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ELIZABETH GILBERT’S MAGIC: RIGHT BUT MOSTLY WRONG

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FEELING AND BEING CREATIVE AT ALL COSTS

Elizabeth Gilbert’s latest easy read bestseller is a strange offering and not quite what it seems. It starts out in true American positive thought style as an encouragement to creative self-expression or actualization, specifically it’s an invitation in the style of fame-avoiding poet Jack Gilbert (no relation)  to find our inner treasures and cultivate “curiosity over fear”. Fear doesn’t like the uncertain boundaries and outcomes of inspiration, so to oppose it is key.

With this the reader is launched upon a sort of everyone’s how-to guide to living creatively and achieving fulfilment citing especially the example of the self-isolating Jack and  a middle aged woman who returns to her youthful love of just skating. But soon the book is morphing into more by way of a guide to inspiration and creativity as exemplified by work and inspiration as it affects writers and artists and Gilbert herself. This is something one feels the book shouldn’t quite do insofar as the ever democratic author would deny that the artist and art is anybody or anything special unless for the sort of committed work involved. So little is what’s special or any big C creativity involved that Gilbert, who says she “cannot even be bothered to think about the difference between high art and low art” (p.120), advises that if you feel like painting a penis on a wall, go ahead and do it (p 88).

Art’s essential normality will even become Gilbert’s pretext to berate writers less successful than herself as complainers or masochists with attitudes that poison the very wells of inspiration they seek to draw upon. Gilbert herself believes true inspiration has a lot to do with just pleasure or fun. While this will always be partly true (the artist needs both to take and convey some pleasure in their work to communicate well) such wild generalizations ignore even the science of recent years. This indicates that beyond any simple self-gratification, artists are differently wired from scientists and have more grey matter (literally not metaphorically) than the average person. It might be wise to allow that artists could have their own purpose and role in nature and life.

In harmony with its title, Gilbert’s pep talk book is also almost a theory of magic and so it is soon maintaining we are visited by ideas with independent consciousness like so many spirits. At one point Gilbert even admits, “I have invisible spirit benefactors who believe in me” (p. 96).  You need to entertain these sources of inspiration or one day they will just wander away from you and, as though offended, won’t return. Practically, the book revives and popularizes something like ancient theories of the daemon and Platonic ideas and archetypes.

In the course of Big Magic there is plenty of sensible advice for creative people like an insistence the artist usually doesn’t need much that passes for higher education today and pursuing which can leave a student with half a lifetime’s debt. The artist needs to live and learn from life except that modern life too often prevents this. Since there are a variety of helpful tips for artists plus Gilbert’s work ethic and history of stubborn persistence are exemplary in their way, I wouldn’t dissuade anyone from reading the book. But they do need to do so critically and with caution. Amid interesting anecdotes and advice there’s much that is  misleading, even seriously so as regards what art is or needs to be and I’ll address especially that…..

GILBERT’S “BIG MAGIC” SURPRISE THAT’S NEITHER SURPRISE NOR SECRET

…. However,  let’s get what the author regards as her crucial magical notion of inspiration out of the way first. What Gilbert has learned is that, as in science which talks of a “multiple discovery” phenomenon, it is possible to find oneself pursuing the same project and even writing virtually the same novel as another writer and at the same time. Gilbert and Ann Pratchett did so on events in the Amazon region. This it seems is part of something larger and terribly occult that we ought to embrace though we can never hope to understand it.

As it happens, what Gilbert describes will not be any surprise to anyone aware of the principle of cycles in astrology. These oversee entire cultural trends and will produce the same styles and motifs that another generation may consider of no interest at all. Thought (and art) is indeed archetypally determined to a great extent. Revivals of interest in certain periods and trends are the marks of a return of a cycle from perhaps hundreds of years ago. This  phenomenon is and isn’t “magical” (you can read about it in detail in culture historian Richard Tarnas’ ground breaking study Cosmos and Psyche, 2006)) and the sub cycles of planetary transits then relate the larger cycles to the development of individuals giving artists their creative and fallow periods; so if Gilbert embraced some principles of astrology she would have clearer understanding in relation to the art and self-expression  that concern her. And then she wouldn’t think of what occurs across time as like “jokes” and tricks of a trickster universe but instead a more ordered programme or fate.

