|Storm in the Salzkammergut, Austria|
Gibbin House: an excerpt
In the few hours he managed to wrangle free, this became his main object, the stealthy strolling through of these shady fir woods. How much he would have loved Răluca at his side then. Watching her sigh and awe in that charmingly self-satisfactory way of hers at all the incidental wonders around them, which he in these moments had to notice passively for himself. He especially thought of her when a storm cloud happened on him in the course of his walk, because it made him think of Hölderlin. And Martin would break into an irresistible smile, convinced she too would have recalled their earliest discussion and used it as an opportunity to tease him. Run, Martin, before you’re caught in the rain and descend into madness!
On one such stormy afternoon, gripped by the oddest impulse, he actually did start off on a sprint, straight into the arms of the tempest, diving into the cascading fury of lightning that erupted suddenly, and then ever further, slipping through the hiking paths that scaled the wooded base of the mountains, shivering cold and slipping clumsily in the soaked top soil and the rock, but running nonetheless, ever higher, leaving almost everything behind him, as if ascending into the realm of gods and myth, answering the challenge laid at poets and writers, so infatigable in their obsessions and yet so frail. He ran with the thought of reaching an empty crag he’d hitherto only spied from the shores, a high bluff breaking the monotony of trees, where he might stand and sound his Whitmanian yawp in protest and confirmation, defying the thunder and the splintering lightning like a shower of accusation to break him down.
Not far from where he had started his sprint, however, his chest begun to sting quite fiercely. He regressed into a speedy strut, which in turn slowed into a lumbering stagger, his side caving to stitches. Abandoning his initial destination, which still loomed above him, deceptively near at every winding turn in the trail, Martin made instead for the porch of the Weigert villa, and by evening, he was laid up in bed with a cold. (p. 239-40)
Poor Theodor, it is rather a worse fate than Hölderlin's, is it not? To find oneself in the grip of nature's fury and rather than rising to meet it, to stare it square in the face, come up short and capitulate. As I said in "Part One" of this post, an artist hopes for a moment in which he or she may feel absolutely enthralled, alive, not simply in the involuntary visceral sense of a rollercoaster ride, but also in a philosophical sense, convinced that its magnitude is derived from the importance only we as artists can ascribe to it. We want convincing that we recognize the ultimate highs and lows of life's experience because of an artistic soul. And what if it isn't true? In our Romantic poet's case, he was clearly certain that he was profoundly sensitive to the phenomenal powers of nature, and left no doubt in the public's mind - 36 years up in a lone tower like a deranged Rapunzel will give that impression. But what if we are not overwhelmed? What if we do not reach the summit and are made mad with the rapture of it?
I'm reminded of "Of Human Bondange" by the sublime W. Somerset Maugham, in which the protagonist Philip slowly comes to realize that there is a difference between true artistic genius and wannabe bohemians, and that he sadly belongs to the latter. Although the book was published in 1915 and rather echoes the adolescent worries of every high schooler with half an imagination, the fundamental problem of whether one is destined for the things towards which one strives is eternal and age-less. We become no more enlightened because we are older. In fact, I often feel that bare confidence is a thing luxuriously afforded to childhood alone. An "A" on a 3rd Grade project is a solid thing, real currency. Whereas adult compliments and achievements are shrouded in duplicitous mystery, dependent on social connections, sexual manipulation, condescension, etc. An artist is most commonly validated by the size of his entourage, the dispair of his suicide note, or the shrillness of his devil-may-care bowtie. In an ever diverse and fragmented yet all-documented, digitally overexposed world, the idea of suffering (or celebrating) in quiet anonymity becomes terrifying. If we hide from the world these days, no one has the time to notice or care. Do we have the stength, therefore, to climb the mountain, face the tempest, and thrill in its beautiful savagery alone?
Last month, I found myself, very much on top of the mountain. As previously mentioned, I attended the wedding of two amazing women-heroines-friends at the summit of Mt. Greylock. Rather unexpectedly, Hurricane Irene decided to sweep through Massachussetts that same weekend, the eye passing right over our lodge. No sooner than the storm began and we were advised that roads leading off the mountain were being closed, a sumptuous fog enveloped our little party. The view, which usually stretches for miles and miles into New Hampshire now reached no further than a few feet. Soon the rain ripped and pounded past us through the opaque air, and I thought about Hölderlin. We were not allowed to leave the lodge, the heavy wooden doors secured, but I wondered what it would be like to tear out and run through the storm, to be drenched and beaten about...perhaps it's good that I don't know how I might have felt. I continue to believe in my artistic soul, unchallenged.
PS: The day I received my first printed copy of "Gibbin House", I went for a run along the beach and was met with a torrential downpour, through which I persisted, furiously skimming over the sand as my head rocked to the beats of Swedish House Mafia's "One"...I was a Greek muse on the deserted beach that evening, light as air, inexhaustible, delerious, in tears against the fiery glow of sunset. I don't know if that proves anything about me or just Theodor's theory that during seminal moments in our life, it must always rain...