2014. május 19., hétfő

On Pilinszky's Poetic Attention

Churchill-house (Chartwell, United Kingdom, f: bbeckett)
The world of the Psalmist is an intriguing one. Suspended between his life, which is in need of healing, and the desired state of recovery, the Psalmist becomes a migrant of prayer. His language can never be 'normal' again, ruled by the norms of this world's observation. The language of the Psalm is one that is always requesting a liberation from the calamities of the present, or it is always in the state of praise and thanksgiving. Here, or there, unredeemed or fully redeemed - but never in a blind state again. (I have been reading the Psalms these days, this time from the Book of Common Prayer, in the old language. Just to explain my opening metaphor, 'the Psalmist'.)
However, the spirituality of the Psalmist is much more about than being a pious wanderer journeying between his world and that of God. The spirituality of the psalms is the school of attention. The spiritual space, as if an aura, surrounds the Psalmist. Indeed, the 'person in prayer' who wrote the Psalms is a master of intense attention. There is no other explanation that the words of these ancient prayers have become so valid. And what is the scope of this masterly attention? It is cosmic. It embraces everything what can be observed in the encounter between the human and the divine worlds. What our world can learn from the Psalmist (and from  his God who sustains their conversation) is the quality-attention paid to all what surrounds us within and without. For it is this passionate embrace and gentile touches through which the world will feel it again that it belongs to someone.
And this 'belonging' is the key in understanding that the 'secular world', from the religious point of view, should never be used in terms of a negative value judgement. With the Psalmist, if we genuinely enter his spirituality, the 'secular' is never a 'godless' state. Not only for the reason being that first we, the 'religious', have abandoned God and it is we who have created this vacuum. Sadly, 'religion' tends to put the blame on the 'secular' environment. Instead of a 'secular world', with the Psalmist, it is better to speak of a world abandoned by our attention first.
Janos Pilinszky's short essays are master classes of this type of intention. These days of the Easter season, side by side with the Psalms, I am reading his short prosaic writings. I am dwelling particularly on the short essays written in the 1950s in Communist Hungary. He published them in the Catholic weekly, Új Ember. This journal offered Pilinszky an intellectual and spiritual refuge when he was silenced in the years following the 1956 Revolution. One can see Pilinszky as a late victim of the 'Zdhanov doctrine', which silenced the 'decadent' music of Bartok just a few years earlier. This mutilated aesthetics (hijacked by totalitarian politics) condemned all forms of 'bourgeois' art which were not praising the 'harmonious' achievements of the Communist regime − in a language easily accessible to the people. This type of 'outdated' art was pigeonholed as 'formalist' and condemned ideologically as dangerous. It was accused of abandoning the glorious Revolution.
In fact, the apocalyptic attention which Pilinszky's poetry exhibits was all but a servile idealisation of the Communist present. First, for Pilinszky the body of history exists in a continuity which is governed by inertia since the Fall. Its wounds are neither old, nor new since losing Paradise. For Pilinszky, there is only one proper way of approaching to this wounded history, through a universal and unconditional compassion. The categorical imperative of this poetry is to observe the smallest fragments in this apocalyptic landscape, remembering the painful memories of the victims. In this poetic anamnesis, the world exists either in an apocalyptic captivity − or comes alive, potentially, in love. In Pilinszky, the most this world can achieve is not a spectacular renewal but a precious inner purification. This revolution is an arrival to the threshold of hope for Resurrection. For this poetry, and this is its substance, the language of responding to the unconditional embrace by God needs to be re-learnt. Poetry and life reflected upon is our long purgatory.
Reading Pilinszky goes not simply against the taste of our age. The intensity of this poetic attention is a judgement on culture's superficiality which refuses entering our truer selves. Though his essays and poems will never ever be consumable for consumerist cultures, our postmodern present, if it makes the effort, can have access into Pilinszky's purifying world. When he examines and revaluates the facts of our abandoned history (abandoned by human care, abandoned by us!) he detects an all penetrating goodness beyond the limits of our perception. As if a cosmic radiation of an un-faced Beauty would slip through the matter of our existence. Tiny dots and sparkles of this unseen splendour break free from the beyond. The world is under judgement, it is true, in this poetry. This judgement, if the human eye surrenders to it, is experienced as mercy. This invisible light, however week it may be − it is only on the surface that Pilinszky's poetry reads pessimist −, is gathering among us and waiting for its 'weight' to have been full regained. This is the same tone of warmness that Bartok's Concerto radiates (from 1943, also written in exile, in the United States).
The poem Van Gogh's Prayer shows this light, patiently gathering at, and washing humbly, our thresholds. For me, this poem is a perfect illustration of what this type of poetic attentiveness is capable of observing. The unsurpassable attention of this apocalyptic Psalmist penetrates, literally, into the unreachable. This untameable poetry invites the invisible Angel of History to come among us stepping over the (invisible) thresholds of our exit-less postmodern present.   

Van Gogh's Prayer

A battle lost in the cornfields
and in the sky a victory.
Birds, the sun and birds again.
By night, what will be left of me?

By night, only a row of lamps,
a wall of yellow clay that shines,
and down the garden, through the trees,
like candles in a row, the panes;

there I dwelt once and dwell no longer −
I can't live where I once lived, through
the roof there used to cover me.
Lord, you covered me long ago.

Translated from Hungarian by Clive Wilmer and George Gömöri (In: Janos Pilinszky: Passio, Worple Press 2011)

Van Gogh imája

Csatavesztés a földeken.
Honfoglalás a levegőben.
Madarak, nap és megint madarak.
Estére mi marad belőlem?

Estére csak a lámpasor,
a sárga vályogfal ragyog,
s a kert alól, a fákon át,
mint gyertyasor, az ablakok;

hol én is laktam, s nem lakom,
a ház, hol éltem, és nem élek,
a tető, amely betakart.
Istenem, betakartál régen.

19.05.2014 London

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