The feeling of control that accompanies the act of locking oneself up to write, the pride in having unsuspected resources, reinforces the notion that creating has set one in a world apart. It is strengthening, both despite and because of its ability to isolate. When Mondrian or Flaubert discusses the relationship of their straight line or perfect phrase to a sense of ontological security, they are splitting the world between the rigid (with its connotations of self-discipline, rigor, and control) and the arabesque, the overly lyrical I -- all things that might well lead them out of their invulnerable worlds. To these artists, but also to those individuals whose bouts with obsession will traverse this book, there is a real terror involved in the unrestricted, the potentially mutable.
Do not show your passion, but sublimate it into style. We are reminded of Hobbes's proclamation: madness is a matter of "too much appearing passion." It is not the actual emotion itself that is unsettling to Flaubert, but the temptation to be dragged down by it and the sickly need to exhibit it to others. The heart must never speak and the artist must assume a god-like self-sufficiency; it is the only way he will be protected from the danger of others. The same detachment that Flaubert requires of his narrators, he mercilessly exacts from himself. He is willing to renounce all human contact for the price of peace of mind.
The simultaneous cowering from and craving for the void, for a time of stagnation, is a constant in the monomaniacal imagination. Many of the characters in this book are attracted and repelled by free time, drawn to and squelched by obsessive activity. Movement, while it fends off the demons of introspection and provides temporary relief from anxiety, does not satisfy the soul's craving for a higher order; it is a mere temporary solution. Idleness, however, richer in existential possibilities, can breed an intolerable sense of dread.
Friday, May 21, 2010
A time of stagnation
From Marina Van Zuylen, Monomania: The Flight from Everyday Life in Literature and Art: