scene is abandoned to its "natural" state, which is bountiful and providing. 

The decadent splendor

The Idyllic Pastoral 

The Platonic world of Ideas are reflected in common earthly realizations that rise upward toward the ideal, a soaring architecture of symbolic perfection realized in the social design of the city state. With the ascendancy raised to the forefront of our aspirations, the eternally true and geometric supreme, these essential exaltations of the ideal of humanity and of human nature in relation to the supreme world contribute to our education under Prospero's tutelage. In it we recognize a Platonian anamnesis: that the dream of the ideal is humanity's gift to itself. 

Humanity sees itself mirrored for the first time in the other's company, and after having intuitively recognized other as divine, declares 

"How beauteous mankind is! 
O brave new world
That has such people in't!" 

The Antithesis 

The insensate brute, paradoxically brutish and aesthetic. The clanging of a thousand pots and pans. The brute cannot hear the sounds of sweet air, the noises of earth instead imbue him with an unnatural strength, which he presents and supplants with impulse. 

When the brute sleeps, the natural world manifests a benevolent and generative appreciation of quietude, though his voracity hums like an aching wanton buzz. When awake it twangs, refuting and disappreciating the ennobling instinct, though he joins it in a paradoxical essence, such as in The Tempest

Inherent in this worldly brutish experience is a human recognizing experiences sympathetic to force and desire, both central to existence. Martin Heidegger's earthly path, a felicitous way of being human. 

Linking discordant or opposing impulses appears oxymoronic, a pitying of Prospero and Miranda in a "loving wrong" or "sacred orgy" of the Bacchantes, destructive as it is restorative. 

Pentheus's craving for a voyeur's watch is ripe in the imagery which is titillating and scandalous. Tales of ecstasies permeate and serve Aphrodite rather than any new god. Teiresias warns him from above, hand outstretched against villainous pestilence, but Pentheus cares not for wholesome remains. 

Revelry from which no good comes 

The Miracles

Women perform miracles in the natural world, causing milk, wine, water, and honey to rise from the earth. The messengers of surreality's effects, but also of their activities, until interrupted by intruders, including the ethical, law-abiding, faithfully devout and dutiful. Blame against idyllic and harmonious with nature-like activities drunk in abandonment taunt the righteous and in fierce opposition in the name of that which is praiseworthy they place judgment. 

Gratifying their lusts alone amid the woods, by wine and soft flute-music maddened, but resting on the ground, flung carelessly, they discover modesty. 

The new view of woman is echoed in the Golden Age, innocent and pure. Woman's idleness, unlike man's, is a reassurance of her virtuosity. What she hears is beauty, springing up from a strange, fair array of ordered ranks: a miracle of discipline to behold / a wondrous sight of grace and modesty. 

The messenger of miracles assures Pentheus that if he could see her honor god himself would appear and in his arrival grant him eternal and everlasting joy and the flowing of heaven's eternal bliss. 

Honoring the gods Penthesus aligns with righteousness and the brute, though terrifying in his subsequent deeds, does all in the name of this new and blessed state, in harmony as a group and at one with the notion of nature. 

In repose ...

The Transformation 

The character is transformed akin to the music of the spheres, the rise to heaven, the ennobled escape from the environs of earth, its boisterous noise, its danger, and its darkness. The music of Bacchantes, in its raucous affinity with earth, rises up. 

In the opening stasimon, the Chorus sings, not of the elevated image of the individual ego characterized by Pentheus in his arrogance, self-aggrandizement, self-assurance and certainty of things, but in the virtue of love, participation, and community - the highest dance of Dionysus and his followers, accompanied by the deep heartbeat of the drums and thunderous-kneeling of timbrels. 

The sound of the booming drums symbolize the "win" of victory, the maddening and ecstatic Satyr-band, winning favor from the mother-goddess for their participation in the festivities. Having been appropriated, the most unrefined of creatures are sweet in their crying breaths and Phrygian flutes. All dance at her festival. 

To snare the nimble marmoset

The Exalted World 

The idea of an exalted world is attached to the architecture of the city, represented in the painting. It is the city Pentheus rules. His sense of rightness and privilege essential to the protective and benevolent social design that is mimetic of cosmic logos. The duplication of ideal reality in the state. Plato's Republic is implicit in the painting's attitude of superiority and control as a safe harbor, even for chaos. 

The Dionysian principle literally demolishes and burns the palace in a fiery ecstasy, bringing it crashing down as the archangel pulls at Teiresias's robes (far right). The release of the sacred into this world is not an event of justice and order but a renewal of earth's power, the reaffirmation of earthly truth in the face of Cosmos, who asks "What is wisdom?" 

