Monday, September 19

the contrary man

Do you remember Mnemosyne, the Greek goddess, and her daughters, the Muses?

The Muses taught man "to celebrate things that shall be and things that were aforetime" -- they give aid to man's creative activity. Memory (Mnemosyne), their mother, wants to save what has been sung in praise of the gods, so that it may be handed down to posterity. In plainer words, and in guise of a warning: do not build and work only for the gratification of immediate needs, but build with the thought of a future life of the spirit on this earth. The thought of a life that continues after we as individuals are gone will purge our minds of selfish desires. If we don't want to be forgotten but want to live on, even anonymously, in the work we leave behind us, then let us work at the tokens of remembrance which Memory, the goddess, so badly needs. As a patron, or as an artist and a craftsman, you may be able to contribute to the spiritual life of mankind -- for which we have a good though nowadays deflated word: human culture.

You labeled me the Contrary Man, but you did not say contrary to what. Truly, I am contrary to mediocrity, though I know we could not live on this planet without it; I am contrary to sloth, and contrary to waste, which will go on in spite of me, and I am contrary to blasphemy against the Spirit. I have proved to myself that I can change the world, but only within the reach of my hands. The work I leave behind me may not be great, yet it will prove to be genuine -- genuine, though not "progressive." It may however show that I had to work alone most of the time. I am no reformer -- and I know that I shall never see the day when the arts will again be a mode of life and an approach to the godhead. Hoelderlin in his time has said:

True, the Gods go on living,
But they are over our heads, high in a different world.
Endless there is their work, and little it seems they consider
Whether we live, so much spare us the heavenly ones.
For a frail vessel not always commands the force to contain them,
Only at times can man bear the abundance of Gods.

-- Victor Hammer Victor Hammer: An Artist's Testament