Some years ago, after most of a lifetime spent producing what the world, in its vanity, is pleased to call 'works of art', I came to the realisation and determination that I would henceforth no longer produce any artificial, external 'art' of any great consequence, that the only work of 'art' of any value for me was the art of my own person or SOUL. My great work NOW is, therefore--as Whitman said, to create out of my own flesh and soul A GREAT POEM. This undertaking is, to my way of thinking, the greatest work of 'art' possible in a lifetime--to make one's own soul a great poem. And this is a work of art that most of the world will never see, or comprehend, because they "seeing, see not, and hearing, hear not"; they have not the "eyes with which to see" the glorious work I am in the process of producing--a soul refined and purified by the fires of trial and adversity. This is not so much a mortification of the flesh, as it is a mortification of the SOUL. What they THINK they see is a flat failure of a life (and recall that the same thing was said of Thoreau, by no less an eminent divine than Emerson); but oh! what they DO NOT see! THAT is where my true work lies!
16 February, 2003.
Most people spend an inordinate portion of their everyday lives assiduously avoiding life's pitfalls and the resultant pains; I, in contrast, try (as much as I can) to cultivate the direct, subjective emotional experience, not only of life's pure, simple, and sometimes unexpected joys, but also (and moreso, if it is possible) of life's pains and sorrows. Rather than fleeing from depression or sorrow, I try to cultivate them much as one might cultivate a rare, exotic hothouse bloom, yet realising all the while that the wild, lawless jungle of life, like some vast, primitive, ageless Amazon wilderness, is replete with both incredible beauty AND great peril--full of limitless possibility, yes, but also full of the potential for terror, death, and violent, wanton destruction.
My life is an unbelievably stressful balancing act--"a rope stretched over the abyss": some of the few who are acquainted with me at least suspect that I am light-years beyond their own preceptions or abilities. Some fewer of them still have seen occasional glimpses of the truth, and are no longer in any doubt. I am both the brightest hope and the greatest worry of my own family, a family which possesses both extraordinary brilliance and ability AND a tendency toward mediocrity and fearful, superstitious conformity--sometimes manifested in the selfsame individuals. If an individual's genetic make-up (in terms of personality) can be described as a random shuffling of the traits and abilities of one's ancestors, then, in my own case, most of the talents and brilliance which various of my forebears possessed, AS WELL AS many traits which most people today would unhesitatingly label "negative", have clearly and undeniably manifested themselves in my person.
I could even go so far as to correctly state that, in many ways, I am as fearless concerning the exploration of life and thought and (particularly) sexuality as was the infamous Marquis de Sade, despite the fact that I have no interest whatsoever in certain of his pet predilections. With others of them, however, that is most definitely NOT the case. ...
Suffice it to say that, for better or worse, I was dealt a hand by the Universe that was both a potentially winning hand and a potentially LOSING hand--at least in terms of its being very likely to strongly express itself in either direction: "success" or "failure"; or "good" or "bad" (as the world sees such matters, of course)--infinitely moreso, anyway, than in the average, hopelessly mediocre person.
August, 1998. (specific date unrecorded)
The natural inheritance of everyone who is capable of spiritual life is an unsubdued forest where the wolf howls and the obscene bird of night chatters.
Henry James, Sr. (1811-1882),
letter to his two sons,
William James and Henry James, Jr.;
quoted in Seldes, "The Great Thoughts" (1980).