Man concludes that wisdom is found in he whose life day by day is happy and blessed: "Happy is he whose bliss from day to day doth grow". To accept being on the earth is to accept that which suffices in the essence's remembrance of joy, heard in mortal music. 

Echoed in a finite sky

The Affirmation 

The earth fosters a presence as sweet as noise, a counter- but also an alter-beauty, and the twang and drum noise of the Satyrs, with their raucous harmony. Not mere cacophony, nor meaningless sound, but truth: essential as the structures idealized in the painting, represented in the aboveness of the expansive sky and the belowness of the bacchanal scene. 

The primal truths speak like essence in self-discovery. The gaining of purity and an exactitude of knowledge in a recovery of purity and innocence. It is the return to the world that retains its virtú

If one must again become ignorant by the death of Phoebus and the death of the one god, then one must mirror the death of all, the certitude that is the ending of life. The first idea - and the last. 

This notion is not presumed escapable, even to childlike innocence. The past idealized condition makes way for disciplined achievement from pure perception: the new understanding. The precise awakening of knowledge not in ideas but about the thing itself - it's authenticity. 

Birds with their scrawny cries, appropriate to the earth, precede the choir and part of their knowledge becomes the earth's new reality. There is no romanticizing here. The past pays attention to the present in the concreteness of life while intentionality yields only to originality. 

Where art reveals
Nature's lack of design

The Drama 

The Romans reemerge, falsified and previously impoverished by the naturalistic tendencies of their time, only to overflow the world with nature, recapturing the contours and richness that life in its abundance deems interesting and boring, useful and useless, beautiful and ugly, ridiculous and anguishing.

The world of our time unlike in the painting has moved toward its center. Our time's naturalistic tendencies are countered by the noise a recovering world, the idealized image of beauty, the "desired," and those reborn Romans who recline in the warm basking temperatures of heaven, sleek in their natural nakedness.

Modern society attends the tranquil pastoral scene with wit and with intelligible twittering that substitutes for intelligible thought. Like the unpromising thickness of the Romans' robes, human thought, human language, and the accomplishment of regaining or reconstituting the world is exalted into what Levinas calls an

"Overflow of Nature" 

The New Generation 

The new generations currently populating the earth hear their own music and in response and participation, opposing Plato's view of the depreciative artist echoing braying asses and crowing cocks (noises of an inferior and contrary nature, sound effects of earth's crackles, moans and groans), share the assonance and dissonance of earth as an entity with its own justified and justifying music.

A capable human voice is but a mirror of earth's sound. Attuned to the creatures of earth, the sounds of the planet are echoed in ancient instruments and modern ones, too.

Distant cries of the sea-nymphs announce that the sea is changing. Revelers hear them and their companions create a religion of wine and worthy earthly sustenance to adore the unfolding. Untamed beasts are left to run wild. Trees adorned to press, the cries of nature's elite, a dance in unison for the Dionysus of the mountain top toward which the adventurous brazenly trek.

In response the hills are thrilled and join in bacchic worship. The devolvement is the newest voice of nature exalted into Earth Day, simultaneously elevating the language of Pentheus, who ostentatiously identifies his superiority as evident of his lineage: he is Pentheus, son of Agaue and Echion.

Par excellence among the newer tribes of pantomimic imitators is the high-toned, those jovial singers ode'ing to the spheres. The poetry of their verbal exuberance representing the onomatopoeic sound effects vital in their engendering of the world. The only satisfactory human existence is now imbued with that which has been undermined and overcome.

Perfection in the dream of Saints

The Renewal 

This condition establishes a necessary renewal or retrieval from one generation to the next. In the imagination of the ultimate horizon of being, beyond the last thought, the image of Rome's decadence reappears in the bird's song. Knowledge and happiness are placed as heroic icons with the human as center of the universe, among the gods. The abstracting power of the intellect makes this possible.

The bird's song has no human equivalent. It is in and of itself complete. The appearance of the winged creature on the horizon represents the transcendence of thought. Identifying with its essence humanity understands the essentiality of being human. This makes one happy or unhappy.

To know is not the reason.

The bird's feathers swoop down and then extend upward toward the fire-fangled cosmos. The effect is heard among the multitude of diverse voices expressing a mimesis of that which is considered an essentiality of becoming a fully realized human.

