Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The first principle of artistic economy

This here is a particularly engrossing piece on James Joyce. It was penned by Harry Levin, a distinguished literary critic who was one of the foremost authorities on Joyce. His 1941 book James Joyce: A Critical Introduction is regarded as the first literary criticism of the Irish writer's oeuvre. While reading Levin's work, a number of phrases and passages leaped off the page—I nabbed them with forefinger and thumb and then gently pressed them inside the pages of a heavy book. I take them out at opportune moments, such as now:
Communication, however, brought further difficulties, which it was his special triumph to overcome. If "his destiny was to be elusive of social or religious orders," it was because he reserved his energies for order of another kind. "The first principle of artistic economy," he had found, was isolation; he had detached himself from his nationality and his religion; but he found his medium, language, pointing back to them.
Van Morrison achieved a similar discovery, only his pathways were fraught with dissimilar hurdles and hindrances. However, at this moment, I'd rather not highlight the manner in which Morrison's emotional and physical isolation made Astral Weeks tremble and throb, but instead, why the album demands near-identical shades of isolation from listeners. Because when I hit play or drop the needle, I typically do so while sealed off from others. A particular sort of solitary confinement is necessary to truly appreciate Astral Weeks' labyrinthine journey into the heart of what sustains us, what moves us, what remains with us, and, perhaps most important of all, what leaves us feeling incomplete and defeated. In short, it's this: the artist being alone to make music to be alone to.

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