30 April 2014

The Spell of the Spoken Word

Nothing is more unaccountable than the spell that often lurks in a spoken word. A thought may be present to the mind so distinctly that no utterance could make it more so; and two minds may be conscious of the same thought, in which one or both take the most profound interest; but as long as it remains unspoken, their familiar talk flows quietly over the hidden idea, as a rivulet may sparkle and dimple over something sunken in its bed.

But speak the word, and it is like bringing up a drowned body out of the deepest pool of the rivulet, which has been aware of the horrible secret all along, in spite of its smiling surface.

—Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Marble Faun

Painting: Caspar David Friedrich, ca. 1832

19 March 2014

I knew I had a fever

Phases of the Disease: a brick in a giddy place; a steel beam in a whirling engine; my own person

That I had a fever and was avoided, that I suffered greatly, that I often lost my reason, that the time seemed interminable, that I confounded impossible existences with my own identity; that I was a brick in the house-wall, and yet entreating to be released from the giddy place where the builders had set me; that I was a steel beam of a vast engine, clashing and whirling over a gulf, and yet that I implored in my own person to have the engine stopped, and my part in it hammered off; that I passed through these phases of disease, I know of my own remembrance, and did in some sort know at the time.

—Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

Painting: Amedeo Modigliani, Little Girl in Blue (1918)

10 February 2014

A Glimpse of the Master's Genius

An idea that might vanish in the twinkling of an eye is captured on an old scrap of paper

There were curious little treasures of art and bits of antiquity strewn about. Among them were gems, small figures of bronze, medieval carvings in ivory and even a sample of the soil of Rome.

As interesting as any of these relics was a large portfolio of old drawings, some of which, in the opinion of their possessor, bore evidence on their faces of the touch of master-hands. Very ragged and ill conditioned they mostly were, yellow with time, and tattered with rough usage; and, in their best estate, the designs had been scratched rudely with pen and ink, on coarse paper, or, if drawn with charcoal or a pencil, were now half rubbed out.

You would not anywhere see rougher and homelier things than these. But this hasty rudeness made the sketches only the more valuable; because the artist seemed to have bestirred himself at the pinch of the moment, snatching up whatever material was nearest, so as to seize the first glimpse of an idea that might vanish in the twinkling of an eye. Thus, by the spell of a creased, soiled, and discolored scrap of paper, you were enabled to steal close to an old master, and watch him in the very effervescence of his genius.

—Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Marble Faun

Drawing: Rembrandt, Self-portrait; pen, brush and ink on paper, c. 1628