But even subject to the effects of cycles, people pursuing creativity are not necessarily influenced by active spirits or angels as Gilbert so radically has it. In extreme cases this may happen, or at least be thought to happen – we find it in William Blake who claimed to see angels on a regular basis and film director Ingmar Bergman who supposedly had  contact with spirits and demons. At the extreme end of the influence scale it can even be that a generation is inspired or misled by prophets possessed by whatever forces for good or evil. To that extent it is just possible that having opened herself up to everything from yogas to gurus and a fortune telling Bali medicine man, Gilbert herself has finished susceptible to the influence of actual spirits keen to impose on the collective at this time. At least some readers would regard Eat, Pray, Love less as a true guide to self-fulfiment than a siren call to promiscuous spiritual dabbling and unhelpful forms of romanticism. Since I don’t want to get into gossip it’s perhaps as well I forget what feature article I read a  year or more ago (and as I recall from an Australian Buddhist woman rather than an irate American Christian) who considered herself seriously hurt by and disillusioned with Gilbert as person and spiritual guide. Regardless, I think readers should just ignore Gilbert’s theory of inspiration.

ART IS MORE THAN FICTION WRITING

Beyond the whispering spirits one can’t help feeling that Elizabeth Gilbert’s notion of creative activity is considerably shaped by her undoubted talent for fiction and personal memoir. These are nonetheless in some respects the easiest forms of art – sometimes it’s like sitting down and tossing off a vivid, newsy letter or keeping a diary. It’s not identical to the struggles including with special techniques the dramatist or poet may have to wrestle with. Recently I was reading the biography of poet Ted Hughes, husband of poet Sylvia Plath. It soon becomes evident that for both of them capturing and retaining poetic inspiration (an aspect of the ecstatic function) requires rather specific conditions (often in isolation) that are marred or denied by everyday life. It is the rarest of rare poets like Shakespeare who could write poetry almost anywhere and quickly (without blotting a line according to Ben Jonson); but then Gilbert isn’t into special cases, still less genius.

Gilbert  is however an almost addictive writer or note taker in a way many writers aren’t necessarily. It seems that like De Beauvoir her day is dust and ashes when she has not written anything. Fair enough that’s just how she is, but it also the case such writing is effectively therapeutic, for self-expression and pleasure  rather than work or larger purpose, the reason she has no truck with complaining artists. She assumes artists do what they do because they have chosen that path – but if they are differently wired is that quite the case? – so the activity should give them pleasure just as it is without expectation of acceptance, reward or whatever.  If this sounds almost ascetical (and Gilbert even portrays herself as dedicating herself to writing during adolescence like a nun), in fact Gilbert’s outlook can also be almost breathtakingly selfish or self-regarding. “Whenever anybody tells me they want to write a book in order to help other people , I always think please don’t….I would so much rather you wrote a book in order to entertain yourself than to help me” (pp 98,99). For Gilbert there is no such thing as a vocation to write or do art; you don’t write for society, for individuals or a cause; and according to her ultra-American credo, providing you are willing and able financially to support yourself and will be bothering nobody unduly, you are at complete liberty to do whatever you please (including it seems those penis graffiti).

Again this is misleading. A great slice of significant art has been produced in service of some great idea and one can’t begin to imagine the likes of Dante, Milton, Victor Hugo, Dickens unless propelled by a sense of dedicated purpose to inspire, instruct or reform –Milton described the poet’s work as his life blood and did concede that the fame, which Gilbert doesn’t think should count, was some spur to the labour.

It is because there can be this element of vocation or at least sense of inborn necessity among artists, that something like their complaints which Gilbert so radically dismisses, is legitimate. She regards the emphasis on suffering and/or complaints arising from it, to be a legacy of especially Christian and German Romantic values that have allowed artists to carry on as though sentenced to harsh conditions under a cruel dictator (p.117). We can agree with her that there is a kind of artist who imagines if they are not in (or just acting the part of being in) pain, poverty or some dire bohemian situation half starved or their minds half addled by drink or drugs, they are not the real thing – we might call this the Kurt Cobain syndrome – but that’s not the whole situation by far.

MUCH ARTISTIC COMPLAINT IS JUSTIFIED.

It is quite possible, and especially so if you belong to the more vocational type of artist for whom ideas count more than immersion in life’s endless details,  that you may suffer the pain of non-connection and non-communication, feel truly blocked and half destroyed by publishers, critics, society and conditions in general. Shelley protested, “I have suffered the tyranny of neglect” and in the light of history and his biography that seems a fair enough, valid claim. The celebrated Ode to the West Wind was both a protest against and an imaginative effort to oppose what prevents the necessary role of bardic vision going out into the world.

