Wednesday, June 27, 2012
There are those in old age whose body deteriorates while their mind remains alert up to the point of death; and there are those whose mind erodes progressively while the body remains relatively intact. Which is better is a matter of idle meditation in so far as ultimately we don’t have a choice even if we preferred one to the other. With the alternative between a sudden death and a slow prolonged process toward death; if one might be less painful, the other allows time to prepare all concerned for the inevitable end. Though longevity is celebrated in many cultures, its blessing depends on the quality of life lived. So, an early death, generally bemoaned for cutting a life short, may have been a blessing in so far as the remaining life, if lived, might have turned to be full of misery. Some live a short life and accomplish a lot; others may live longer and accomplish less. Short or long, life lived well is the greatest blessing. Such thoughts enter my mind as I approach 80.
God, creating the human beings, must have decided to make them foolish enough -- and they are so foolish most of them, with even the more perfect among them failing to be without failings -- so that they will all be unfailingly prone to sin, for without sinners he (or perhaps she) will miss the glory of exercising the almighty power to forgive.
Monday, June 25, 2012
Words are tricky; they mislead. We speak of portraits and self-portraits, asserting lexically that the self-portrait is a sub-genre of the portrait. This is true to the extent that a self-portrait portrays a figure as any portrait does, except that it is the image of the artist herself or himself who created the portrait. As an artistic fact, however, the self-portrait, painted, drawn or sculpted, differs fundamentally from the portrait of a person other than its artist. A portrait may capture all the details of a person’s outward appearance so that the viewer who knows the sitter in person recognizes her/him. Likeness is the first demand of portraiture. A better, more satisfying portraiture goes beyond likeness and succeeds in evoking the presence of the particular sitter, what might be called the anima beyond the persona of that person, not just the surface but the mystery of the being that lies under the surface. I say mystery because there is ultimately no way of knowing anyone, by sight alone, beyond what she or he chooses to present to the outside world. Even after a long association between friends, there is always something that remains unrevealed to each other. The artist portraying herself or himself, looking into a mirror, knows the sitter in depth, if not completely, certainly more than any other person. In short, self-portraiture more easily allows a deeper penetration into the essence of the sitter, therefore a more introspective portrayal. If the artist succeeds in achieving the kind of introspection more easily achieved in self-portraits in portraying others, as Rembrandt did, we have great portraits. Staring at the portrait of Juan de Pareja by Velazquez at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, I was moved to think these thoughts.
Sunday, June 10, 2012
“I grow old. . . I grow old. . . /I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled. . .,” so wrote T. S. Eliot in The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. Learning that he started writing the poem in 1910 -- it was published in 1915 -- when the poet, born in 1888, was only 22 years old, I realized how shockingly young to think about aging and express it so touchingly and W. B. Yeats, born in 1865, was only 35 in 1910; he lived till 1939, and only when he reached 60/61 in 1926 he wrote, "An aged man is a but a paltry thing/A tattered coat upon a stick. . ." in his Sailing to Byzantium. Having somehow kept the impression of T. S. Eliot as a leading modern poet opposite Yeats, a bit of a Victorian legacy, I am also astonished not only how young he was but also how early in the 20th century he wrote. How old were The Beatles when they sang "When I'm Sixty-Four"? Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, in which the song appeared, was released in 1967, and Paul McCarney was 27. As for myself, I hardly thought about growing old before sixty-four, or for that matter even thereafter. . . well, perhaps on rare fleeting moments after seventy-seven.
Saturday, June 9, 2012
What was it that I was looking for? As I stand and try to remember what it was that I was looking for, I forget what it was that I had forgotten and was trying to remember. Oh, well, forget it, I tell myself, and all’s forgotten. . . but not entirely, since I do remember that I had forgotten though what it was that I had forgotten remains unremembered.