For the whole of 2020, I was reading the works of JBPriestley. I found that a familiar pattern in his novel writing went like this:-
• First you imagine what’s going on ‘elsewhere’
• Then you endow it with something more wonderful than could ever be the case
• Then you realise it couldn’t be like that
• Then you understand it’s all you own projection
And then he’s concerned with coming to terms with the bridge between what’s imagined and what’s ‘real’. A magic bridge of some kind perhaps.
In his collection of great little essays Delight JBP recalls a visit to the great gallery Amsterdam where he discovered Vermeer. His ‘strange joy’ was noticing that ‘a painting of anything – a brick wall, the corner of a room… could haunt him for days…’ It came to him that ‘the artist had begun to shape and colour my own vision of things…’ This sudden realisation came from the new need ‘not to look from things to pictures but from pictures to things… to allow [the artist’s] vision to shape & colour ours…’ I doubt whether many people would be able to do this before the possibility was pointed out to them.
Take what a Hockney, a Ben Nicholson or a Cézanne offers us and allow the pattern of their depiction of a visualised world to infiltrate our being. Tapies offered me a potent way of putting a frame round anything at all that happened upon my blinkers to record it: a pattern of cement pushed between old bricks twenty years ago, evening primrose in autumn sunlight against old roses, my feet in a mirror with wastepaper basket and top of electric fire, torn paper in a heap, a collage on the cover of a 55 year-old notebook, pencil design for a painting on a scrap of paper that fell out of it.
I fancy a Dorothy Taylor does the same kind of thing during her perambulations in Orkney.
The blessed world teems with things – all of them bridges from one place to another.
In Delight 89 JBP writes about ‘some Oriental visitor at his first symphony concert who was delighted with the first item played which happened to be the orchestra tuning up. JBP warms to the idea: ‘what else that we hear during the evening takes such a hold on the imagination?’ He says it’s ‘a chaos caught at the supreme moment, immediately before Creation. Everything of order – beauty shortly to be revealed is already there in it… – it belongs to all schools, smiling at old Haydn and yet nodding to Schoenberg and so is always in fashion… it conducts itself and asks for no applause…’
I wonder idly if Schnittke read Delight (1954) in Gorky in 1974. Before the conductor arrives on the rostrum the orchestra is warming up for his great 1st Symphony. When the conductor taps his baton the orchestra continues in exactly the same way as it was doing before the conductor arrived! At the end of a glorious circuit of snatches of Beethoven, Mahler, Handel with Ives-like marching intrusions & bits of boogie-woogie, the conductor quits the rostrum and the jangling of bells interrupts Haydn for a repeat of the opening warm-up. You can see the humour of it in this photo:-
It occurred to me that JBP’s comment about letting works of art determine the way you look at the world could be quite properly extended to music: we should learn to listen not with a retrospective ear from the old established musical patterns to the new but from the new back to the old, not from a prior conception of how music ought to be (‘tuneful’ etc) but from a joy in the newly composed back to the old – just as Schnittke prompts us to do. I’m not sure JBP himself would have accepted this.
In Delight 106, JBP refers to an artist of no great significance (so he says) called CJHolmes. JBP admires his work because ‘what he did was to slap down on paper any bit of landscape that took his eye. The medium did not matter – he would use pencil, ink, chalk, pastel, water-colour and, if necessary mix them all up… He recorded with speed & precision, catching a moment and holding it forever. Anything would do…’ JBP calls it ‘happy holiday art’ from which he gets a ‘lift of spirit’. Like catching & framing the very ordinary – brick wall & corner of room.
What’s the bridge to something strange & wonderful? JBP describes an early summer morning experience that ‘has a unique trick of lifting me out of time – moving along a fifth dimension with a four-dimensional outlook…’ I know this very well. A simple example for me is that of ‘reading on a summer lawn’. The words themselves take me back to adolescence sitting reading in my father’s garden of an evening, as it might be, with swifts screaming above me. And then I move mentally to sitting reading on all the other lawns I’ve planted and spent time mowing ever since so it all becomes one place out of time in a new dimension. The same thing goes for all the summerhouses I’ve built and sat writing in as now – unified experience. Or, there are many selves, multiple-I’s who have identical experiences or one and the same experience in the fifth dimension out of time.
In Delight 111, JBP refers to ‘all these selves on similar mornings [in similar situations] down the years. Freed from the brutal hurry of time… everything matters yet nothing matters. We have escaped from the balance sheets & reports of progress. There are no itineraries. no goals. Success & failure are equally meaningless. Every detail is memorable, exquisite, catching at the heart; yet the totality is itself nothing but a long clear dream. Such is the timeless view…’ Pure Zen! Or Gurdjieff!
I know this. How does one get to it? By crossing the bridge. Have in mind just one occasion which seems bright & passionate to you. Nothing monumental – just coming to a bend in the road, to the top of a hill anticipating the view, to a clearing in middle of the forest, standing by an old pond – anything like that. See/hear/feel whatever you saw/heard/felt at the time and then seek out similar experiences before & after, seeing, hearing, feeling whatever was there, chaining events & images so they all become one out of time.
In Delight 90, JBP refers to an occasion when he had to amuse some young people and keep them amused. Grumbling about it to himself he took them to a restaurant where they could dance hoping to be able to leave them to it but ‘after a few dances undertaken as a duty, it would have needed a couple of policemen to drag me away from that crowded little floor. Sweating and grunting, mad Old Man of the Tribe, I swept girls of all sizes through all manner of dances… I was still hard at it when the lads of the party, children of a decadent age, were missing every other dance to cool themselves with lager…’
I live in that experience to go back six years to three days when I danced all day to NLP exercises run by Robert Dilts. Lovely women asked me how on earth I did it. I might have said, “It’s how to keep all human capabilities moving together so you put everything into a unity – cross the bridge into being a completely functioning Being – thinking, feeling, acting, a total awareness of possibility…” Bit detached from the event itself. What about, “See. hear, feel it all – the opportunity for learning – and go back to other experiences like it; every opportunity in the past you had to fling yourself about. Skirt round the girl who wanted you to learn formal waltz steps, putting you off for years; listen again to the girl who remarked on your amazing rhythmic certainty, then go even further back to the time, aged six, when you danced up the suburban alley singing an improvised song. It all becomes the timeless Apotheosis of the Dance, Fifth Dimension Jig. Dancing bridges the gap without you having to think about it.
Let this dancing be danced
by those who know how
over the flowing bridge
across the still river of Time.