Many artists anyway have plenty of reason for complaint because their conditions and permitted expectations are today often demonstrably worse than the average worker in ways that should not be tolerated in a civilized society. In the very age of grievance culture and stress upon victimhood, Gilbert wants none of it from the artists who might have more than usual reason to voice it. A century ago. Bernard Shaw helped found the Society of Authors to do at least something to improve the artist’s lot. The history of rejected and cheated authors is a long one (even the super-successful JK Rowling was rejected for Harry Potter twelve times). To this day the author will usually receive only a fraction of a book’s takings (somewhere between two and a half and twelve and a half per cent while the often necessary agent of which there are not enough to go round, may take up to 25 per cent). A huge slice of English literature would not exist if it had had to wait upon social acceptance and financial remuneration in the modern way. The likes of Milton, Thomas Gray, Shelley and Wordsworth in poetry had private means. Jane Austen’s prose wasn’t held up on financial problems. The Latin poets from Catullus to Martial were either comfortably off or had helpful wealthy patrons – the perfectionist, slow working Virgil had both advantages.

With or without means, by contrast the modern writer will often have to suffer unacceptably cavalier, dismissive behaviour from those who stand to affect their career and status.  Promises are easily broken, lies are often told, needless delays can be endless, payments not delivered, editors never available to discuss anything,  rules of contract not observed. Any old thing goes. (It’s true nowadays indie publishing is some help and a real alternative but a lot is involved and if only for publicity it is definitely still preferable to be published in the standard way). Much publishing and promotion can be a shark’s pool in which many are destroyed and devoured, feelings, health, the artist’s organization and planning of their life are simply not considered. Therapy itself might be required to cope. I have seen the problem for others, I have known it for myself – the life-destroying, soul-destroying, almost degrading experience of dealing with publishing and agency, is partially recorded in my Reflections of an Only Child. goo.gl/37dUUK

What the conditions of the artist argues for is less the mostly absent virtues of some American, egalitarian, competitive, over worked free-for-all that Gilbert seems to favour, but almost its opposite, a degree of almost elite privilege which would allow more scope to the observation of and experiment with life which art is about. The role of artist beyond the (self) entertainment level has some affinity with that of priesthood. Traditionally and certainly biblically, the priest, supported by the tithes which placed him above mundane concerns, was an individual expected not to compete but rather transcend, to live above ordinary conditions the better to study, observe and pronounce upon life. It was the same Bernard Shaw who helped found the Society of Authors who criticized the American Declaration of Independence declaring its doctrine of equality untrue and misleading. People are born with different and unequal levels of talent and ability  and one should organize society with that in mind.

PRACTICAL ADVICE: AVOID THE ARTS

Knowing what I know, I would never today lend encouragement to anyone keen to pursue a life in writing or the arts – or not unless I had perhaps first read their horoscopes to indicate their chance of fulfilment and success. And what would that entail? Gilbert denies there are any guarantees for success in the arts, but on especially a temporary basis there very definitely are  – with or without major talent and obvious relevance because sometimes, on a temporary basis, even the worst persons and ideas can get away with a few things given helpful celestial indications.

For success in many areas including authorship, one needs to have a strong Jupiter (it bespeaks fortune in general but not least in the realm of publishing and ideas) and something strong to Pluto to empower and relate to the masses. (Who’s Who has been found to be full of Jupiter/Pluto people). Thus in the chart of Alain de Botton who has made hay in the unlikely field of popularized, applied philosophy, we find fortunate Jupiter fortunately trine Mars and the moon fortunately trine Pluto for outreach to the masses. To make it big in fiction, it helps that George RR Martin of Game of Thrones has writer’s Mercury opportunity sextile publishing Jupiter and surprising, original Uranus on a world point (O Cancer). JK Rowling has publishing Jupiter in communicating Gemini, with Mercury spectacularly conjunct fixed star Regulus in Leo (potential mega fame) and Moon conjunct Uranus and Pluto for massive popular outreach. Elizabeth Gilbert herself could hardly go wrong with publishing Jupiter conjunct surprising Uranus on another of the 6 world points at 0 Libra (itself the marriages and relationships sign which is why she has done herself best on that subject).

