Monday, August 23, 2010

Ideas, Part II

This is Part II of our look at philosophical ideas represented in art. It comes on the heels of my stumbling upon and reading George Santayana's invigorating Three Philosophical Poets: Lucretius, Dante, Goethe, which brought me to consider the topic again sooner than I anticipated. Since the introduction to Part I will serve to introduce this essay also, I thusly refer it to you.

You will surely notice this selection to be more focused and to contain one item, from Heraklitos, also mentioned in our last list. One might consider reflecting on all of the following pieces in the light of Herakleitos and Eliot. I have also made fewer comments, but not with the aim of being cryptic or simply not wishing to comment, but to permit the reader the opportunity to discover the nature of the work in the light of philosophy. I add, though, one heading to the collection:

Being and Time

1) Herakleitos Fragment - Diels 2 / Kahn CIII

ὁδὸς ἄνω κάτω μία καὶ ὡυτή
The way up and down is one and the same.

2) Four Quartets. T. S. Eliot
Burnt Norton (three selections) (whole poem: link)


Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.
I can only say, there we have been: but I cannot say where.
And I cannot say, how long, for that is to place it in time.

Words move, music moves
Only in time; but that which is only living
Can only die. Words, after speech, reach
Into the silence. Only by the form, the pattern,
Can words or music reach
The stillness, as a Chinese jar still
Moves perpetually in its stillness.
Nor the stillness of the violin, while the note lasts,
Not that only, but the co-existence,
Or say that the end precedes the beginning,
And the end and the beginning were always there
Before the beginning and after the end.
And all is always now.

. . .

The detail of the pattern is movement,
As in the figure of the ten stairs.
Desire itself is movement
Not in itself desirable;
Love is itself unmoving,
Only the cause and end of movement,
Timeless, and undesiring
Except in the aspect of time
Caught in the form of limitation
Between un-being and being.

2) Die Kunst der Fuge - Contrapunctus XIII a 3 (Rectus). BWV.1080. J. S. Bach

Consider the subjects of the fugue, their relationship, their in the light of Eliot's above poem, and additionally the following lines:
Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
Four Quartets. Burnt Norton, I. T. S. Eliot

The subjects are different and yet the same, joined and yet separate, interdependent (notice the fermata and rest toward the end.) Each individual moment both of past and future, each moment of the present, joining both past and future, but do not call it fixity, where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.

Also, same from Glenn Gould on the piano. [YouTube]

3) De Rerum Natura. 1.264-265 - Lucretius

Since it is impossible to reiterate all of Lucretius here, let us look at one particularly relevant quotation and one most excellent summary from George Santayana's Three Philosophical Poets: Lucretius, Dante, Goethe.

De Rerum Natura. 1.264-265 - Lucretius
 Alid ex alio reficit natura, nec ullam
Rem gigni patitur, nisi morte adiuta aliena.

Three Philosophical Poets: Lucretius, Dante, Goethe
[Love] destroys to create, and creates to destroy, her interest (if we may express it so) being not in particular things, nor in their continuance, but solely in the movement that underlies them, in the flux of substance beneath. Life, however, belongs to form, and not to matter; or in the language of Lucretius, life is an eventum, a redundant ideal product or incidental aspect, involved in the equilibration of matter. . .

Nothing comes out of nothing, nothing falls back into nothing, if we consider substance; but everything comes from nothing and falls back into nothing if we consider things–the objects of love and of experience. Time can make no impression on the void or on the atoms; nay, time is itself an eventum created by the motion of atoms in the void; but the triumph of time is absolute over persons, and nations, and worlds.

4) Sonnet 73, William Shakespeare

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin'd choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou seest the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west,
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death's second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see'st the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire
Consumed with that which it was nourish'd by.
   This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong,
   To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

5 & 6) Consider the nature of the action depicted, and the way in which the piece chains past and future, drawing you into and creating the moment.

5) Philosopher in Meditation. Rembrandt van Rijn.

6) Aphrodite of Milos. Alexandros of Antioch(?)

7) Concerto for Harpsichord in D minor, BWV.1052 - Adagio (in G minor). J. S. Bach
The slow movement is in a form which only Bach has brought to perfection. . . We may call it the modulating ground bass. [After the opening orchestral ritornello] enters the dialogue between the solo and the upper strings. The ritornello becomes a ground bass to this dialogue throughout the movement, but it differs from an ordinary ground bass in that its final cadence shifts to a different key each time, and that before each recurrence a connecting link of three bars establishes yet another key for it to start from. At last, of course, it comes round to the tonic; the final cadence is expanded, . . . and the movement closes, as it began, with the bare ground bass. [Tovey, 183]

Tovey, Donald Francis. Essays in Musical Analysis. (Six Volumes.) Volume II: Symphonies II: D Minor Clavier Concerto. Oxford University Press. London. 1935.


  1. Fascinating and thought provoking as always. Maybe a couple of M.C. Escher prints would work here too?

  2. Many thanks! Hey that's an intriguing idea. . . I guess Part III is getting started sooner than I thought too!