Jan. 5, 1696, in Parma.
by Rainer Maria Rilke
Wir kannten nicht sein unerhörtes Haupt,
darin die Augenäpfel reiften. Aber
sein Torso glüht noch wie en Kandelaber,
in dem sein Schauen, nur zurückgeschraubt,
sich hält und glänzt. Sonst könnte nicht der Bug
der Brust dich blenden, und im leisen Drehen
der Lenden könnte nicht ein Lächeln gehen
zu jener Mitte, die die Zeugung trug.
Sonst stünde dieser Stein entstellt und kurz
unter der Schultern durchsichtigem Sturz
und flimmerte nicht so wie Raubtierfelle;
und bräche nicht aus allen seinen Rändern
aus wie ein Stern: denn da ist keine Stelle,
die dich nicht sieht. Du musst dein Leben ändern.
Translation 1 (Mitchell):
We cannot know his legendary head
with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso
is still suffused with brilliance from inside,
like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,
gleams in all its power. Otherwise
the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could
a smile run through the placid hips and thighs
to that dark center where procreation flared.
Otherwise this stone would seem defaced
beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders
and would not glisten like a wild beast’s fur:
would not, from all the borders of itself,
burst like a star: for here there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.
Translation 2 (Snow):
We never knew his head and all the light
that ripened in his fabled eyes. But
his torso still glows like a gas lamp dimmed
in which his gaze, lit long ago,
holds fast and shines. Otherwise the surge
of the breast could not blind you, nor a smile
run through the slight twist of the loins
toward that center where procreation thrived.
Otherwise this stone would stand deformed and curt
under the shoulders’ transparent plunge
and not glisten just like wild beasts’ fur
and not burst forth from all its contours
like a star: for there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.
“It’s only when we look with eyes of love that we see as the painter sees,” Henry Miller wrote in his forgotten 1968 gem To Paint Is to Love Again. Drawing, indeed, transforms the secret passageway between the eye and the heart into a two-way street — while we are wired to miss the vast majority of what goes on around us, learning to draw rewires us to see the world differently, to love it more intimately by attending to and coming to cherish its previously invisible details. This, perhaps, is why beloved artist Lynda Barry teaches visual storytelling as the infinitely rewarding art of “being present and seeing what’s there.”
I think this book review at the New Criterion puts paid to any recent, somewhat optimistic takes on the architect, Albert Speer. And, yes, Michael J. Lewis is a good historian who I’ve met on a couple of First Things occasions. The end of his review is pretty telling, and provacative, perhaps moreso than any pure polemic that modern architects tend to employ, because it doesn’t have to twist history or facts for its power…history itself is often quite enough:
“But somehow one senses that Speer falls in a different category, that one cannot excuse the opportunism of the artist in order to appreciate the integrity of the art. Kitchen briefly mentions without comment one telling fact, which is that as an architecture student Speer occasionally paid poorer students to prepare his drawings. The practice is not unknown, but it is not what one expects from a truly architectural mind, from someone who lives and thinks architecture, and who exults in the making of form. Kitchen suggests that Speer’s cleverest design ideas, such as the Luftwaffe searchlights illuminating the Nuremberg Rally grounds, came from his assistants.
Why is it, one might ask, that there are no architectural drawings by Speer among the book’s illustrations, not a single sketch, not one perspective? The idea sketches that survive for Germania are not by Speer but by Hitler. Hitler was not an architect of terrible originality or distinction, but in a certain sense he was more of an architect than Speer—that is, he was brimming over with ideas for buildings and forms—derivative and conventional to be sure, but fired with all the passion and longings and resentments of his frustrating years in Vienna around 1909. He had the one architectural quality that Speer did not: an urgent architectural imagination. One somehow cannot imagine Speer waking up in the middle of a night with the compulsion to sketch a sudden idea.
This is what makes Speer in the end so repellent, and all the more so because of his courtly good looks and air of easy urbanity; it is that he does not even have the excuse of the opportunist, that he made political compromises in order to practice his art. Stripped of the murderous politics, in which his complicity is now beyond all doubt, there is precious little art left.”
However, the weak link in this argument is that, as one of my friends mentioned, there is something very artistically consistent about Speer’s work which is indicative of a guiding mind and vision in much the way many modern “starchitects” work, at the very least. This suggests that his involvement was more than simply the role of a “critic” or the public image of someone else’s genius or someone else’s drawings, but rather that he had a real architectural personality which held authoritative sway, and this evident most conspicuously because of its absence in equal measure or degree by Hitler’s other architects.