I will not discuss here my own horoscope and chequered experiences – as said, anyone can refer to my memoir for at least some of the stories,but I will say against some of Gilbert’s claims that fate plays a considerable role in the life of the artist who is perhaps more on the wheel of fortune than most so that the idea one chooses to be an artist or chances to get successful  is controversial. In my own case unusual circumstances  of overseas residence where I was forbidden to take employment, kept me at writing when I would not  otherwise have got so involved. While that is perhaps exceptional and  this isn’t the place for my story, it is the right place to sound warning signals against anything to do with a career in the arts in today’s circumstances. My advice is simply don’t touch it, don’t go near it, but if for whatever reason you must, then feel free to protest your lot and complain loudly. It’s not to be “boring” as Gilbert maintains. If sufficiently organized (but authors and artists fear the black balling which does go on and the effect on media connections too) it might produce some needed reform.

I seriously mean it that the “creative” life usually isn’t worth it in any form today. It can finish like imprisonment or a stay in the mad house, frustrating, exasperating, unprofitable, time wasting and degrading. After years of effort I finally seriously admitted as much  to myself when despite high recommendations  I was meanly refused for Penguin New Poets by one of Australia’s leading poets because I had unpublishably  included “such hopelessly archaic words as ‘conduct’ and ‘bestow’ “. That was the last straw and for more than twenty years I had not the slightest desire to write any more poetry. If that was wasted talent and in my case there is real reason to think so, so be it. Health and sanity are more important.

Paradoxically and ironically, my distinctly negative feelings do in their way, I suppose, lend support to Elizabeth  Gilbert’s notion of creative work today as best thought of as personal entertainment and in effect the therapy she doesn’t call it. However, against Big Magic theories I will always believe creativity involves a higher, more “sacred” function than the play-around materialism of modern life allows it to be. Almost certainly real art and its acceptance now awaits the inspirations of the coming era. For now the arts could be considered in their death rattle.

 

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Posted by on January 11, 2017 in creativity

 

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WHY PETRARCH’S “TO ITALY” REMAINS SIGNIFICANT

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WHY PETRARCH’S “TO ITALY” REMAINS SIGNIFICANT

Since I am neither Italian nor a scholar of Latin beyond what I learned at school, I sometimes ask myself why I should feel moved by and dealing with something close to the heart of poetic inspiration in the case of Petrarch’s Ad Italiam, (To Italy, but sometimes called Petrarch’s Hymn to Italy). More recently too I find a new and relevant symbolic significance attaches to the work..

The mood of the poem is plainly enthusiastic and ecstatic but the total impression is of feeling somehow more engraved, fixed and  “absolute”  in a way I should wish to class with the very different because elegiac  Catullus C1, the celebrated “hail and farewell” poem for the poet’s brother deceased in a far land. It is always possible that Catullus at least indirectly influenced Petrarch, a proto-Renaissance classical scholar who had unique possession of the newly rediscovered work of the Roman poet, but undoubtedly Latin bible Psalms played their part  – there is an affinity for the spirit of those Psalms which celebrate Jerusalem and Israel as sacred site and Promised Land.

Ad Italiam  which begins  Salve, cara Deo tellus sanctissima, salve is of course more impressive in the Latin in which so much of Petrarch’s poetry was composed (though his famous Canzoniere with its Sonnets to Laura) were in his and Dante’s native Tuscan. One translation I take from the net runs as follows:

Hail, land most holy dear to God, hail!
A land of safety to the good, a land to be feared by the proud,
Land much nobler than other famous shores,
More fertile than the rest, more beautiful than any other country,
Bound by twin seas, shining with famous mountains,
Revered for arms and holy laws,
Home of the Pierian Muses, rich in gold and men.
Art and nature together courted your exceptional favors
And gave a teacher to the world.
Now after a long time I return to you eagerly,
A permanent resident. You will give a welcome resting place
To my tired life, and in the end you will supply enough
Earth to cover my pale bones. How happy I am to see you,
Italy, from the high mountain of leafy Montgenèvre.
The clouds stay behind my back. A clear breeze
Strikes my face, and the air rises to meet me with gentle
Motions. I recognize my homeland and rejoicing I greet it.
Hail, beautiful mother, glory of the earth, hail.

