Arts Three Keys
posted by April 20 at 10:34 AMon
The key to Joseph Conrad:
Once, I remember, we came upon a man-of-war anchored off the coast. There wasn’t even a shed there, and she was shelling the bush. It appears the French had one of their wars going on thereabouts. Her ensign dropped limp like a rag; the muzzles of the long eight-inch guns stuck out all over the low hull; the greasy, slimy swell swung her up lazily and let her down, swaying her thin masts. In the empty immensity of earth, sky, and water, there she was, incomprehensible, firing into a continent. Pop, would go one of the eight-inch guns; a small flame would dart and vanish, a little white smoke would disappear, a tiny projectile would give a feeble screech—and nothing happened. Nothing could happen. There was a touch of insanity in the proceeding, a sense of lugubrious drollery in the sight; and it was not dissipated by somebody on board assuring me earnestly there was a camp of natives—he called them enemies!— hidden out of sight somewhere.This key passage from Heart of Darkness opens all that Conrad had to say about the world which his novella closed when it first appeared in 1899. Indeed, this passage might be the key that discloses the entire 19th century.
The key to Li Po:
From a pot of wine among flowersIs there anything else this Tang Dynasty poet ever said? There is even a story that he drowned after a drunken attempt to embrace the moon’s reflection in a river. (Li Po’s fame in the Occident comes by way of Ezra Pound, who translated a number of his poems into English from the odd distance of a Japanese translation of the original Chinese poems.)
I drank alone. There was no one with me—
Till, raising my cup, I asked the bright moon
To bring me my shadow and make us three.
The key to Hegel:
Consciousness knows and comprehends nothing but what falls within its experience; for what is found in experience is merely spiritual substance, and, moreover, object of its self. Mind, however, becomes object, for it consists in the process of becoming an other to itself, i.e. an object for its own self, and in transcending this otherness. And experience is called this very process by which the element that is immediate, unexperienced, i.e. abstract — whether it be in the form of sense or of a bare thought — externalises itself, and then comes back to itself from this state of estrangement, and by so doing is at length set forth in its concrete nature and real truth, and becomes too a possession of consciousness.
This key passage, which is in the key preface to Phenomenology, is one of the many keys to all that Hegel has to say about human development: first there is simple consciousness; second, consciousness is alienated, third, it returns to itself, and subject and object becomes one. Hegel says nothing else. And it drives me crazy that I’m well aware of the fact and yet still read his time-devouring books. Borges had a similar effect on me a decade ago.