return of the immortals

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A poetic masters project on Robert Browning's "To the Dark Tower Came".

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  • RETURN OF THE IMMORTALS

    rhetorical tropes to the dark tower came

    m. evans

  • Here, being visible is being white,Is being of the solid of white, the accomplishmentOf an extremist in an exercise

    The season changes. A cold wind chills the beach.The long lines of it grow longer, emptier,A darkness gathers though it does not fall

    And the whiteness grows less vivid on the wall.

    Robert Stevenson

  • I am in accord with Paul de Man when he states that irony is the permanent parabasis of meaning.1 Poems cannot get started without irony and neither can architecture that holds central to its concern the poetics of space, however, this cannot be said to be the height of architectures ability to present itself poetically. Rather, though this work, I will show that architecture has the ability to conceive beyond irony a cascade of tropes including synecdoche, metonymy, hyperbole, metaphor, metalepsis and conceit. Where poetry holds fast to rhetoric, architecture can turn to its historical identification with all the arts and in this way make resource of insights from the psychological to the political. Albeit the focus of this project being directed through rhetorical devices present in poetry, I do not altogether deny the entry of these identifica-tions where appropriate in the interest of aiding discursivity in relationship with those disciplines.

    Return of the Immortals is best read in the mirror of Robert Brownings poem Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came (1852-55).2 Wherein Brownings quester wishes to separate origins from aims, true in both poetry and human romance, is the irony that aims always wander back towards origins.3 Where the aim in the masters was to elucidate architecturally the conceits of light I am led, almost self-mockingly, back to internalised origins. These origins have been echoed in my studies of original myths which include, but not limited to, Platos Cave allegory, the Promethean trilogy, and the Origin of Painting and Sculpture left to us by Pliny the Elder, as exemplary myths that, for Leon van Schaik, may be considered knowledge of the informal kind, internalised traditions of society. For myself, the magnetism of origins denote precursors or influences I blindly and passionately follow.

    The poems opening is marked by the trope of irony where an interplay of presence and absence is imagistically performed and psychologically bound with the questers reaction-formation against his own destructive impulses. This opening veils a literary relationship between the writer, Robert Browning, and his projected protagonist, Childe Roland. The name Roland is a semiotic shifter. The name may invoke a number of historical personages but its main use is as a shifter, or index, through which the author invites the reader to read the poem in the 1st person.4 Nietzsche asserts that what we find words for is that for which we no longer have use in our own hearts. There is always a kind of contempt in the act of speaking.5 Childe Roland is Robert Brownings disassociated voice that, through deception, can retain the unspoken in his heart. Childe Roland speaks to us, the reader, as the reader speaking himself (or herself), saying one thing and meaning another in an effort to void the presence of that which Robert Browning attempts to save.

    I. My first thought was, he lied in every word, That hoary cripple, with malicious eye Askance to watch the working of his lie On mine, and mouth scarce able to afford Suppression of the glee, that pursed and scored Its edge, at one more victim gained thereby.

    Nowhere, in the rest of the poem, comes a second or subsequent thought. The first thought is the beginning of irony from which we can deduce that what follows is the retelling of one thing whilst meaning another, namely that the cripple is inevitably telling the truth.

    Upon entering the gallery space in which Return of the Immortals is exhibited, one is immediately struck by the darkness. The lighting, directed toward the four paintings that hang upon each of the four walls of the cubic space, originates from underneath the central object which remains unlit. The lighting seems antithetical to contemporary exhibition lighting and marks a rather obvious ironic entry to the work. However this irony works as a structuring device that positions the viewer toward the walls rather than toward the object occupying the centre of the space. One is asked to consider the central concern of the work with their backs toward it. To highlight the initial irony, I am saying one thing (view my work) and meaning another (you are not viewing my work); ones first thought might be that the design is somehow lying.

  • The opening irony yields to synecdoche in the poem, psychologically rendered as a turning-against-the-self. There emerges a will-to-fail, an end to hope, an imaging of a ghost with the volume of a whisper.