THE POET’S SELF AND HIS ITALIA

What might be so specially poetic and/or moving about this? Granted the lyric might strike us a little more forcibly if we read it with some poetic biography in mind – I first came across the poem in youth in a book about the Renaissance to which Petrarch was in many respects a founding father. He was so through his revival of the classics and his novel conviction that ancient and modern could be somehow blended because a real continuity should be seen to exist. I read how the poet was leaving France for the second and last time, the land where, due to his father’s business, he had spent a good part of his own youth and early adulthood enjoying success (and serenading Laura) but feeling increasingly dissatisfied and alienated in the corrupt atmosphere of Avignon and its papal court.

So this is a poem of homecoming, of liberation and hopefully of finding oneself at last. At that level almost anyone could appreciate the poem’s feelings even without the precise biographical background against which I first encountered these lines.

In this instance however the easily appreciated emotion is raised to another plane by the fact that something of the prophetic and archetypical functions of poet and poetry are super-added to what is being declared. Quite simply, no such place as Italia/Italy even existed at the time Petrarch was writing, nor would it for centuries.

Italia is a name drawn from Roman politics and geography. Typically, and like Dante so patriotically attached to his Florence, Italians scarcely felt they belonged to any larger national entity and certainly no single language unified them. Petrarch thus simply names and claims Italy, spreading across the geographical region something by way of  old-new Platonic generalization in preference to the Dantesque Aristotelian and medieval detail. It’s a work of poetic making and claiming of which there are few examples – the more archaic, briefer song of the druid Amergin setting foot upon Ireland would be one.

This address to an imagined, effectively archetypal Italia is made from the mountain heights of Montgenèvre and rather like Moses viewing the Promised Land from Mount Nebo before he dies. (Possibly remembering that example, the poet refers to where his own final resting place will be….although at the time he was only forty nine and would spend the last twenty one years of his life in Italy). Petrarch was modern or at least pre-romantic in re-discovering the beauty and power of mountains. From curiosity and for pleasure – and madly it seemed to people of his time – he had actually climbed Mt Ventoux in Provence. Here he is traversing the lower Alps above the Val Susa and the Turin region to arrive in his “Italy”.

With this generalization about the land below him there is a sudden expansion of feeling, a deeper breathing. The wind that strikes the poet’s face while the clouds are behind him is almost more inspiration itself, a liberation of spirit, than any natural phenomenon even if a breeze was blowing on the heights. Behind him lies France and in effect the sort of things that France at the time (and to this day somewhat) represents in terms of scholasticism, a kind of analytical pigeonholing and rationalization of everything that at worst risks preventing the individual from reaching transcendent states of mind and being. For these the poet himself has obvious affinity and he has been able to justify them from especially elements of classical culture. He is thus released to the lyrical, more musical, even operatic impulses that belong with “Italy”.

THE ITALY OF WESTERN ORIGINS

It is his Platonic generalization which allows the poet statements about Italy which perceive everywhere the sanctity and beauty of the land and culture. Practically, from its medieval banditry to its modern mafia, from its corrupt medieval popes to modern politicians, not to talk of things like ugly modern traffic chaos, Italy carries many blemishes like many another country. But in the more prophetic and archetypal view it is still inspired, spiritual and beautiful, “more beautiful than any other country….” And the fact remains that, quite objectively, Italy is particularly and hauntingly beautiful among nations whether in terms of nature or culture. Even a French painter, Claude Lorraine, would render it a symbol of Arcadia and Promised Land, the Golden Age, the Millennium. Germans would make a cult of the place (Goethe’s Kennst du das Land wo die Zitronen bluhn? bespeaks an attachment to Italy as somewhere that offers a beauty that however tangible and immediate also somehow exists as a special longing beyond the immediate). Well before any modern tourist invasions Italy would become homeland and heartland to many, especially artists. Poets and artists of the Romanatic era descended upon it with Keats and Shelly managing to die there, Shelley having declared in Julian and Maddalo,

How beautiful is sunset, when the glow
Of heaven descends upon a land like thee
Thou paradise of exiles, Italy.

Beauty of all kinds can corrupt as much as improve, but Italy goes about as far as it is possible to go in redemption of many things through beauty. At any rate many will excuse it much on that account. People may however also identify with and overlook much where Italy is concerned because of a fundamental recognition that in many respects, it is also “us”. It is Europe, the root of many things – the West itself.

