our greatest blessings come to us by way of madness Phaedr. 244a

2011/11/01

Desire Is Holy

New book out about Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

Review here.

Publisher's blurb, via Amazon:

Dante Gabriel Rossetti is the most intriguing and flamboyant figure in nineteenth-century British art. He inspired the first Pre-Raphaelite generation of 1849 and the second generation ten years later and both brought about significant changes in British art. His poetry, too, acted as a stimulus to many writers at the end of the century, who saw in his subtle manipulation of the sonnet and the ballad forms ways of giving expression to issues that were peculiar to the that century.
Dominant among those issues was that of sexual desire, for Rossetti, more than any other artist in this period, struggled with the contradictions of sexuality. When he died in 1882 people knew of him as the painter of alluring women with exotic names - Lilith, Monna Vanna, Fiammetta - and the writer of subtly erotic verse. He projected onto women his anxieties, his pleasures and his needs. He also mythologized them, so that Elizabeth Siddal, Fanny Cornforth, Jane Morris and others became for him Beatrice, Guenevere, and Isolde. In doing so he shaped them, he changed the direction of their lives, and in some cases he both made and destroyed them.
This richly illustrated book, by tracing the development of Rossetti's painting and poetry in the context of the drama of his life, follows this powerful thread. Sometimes sensual, at others spiritual, Rossetti's mission was to transcend the Manichean division that separated body and soul and, through the visionary power of art, reconcile what he saw as elements fundamental to human experience.


"Dominant among those issues was that of sexual desire, for Rossetti, more than any other artist in this period, struggled with the contradictions of sexuality." Have to read the book. But I do know Mr. Rossetti rather well--and for him, sexual desire doesn't begin to contain him. When he says Hand painted the Soul, he's speaking of serving big L libido -- life force itself, Beauty as harbinger, emanation of the Good. Religion of Art? Sure. And I tend to fancy him (a whole book's worth, to what green altar) as Corbin-style Sufi by way of an occult Dante, magician philosopher in the old style roots of Western tradition -- saying in Heart's Hope

For lo ! in some poor rhythmic period, Lady, I fain would tell how evermore Thy soul I know not from thy body, nor Thee from myself, neither our love from God.

And then there's Ken Russell's take.

That odd, punishing nature. Rossetti had no understanding of it.

As far as longing can reach.  -- reminding us that longing is thumos, the energy of life itself.
Betwixt the sun and moon a mystery