Friday, 7 March 2008

Read Wagner, Get Fresh

In Wagner's essay "The Art-Work of the Future" (1849), there are some refreshing comments on Poetry. Like a hot peanut oil spritzer up the ya-ya. The historical moments ~ his and ours ~ can't be related without a fancy argument, but the urgency re his critique of Luxury and his insistence therein that poetry must be sung is perhaps still timely, at least on the surface. Three excerpts follow; ie the few bits I copied into a notebook. Alight!

p74 ~ "Could conscious autocratic Thought completely govern Life, could it usurp the vital impulse and divert it to some other purpose than the great Necessity of absolute life-needs: then were Life itself dethroned, and swallowed up in Science. And truly Science, in her overweening arrogance, has dreamed of such a triumph; as witness our tight-reined State and modern Art, the sexless, barren children of this dream."

p134 ~ "Wheresoever the Folk made poetry,–– and only by the Folk, or in the footsteps of the Folk, can poetry be really made,–– there did the Poetic purpose rise to life alone upon the shoulders of the arts of Dance and Tone, as the head of the full-fledged human being. The lyrics of Orpheus would never have been able to turn the savage beasts to silent, placid adoration, if the singer had but given them forsooth some dumb and printed verse to read : their ears must be enthralled by the sonorous notes that came straight from the heart, their carrion-spying eyes be tamed by the proud and graceful movements of the body,–– in such a way that they should recognise instinctively in this whole man no longer a mere object for their maw, no mere objective for their feeding–, but for their hearing- and seeing-powers,–– before they could be attuned to duly listen to his moral sentences."

p144 ~ "But these Folk-ballads are not so much as thinkable without their twin-bred melodies; and what was not only said but also sung, was part and parcel of Life's immediate utterance. Who speaks and sings at the same time expresses his feelings by gestures and by motion––at least whoever does this from sheer instinct, like the Folk,––though not the tutored foundling of our song-professors. —–Where such an art still flourishes, it finds of itself a constant train of fresh turns of expression, fresh forms of composition ("Dichtung")...the art of Poetry must ever stay unfruitful when she turns her back on Life; all her shaping then can never be aught else but that of fashion, that of wilful combination, not invention."

~ Richard Wagner, "The Art-Work of the Future" (1849), Prose Works Vol 1 (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., Ltd; 1895/1972)

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