It’s Rome that marks a beginning for Europe in a way that Greece never quite does. We are indebted to Greece for many things that make the West the West, but there is also a discontinuity with its legacy. Italy via both its medieval and Renaissance worlds supplies the world a continuous development, a variation upon a theme that we recognize. Rome never quite died whereas Athens did. I feel therefore that when Petrarch prophetically celebrates Italy he celebrates Europe itself by default even while, like Moses rejecting Egypt, he implicitly rejects France for a more lyrical, all-embracing, quasi-operatic worldview. But then the Italian opera that Greece, despite its drama didn’t invent and which didn’t exist in Petrarch’s time, can itself be considered one of the symbols of the West. It, and its lyrical impulse is the sort of thing that allows Petrarch to steal from Greece its claim to be home of the Pierian muses. As said, the poet’s “Italy” is, beyond the actual place, a heart zone and archetypal and he knows what keys to hit….

ARCHETYPE AND HOROSCOPE

One can tell this from the all-revealing horoscope for modern Italy (10th June 1946, 6 pm Rome) which with remarkable accuracy registers the force field of cultural identity across time as when we find asteroid Dante together with his prime inspiration Virgil, a doyen of the mythos of Rome and all Italians. They are conjunct on 25 degrees of Gemini, the sign of languages and writing, the sign of Europe, of democracy and of Christianity (born under Gemini with the speaking of tongues) and the sign of modern Italy which has, so far, perhaps most realized Gemini as the division of twins, the mental and other divisions of North and South regions. And since on the physical plane Gemini rules the hands, Italy under Gemini suits the nation that half speaks through hand and gesture.

Petrarch (Petrarca)  is found in the nation’s creative fifth house in initiating Aries. He stands in fortunate trine to a Mars in Leo, Petrarch’s own sign – he was born 28th July Greg 1304 – in the nation’s ninth house of ideas, philosophy and religion. (I can’t report that Petrarca aspects Laura in Italy’s chart but curiously his natal Mars in Cancer does fall exactly on Laura in the national chart).

While Italy’s 1946 pattern naturally represents the modern nation, it echoes its past too as national charts will, even spectacularly so (like Solomon conjunct the Part of Wisdom in the chart of modern Israel). There is little question that Petrarch by helping to birth the Renaissance in a way that Dante and Virgil didn’t, is a major creative influence upon Italy for all time. (Dante and Virgil, famed for visionary journeys to Hades and the Inferno are suitably found together on the same degree in the nation’s eighth house, traditionally the hell house and the house of secrets.

Altogether, Petrarch’s legacy in aspect to Italy’s beliefs house Mars relates to and stimulates what is deemed most typically, perennially Italian in what (despite the Gemini sun) will be the modern nation. This is the tendency to a certain dramatic, leonine extravagance in everything from architecture to entertainment. The popular reputation is for this even when not it is not universally the case; but since Leo is the sign not just of the national Mars but of the Midheaven, a point which describes the destiny and reputation along with leadership profile, the nation will always produce some singularly flamboyant leaders from Mussolini to Berlusconi whether they were Leos or not (Mussolini was!).

When he defines his at once real and dreamed “Italy”, Petrarch defines it not just by the mountains that we know he would automatically favour, but describes it as “bound by twin seas” almost as though it were an island. As if to confirm this emphasis in the real and ideal (or dreamed) image, we find asteroid Italia in the fourth house of land and origins in Pisces, sign of seas but also of dreams and myths. Italy may be sea-girt, but as one cannot emphasize enough, beyond any place it is also a state of mind, a mythos.

Roma is likewise in the same land and origins house and sign though not conjunct Italia – something, but happily by no means everything, is indebted to the Rome of Virgil. Vaticana isn’t in the house and shouldn’t be since modern Italy is separate from Vatican city. (Vaticana like Dante falls in the eighth sector of secrets (which is how many Italians see it, but placed in Cancer at 19 degrees in exact semi-sextile aspect to the 19 degree Gemini sun. This is a relation which betrays how Italians can have both real attachment to yet divided thoughts about the Vatican they won’t fully trust).

AN ABSOLUTE POETRY

Through a brief astrological excursus I’ve aimed to show how a gifted poet will be in touch with the kind of archetypal and symbolic forces that seem to distinguish the more memorable expressions of poetry. Recently Australia’s multi-tasking intellectual Clive James, who is recommending a poetry that avoids some of the excesses of an increasingly tired and non communicating modernism in the arts, has emphasized the old belief that one does not choose poetry (the art that so many try their hand at) but rather is chosen by poetry. To the extent I would agree, I should want to add that sometimes it is as though history itself chooses the poet.

