Tag Archives: Vincent Scully

A Polarized Flow, like love.

It is all a most artificial business of living according to prescription, keeping every impulse strangled, and ending where it begins, in materialism pure and simple.
– D.H. Lawrence, The Symbolic Meaning: Studies in Classic American Literature (55)

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“Yet the lovely cloud of green and summer lustre is within” (30)

Vincent Scully mentioned this D.H. Lawrence book in one of his essays on architecture. Perhaps my interests have some collecting force that draw me to and around Lawrence, but I find that he is referenced again and again in other books that I read. Here in The Symbolic Meaning is a group of essays on American Literature. Poe, Melville, Hawthorne, and Whitman are among the writers that Lawrence cites to discuss his theory of the American writer.

Only art-utterance reveals the whole truth of a people. And the American art-speech reveals what the American plain speech almost deliberately conceals.[…] And this, again, is one of the outstanding qualities of American literature: that deliberate ideas of the man veil, conceal, obscure that which the artist has to reveal. (18)

Lawrence hits hard on all of his most passionate philosophies and it’s interesting to read the introduction which seeks to untangle the different and sometimes opposing versions of each essay. It would seem that unlike many writers, when Lawrence revised he wholesale re-wrote – sometimes to ill effect. Lawrence was a unique thinker better left in his primary voice, as E. M. Foster so eloquently stated:

Lawrence “was both a preacher and a poet, and some people, myself included, do not sympathize with the preaching. Yet I feel that without the preaching the poetry could not exist. With some writers one can disentangle the two, with him they are inseparable.” (8)

While there are some 2013 politically incorrect moments, Lawrence is so forward at heart that he is easily forgiven. His essay on Fenimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking Novels (Last of the Mohicans, et all) is wonderful, perfectly describing what I loved about those books; his essay on the symbolism of the sea to American writers such as Melville is perceptive and fascinating; his appreciation for women, as discussed in the Hawthorne essay regarding The Scarlett Letter, as whole female humans is quite beyond the reach of most people still, depressingly,  to this day.

In the old days, when women turned in her terrible recoil, she became Astarte, the Syria Dea, Aphrodite Syriaca, the Scarlett Woman. To-day, in her recoil the Scarlet Woman becomes the Sister of Mercy. She cannot help it. She must, in her upper mind, keep true to the old faith that man has given her, the belief in love and self-sacrifice. To this she is, as it where, hypnotized or condemned. (132)

His humorous yet heartfelt remonstrations against the “great Greek-Christian will-to-knowledge” that result in such American respectables as the “admirable little monster of a Franklin,” (Yes, Benjamin) are what I love about his writing. When he states that the “modern virtue is a machine-principle,” we can only lament that things are far worse now. But he foresaw that.

 Now, after two thousand years, having established our knowledge and even our experience all in one sort, a halfness, we find ourselves in a prison. We reach the condition when we are so imprisoned in the cul de sac of our mutilated psyche that we are in the first stages of that madness and self-destruction into which the ancients fell when they were imprisoned and driven mad within the cul de sac of the sensual body. Quos vult perdere Jupiter, dementat prius. (71)

That Latin bit basically means- those that Jupiter (God) wishes to destroy, he first drives mad. And this is Lawrence’s point- which he never ceases to fit into whatever it is he is talking or writing about. He sees a duality and a disconnect. Where the pagans of old veered toward sensuality, the modern man veers towards knowledge. Both extremes are equally destructive.

Whereas there is a “magnificence of futurity flooding the heart,” in a liberated and appeased soul, the psychic toll to future generations when we cut ourselves off from one half of our soul is tragic.

What is the use to me if a man sacrifice and murder his living desires for me, only to return in death and demand the sacrifice again of me, tenfold? What is the use of a mother’s sacrificing herself for her children if after death her unappeased soul shall perforce return upon the child and exact from it all the fulfillment that should have been attained in the living flesh, and was not? (73)

Lawrence, of course, explores these esoteric themes in his novels to poignant and moving effect. If his deeply held passion for life was sometimes equaled by his profound disgust in his fellow man, there was at least a true commitment to finding our way back to the life force with a fervency of gratitude and communion. His work was influential to all serious thinkers and the artistically sensitive of his age and beyond. He believed in the vibrancy of life, not the stagnant extremes of the idea and the ideal which disturbed the “natural reciprocity and natural circuits” of the “breath of life.”

KNOWING and BEING are opposites, antagonistic states. The more you know, exactly, the less you are. The more you are, in being, the less you know.
This is the great cross of man, his dualism. The blood-self, and the nerve-brain self.
Knowing, then, is the slow death of being. Man has his epochs of being , and his epochs of knowing. It will always be a great oscillation. The goal is to know how not-to-know. (178)

Other books by or about D.H.Lawrence:

Women in Love – Fog of Love
Lady Chatterley’s Lover – Love’s Lambency
Sons and Lovers Part 1 – Kicking Against the Pricks
Sons and Lovers Part 2 – Flickering Sanity
Apocalypse – Start With The Sun
Lawrence, An Unprofessional Study by Anaïs Nin – On Impulse

*”A polarized flow, like love” from the essay Dana’s Two Years Before The Mast (181)

Romanitas Chocolatitas

“The classic as model and the present as sensation.”
-Vincent Scully, Modern Architecture and Other Essays (91)

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With romanitas, as Scully said-
the gravity of Rome,
mansarded with the sweetest red
atop a chocolate loam.
No fantasy of Piranesi
inspiring or rich,
ever went down quite so easy
nor baked without a hitch.

JA/2013 – Chocolate cake with chocolate glaze, baked for the occasion of Noah’s towering achievement.

What To Do With The Ends

No, I am not at all cynical, I have merely got experience, which, however, is very much the same thing.
– Oscar Wilde, Complete Shorter Fiction, Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime (24)

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Swedish Cardamon Bun Twists

With a change of season/change of life momentum I made a Herculean effort to finish all of the books that are lingering on various tables, in my bag, or car. Things were a little out of control and all the loose ends were begging me, please, to come together in a completed knot before I move on.  I had amassed a haphazard mix of material: perhaps it was end of term overload, indecision or stress of the unknown future but I suddenly felt I was reading too many books. The one quality they had in common was put-down-ability. By which I mean, a book of essays or short stories which make a fine and proper reprieve from it all. It. The It of it all-  an overwhelming mountain if its crushing the soul beneath- quick, where’s my book? True, in some cases, the put-down-ability derives from lack of a compelling reason to pick-up-again-ability, if you will. I had Oscar Wilde, Vincent Scully, biographies of Jane Austen, Lawrence Durrell and his first wife Nancy, all on rotation. Books are a little like buns- some never proof, but others bake up beautifully.

In this materialistic and half brutalized age, it is still the faith of great architects that noble men can be formed and made by noble buildings.
– Vincent Scully, Modern Architecture and other Essays (63)

Scully is a wonderful writer with such an open love for his subject; the way in which I look at architecture has been so enriched by his perspective and insight, it’s truly invigorating. For him, architecture is art, philosophy and psychology. Every building he discusses has a narrative and meaning, an essential, and through his eyes, beautiful place on the path of progress. Maybe it is because everything is swarming with a verdant freshness. Maybe it is because I am simply, finally, looking up again, but a book that places you in the world is surely superior to one that offers mere temporary escape from it. It seems to me there is always an element of hope in any work of art- hope as a reason to look up and forward.

I made Swedish Buns the other day. I was meant to tie them into some sort of an effortless twisted knot. With every bun I would manage the first end with beautiful clarity and then something would go awry with the final twist. I kept finding myself in an awkward moment of holding a fast drooping twisted end without the slightest idea what to do with it. At a certain point my hand would just take over- roll, tuck, spin, hide, hope, whatever. Once I had achieved some semblance of a sphere I would put it down, having no idea how I had formed it.

Life, my outlook on life,  is a twisted knot of cynicism and, yes, I will admit-  hope.  I try not to, I really should, but sometimes a plateful of sweets presents, and a cynic can never swallow joy.

A dear man sent me this wonderful poem. “What blame to us if the heart live on.” The heart is the mother of all yeasts.

Chaplinesque

We will make our meek adjustments,
Contented with such random consolations
As the wind deposits
In slithered and too ample pockets.

For we can still love the world, who find
A famished kitten on the step, and know
Recesses for it from the fury of the street,
Or warm torn elbow coverts.

We will sidestep, and to the final smirk
Dally the doom of that inevitable thumb
That slowly chafes its puckered index toward us,
Facing the dull squint with what innocence
And what surprise!

And yet these fine collapses are not lies
More than the pirouettes of any pliant cane;
Our obsequies are, in a way, no enterprise.
We can evade you, and all else but the heart:
What blame to us if the heart live on.

The game enforces smirks; but we have seen
The moon in lonely alleys make
A grail of laughter of an empty ash can,
And through all sound of gaiety and quest
Have heard a kitten in the wilderness.

Harold Hart Crane


algorithmic lollygagging

“Endure, my heart, you have suffered more shameful things than this.”
Odysseus quoted in Plato’s Republic (line 390 d)

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I hesitate. Hold the book face down on my lap. It feels a bit…too much. It’s too much, too stupid, too put on, too late, too weird, to be sitting on the sideline of my son’s soccer game reading Plato’s Republic. I’ve read it before, am reading it again to keep a friend company and who am I to comment on Plato anyway? Just don’t ask me to live in his whack republic.

I would certainly wish to convince you truly, I said, if I could.
Well, he said, you are certainly not attaining your wish. (357.b)

Simply put, it is an interesting, although exhausting, mental exercise to make up a utopian society.  I’m sure it goes without saying that I am mentally feeble by comparison to Socrates and his mouthpiece Plato, so perhaps I need a little assistance in understanding just how the perfect leader of the utopian society is going to be groomed by way of censorship and controlled ignorance. I have a difficult time imagining that that was ever thought of as a good idea.

Just as these variations produce licentiouness there, so here they bring disease. Simplicity in poetry and music makes for moderation in the soul, so in physical culture it makes for health. – Very true. ( 404 e)

Very boring too. Food: unseasoned, sex: un-“frenzied,” skills: limited to one per person, no discordant music, talk of capricious gods, or vigorous laughter, and furthermore it will be illegal to be mad when the truth is spoken… I’ve got to say, despite Adeimantus’ protestations, I think the “no private property” for the guardians is the least of the problems with this society.

Suffering on the sideline from a double whammy of feeling pretentious for reading the book in public and remedial for disagreeing with the thesis, perhaps now would not be a good time to mention that the Socratic method of inquiry is, to me, at times infuriating as well: with the tedium of an algorithm a harsh radiating pain cast its net in my mind. I recognize that pain, because I torture-I mean- engage myself in this theoretical problem-solving method of inquiry on a daily basis (like a multi-step chess move, 15 steps in and I see a fault, if A is true, than B can’t be true, but if B is true than what to think of A? Start again. Are A and B both  true? B makes A true, but step 17 prohibits A. Back to square one. Can I get a C?) until that inner voice finally screams inside me- Jessica! shut the fuck up! Well, I never!… I’m sure no one was quite that rude to Socrates.

Anyway. By some unknown variety of coincidence, I happen to watch a documentary about Vincent Scully the other night. Scully was a professor at Yale and was renowned for his brilliant lectures on architecture. I really love looking through the eyes of an exuberantly engaged teacher passionate about his subject. Scully has written several books, Shingle Style being one of them (he pretty much made the American shingle style an “official” style). The Earth, The Temple, And The Gods is another. In a scandalously brief nutshell here’s what it is about: the purposeful  relationship between the architecture of Ancient Greek temples and their landscape.

It is fascinating to read, particularly as it forms its own relationship in my mind with Plato’s Republic.  Whereas the Stonehedge or the Egyptian temples had singular regard for the sky, sun and heavens,  the Greek’s Temples had a reverence for landscape theretofore unexploited- a sought after connection that they applied to their sacred buildings, magnifying the purpose (not in an astrological the sun will rise and point a light on this spot way, but more organic- goddess fertile hills, a Zeus-like imposing mountain that therefore calls for a temple to Zeus – in that order, and so on) Seeing these Ancient environs through Scully’s eyes, (not actually that easy as all of the photos are in the back of the book- the constant thumbing back and forth was a wearying task) is an awakening. The horizon, hills, mountains, stones, lakes, et all are there calling out their meaning, telling their story, awaiting, with us, our shared future. To the Ancient Greeks, blotting them out or ignoring them was not an option. It would be pointless as well as wasteful.

Awe is a free gift from nature- both in the word’s positive as well as negative meaning. Socrates, as Plato reports, understood in a haughty way the duality, as his concept of Forms illustrates by way of superseding them. But “Forms” are for the guardians, we are relegated to being lovers of things without knowing them truly or lovers of opinion– guilty as charged. My point, if I’m allowed to have one in Plato’s Republic of Perfectness, is this: if I have to suffer through bad elevator music is it really asking too much for my leader to know my pain? Would it really be advisable that he or she didn’t?

All that being said, I’m aware that not only does no one really take an interest in what book I am holding, it’s unlikely they have even noticed me lollygagging about the sideline in the first place. It’s just me and my lonesome lovingly held opinions. But I can take comfort knowing that at least I too am part of the landscape- clinging to the hillside of our potential awe.

Expecting, most often, no immortal reward for proper action, he was moved to test the poignancy of human desires against the hard reality of nature’s demands, saw both in strong, clear shapes and took nothing from the force of either. Believing himself to be unique, but at his best neither arrogant nor despairing in the circle of the world, he was able not only to conceive of the fundamental oneness, but to face the apparent separateness, of things.                – Vincent Scully, The Earth, The Temple, And The Gods. (212)