The Brotherhood and The Darkness of God

 

Das Stunden-Buch (The Book of Hours) was written between 1899 and 1903 in three parts, and first published in Leipzig by Insel Verlag in April 1905. With its dreamy, melodic expression and neo-Romantic mood, it stands, along with ‘The Lay of the Love and Death of Christoph Cornet’, as the most important of Rainer Maria Rilke‘s early works.

The work, dedicated to Lou Andreas-Salome, is his first through-composed cycle, which established his reputation as a religious poet, culminating in the poet’s Duino Elegies.

In arresting language, using a turn-of-the-century Art Nouveau aesthetic, Rilke displayed a wide range of his poetic apparatus. The suggestive musicality of his verses developed into the hallmark of his later lyric poetry, to mixed criticism.

It consists of three sections with common themes relating to St. Francis and the Christian search for God.

The sections are:
*The Book of Monastic Life (Das Buch vom mönchischen Leben)
*The Book of Pilgrimage (Das Buch von der Pilgerschaft)
*The Book of Poverty and Death (Das Buch von der Armut und vom Tode)

 

The Crucifixion, p.87, Rossdhu Book of Hours, between 1460 and 1470

 

The collective title comes from the book of hours, a type of illuminated breviary popular in France in the later Middle Ages. These prayer and worship books were often decorated with illumination and so combined religious edification with art. They contained prayers for different times of the day and were designed to structure the day through regular devotion to God.

 

Lou Salomé, Paul Rée und Friedrich Nietzsche

 

The work is influenced by Friedrich Nietzsche and contemporaneous philosophical ideas, and shows Rilke’s search for a meaningful basis for living, which he identifies as a pantheistic God.

Rilke’s journeys to Russia in the summer of 1899 and 1900 form the biographical background to the work. He undertook these with Lou Andreas-Salome, and began work on the cycle after their conclusion. The vastness of Russia, the fervent devotion of its peasantry to their Orthodox religion, and its culture little touched by Western civilization – all formed a backdrop which, deepened by personal encounters with Leonid Pasternak and the renowned Leo Tolstoy, developed over time into a spiritual home. As he wrote retrospectively twenty years later, the country had revealed to him “the brotherhood and the darkness of God”.

 


Rilke’s imagery of walls and devotional pictures finds its inspiration in the typical Russian Orthodox Iconostasis

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Beasts Bounding Through Time

 
 

“Van Gogh writing his brother for paints
Hemingway testing his shotgun
Céline going broke as a doctor of medicine
the impossibility of being human
Villon expelled from Paris for being a thief
Faulkner drunk in the gutters of his town
the impossibility of being human
Burroughs killing his wife with a gun
Mailer stabbing his
the impossibility of being human
Maupassant going mad in a rowboat
Dostoevsky lined up against a wall to be shot
Crane off the back of a boat into the propeller
the impossibility
Sylvia with her head in the oven like a baked potato
Harry Crosby leaping into that Black Sun
Lorca murdered in the road by the Spanish troops
the impossibility
Artaud sitting on a madhouse bench
Chatterton drinking rat poison
Shakespeare a plagiarist
Beethoven with a horn stuck into his head against deafness
the impossibility the impossibility
Nietzsche gone totally mad
the impossibility of being human
all too human
this breathing
in and out
out and in
these punks
these cowards
these champions
these mad dogs of glory
moving this little bit of light toward
us
impossibly”

Charles Bukowski

You Get So Alone at Times That it Just Makes Sense

1986

Where the Story Really Starts

The Man Who Sold the World is the third studio album by David Bowie, originally released on Mercury Records in November 1970 in the US, and in April 1971 in the UK. The album was Bowie’s first with the nucleus of what would become the Spiders from Mars, the backing band made famous by The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars in 1972. Though author David Buckley has described Bowie’s previous record David Bowie (Space Oddity) as “the first Bowie album proper”, NME critics Roy Carr and Charles Shaar Murray have said of The Man Who Sold the World, “this is where the story really starts”. Departing from the folk music of Bowie’s debut album, The Man Who Sold the World is a hard rock and heavy metal album. It has been claimed that this album’s release marks the birth of glam rock.