A supreme example in my opinion is the Catullus that Petrarch rediscovered. History has not just been kind to the Roman poet whose work was thought lost for centuries. His times and setting provide him a quite special voice, even an authority that manages to cancel out all failures and lapses of taste in minor pieces. This is a poet who can refer casually to Caesar and Cicero as acquaintances and magisterially to the range of the rapidly growing (late Republican) territories. He carries Italia from its back streets to its urban grandeur and natural wonders on his shoulders, but lightly so as to make any contrasting elegy and sense of loss all the more hauntingly memorable.

At times it can be hard to be quite sure where powers of art or notable social privilege make for the effects, (nearest in literature perhaps to the world-owning internationalism of Shakespeare’s Anthony and Cleopatra), but there is a sense of capturing something essential and foundational for all time that lends Catullan poetic utterance a stamp of authority that even very good poetry doesn’t necessarily have. Here the poet sings and sees because the times, history itself, make for it, and the effects be so vivid it becomes poignant – one may finish half surprised the poet is even long dead.

Himself inhabiting a turning point of history he helped to make, Petrarch in his prophetic idealizing sets the bar high for Italy, but arguably the poem become a vantage point for any thinking about who and what the nation was, is and can be and, as I have suggested, even in some respects the West that Italy originates and symbolizes.

Looking back at the past and contemplating the near future in which ISIS has promised to attack Italy and Rome and now that already the country is being overwhelmed amid its lifesaving generosity towards impossible numbers of fleeing refugees, a new and different poignancy surrounds any absolutes of vision. Astrologers could well wonder concerning the eclipse that hits Italy’s destiny and leadership Midheaven in 2017, They could also question the presence of the only two Islam-associated asteroids Ahmed, (a name for Mohammed), and Abdulla (the name of Mohammed’s father), in Italy’s ninth house of beliefs and the overseas. The conjunction of Abdulla to the national Saturn in the beliefs house, the proximity of Ahmed to that house’s Pluto (death and transformation) and the proximity of Ahmed to Sicilia, a once Muslim region and one of the regions through which Italy is most likely to suffer invasion, together likely say something. Especially as we then even find Isis in the ninth house in the same kind of aspect to Italy’s destiny Midheaven as Vaticana is to Italy’s identity and leadership giving sun. Will the flag of Islam at one point fly over the Vatican as promised by ISIS?

Petrarch of course envisages an eternal and very Christian Italy. Christian is undoubtedly prominent in the chart on an angle (the descendant) for Italy, but it’s in an odd position which could suggest that a truly Christian identity may be left to struggle against internal and external enemies, everything from mafias internally to IS fighters externally[1].

I do think that seven centuries on from Petrarch and two thousand years and the whole age of Pisces from Virgil, the fate and identity of Italy is once again in dispute and endangered, perhaps more than it quite realizes. But if poetry is sometimes prophecy, I don’t feel I have entirely presumed to conclude Part 4 of my Coming to Syracuse, (which offers a deliberate update and partial critique of Virgil’s overtly prophetic Eclogue 4), with the assurance after many trials of ultimately surviving:  ( Part One https://goo.gl/97NgiO Part  Four  https://goo.gl/KQZ6kp – there are six parts recorded by actress in Canada).

…And then the fortunate of the coming age
Beneath the shade of beech and elm
Again in midday idleness they’ll sing
And speak of love that’s everywhere and everything
And under clusters of the vine, breathe in
Deep peace and view all Being as benign.

[1] The seventh house is paradoxically the closest partner and ally and/or open enemy of the person or nation (hidden enemies are more involved with the twelfth sector). Christian is directly opposite Italy’s Scorpio ascendant above which in the hidden twelfth is the nation’s moon while below the ascendant in the first house is Palermo in Scorpio. Palermo being the traditional home of mafia with Scorpio its supposed sign and Palermo squaring (i.e.afflicting) the rulership Midheaven, we know immediately there is something hidden about Italy, something not easily seen or known amid the extraversion and which could affect even the government. This will likely be a variety of secret societies and forces. Whatever or whoever precisely they are, Christians are or should usually be their natural enemy, hence, I think, the position of Christian in this chart suggestive of strivings without and within..

 

 
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Posted by on May 12, 2015 in Poetry

 

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