    IV. For, what with my whole world-wide wandering, What with my search drawn out through years, my hope Dwindled into a ghost not fit to cope With that obstreperous joy success would bring,- I hardly tried now to rebuke the spring My heart made, finding failure in its scope.

    The will-to-fail is the final threshold over which the quester must traverse in order to advance beyond the sanctity of his precursors. In effect a kind of petit mort is necessary for the quester to face the Dark Tower which he seeks on his own terms, beyond guidance. It is a limit of decision. As Herman Hesse powerfully presents in Steppenwolf, in life one always has an emergency exit, suicide. When all is lost, when all hope is gone, that the door to suicide remains open means one can remain alive dead, in a state of non-decision.

    I am curious to see all the same just how much a man can endure. If the limit of what is bearable is reached, I have only to open the door to escape. There are a great many suicides to whom this thought imparts an uncommon strength.6

    Synecdoche, from the Greek, means taking up together where the part stands for the whole, and thus something else is understood within the thing given as a part.7 Any quest is a synecdoche for the whole of desire; a quest for failure is a synecdoche for suicide.8 The poems move into the synecdoche for suicide is an antithetical reversal that triumphs in its power to provide the strength to endure the end of hope. For Childe (a well born youth who is still a candidate for knighthood9) this is a crucial move toward manhood. It is the point where the waning of trust in his guide moves into dark despair of being, the being who requires guidance. It is the turning phase of distrust into complete uncertainty, an uncertainty which leaves him with no place to turn, so in a state of indecision he turns toward that which he regards with suspicion. This doubt, similar in regard to Descartes first meditation, is a limiting of the follower and, in a reversal, the dawning of a leader.

    VII Thus, I had so long suffered in this quest, Heard failure prophesied so oft, been writ So many times among The Band to wit, The knights who to the Dark Towers search addressed Their steps that just to fail as they, seemed best, And all the doubt was now should I be fit?

    The synecdoche within Return of the Immortals lies within, or rather upon, the paintings on the walls. They are large light on white paintings that utilise an array of white paints with differing refractive indices to produce a shimmering effect when passing. The illusion of movement arrests the viewer to take a closer inspection. Due to the lighting of the space, the viewer is invited to stand directly before the painting with the central object directly behind them. The paintings are actually sectional depictions of their respective facades to which they correspond with the central object. They are the parts that communicate the whole.

  • The paintings, as sections of the object, provide a transparency, a seeing-through, a letting-through. Understanding means being able to stand before something, to have an overview of it, to see its blueprint.10 To see this blueprint there must be a kind of transparency that secures visibility. Unlike the way in which a brick wall is untransparent in that it cannot fail in making something visible for it possess in no sense a way of securing visibility, i.e. it has no transparency; darkness is untransparent in quite a different way. The shadow of the viewer is cast before them upon the painting, a silhouette of themselves. Where the light secures the visibility of the painting by letting-through sight, the darkness of the shadow lets through the invisible. Darkness is only a limit case of brightness and thus still has the character of a kind of brightness: a brightness that no longer lets anything through, that takes away visibility from things, that fails to make visible.11 The shadow silhouette of the viewer, immediately recognisable to the viewer, takes away the ability to view the paintings finesse. It no longer lets the visibility of the painting through, the painting in which the sections are understood through their different refractive qualities.

    The shadow, belonging to a long heritage that marries it with concepts of the soul, doubt and the other12, will not step aside to let the visibility of understanding through. Though the parts communicate the whole, there is a shadow of doubt that stains the view, one can not see the whole, only the incomplete parts of the part. But this thing that interrupts the view of the viewer, the thing that will not allow the visible, is the other of ourselves, the other of the viewer. One is invariably face to face with their own cast shadow, cast before them upon the canvas, the shadow of doubt that invades and limits understanding of the whole is none other than the other of our