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Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Aesthetic ideas

Wednesday, October 9th., Les Sablons, Fontainebleau.

I have often thought, during the last year, upon the uselessness of trying to describe faces in literature. No vision is raised by particularization in words. I now find this minutely explained in Lessing's "Laocoon", which is certainly a most useful and illuminating treatise for a writer. Homer it seems never described Helen. He merely said she was beautiful, and kept insisting on the fact, and showing the influence of her beauty - as on the elders. This is the way to follow. Lessing's theory of the propriety of describing ugliness is ingenious, and perhaps good. The choice in subjects of a painter like Delacroix will not justify itself under Lessing's philosophy, and Lessing is undoubtedly right. Delacroix was great in spite of his choice of subjects. "Laocoon" has clarified and confirmed my ideas very much.

Lessing's book "Laocoon and the Limits of Painting and Poetry" is touted as the first systematized treatment of aesthetics during the Enlightenment and it is considered remarkable because it is one of the first works to articulate the difference between poetic production (art with words) and painting production (art with physical bodies, including sculpture, painting, and architecture, etc.). Prior to Lessing painting and poetry were considered to be relatively synonymous in how they were produced, not functionally, that is, not with the physical techniques, but aesthetically, with the intellectual consideration and aims. Lessing argues against this conflation by appealing to a particular ancient example that had been the subject of debate for quite some time: the Greek/Roman sculpture of Laocoön. Laocoön was a Trojan priest of Apollo who was destroyed (along with his two sons) by two giant serpents sent by the god Apollo. Variants on the details of the story exist, but the debate centres upon the account of Virgil in the Aeneid and the sculpture of Laocoön, whose date is also debated. The central debate is whether the sculptor relied upon the written record (Virgil's) for inspiration or whether Virgil relied upon the sculpture for his inspiration. Behind this seemingly insignificant question is whether poetry and painting are independent arts, dependent arts, or interdependent arts of aesthetic production and whether they should be judged by the same standards or separate standards. Lessing's work labours to prove that poetry and painting are not dependent upon each other (though they do have similarities). Painting can depict certain qualities that poetry cannot (examples are below) and poetry too can depict certain qualities that painting cannot. Overall, Lessing seems to elevate poetic production above painting because the scope of its production is greater as well as its imaginative appeal to the senses.

Yesterday I began "The Old Wives Tale". I wrote 350 words yesterday afternoon and 900 this morning. I felt less self-conscious than I usually do in beginning a novel. In order to find a clear three hours for it every morning I have had to make a timetable, getting out of bed earlier and lunching later. 

This morning I calculated that I could just walk to the Croix de Montmorin and back in an hour. I nearly did it this morning without trying, in heavy rain. Tomorrow I may do it. A landscape of soaked leaves and thick clouds and rain - nothing else. But I like it.

Additionally for October 9th., see 'All at sea' -

Our third day at sea.
Strange noises through the night. Tappings. Waiting for the dawn to come, forgetting that there could be no dawn. The dawn was the turning on of the electric lights on the corridor.
Lovely Sunday morning. Rippled sea as we left Ireland.

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