Thou shalt have noble otherworldly goddesses before me
Thou shalt not make-or-break unto theists any graveside imagination
Thou shalt not take off the nametag of the Los Angeleno in valet
Remilitarize the saber day, to keep it home
Hoodwink thy fatherland and thy motion-picture camera
Thou shalt not kiln-dry
Thou shalt not commit adulthood
Thou shalt not steampunk
Thou shalt not beat familial wizards against thy nemesis
Thou shalt not cowabunga
I’ve been reflecting on the ideas and themes that keep popping up in my work, and nostalgia is a biggy-big one. I’m adding some of my older writing about this here as posts mainly for my own reference.
Much of my focus on nostalgia involves nostalgia for something that was never real: Romanticism was nostalgic for a relationship with nature that never existed, Hollywood is nostalgic for a “perfect” Paris.
An area I’m excited to explore this idea with now is the fantasy genre. Fantasy literature has dominated my bookshelves since I learned to read, and it seems to me that it provides a similar sort of escapism to the Romantic dream of a simpler time. The worlds of “Tintern Abbey” or “Harry Potter,” were never real (despite being placed in real-world settings, at least for Muggles) — but in reading them, we can imagine the world and wish we were there instead of in our own.
With the rise of industrialism and urbanization in the nineteenth century, Romantic artists often turned to nature with a sense of longing and nostalgia. In his "Wanderer Above the Sea of Mist," Caspar David Friedrich uses specific elements of composition to nostalgically portray the values of reflection and tranquility we can find in nature, and presents art as an alternative "nature." As important as these values were to the Romantics, they are equally or more important for us today.
The idea of nature portrayed in this painting is a distinctly Romantic one; nature in and of itself is not intrinsically peaceful or serene—just imagine a scene that illustrates the function of the food chain. But as the Industrial Revolution continued in the late nineteenth century, things that had once been taken for granted—like the wilderness—were now threatened with destruction. The Romantics were disconcerted by the changes of their time, and artists like Friedrich highlighted the contrast between the new industrial world and the bucolic world they felt they were leaving behind. Previously, nature, or the wilderness, had been a place of foreboding and danger; it was only when people began to leave their rural homes for the city that some started to see nature as Nature, a spiritual place for humanity to rediscover itself, apart from the new life-draining factories and cities. It is not in nature that man finds peace and perspective, but in "Nature"—the setting man has created precisely for that purpose.
Friedrich uses elements of composition to conceptualize this new view of Nature. His idealized landscape creates a sense of awe in the ordinary, emphasized by the presence of the ambiguous man in the foreground, alone with his meditative thoughts. Friedrich's inclusion of this man allows us to more personally relate to the painting than if it were only a landscape; his attitude of reflection reminds us to incorporate that value into our experience with nature and the world. The open frame implies the continuation of the landscape beyond the borders, increasing the sweeping grandeur of the scene and of the thoughts it can inspire. Friedrich's simple color palette of blues, greens and browns emphasizes the simplicity we can find in nature; the colors also provide depth and perspective as they fade in the distance, reminding us of the unforeseeable future and prompting us to meditate upon it, as does the man. Further contributing to the tranquil quality in "Wanderer" is the strong sense of balance, which is due to the central position of the figure, poised between nondescript hills and rocks. Through Friedrich's use of these elements, he achieves Wassily Kandinsky's challenge to communicate the spiritual essence of physical reality; this painting does not transport us to a specific location, but instead impresses upon us the importance of retaining peace and perspective in our lives through the values of reflection and tranquility.
These values were of particular importance during the changes of the nineteenth century, when the shift from rural to industrial was highly visible; however, most of us have never known the pastoral lifestyle of which the Romantics reminisced, and are instead accustomed to a hectic culture and continuous social connectivity. Because of this, it can be difficult to imagine a life with a slower pace and time to reflect. Friedrich reminds us of these values, and can help us create our own Nature wherein to nurture them. The qualities of Nature are not found only in woods and valleys, but also in art itself. As Friedrich's painting communicates the values of reflection and tranquility, it fills the spiritual role of the Romantics' Nature.
It is not so much nature we need, but what we have come to see reflected in Nature, a view well-depicted in Friedrich's "Wanderer." Through his choices of color, composition and subject matter, Friedrich is able to portray the Romantics' spiritual view of Nature while aiding us in creating our own "Nature" through the use of art. By so doing, he reminds viewers, past and present, of the importance of finding time for reflection and tranquility in the midst of a bustling world.
One of the questions I’m grappling with at the moment is if there’s a difference between female and feminist, specifically in regards to creative methodologies. I have much more research to do on existing feminist theatre methodologies (much more, as in, I know nothing), but the hypothequestionidea floating around in my head is this:
1) Do feminist methodologies exist as a reaction to the suppression of women’s voices?
2) Would a female methodology be the methodology that would exist if there’d been no need for feminism, say on Themyscira (Wonder Woman’s island, if you had to Google it like I did)?
