Winter has come to New Zealand, and with it grey skies, moody days and biting cold on my morning walks. I have fallen into a steady meditation schedule, early morning in my studio, my light the glow of the gas heater. Sacred minutes. My cup runneth over.
The urge to paint is back – after almost half a year. My paintings make me happy. In the half light of the days I peer into the emptiness at which they point.
I have been vacillating about my blog forever. Not routine procrastination, just doubt about the need for this world to have one more blog post released onto it. Most of all I am stalled by the lack of a strong opinion about one side or another, having seen all sides have a backside, and the artificiality of the personality and its opinions.
Gearing up to write a blog post became for me almost an act of in-authenticity. In the words of T.S. Eliot, the action of one who prepares “a face to meet the faces that you meet”.
Not to imply anything, but my doubt about speaking or staying silent reminds me of the near silence of T.S. Eliot at the outset of his career as a poet and critic. Perhaps he too was stalled by the notion that any venturing out in the gesture of opinion was a move away from authenticity.
In the brilliant book, The Invisible Poet, T.S Eliot, author Hugh Kenner wrote that the study of the philosophy of F.H Bradley helped Eliot by freeing him:
“…from the posture of the ironist with his back to a wall, by affirming the artificiality of all personality including the one we intimately suppose to be our true one; not only the faces we prepare but the “we” that prepares; …A view of the past, a view of himself and other persons, a view of the nature of what we call statement and communication; these delivered Eliot from what might have been, after a brilliant beginning, a cul-de-sac and silence.”
On my walks I think about authenticity and its ghostly fragility. I am not surprised that the concept provided enough material for Lionel Trilling to write a fascinating book about Sincerity and Authenticity. In my reading, Trilling regards authenticity as a more mature cousin to Sincerity, which is dismissed as a social construct:
In short, we play the role of being ourselves, we sincerely act the part of the sincere person, with the result that a judgement may be passed upon our sincerity that it is not authentic. (Lionel Trilling, Sincerity and Authenticity)
Authenticity takes us in a different direction:
A very considerable originative power had once been claimed for sincerity, but nothing to match the marvellous generative force that our modern judgement assigns to authenticity, which implies the downward movement through all the cultural superstructures to some place where all movement ends, and begins.
(Lionel Trilling, Sincerity and Authenticity)
This is part of the same discussion in which Trilling quotes (again) Eliot:
‘The progress of an artist is a continual self-sacrifice, a continual extinction of personality’.
Should we speak or remain in the authenticity of silence? As always, Rilke has the last word on this. In his poem, “We must die because we have known them”, he ends with:
... But the grown man shudders and is silent. The man who has wandered pathless at night in the mountain-range of his feelings: is silent. As the old sailor is silent, and the terrors that he has endured play inside him as though in quivering cages. (Rainer Maria Rilke)
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