Sunday, May 25, 2014

The Face of Glory



I bought William Anderson's 'The Face of Glory: Creativity, Consciousness and Civilization' on its publication in 1996 because I had read his exemplary study of the artist, Cecil Collins, and had heard him lecture on 'The Green Man' (on which he also wrote a book).

The Face of Glory is an emanation of Shiva, deployed in fierce anger towards the demon Rahu, who is halted in its pursuit of Rahu when Rahu appeals to Shiva for protection. The emanation remains hungry and demands something to devour, now that Rahu is ineligible for this fate, and Shiva suggests it devour itself, which it does, leaving only the head. This head Shiva names as the Face of Glory and henceforth guards the entrances to Shiva's temples.

Anderson takes this as an image of the transformation of violent energies into the patterns of civilisation that is the key task of creativity and launches upon a marvellous account of how this might be envisaged within our unfolding histories.

What follows is an essay after understanding how creativity works, both within an individual and a civilization, that is bold, idiosyncratic and endlessly suggestive.

Three highlights emerged for me.

The first was in seeing the crux around which creativity works as the conscious moment when a new idea is formed. Much has been made of the unconscious forces underlying creativity but Anderson re-directs our attention to the moment of actual ideation when an idea crystallises in a new constellation and how that is felt to widen the potentiality of a person's consciousness, and is often accompanied by a sense of breaking joy. It shifts our focus to what kind and manner of 'paying attention' do we need in order to sustain creativity.

The second is that at no time in history have we been more aware of what is stored, in what Anderson calls 'the Great Memory' and yet never has it been more apparent that we do not have a guiding image of the human, a 'grand narrative of ends' in which this knowledge could be shaped to civilisation's ends. The very uncertainty of our post-modern world undermines the possibility of shaping a world anew. What is the story that conveys a structuring creativity to our disparate knowledge?

The third are the detailed readings of particular works that continually throw up intriguing questions. So, for example, why is it that both Rembrandt and Velasquez put at the heart of their remarkable paintings of secular power - the Nightwatchmen and Las Meninas - a young girl, innocent and vulnerable? Just at the moment when the 'masculine' was imagined to be breaking open and conquering (in the words of Sir Francis Bacon) the 'feminine' world of nature, two of the great initiators of 'realism' place images of the feminine at the heart of this new world, as if to remind us of what is about to be lost.

Finally, all through the book you are wonderfully reminded that creativity is never a solo product, not only does it require a whole host of forces to come to realization (and there is a wonderful passage on everything that went into composing Beethoven's Ninth Symphony) but that realization is never complete without 'us' -either the performers or the audience. It is our attention and taste (or lack thereof) that is the completing pattern to any work of art and all art of any merit has its season. When Mendelsohn tried to cajole a group of musicians in London (in the 1830s) to play the Ninth, they merely laughed at him!

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