The album was written and rehearsed at David Bowie’s home in Haddon Hall, Beckenham, an Edwardian mansion converted to a block of flats that was described by one visitor as having an ambience “like Dracula‘s living room”. As Bowie was preoccupied with his new wife Angie at the time, the music was largely arranged by guitarist Mick Ronson and bassist/producer Tony Visconti. Although Bowie is officially credited as the composer of all music on the album, biographers such as Peter Doggett have marshaled evidence to the contrary, quoting Visconti saying “the songs were written by all four of us. We’d jam in a basement, and Bowie would just say whether he liked them or not.”

Much of the album had a distinct heavy metal edge that distinguishes it from Bowie’s other releases, and has been compared to contemporary acts such as Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. The record also provided some unusual musical detours, such as the title track’s use of Latin rhythms to hold the melody. The sonic heaviness of the album was matched by the subject matter, which included insanity (All the Madmen), gun-toting assassins and Vietnam War commentary (Running Gun Blues), an omniscient computer (Saviour Machine), and Lovecraftian Elder Gods (The Supermen). The song She Shook Me Cold was an explanation of a heterosexual encounter. The album has also been seen as reflecting the influence of such figures as Aleister Crowley, Franz Kafka and Friedrich Nietzsche.

 
 

The original 1970 US release of The Man Who Sold the World employed a cartoon-like cover drawing by Bowie’s friend Michael J. Weller, featuring a cowboy in front of the Cane Hill mental asylum

 
 

 
 

The first UK cover, on which Bowie is seen reclining in a Mr Fish “man’s dress”, was an early indication of his interest in exploiting his androgynous appearance. The dress was designed by British fashion designer Michael Fish, and Bowie also used it in February 1971 on his first promotional tour to the United States, where he wore it during interviews despite the fact that the Americans had no knowledge of the as yet unreleased UK cover. It has been said that his “bleached blond locks, falling below shoulder level”, were inspired by a Pre-Raphaelite painting by Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

Perfectly Satisfactory

Hunky Dory gave me a fabulous groundswell. I guess it provided me, for the first time in my life, with an actual audience – I mean, people actually coming up to me and saying, ‘Good album, good songs.’ That hadn’t happened to me before. It was like, ‘Ah, I’m getting it, I’m finding my feet. I’m starting to communicate what I want to do. Now: what is it I want to do?’ There was always a double whammy there.”

David Bowie

 
 

Hunky Dory is the fourth album by English singer-songwriter David Bowie, released by RCA Records in 1971. It was his first release through RCA, which would be his label for the next decade. Hunky Dory has been described by Allmusic’s Stephen Thomas Erlewine as having “a kaleidoscopic array of pop styles, tied together only by Bowie’s sense of vision: a sweeping, cinematic mélange of high and low art, ambiguous sexuality, kitsch, and class.” The slang hunky dory (of uncertain origin), would mean perfectly satisfactory, about as well as one could wish or expect; fine

 
 

The style of the album cover was influenced by a Marlene Dietrich photo book that Bowie brought with him to the photo session, which was taken by Brian Ward. Terry Pastor achieved the silk-screen printing appearance in the manner of Andy Warhol, using an airbrush. However,  the album’s sleeve would bear the credit “Produced by Ken Scott (assisted by the actor)”. The “actor” was Bowie himself, whose “pet conceit”, in the words of NME critics Roy Carr and Charles Shaar Murray, was “to think of himself as an actor”. George Underwood was also involved in the creative process of the album cover design.

 
 

The opening track, Changes, focused on the compulsive nature of artistic reinvention (“Strange fascination, fascinating me/Changes are taking the pace I’m going through”) and distancing oneself from the rock mainstream (“Look out, you rock ‘n’ rollers”). However, the composer also took time to pay tribute to his influences with the tracks Song for Bob Dylan, Andy Warhol and the Velvet Underground inspired Queen Bitch.

