Tuesday, September 16, 2008


Reading about a novel, The Melancholy of Resistance, a phrase of Walter Benjamin's comes to mind. He writes how one of the symbols of melancholy is stone, which he derives from a contemplation of Durer's Melencolia I. Stone is inert, and thus the embodiment of inertia and inaction, and for this reason it is also aligned with the negative critique of melancholy: 'Left Melancholy'. Left Melancholy became significant during what was known as the ‘German Autumn’ – 1977-1981, a time of terrorism, murders and hijackings – left-leaning intellectuals found themselves in a state of paralysis. Consumed by a sense of cultural pessimism, an existential crisis of sorts, a feeling of abandonment, they entered a state of melancholy detachment. Wolf Lepenies describes such a position as ‘retreatist’, where there is neither the will to conform, nor the oppositional force to rebel … instead there is a move to stand apart, in melancholy mode. In literary form, Left Melancholy underlies works in the vein of Günter Grass’s From the Diary of a Snail, which explicitly uses the emblem of Dürer’s Melencolia I to evoke the certain brooding quality of this detachment. Grass delivered a lecture in 1971 where he described melancholy as a “substitute for action.”

And then thinking on stone and melancholy, returns one to Rilke, and the poetic formulation of stone and star, that which is "now bounded, now immeasurable, / it is alternately stone in you and star." Which resonates in turn with another flock of words swirling in my head today, also harvested from Wood s lot, in turn from Notes for the Coming Community, a poem by Giorgio Agamben, a full circle ... in my day, and in the greater machinery of space and time ...

An Investigation of the Stone and the Shadow
a poem by Giorgio Agamben

The Lion dreams
and dreams the Rose.
The Rose dreams
and dreams the King.
The King dreams
and dreams the law.
The law dreams
and dreams grace.
Grace dreams
and dreams the circle.
The circle dreams
and dreams the line.
The line dreams
and dreams pain.
Pain dreams
and dreams the scale.
The scale dreams
and dreams the shadow.
The shadow dreams
and dreams Gold.
Gold dreams
and dreams the stone.
The stone dreams
and dreams the serpent.
The serpent dreams
and dreams poison.
Poison dreams
and dreams death.
Death dreams
and dreams destiny.
Destiny dreams
and dreams life.
Life dreams
and dreams the mask.
The mask dreams
and dreams god.
God dreams
and dreams the word.
The word dreams
and dreams the Rose.
The Rose dreams
and dreams man.

Man dreams
and dreams the stone.

[First published forty years ago in the journal Nuovi Argomenti (11), July-September 1968.]

Rene Magritte, Castle in the Pyrenees


billoo said...

jacky, hello!

What about the stone and the shell?

Stone likewise. A pebble is imprisoned
Like nothing in the Universe.
Created for black sleep. Or growing
Conscious of the sun's red spot occasionally,
Then dreaming it is the foetus of God.
---Ted Hughes

jacky bowring said...

Thanks Billoo, the ripples of the stone in the pond continue, mesmerising and circular ... around and around...
... j...