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Saturday, 4 December 2010

Horror Vacui (All Over)


File:Bassin Syrie 1.JPG

"Baptistère de Saint-Louis", Mamluk (Syrian or Egyptian), late 13th/early 14th c., (detail): photo by Fabos, 2005 (Musée du Louvre)

Load every rift with ore,
Keats's admonition to Shelley,
ignores the dangers of the horror
vacui. There are so many rifts. Will he

somehow fill them all? And what
about emphasis? Should not something
central be allowed to dominate?
No, there is no center. Nothing

but marks in space, in every
empty space a mark, here a mark,
there a mark. It's that all-over-y
feeling: no flowers, just park, park, park.

File:Safavid Dynasty, Battle Scene, by Mahmud Musawwir, 1525-1550 AD (2).jpg

Battle Scene, Safavid Dynasty, Iran: Mahmud Musawwir, 1525-1550 AD.: image by Cordanrad, 2007 (Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Museum, Washington, D.C.)


Julia said...

Among other things, I love how you point the idea of horror vacui in the structure of the stanzas, with the enjambment of the last verse of one and the first verse of the other

TC said...

Yes, Julia, that's extremely perceptive. Those little suspended vacuums between the stanzas are the "rifts" -- small dangling horror-spaces which tempt the anxious poet to rush in and make more marks.

Anonymous said...

"It's that all-over-y
feeling: no flowers, just park, park, park."

I love this (and reading it aloud) and would like to thank you for returning me to contemplation of horror vacui and its opposite, empty space. Both can speak eloquently, depending on the context, and as you suggest, there are so many ways to sculpt the middle road.

Reading the poem and looking at the well-chosen pictures (that Safavid miniature really is full), and reading up on the Keats quotation, I was reminded of that line in the Velvet Underground song, Some Kinda Love, that goes "between thought and expression lies a lifetime".

It's like depth of focus: sometimes you want flowers and park, sometimes you want one or the other. Horror vacui itself is such a strong expression.

TC said...


This is beautifully said:

"It's like depth of focus: sometimes you want flowers and park, sometimes you want one or the other."

Reasonable limitation of detail would seem necessary if only because life, if not also art, is so very short.

But how is this to be achieved.

I find it possible to tumble, at times, like now, in the middle of the night, when it is raining, and the cats are moving about, into a sort of hollow plenism.

With this comes an image of Magdeburg Hemispheres floating in the blackness above the dripping redwood boughs like flying saucers, the rims of their lids sealed to the rims of their bases by air pressure from without, and the insides containing... nothing.

(And yes, that Safavid miniature is, as you say, so wonderfully full.)



Yes, so many rifts -- Messrs Mamluk and Musawwir seem to have loaded every rift quite well, thank you. "Nothing but marks in space" -- or as Stein said she learned from Cezanne, every part of the composition is as important as every other part. . . .