|German poster for The Silence (1963)|
Art by Dorothea Fischer-Nobisch
I want very much to tell, to talk about, the wholeness inside every human being. It's a strange thing that every human being has a sort of dignity or wholeness in him, and out of that develops relationships to other human beings, tensions, misunderstandings, tenderness, coming in contact, touching and being touched, the cutting off of a contact and what happens then. --from Ingmar Bergman Directs (1972) by John SimonIsn't that simple and lovely? Long ago, I was obsessed with Ingmar Bergman, and when I bump into his words, I sometimes feel a little melancholy. How strange it is to think in this tender way of human wholeness in a world that projects a public image that rages for entertainment and dislikes reflection and what Melville called "deep diving."
I took a course on Bergman with poet R. H. W. Dillard when I was in college, and one of the texts was Four Screenplays of Ingmar Bergman. In it, there's a passage where Bergman talks about Chartres, and how wonderfully satisfying it must have been to be an anonymous artist who felt that his gift was from God and so had both confidence and a natural humility. For that artist, being lauded as better than others does not even register as a thought. Bergman expresses longing for a time when an artist might make, say, a portrait head for the cathedral and be pleased with knowing what he had made, and with knowing that it was a piece of a more complex work created by many people for a great purpose. (Perhaps there's a link to the image of Christians as lively stones that make up the church, all part of something much larger--"like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house" NRSV 1 Peter 2:5.) In his own time, Bergman sees the modern artist as bringing all things out of himself, an effort that is lonely, over-obsessed with the individual, and leads to a state where artists "bleat" news of ourselves constantly but are unable to see one another. Artists are not built up into a cathedral in his view but are caught in a miserable pen sheep. In that image from Bergman, each artist appears isolated within what should be a flock. No shepherd appears.
How comic we will appear in a hundred years, with our heavy use of The Ministry of Sanctioned Words (latest installment being the chiding of professors for using "triggering words"--I wrote a piece about it yesterday but decided that one was entirely too satiric for posting!), our ruling passion for celebrities (red-carpet gods of the day in designer suits and gowns), our jettisoning of literature in the academy in favor of theory and an obsession with judging art through various -isms. To be an artist with these sorts of things held in mind means to de-nature one's work, to run after things that don't matter, and to be always self-conscious about political stance--all things that destroy the natural flow of art. How much lovelier it is to grow like a tree among trees by a stream, rooted and flourishing, sending out fresh leaves and blossoms--and all the while, those little green factories in the leaves go on transforming the air so that others may breathe.