3) If yes, is it possible to create/discover a true female methodology? What would that look like?
I’m working toward creating a female-centric theatre company, so I was intrigued by Alison Willmore’s article, “Why I’ve Had Trouble Buying Hollywood’s Version of Girl Power.” There has been an obvious increase in female-centric work in the last few years, but much of it is as Willmore, says, a “quick sugar rush of righteous outrage over vintage sexism.” That’s not necessarily a bad thing — it’s encouraging and fun, and it’s great that movies about RBG and Oceans 8 were box office hits. But hey, they were also not great films, and it’s ok to not like them. (I’m reminded of the argument to vote for Hilary because she’s the best candidate, not because she’s a woman.)
So my question is, how do we celebrate progress while acknowledging that we’re still falling short? The fact that more female-centric films are being made is a positive, and they’re generally fine. So while I want to celebrate the fact that they’re made at all, I also don’t want to give the impression that we’ve achieved the goal. I want to see predominantly female casts so frequently that it’s not a selling point of uniqueness. I want an industry where we don’t have to specify that something is female-centric because that’s not an exceptional event.
And to do that, I think we need more stories. Real stories. Like Willmore says, “what I find myself craving more and more is discomfort — depictions of how messy and complicated and difficult it is to be a woman or a girl in this world.” The “girl power” pins are nice, but real stories are better.
Our view of the world is but a series of images, and we control which ones we see and how we see them. In "A London Afternoon," Derek Walcott utilizes poetic imagery of both cliché and reality to suggest that we create false memories that cause us to have only superficial interactions with the world and prevent us from discovering the truth; to truly see, we must clear our vision of preconceived images.
The thought of England almost always conjures images of "elaborate breakfasts," a bar with a "glum, punctual waiter," the "ornate lettering" on quaint shop fronts, and of course, afternoon tea (Walcott, lines 3, 5, 11, 12). These are Walcott's "consoling clichés"—superficial images that have come to represent the reality of London (7). Romantic depictions of nature with "the creak of a country cart" in Constable's painting and the "scent and symmetry" of Wyatt and Surrey's poetry portray specific elements of historic England that now seem quintessential, but they are not England as it is today or even necessarily as it was then (25, 29). Nearly two centuries ago, the Romantics were already painting and writing with nostalgia for a different England, yet it is still to their "consoling clichés" that we try to return (7). For them and us, these idealized images are mere "props" used to set the superficial scene of England, while behind the curtain the "real" England waits, unseen (10).
In Walcott's mind is the "memory / of a skylark's unheard song," but how is it possible to have a memory of an "unheard song" (27, 28)? He has used a description of such a song to create a false memory. He did not see the "Spring grass and roiling clouds" that "dapple a county / with lines like a rutted road" nor hear "the creak of a country cart," but nonetheless has "memories" of them from his experiences with the arts that attempted to portray them (26, 27, 29). Walcott projects these false memories, cultivated from art, history, and personal interpretation, onto reality, where they "lie like / barred sunlight on the lawn," and prevent him from seeing the world as it really is (34-35). They "cage / the strutting dove" of reality and Walcott fails to gain anything from reality but what he expected (36). Reality is superficially "welcomed, but not absorbed" because his mind is full of preconceptions (8).
The knight of George Peel's A Farewell to Arms, "though from court to cottage he depart," exemplifies Walcott's imagined England—a knight who, now too old for the battlefield or court, is happy to spend the rest of his days in a cottage praying for the queen to whom he is eternally devoted (32). However, the wistful image is permeated by "the scent of petrol," the epitome of modern mundanity (34). Like the image of the knight, Walcott's London is crisscrossed with clichés, but not so thickly as to completely obscure reality; as the scent of petrol interrupts the medieval reverie, so does "the stain that spreads invisibly from the heart, / like the red of Empire in a schoolroom's map" interrupt Walcott's idealized vision of England (16-17). This imagery follows his near "recognition of home" in the city, and intimates the issue of racism and colonialism that is entrenched in the shared history of England and his home (9). It is only after this unpleasant awakening that Walcott steps out of the "consoling clichés" and begins to truly see London as it is (7).
Now that he recognizes the disparity between the two images, Walcott contrasts the idealized images with his observations of reality; the aged streets are actually quite narrow, "begrimed with age/and greasy with tradition" (18-19). The quaint shops have "knobbly names" and are really nothing more than pizza joints, betting shops and black garages (19, 20). Indeed, the reality of London has very little to do with the pastoral haven of "that England on each page / of my fifth-form anthology" (22-23). By letting go of his preconceptions, Walcott is able to actually engage with reality; instead of projecting his own images onto it, he now sees himself reflected in reality (36).
Walcott's use of poetic imagery illuminates the imagery of reality and cliché that we experience every day. In order to truly engage with the world, we must abandon the false memories that we have created and see reality as it is; then, we too will see ourselves reflected in the world instead of the world in ourselves.