Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Ruskin--Part IX

Today I will review some highlights from the first part of the very long chapter about the Ducal Palace. "On the 27th of March (1424), the first hammer was lifted up against the old palace of Ziani...That hammer stroke was the first act of the period properly called the 'Renaissance.' It was the knell of the architecture of Venice,--and of Venice herself." To give some background, there has been a Ducal palace on the site since around 813. In 1301, the city having attained its peak of power, genius and energy, this original palace was expanded and remodeled to the extent that nothing of it but a few stones remains today. This is the Gothic palace. In 1424, the ambition, wealth, vanity and technical artistic ability of the city still being strong, but, in Ruskin's opinion, the virtue, wisdom and humanistic spirit having begun to deteriorate from its former exalted state, periodic renovations were undertaken until the structure attained its present state as a mesh of the Gothic and Renaissance styles. As Ruskin considered the Gothic period to be far superior artistically, this building was one of the most suitable in Venice on which he could demonstrate his position.

I thought of New York, and other American cities, and of how much has been destroyed since 1950 or so, and have been replaced by generally inferior architecture and use of space. In New York of course despite all the destruction a lot of the prewar city has still been preserved, sometimes a single building or upper story window out of a block, that has some relation with the poetic, with deep feeling and thought--by deep I mean a quality of intensity more than fineness--with human activity and the formulations of meaningful human language. But the thought was too vague, a specific image, building, feeling was called for, and while I must have had one, I was not able to identify it to my satisfaction.

Greek fortitude. Greek temperance. Plutarch.
"I have said above, that all great European art is rooted in the thirteenth century; and it seems to me that there is a kind of central year about which we may consider the energy of the middle ages to be gathered; a kind of focus of time, which, by what is to my mind a most touching and impressive Divine appointment, has been marked for us by the greatest writer of the middle ages, in the first words he utters; namely, the year 1300, the 'mezzo del cammin' of the life of Dante."

For the time being: Shorter posts. Posts revolving around a very specific and definable subject. No attempts at divining meaning that is not perceived or felt. Personal relation in some way to the subject (I believe that that suits the character of this blog, if it is going to have an attractive one). I appear to be completely burned out on writing. This is a frightening prospect to me, for I cannot think of what else to do. Yes, paying attention to my children and so on is nice, but mentally the results will be the same. Thinking and writing are not terribly distinct functions with me, so that not to be able to do one equals not being able to do the other, and I don't see how one can be happy if one has lost any semblance of mastery over his own thoughts.

Two books I have taken some enjoyment in lately are a book of essays by the Greek poet and 1963 Nobel Prize winner George Seferis and Paul Theroux's Great Railway Bazaar, which is a book about riding trains across Asia and back in 1973. I had never heard of Seferis before. The book was tossed into the charity bin at my grocery store where if you put a dollar in the March of Dimes can or whatever you can take a book (I am a great grocery shopper, a habit I picked up when I lived in Europe, and, as is the custom there, I go to the supermarket pretty much every day, and get provisions for that day only). The Seferis book is oddly comforting, though I suspect I find it so for the wrong reasons. He is an old style European literary man, highly civilized, but his early 20th century Mediterranean world, while not without a very high share of war, misery, poverty, narrow-mindedness, etc, is one that moves at a very slow pace, is steeped in history and centuries old traditions and ways of life, is lived in close communion with the earth and the sea and the seasons even in cities, is heavily populated by real artists and real writers and real scholars, by real I mean their efforts and studies actually achieve visible results. There was a painter named Theophilos he wrote a piece on that I might do a post on here sometime.

The Theroux book appeals to me because it is more or less about trains, literature, drinking, geography, foreign countries, food kiosks, girls one takes an interest in because she is stuck with one in a railroad carriage for many hours or even days. All the things I like. Politics and economics exist of course, but they keep their proper places in the heart, secondary to the really important stuff. Of course his manner is not what my manner would be. He always makes friends with the right people, knows how to maneuver officials to get the bunkmates or the wine he wants, and so on.
If I don't post this now it will be tomorrow before I get back to the computer again, and I don't want to wait until tomorrow.

No comments: