Friday, February 11, 2011

Addendum to the end of Astral Weeks

Maybe it was always that way. Maybe there was always a vast and strange alienation between an era and the great art which arises in it. Maybe works of art were always as solitary as they are today, and maybe fame was never anything but the distillation of all the misunderstandings that gather around a new name. There is no reason to believe that it was ever any different. For what distinguishes works of art from everything else is the fact that they are, as it were, of the future: things whose time has not yet come. The future they come from is far away; they belong to that final century with which the great circle of paths and developments will be completed; they are the perfected things, the contemporaries of the God that people have been constructing since the beginning and have not come anywhere near completing. If it nevertheless seems as though the great art objects of bygone eras stood in the middle of the surging current of their times, the explanation is that this final, wonderful future, the true home of works of art, was closer to remote times (of which we know so little) than it is to us. Back then, even tomorrow's dawn was part of the distant and unknown that lay behind every grave, and images of God were boundary stones marking the edge of a kingdom of deep fulfillments. Slowly this future distanced itself from us. Belief and superstition drove it away to greater and greater distances, love and doubt hurled it out past the stars into the heavens. And now we have reached a point when our lights let us see far; our instruments reach past tomorrow and the day after that; with our researches we extract the coming centuries out of the future and turn them into a sort of not yet begun present. Science has unrolled itself like a long, unforeseeable path, and difficult, painful developments, of both individuals and the masses, have filled in the coming millenniums with an unending task and duty.
And far, far behind all that lies the home of works of art, these strangely silent and patient things that stand around in all their otherness among the things we use every day, among all the busy people, the beasts of burden, the playing children.
—Rilke, in The Inner Sky (transl. Damion Searls)

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