Following the hard rock of Bowie’s previous album The Man Who Sold the World, Hunky Dory saw the partial return of the fey pop singer of Space Oddity, with light fare such as Kooks (dedicated to his young son, known to the world as Zowie Bowie but legally named Duncan Zowie Haywood Jones) and the cover “Fill Your Heart” sitting alongside heavier material like the occult-tinged Quicksand and the semi-autobiographical The Bewlay Brothers. Between the two extremes was Oh! You Pretty Things, whose pop tune hid lyrics, inspired by Friedrich Nietzsche, predicting the imminent replacement of modern man by “the Homo Superior”, and which has been cited as a direct precursor to Starman from Bowie’s next album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.

The Eternal Recurrence of All Things

Photographs by Chema Madoz

 
 

“Whoever thou mayest be, beloved stranger, whom I meet here for the first time, avail thyself of this happy hour and of the stillness around us, and above us, and let me tell thee something of the thought which has suddenly risen before me like a star which would fain shed down its rays upon thee and every one, as befits the nature of light. – Fellow man! Your whole life, like a sandglass, will always be reversed and will ever run out again, – a long minute of time will elapse until all those conditions out of which you were evolved return in the wheel of the cosmic process. And then you will find every pain and every pleasure, every friend and every enemy, every hope and every error, every blade of grass and every ray of sunshine once more, and the whole fabric of things which make up your life. This ring in which you are but a grain will glitter afresh forever. And in every one of these cycles of human life there will be one hour where, for the first time one man, and then many, will perceive the mighty thought of the eternal recurrence of all things:- and for mankind this is always the hour of Noon”.

Friedrich Nietzsche

Die fröhliche Wissenschaft (The Gay Science)*

 
 

*The book’s title uses a phrase that was well-known at the time. It was derived from a Provençal expression (gai saber) for the technical skill required for poetry-writing that had already been used by Ralph Waldo Emerson and E. S. Dallas and, in inverted form, by Thomas Carlyle in “the dismal science”. The book’s title was first translated into English as The Joyous Wisdom, but The Gay Science has become the common translation since Walter Kaufmann‘s version in the 1960s. Kaufmann cites The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (1955) that lists “The gay science (Provençal gai saber): the art of poetry”.

They Burned Their Bridges Behind Tarkovsky

 Although Tarkovsky did not openly oppose the Soviet system, his work heavily emphasized spiritual themes, that were at conflict with the official anti-religious atheist ideology, prompting the KGB to open a file on him

 
 

Offret (The Sacrifice) was the final film by Andrei Tarkovsky, who died shortly after completing it. The Sacrifice originated as a screenplay entitled The Witch, which preserved the element of a middle-aged protagonist spending the night with a reputed witch. However, in this story, his cancer was miraculously cured, and he ran away with the woman. Tarkovsky wanted personal favorite and frequent collaborator Anatoly Solonitsyn to star in this picture, as was also his intention for Nostalghia, but when Solonitsyn died from cancer in 1982, the director rewrote the screenplay into what would become The Sacrifice and also produced Nostalghia with Oleg Yankovsky as the lead. The Sacrifice lead Erland Josephson played major character Domenico in the 1983 production.

 
 

 
 

Most of the film takes place inside or around a house specially built for the production. The climactic scene at the end of the film is a long tracking shot in which Alexander burns his house and his possessions. It was done in a single, six minute, fifty second take, often incorrectly identified as Tarkovsky’s longest take. The shot was very difficult to achieve. Initially, there was only one camera used, despite Sven Nykvist‘s protest. While shooting the burning house, the camera jammed, ruining the footage. (This disaster is documented in documentary entitled Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky and the documentary One Day in the Life of Andrei Arsenevich.)

