Monthly Archives: September 2015

Demons?

Edward Hirsch’s book The Demon and the Angel is devoted to enlightening us, often through the insights of master writers. about the spirit that moves us.

Hirsch reports that Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in his Journals, “Blessed is the day when the youth discovers that Within and Above are synonyms.”

He informs us that Garcia Lorca referred to the spirit he sought, so that he could ask it to inhabit his poems, as the duende. He believed the duende was associated with the spirit of earth, visible anguish, irrational desire and enthusiasm, and a fascination with death. He held that the duende will not come unless he sees death is possible.

Writers seeking Lorca’s duende ought to heed an admonition of Master Jeong, under whom I studied Tae Kwon Do. “Don’t fight unless you’re willing to die,” he warned us. A writer might translate, “Don’t write unless you are willing to die (or risk everything).”

I’d like to know whether Lorca’s duende is a spirit of creation or of destruction. Czeslaw Milosz might ask the same question. Milosz, who attests that poems are dictated to him by the spirit, concludes his ars poetica “with the hope/that good spirits, not evil ones, choose us for their instrument.”

I’m convinced that both good and evil spirits exist. Hirsch quotes poet Charles Simic (from Dime-Store Alchemy: The Art of Joseph Cornell), “…one needs to believe in angels and demons even in a modern world in order to make sense of it.” And “Making art in America is about saving one’s soul.” I would scratch “in America,” insert “on earth” in its place, and argue that the mythic conflict the Faust legend presents, in which a creative person meets with the temptation to exchange his soul for powers granted by the devil, is a theme present in each of our lives.

Perhaps blues singer Robert Johnson as well as Fredrich Nietzsche, Garcia Lorca, the Marquis de Sade and Charles Baudalaire got inspired by the spirit that granted Faust’s wish. Then the duende could be another name for what Dostoyevski’s Ivan Karamazov calls “the dread spirit.”

In The Brothers Karamazov, Satan is talking to Ivan. “Listen, in dreams and especially in nightmares, from indigestion or anything, a man sometimes sees such artistic visions, such complex and real actuality, even a whole world of events, woven into such a plot, with such unexpected details from the most exalted matters to the last button on a cuff, as I swear Leo Tolstoy could not create.”

Artists can get addicted to such visions. Emerson confessed, “The one thing which we seek with insatiable desire is to forget our-selves, to be surprised out of our propriety, and to do something without knowing how or why.”

W.B. Yeats believed spirits need us as much as we need them. He agreed with Irish folk tradition that the spirit may offer us wisdom but only humans can deliver the wisdom. Which implies the same spirit (or spirits) we’re looking to access is looking to access us.

Maybe all artists are possessed.

How to Love On Paper, Part One

The view from my back yard used to be a treasure. We looked out over all the brown hills and valleys between us and the San Diego/Tijuana border. On clear days with breeze from the east we could see the islands off the Mexican coast.

But a fellow bought a neighboring lot, directly below. He graded a pad and would not have obstructed our view except he wanted to be higher, perhaps wanting to make our view his own. So he dumped tons of fill dirt, raised the pad and built a two story McMansion that appears inspired by the architecture of Comfort Inns. And all the while during construction, his workers parked on my property even when I asked that he keep them from doing so. Not that I begrudge parking spaces. What I begrudge is people who don’t ask.

So I developed a lousy attitude about this fellow. And one day when my daughter was visiting, while I told her about the guy and my attitude, I recalled Christ calling us to love our neighbor and decided to try on the words literally.

I asked Darcy, “So how am I supposed to love this guy?”

She said, “Well, you could start by trying to understand him.”

Strange, I thought, that a fairly smart man old enough to have a grown daughter had not yet fully recognized understanding as the beginning of love.

Just today I came upon this quote from Agatha Christie “It is only when you see people looking ridiculous that you realize just how much you love them.”

When people look ridiculous, we glimpse a part of them that’s real, not their public pose. And seeing them as they really are, even for a moment, allows us insight, understanding.

In the Harry Potter series, a spell is presented that renders frightening creatures unthreatening. The wizard envisions a comic image of the creature then flicks a wand and pronounces. “Ridiculous” (with Latin inflection). The creature then appears as the comic image the wizard conjured, such as a spider on roller skates.

Which tells me that when creatures (people included) appear ridiculous, we no longer feel threatened. We realize they are as vulnerable as we are, which opens us to understanding and love.

When we seek understanding, we see that the most awful people have their reasons for being awful. We may not find that their reasons justify their actions. We may not pardon them. But we might turn from pure to reasonable anger, which is at least a meager work of love.

So should writers approach the characters we create. We certainly aren’t called to approve of them or their actions. But since Jesus would call us to love them, we can probe their lives and motives, helping ourselves and our readers begin to understand, and so begin moving toward love.