Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Best of Wiman


First I read Christian Wiman's "Love Bade Me Welcome," (reprinted from American Scholar in Best American Spiritual Essays), wherein Wiman (poet as well as editor of the preeminent journal Poetry) discovers, on the heels of finding true love and a subsequent journey to faith, that he has incurable cancer in his blood. It was perhaps this crisis that informed the next essay I read which appears in the 20th Anniversary Issue of Image Journal. It's one of those pieces of writing which causes you to pause and take stock of what you are doing, to evaluate your motives and expectations, particularly if you are an artist. I suggest you buy the journal and read the entire essay which alone is worth the price of admission (although the entire journal is packed with great stuff including perennial personal faves: Scott Cairns, Robert Cording and Franz Wright.) These are excerpts that made their way into my journal:


"All ambition has the reek of disease about it, the relentless smell of the self....
So long as your ambition is to stamp your existence upon existence, your nature on nature, then your ambition is corrupt and you are pursuing a ghost.

Still, there is something that any artist is in pursuit of, and is answerable to, some nexus of one's being, one's material, and Being itself. The work that emerges from this crisis of consciousness may be judged a failure or a success by the world, and that judgement will still sting or flatter your vanity. But it cannot speak to this crisis in which, for which, and of which the work was made. For any artist alert to his own soul, this crisis is the only call that matters. I know no other name for it besides God, but people have other names, or no names.
....
An artist who loses this internal arbiter is an artist who can no longer hear the call that first came to him. Better to be silent then. Better to go into the world and do good work, rather than to lick and cosset a canker of resentment or bask your vanity in hollow acclaim.
....
We come closer to the truth of the artist's relation to divinity if we think not of being made subject to God but of being subjected to God -- our individual subjectivity being lost and rediscovered within the reality of God. Human imagination is not simply our means of reaching out to God but God's means of manifesting himself to us. It follows that any notion of God that is static is not simply sterile but, since it asserts singular knowledge of God and seeks to limit his being to that knowledge, blasphemous."

3 comments:

Karen Miedrich-Luo said...

I had to sleep on this one - go back, and read it again.
Every sentence is a mouthful of ideas and thought, and I am struggling a little to tie them together in the package you intended.

From ambition (passion?) to the crisis (frustration between needing the passion to create vs. the ambition to create?) to the artist's call, to losing the call, to naming God "this crisis is the only call that matters. I know no other name for it besides God,"
I feel as though you have pages more to flesh out before I'll grasp what you are positing.
(Maybe reading the essay will help, and so I shall.)

But this part I understood and appreciate the insight: "We come closer to the truth of the artist's relation to divinity if we think not of being made subject to God but of being subjected to God"

Subjected to God - an experience, not a position.
Karen

harold said...

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

and

RASPBERRYs!

allison said...

Karen,

I think I needed to excerpt bigger chunks...no fault of Wiman's. I urge you to get your hands on the whole essay. In essence, for me, it's a priority check.