The scene had to be re shot, requiring a quick and very costly reconstruction of the house in two weeks. This time, two cameras were set up on tracks, running parallel to each other. The footage in the final version of the film is the second take, which lasts for several minutes and ends abruptly because the camera had run through an entire reel in capturing the single shot. The cast and crew broke down in tears after the take was completed.

The film reflects Tarkovsky’s respect for the Swedish film director Ingmar Bergman. It was set in Sweden on the island of Gotland, close to Fårö, where many of Bergman’s films had been shot. Tarkovsky wanted to film it on Fårö, but was denied access by the military.

Erland Josephson was a recurring figure in Bergman productions, especially from Hour of the Wolf onwards; counting that 1968 production, he acted in nine of his films before The Sacrifice. The film’s production designer, Anna Asp, had previously won an Academy Award along with Susanne Lingheim for the sumptuous décor of Fanny and Alexander, and also worked on Autumn Sonata and Bergman’s 1984 television film After The Rehearsal. The Sacrifice was filmed by Bergman’s favourite cinematographer, Sven Nykvist. Additionally, one of Bergman’s sons, Daniel Bergman, worked as a camera assistant

The camera work is slow, containing the hallmarks of Tarkovsky and cinematographer Sven Nykvist. The film’s soundtrack includes three distinct pieces: the passionate aria Erbarme dich, mein Gott from Johann Sebastian Bach‘s St. Matthew Passion, soothing Japanese flute music played by Watazumi Doso Roshi, and eerie traditional chants from the Swedish forests.

 
 


In 1965, Tarkovsky directed the film Андрей Рублёв (Andrei Roublev or The Passion According to Andreiabout the life of Andrei Rublev, the fifteenth-century Russian icon painter.

 
 

During the summer of 1979, Tarkovsky traveled to Italy, where he shot the documentary Voyage in Time together with his long-time friend Tonino Guerra. Tarkovsky returned to Italy in 1980 for an extended trip during which he and Guerra completed the script for the film Nostalghia. During 1981 he traveled to the United Kingdom and Sweden. During his trip to Sweden he had considered defecting from the Soviet Union, but ultimately decided to return because of his wife and his son. Tarkovsky returned to Italy in 1982 to start shooting Nostalghia. He did not return to his home country.

 
 

Opening credits of The Sacrifice.

 
 

Leonardo da Vinci‘s painting Adoration of the Magi, seen in the opening credits and referenced in the film, depicts the ceding of a pagan world to a Christian one. Tarkovsky’s theological scheme is not as clear-cut: Alexander is an atheist who turns to God, but salvation depends on persuading a witch to sleep with him, or so he’s told by the Friedrich Nietzsche-quoting postman who arrives bearing telegrams and perhaps a divine message or two.

The concluding annihilation is powerful not least for its ambiguity: an act of faith, madness and transfiguration.

 
 

Cover art of  Зеркало (The Mirror ). In this 1975 art film, Tarkovsky paid homage to Leonardo Da Vinci and Bach’s St Matthew Passion for first time. It is a highly autobiographical and unconventionally structured film drawing on his childhood and incorporating some of his father’s poems. Tarkovsky had worked on the screenplay for The Mirror since 1967, under the consecutive titles Confession, White day and A white, white day.

 
 

Given the sheer beauty and unwieldy philosophical ambition of Tarkovsky’s films, it’s not too far-fetched to suggest that his true heir is Terrence Malick — a filmmaker whose approach to space and time is fragmented where Tarkovsky’s is unified but who shares with the Russian a mystical connection to nature and the elements and a compulsion to pose unanswerable questions with utmost seriousness and sincerity. (“The Sacrifice” opens and closes with the image of what you might call a tree of life.).

 
 

One prominent element in Nostalghia (1983) is fire – Heraclitus’ source of all things – which serves as a symbol of hope and destruction/despair at the same time, as one witnesses the ending for the two male leads in the film.
 
 

Some Russians burned their bridges behind Tarkovsky, but they wouldn’t destroy the strength of his legacy. It crossed after us.