by Rainer Maria Rilke
Aus unbeschreiblicher Verwandlung stammen
solche Gebilde-: Fühl! und glaub!
Wir leidens oft: zu Asche werden Flammen;
doch: in der Kunst: zur Flamme wird der Staub.
Hier ist Magie. In das Bereich des Zaubers
scheint das gemeine Wort hinaufgestuft…
und ist doch wirklich wie der Ruf des Taubers,
der nach der unsichtbaren Taube ruft.
Aus: Die Gedichte 1922-1926 (Muzot, August 1924)
In The Human Condition, Hannah Arendt argued that art is the transfiguration of thought, “a veritable metamorphosis in which it is though the course of nature which wills that all fire burn to ashes is reverted and even dust can burst into flames” (HC, §23, p. 168). Works of art reify the otherwise ephemeral thought of an artist and contribute stability and durability to the human world. In a certain sense, the thought of an artist is redeemed from oblivion by means of the work of art. For example, Arendt points out that a poem transforms the remembrance (Mnemosyne) of the poet into memory by means of rhythmn and language (HC, §23, p. 169). Rhythm provides the rule and measure for the material of language to transfigure the poet’s thoughts. And yet, there is a cost for this transfiguration—for all genuine redemption is costly—it is “life itself”, the “living spirit” of the poet must take up residence in the “dead letter” of the poem (HC, §23, p. 169). But in spite of the materiality of language, the poem “remains closest to the thought that inspired it” (HC, §23, p. 169). The density of poetic language retains the traces of the life of the poet’s mind.
But why do we need poems, or art for that matter? Arendt says that artists (homo faber operating at the highest capacity) redeem the best of human action and speech from destruction. Art saves the “great deeds” and “great words” of humanity from oblivion. It might be argued then, that art—techne—is redemptive. Without the work of the writer, the poet, the painter, the sculptor, the playwright, the musician, and other artists, the best of humanity would be forgotten. The central task of the artist is therefore one of redemptive technics—the recovery of the best of human thought, speech, and action from the futility of life. Redemptive technics creates a lasting world for human beings to inhabit. In this world, ashes burst into flames—words, paint, clay, dialogue, movement, and sound reveal what is best in us and what might otherwise have been lost forever.