A Vessel of Passion

Narcissus And Goldmund has probably turned out to be one of my favorite books of all time. Despite the title, a great deal of the story centered around Goldmund, a directionless wanderer, a dreamer, and in the end, an artist. There was, of course, that little bit of contrast thrown in with the presence of Narcissus in key parts of the story, and he definately had his role to play in showing the difference (and potentially complimentary nature) of these two types of men.

If I’m not mistaken, copyright laws can often be overcome when a) you’re not posting an entire body of someone’s work, b) you credit the creator of the material your using, and c) you make clear that it’s not for profit and is being used for educational purposes.

You might not have to do all of that, but just to be clear: a) the following is an excerpt from pages 164 and 165, b) the novel was written by Herman Hesse, and c) I’m not making a single fucking penny off of the playground your reading in or the littered words throughout, and I doubt I’m the only one that could glean something in such a way as to call it “educational”. So…

“Goldmund worked with profound love at the statue of Narcissus. He rediscovered himself in this work, found his skill and his soul again every time he got off the track, which happened often enough. Love affairs, dances, drinking with working-companions, dice playing, and many brawls would get him violently involved; he’d stay away from the workshop for a day or more, or stand distracted and grumpy over his bench. But at his St. John, whose cherished, pensive features came to meet him out of the wood with greater and greater purity, he worked only in hours of readiness, with devotion and humility. During these hours he was neither glad nor sad, knew neither carnal longings nor the flight of time. Again he felt the reverent, light, crystal feeling in his heart with which he had once abandoned himself to his friend, happy to be guided by him. It was not he who was standing there, creating an image of his own will. It was the other man rather; it was Narcissus who was making use of the artist’s hands in order to step out of the fleeting transitions of life, to express the pure image of his being.

This, Goldmund sometimes felt with a shudder, was the way true art came about. This was how the master’s unforgettable madonna had been made, which he had visited in the cloister again and again on many a Sunday. The few good pieces among the old statues which were standing upstairs in the master’s foyer had come into being in this secret, sacred manner. And one day that other, the unique image, the one that was even more hidden and venerable to him, the mother of men, would come about in that same manner. Ah, if only the hand of man could create such works of art, such holy, essential images, untainted by will or vanity. But it was not that way. Other images were created: pretty, delightful things, made with great mastery, the joy of art lovers, the ornament of churches and town halls – beautiful things certainly, but not sacred, not true images of the soul. He knew many such works, not only by Niklaus and other masters – works that, in spite of their delicacy and craftsmanship, were nothing but playthings. To his shame and sorrow he had already felt that in his own heart, had felt in his hands how an artist can put such pretty things in the world, out of delight in his own skill, out of ambition and dissipation.

When he realized this for the first time, he grew deathly sad. Ah, it was not worth being an artist in order to make little angel figures and similar frivolities, no matter how beautiful. Perhaps the others, the artisans, the burghers, those calm, satisfied souls might find it worthwhile, but not he. To him, art and craftsmanship were worthless unless they burned like the sun and had the power of storms. He had no use for anything that brought only comfort, pleasantness, only small joys. He was searching for other things. A dainty crown for a madonna, fashioned like lacework and beautifully gold-leafed, was no task for him, no matter how well paid. Why did Master Niklaus accept all these orders? Why did he have two assistants? Why did he listen for hours to those senators and prelates who ordered a pulpit or a portal from him with their measuring sticks in their hands? He had two reasons, two shabby reasons: he wanted to be a famous artist flooded with commissions, and he wanted to pile up money, not for any great achievement or pleasure but for his daughter, who had long since become a rich girl, money for her dowry, for lace collars and brocade gowns and a walnut conjugal bed with precious covers and linens. As though the beautiful girl could not come to know love just as well in a hayloft.”

I would say the vanity he didn’t like was simply less powerful and yielded lesser results than his own, and so too with the ambition he possessed when compared to the ambitions of other artists that led to lesser works, to “playthings”. I’ll grant, that may just be me twisting what I’ve read into something that better suits my tastes… Still, it relates to a few of my own personal insights into the nature of what I call the “Dark Side” and how those that live, achieve, and define what we could call ‘greateness’ channel that through themselves, acting more or less as vessels of divinity or, as I prefer, vessels of the Force, of Passion.

I feel obliged to throw in that I don’t mean vessels surrendered to the flow; what I mean by that is… mindful vessels capable of becoming aware of the energy within, of deciding it’s purpose autonomously, and capable of developing the strength to guide and direct it in a way that serves ones purposes. This, along with a few things I said in a recent discussion (Forbidden Knowledge) tie in pretty closely with a piece of writing I’d consider a work in progress, entitled The Dark Side Is Poison (which you might never see, or that might be posted tomorrow… who knows).

(Written July 9th, 2012)


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