Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Italian journal, 12: Dancing Satyr

Sciacca, Wednesday, May 19—

IMAGINE AN EQUILATERAL triangle. Put yourself at one corner; Nature at another; Society at the third. Well, I've been married so long, I put Lindsey and myself at one corner, and our kids and grandchildren not very far away. Friends, of course, group nearby as well.

Now skew the triangle to your taste. I put Nature closer to me than Society, but the extent of skew changes continuously, subject to forces I don't really understand.

Now let's complicate things a little and add another dimension: Time. And to make things really complicated we won't simply lift the triangle into a pyramid, the triangular base representing say the Past, the vertex pulled upward to the Present: we'll stretch two pyramids out in opposing directions from the orginal triangle; one will be the distant Future, the other the distant Past.

I'm sorry I can't draw you a figure here, but I'm on the road, you'll just have to use your imagination.

Okay. The reason some things resonate more for me than others do, among the many things we've found on this trip so far, has to do with where they fall on this schematic drawing. I try for Objectivity, I really do. For years I worked as a critic, and I thought it a given that my work had to be objective: that is, while my thinking and writing would inevitably reflect my own experience, it mustn't project any bias of personal taste. I thought and still think that that is possible, though it's immensely fatiguing.

However I try, though, my own mentality, formed by nearly seventy-five years of training, parental imprint, education, trial-and-error, stupid mistakes, pleasures, deprivations, enlightenment, and the advice of others — all that nudges me more unresistingly in one direction than it does in another. And so that triangle:

I gravitate toward Nature, not Society; and toward Past, not Future. So far, then, the most impressive experiences on this trip have been the views from the Amalfi coast, the landscape at Paestum, the agaves between me and the temple at Segesta.

But at various places in the middle of that triangle lie Works Of Art. Other people have left them there in their own triangulations of Self, Others, and Nature, between Past (or tradition) and Future (or the unknown). And they are, to varying degrees to be sure, resonant and haunting, both unexpected and curiously always-intuitively-known-therefore-reassuring. Signposts, you could say, within the inescapable triangulation that is the considered life.

So far there have been two of them above all, both sculptures: that youth in Mozia that I wrote about yesterday and the bronze "Dancing Satyr" we saw today in an eloquent small museum in Mazara, a few miles west of here.

Both are immensely old, 2200 years at least; both were reclaimed nearby from the sea recently; each is, I think, a reminder that we never know enough to generalize much of anything. This "Dancing Satyr" is larger than life and more lively than life. It's a Bacchante, I suppose, caught in the moment of frenzied supreme pleasure, having whirled himself into a trance; his hair records the animation of that dance, even though his arms are missing and so the cup and the staff are absent. His eyes are alabaster, curiously both alive in their sightedness and blind to our uncomprehending gaze.

I'm sure there are representations on the Internet. We saw a fascinating film documenting the find, not fifteen years ago; the restoration; and the mounting of the work. It's good to see it in Mazara, the port from which the trawler shipped out that found it between Sicily and Africa; and it's fitting that it's shown in a museum on a former Sant'Egidio church, since that saint is so firmly connected to international peace movements.

I'd go on about this more, but I'm still overwhelmed. I thought the Mozia Youth was a climactic masterpiece; this Satyr is in that league and perhaps an even greater achievement. I don't understand at all what we've seen today; it takes my breath away even to think about it.

I'm sorry: no photos. They were absolutely forbidden. You'll have to research this yourself for the moment.

Campania, including Caserta, Herculaneum, Amalfi, and Paestum:
Tràpani, Erice, Segesta and environs:

As always, our meals are recorded at Eating Every Day

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