CONSOLED YOU may welcome me with snow: whenever I strode through the summer shoulder to shoulder with the mulberry tree, its youngest leaf screamed.
DU DARFST mich getrost mit Schnee bewirten: sooft ich Schulter an Schulter mit dem Maulbeerbaum schritt durch den Sommer, schrie sein jüngstes Blatt.
This is like a proem to the entire sequence. It is a difficult text which begins with strange directness. The poem is controlled by a sharp contrast. Snow makes everything the same, freezes and stills. Yet here it is not only accepted, but welcomed. This is because the summer, which remains behind the speaker, was apparently impossible to endure in the profusion of its germinating, budding, and blooming. Clearly, no actual summer lies behind the speaker, just as the You addressed in the poem does not mean winter or make an offer of real snow Apparently it was a time of abundance, in contrast to which the sterile deprivation of the winter works like an act of charity. The speaker strode through the summer shoulder to shoulder with the tirelessly germinating mulberry tree. The mulberry tree here is undoubtedly the emblem of germinating energy, and the constantly lush production of new growth is a symbol of an insatiable thirst for life. Unlike other shrubbery, the mulberry tree produces fresh leaves not only in the spring, but throughout the entire summer. I don’t think it’s correct to recall the old metaphorical tradition of baroque poetry. Admittedly, Paul Celan was a poeta doctus, but more importantly, he had an extraordinary knowledge of nature. Heidegger told me that up in the Black Forest, Celan knew more about the plants and animals than he did.
Gadamer ends his presentation of hermeneutics and aesthetics by quoting from one of Rilke’s new poems. He does so almost with glee, for not only has he shown aesthetics to be comprehended within the hermeneutical project, he has also overcome the phenomenological ‘prejudice’ of intentionality, insofar as he has demonstrated that the linguistic nature of the work of art displays an excess of meaning. Intentionality is then inverted – the meaning that is intended is not my horizonal activity projected outside of myself in the mode of grasping or objectivating, but rather I am the one intended by the work of art. The language of the work says something which is greater than the author’s intentions and involves a timeless presence and contemporaneousness with itself (for instance the word classical not only designates a historical time period and a historical ideal this time period achieved but extends to any art that becomes a ‘classic’). Decisively, however, it says something to me. Hermeneutical interpretation is letting it be said to me, the letting myself be intended by the other.
It is in
this regard that the Rilke poem is quoted with such a startlingly optimistic
sense of closure: “You must change your life.”
Here is “Archaic
Torso of Apollo” in full, translated by Edward Snow:
“We never knew his head and all the light that ripened in his fabled eyes. But his torso still glows like a gas lamp dimmed in which his gaze, lit long ago,
holds fast and shines. Otherwise the surge of the breast could not blind you, nor a smile run through the slight twist of the loins toward that center where procreation thrived.
Otherwise this stone would stand deformed and curt under the shoulders’ transparent plunge and not glisten just like wild beasts’ fur
and not burst forth from all its contours like a star: for there is no place that does not see you. You must change your life.”
poem we can say two things about the past. That it still sees. That the place
from which it sees is only the feeling of being seen by a past that is lost but
lingers. This is the meaning of the double negative – there is no place that
does not see, the placeless place of the past is localized in the rupture it
creates in the present, the place where you feel seen.
Consider one of the most striking sequences in Theo Angelopoulos’ film, Ulysses’ Gaze. (This is such a poor translation of Το βλέμμα του Οδυσσέα because it Latinizes the Greek, but in so doing it reveals that the gaze of the past is a ‘blemish’ in the present – the past survives in how it wounds the present.) The film is about homeward journeys and a voyage to a homeward source that is no longer a home to which to return.
The various homeward cycles that are inscribed in the film – Odysseus returning home to Penelope then leaving for a death in a place where there is no word for ‘oar,’ that is where his journey cannot be recognized as a journey, Odysseus as Ulysses who in Dante’s underworld cannot return from the place beyond the world, modern Greece ravaged by neo-liberalism, austerity, the Balkan wars, and of course this filmmaker who seeks the source of Greek film – all present a past, an origin, and a home that is irrevocably lost.
striking scene. The filmmaker remains on a train, and, while his lover on the
platform (Penelope, whose actress slips through roles like the ghost of a
beloved) is incredulous that he moves where he is taken, he tells her a story.
The train picks up speed and in order to listen she begins to run.
I heard a creaking sound, a hollow sound, as if coming from the depths of the
earth. I looked up, and on the hill I saw an ancient olive tree slowly toppling
over, an olive tree on a hill slowly sinking to its death on the ground, a
huge, solitary tree, lying. A gash made by the fallen tree revealed an ancient
head, the bust of Apollo, dislodged and rolled away, I walked on further past a
row of lions, a column of the row of phalloi till I reached a small secret
place, the birthplace of Apollo according to tradition. I raised my polaroid
and pressed the button, and when the photograph slid out I was amazed to see it
hadn’t registered a thing. I shifted my position and tried again. Nothing.
Black negative pictures of the world. As if my glance wasn’t working. I went on
taking one photograph after another, clicking away…”
comments, “The filmmaker tries to take a picture of this event, but when he
develops it, he sees that nothing appears. You see, the head had emerged from
the spot where Apollo, the god of light, had first appeared. The light at such
a spot, the source of light, was too strong for the camera.”
be captured, but not the source of light. The first look sees what the first
film cannot capture. The first glance is already a lost glance.This is the archaic aspect of Apollo’s torso, the
anarchic perspective, an origin that is not related to an end but is seen only
as the undisclosed in the disclosed, the concealed in the unconcealed.
of Rilke’s new poems or thing poems of this era, after having studied with
Rodin and attended with attentive regularity the Cézanne gallery, salon d’automne, the first and last
lines wrap the poem up into a thing that exceeds itself.
Merleau-Ponty’s observation that Cézanne paints the origin of light, the hazy
coming into appearance that a tender gaze solicits of things, these new poems
see more than what it seen, for what is seen is shaped by the seeing as the
disclosure of the thing and the possibilities that it may become what it is
that envelop the things as its aura.
is not known but you whom the statue, though eyeless, “sees,” is known not only
more than you know yourself, but also you whom you must be is known, too. On
what authority is this understanding?
whom does it belong? For, that you must change your life does not specify any
sort of authenticity as in becoming yourself, but the life into which you must
change must also incorporate the past that sees you through your feeling of
being seen. What must be brought into being is the in-between of the origin and
the present, the lost past and the future. Their mediation and realization each
in the other.