A richer experience
A finer susceptibility
A newer mode of thought,
acts or passions

The Notion of Truth 

The notion of truth makes us happy. Delight and sense sing of springtime while poems end in the imposing thickness of winter's austere hand. Both sing puissantly. Echoes of past songs are ransom for Willow's rebirth.

The ultimate meaningfulness negotiates regions of the earth and of the human psyche, from which the philosopher rises ambulatorily, joining in the song that is not primordially a logic of language but of the extravagance of the mind's intelligible twittering.

Together with the poet the philosopher participates in the transforming, transmogrifying celebrant appropriate to exalted worlds. Pentheus's image of himself takes center stage, and declares twice:

"O brave new world!"

The Comic and the Imp

Befittingly becomes comic, even grotesque. Opposed to the heroic stands comedy, natures balancing act. King Pentheus produces pictures of aged men dancing, paradoxically, the youthful dance of age. There is something foolish in the avowal that one should tire in old age, and remain repose all day and night long, striking the earth with nothing but a cane or walking stick.

Forgetting joy in age is the first assurance that one is old. Feeling young enough to dance is joy in costume, comedy in errors, arrivals in departure. The ridiculous trappings and their linking arms shame the modesty of grey hairs so sense-bereft. The only senility is shame.

Delivering a lecture in metaphoric pentameter, the Comic reveals Dionysus's truth and power. Teiresias warns Pentheus not to deem himself wise, nor laugh in scorn ... but instead to wreathe his head in leaves, grasses, flowers and branches to dance with Ivy.

Comedy is indignant, scoffing at its appearance, clad in dappled and worn-torn cloth. Greybeard cannot dance but at the same time he knows he must. Attuned to the forces of earth unleashed he seeks tribute to youthful celebrants found only in nature's imps. His reawakening is because he "must".

The grotesqueness of this image is repeated in the beast with four legs, under the cloak. It is Rome's only animal shape. Referred to as fish and monster, sometimes as both or amphibious: half a fish and half a monster. But this monstrous image is compounded by union with the Imp.

In a frenzied fright he lies with her wondering whether he is a man or a fish, and, as the storm approaches, decides to creep under his gaberdine, an action making for strange bedfellows.

Pleas for mercy are sung to the Imp in a most delicate and monstrous manner, to heal the monster she pours wine into its mouth and into her own. The comic antics of these types reiterate the comic figure that Pentheus and Teiresias make together, and the depreciation, like that of old men, brings them close to the mouth of earth.

Society declares the Comic not the victor but the fool, reassuring him that the noises and sweet airs of the Imp's voice are attuned to the intelligible twittering of birds, and when he protests, it is said that the two are one in the same in their absurdness.

But it matters not in this moment ... because the Comic also brings release. His voice grows ever mellifluous in appealing to his new Imp's senses. Mimetic in his stuttered song about his new freedom. He has a new master and he bows before her only.

Eternity, Fidelity, Affection

The New Poetry 

The Comic's ode becomes the poetry of positivity, of, "here and there, an old sailor / Drunk and asleep in his boots no more" ... he who catches tigers in red weather and the grotesqueness of his old figure stripped of illusory decrepitude in favor of virile robustness. A new nobility in poetic ennoblement. 

Imps delight in their fortune's twists of fate and the image of ourselves overcoming our demons paints a picture of nakedness newly clothed. The monster is to myself as two things are together as one. The self as Comic and Imp singing the heroic image of bearded bronze just because the singer must. 

Yet another form of renewal essential for the interdependence of those expressions embedded in the time and place of our collective being and becoming. The loss of despair the greatest beauty and clearest distinction between life and the premature death of living. 

The desire to go and see and explore the garden

The Scene is Set

What is repeated in the script is now only a souvenir. Life learned the speech of place and time and in it saw the face of the people reflected in war and that which suffices for peace. Poetry is once again ablaze, constructing a new stage upon which the world, a theater, in its construction of self exists. 

The intricate elicitings of language and being in the most delicates ear produces a meditation of satisfaction. The scene transcends, as Aristotle would argue into a new reality. Like the aged man whose intellectual gymnastics mesmerize an Imp, life is again an intrinsic image of contorted and contorting, the "eccentric" and the elemental participant in a decomposition and consequent fertility of earth. 

Yet the worm wins

The Worm-Poet is Speaking 

The worm battles with the Chieftan while the chicken clucks in a carefully construction illusion of himself as a ten-foot dinosaur among inchlings. The worm in its pretentiousness enlarges and exalts himself, creating an illusion of himself consistent with the exalted illusions of humanity's splendor. A laughable illusion crying in defiance to uncertainty. 

Affirming the inchling is smaller than he, the worm inches his way along the earth and aligns himself in the philosophy of being a comically diminutive worm-poet who makes fun of the world in which he performs. His "fear not" and his "all is well" transform his shape and the metamorphosis that occurs, orchestrated by the universe, that remarkable protean composer, and enables us to see that he is affinity expressing capability held in form. 

Now, that's a mouthful. 

The worm-poet knows that "he" and "it" are as inseparable as performance and activity. He might as a matter of taste prefer one over the other. So long as he does not exalt one and deny the other, taste is only a matter of taste, and also of being there and there-being. 

Such versatility from a worm-poet enamors the world and in their own bodily metamorphosis which produces mimicked sounds they shift the quality of the comic further toward the grotesque as they raise the Worm to Heaven's Gate. 

The worm-poet looks down upon the world and sees nothing but the idea of beauty. Instead of joyous experience relishing in itself judgment enters, which is an experience in itself. Being a worm the worm-poet knows that a decomposed object can be reconstructed as beauty, and that putting something back together is a metamorphosis. Conserving, preserving, restoring and reanimating for an audience a metamorphic act. 

The worm-poet creeps along the fallen jugs of wine in search of ideal-forms of distortion while composing his next ode. 

Here are their lips
one by one
the bundles of bodies
and the feet

The Eccentric 

The eccentric enters with her noisy distortion of standard form. Squawky sounds and high-tones in opposition to Poetry. Squiggling like saxophones, the Eccentric appears in devolutions. In doing so the "essences" are being retrieved, or discovered, made or found. 

Reconstruction of the awareness of need is awakened in the world, and in the idea of a fruitful earth, a world of belonging and possibility is realized. The worm-poet shares this impulse with the Eccentric, and both echo the Dionysian celebrants of a "new" religion, the religion of authenticity. 

Found here are those who preserve a recalcitrance to being uplifted by anything but their own bootstraps. Like Pentheus's Apollonian architecture, the Eccentric believes it is language that causes rebellion against civilizing. And in a rebellious tone she abdicates authority admitting her own thing of darkness and lightness. 

Essentially the world idealizes the blessed rage of order, as identifiable as it is elusive. A place of books and imposing high-minded values, provocative to balance against a paradoxical acceptance of earth as human beings cede to mother nature. The immanent image of nobility plunges to the ground. If transformation is to occur, the flower is to take the place of Narcissus's corpse. 

The forces of the earth, the danger and destruction, the withdrawal into darkness, the comic and the grotesque, regenerate in the losing of temporal power and beauty. The year ends. Spring has not yet come. Without renewal presence in the eccentric is absent.

While Orpheus plays the leading role

Spring Comes Forth

The music of the earth once again echoes across time. A new season opens with the pervasiveness of the paradoxical grounded in impish thought provoking monstrous appetites. The sense of dismay is replaced with childhood's harmony while nature while glory has passed away. 

Spring is the dialogues of business, of love, and of strife to which honeybees affix their tongues. Solitude is replaced with earthly delights and the tale repeats itself again. 

We return full circle to the blessedness that comes with knowledge and the belonging that comes with an earthly domain. The perpetual benediction sings sweet songs of thanks and praise for the achieved awareness of a previously obstinate questioning. 

Sense and outward things fall and vanish and that divine purpose, insomuch as it is intuited by humanity, necessitates an acceptance and identification with the meekest of flowers whose petals are also blown about by the wind. 

For one final instance we can trace the earths twists and turns in Couture's painting pressed down upon the canvas of the earth, and thereon setting our sights anew, pulling them in a lavishly upward direction toward an unattainable impulse. 

The Roman desire to apprehend cosmic design is dripping with spring in this painting which reflects a total sky without defect. The ephemerality of the frenzy appears as a pool of flowers, brief as they were, eternal as they are. 

The contingency of things in nature is not to be lamented but rather to be celebrated. The essence of being, in the progress of this ode, is from the pleasures of youth, and the sweetness and beauty that gratify because they satisfy the need for "ache" and they "sting" ... it is for a mature appreciation of only the most powerful of pleasures and pains of the senses, and aims to satisfy a craving for both with the stain of honey and of tears. 

The worm-poet becomes a moth while the poet transforms him into a butterfly. He flies alongside the winds of the cosmos, humanizing nature with his song. The old men in Euripides's play delight in their Bacchantes.  The birds sing and the lions are tamed. 

Apollo takes measure and smiles

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