Polyphany – The Hero with the Wing

In note (959) in the third diary, written in the spring of 1914, Paul Klee describes the great pleasure his meeting with Rilke gave him. As he writes: “I once read passages of Die Aufzeichnungen des Malte Lauriss Brigge. His sensibility (Rilke’s) is very close to mine, except that I now press on more toward the center, whereas his preparation tends to be skin deep. He is still an impressionist, while I have only memories left in the area.” Since one curiosity, to search and find out the passages that Klee is referring to, is but a possibility that does not exist, it is but natural for one to adopt for himself a specific passage that will allow him to begin an adventurous voyage into the world of painting, the world of Klee, and ultimately into the invisible world of one’s inner soul.

“The fatal thing about these acted poems,” Rilke writes, “…was that they continually added to an extended themselves, growing to tens of thousands of verses, so that ultimately the time in them was the actual time; somewhat as if one were to make a globe on the scale of the earth.” I chose that passage to be the one to lead us through the diaries of Paul Klee which were written between the years of 1901 – 1918. Through a personal yet analytical process, I reduced each of the notes to a word. The process allowed me to create a catalog of notes, a catalog that soon after became an inner music in my mind. That music started to compose the mind and soul of Paul Klee for me. That analytical process that music served me as a departure point, a voyage into the land of abstraction, of signs, and of surrealism; the land of polyphony. Let us go back to the note (959) and try to understand the process, let us take the journey to the center that Klee is referring to, and see its growth, see its verses developing and taking the means of physical reduction at the same time, thus making the center lose its physicality. As its presence of occupying the center point of space is slowly disappearing it becomes a pure mental space. By saying that I mean that the center has now been transformed into the most reductive tool of abstraction—the line, and it is the expressing power of the line and its ability to define space that allow Klee the penetration into the depth, into the darkness of the night. It is the darkness of the irrational that paints in color the world of the surreal, that is the same point, as Klee writes, of which the line becomes the bridge between outside and inside, and the hand becomes better than the mind, it is the moment of the line becoming a personal expression of more than one kind. It is then that a line loses the perception of time in order to become infinite and immediate at the same time, a line becoming letter, a sign, a point—a line in the condition of polyphony.

Recognizing that condition, Merleau-ponty writes: “It is simply a matter of freeing the line, of revivifying its constituting power…for henceforth, as Klee said, the line no longer imitates the visible; it ‘renders visible’; it is the blueprint of a genesis of things” (Eye and Mind – The Primacy of Perception). As he continues to the next paragraph, the new line is defined: “The line is no longer the apparition of an entity upon a vacant background, as it was in classical geometry. It is, as in modern geometries, the restriction, segregation, or modulation of a pre-given spatiality. Obviously, the desired line for Klee is the one that Bergson looks for as being the “sinuous line,” the one which is outside living beings, a line that “could be no one of the visible lines of the figure, no more here than there and yet the key to the whole.” A line translated by Rilke to be a “verse” in which time was the actual time. A line translated to architecture only in the scale of the detail.

It is the invisibility of the line, the unseen qualities of the forms and figures that makes Klee’s work revolutionary, and it is precisely that quality in which he refers himself to Rilke by calling him “Impressionist,” while seeing himself as only having “…memories left in this area.” To clarify that thought, we should look back to the relation of three elements of the body as understood and described by Klee, the three of them being; the mind, the eye, and the hand. It would be more than appropriate to translate the relation of the three to a structural under-layer of colors and lines like the ones painted for us by Klee. Our preliminary preconception should be that the avant-garde of Klee lies within that new structure that he proposes to us, just as other great painters before him, the revolution does not come out of the invention of new structures, but out of seeing the archaic ones in a new way. It is a scientific process that leads to the liberation from form. In order for Klee to present for us his new virtual catalog he has to first arrive at the condition of having a lack of interest in formal qualities. The departure point, the “detail” of such a state of mind can come only through new relationships between the mind, the eye and the hand. These new definitions are recognized by Klee as he writes: One eye sees, the other feels” (937), and adds later: “Everything vanishes around me, and works are born as if out of the void. Ripe, graphic fruits fall off. My hand becomes the obedient instrument of a remote will” (1104). The eye and the hand receive a new definition that allows for the perfect world of imagination to be built upon it. New structural ties allow for the progression of new forms, new images, and eventually lead to a new composition. The world of imagination expressed so many times by Klee himself is completely rooted in the world of nature, now the new structure permits its revolution of its old context and symbolism. Modernity is blurring the boundary between the forest and the city. And nature? “Nature now appears stripped of its metaphysical attributes, in the guise of a supreme legislator of bourgeois freedom…” (Manfredo Taufy – The Wicked Architect – G.B. Piranesi), as the revolutionary architect and painter so is Klee, coming out of the shadows of criticism, it is now a question of the representation of an active decomposition. It is the new understanding of the paint box and its energy: “I must someday be able to improvise freely on the chromatic key board of the rows of watercolor cups” (837). Once duplicity becomes evident, at that very moment, the typological line finds itself completely liberated, it is able to demonstrate its own inability to structure an organism (nor urban space). The supremacy of pure form declares its own ineffectuality when confronted by the power of space.

As we see then, the mental decomposition of the mind, the eye, and the hand is thus translated to a new kind of space, it is the new perception that leads one out of the Impressionist space into that of the modernity, of a larger void, of a deeper silence. It is the stretched void between the tendency towards the skin-deep, to the one pressing towards the center. It is that voided space from the poet to the painter that composes for us the notes of movement and thus music of a voyage.

The act of travelling, of moving, of experiencing the new, seems essential in the like of Klee, as reflected in his diaries. From Italy and France, through the most inspirational trip to Tunisia, and on to the bizarre plane escorting trips during the war. All of these are but reflection of a mental voyage taken by Klee at his painting. As for him, the voyage is more than a hedonistic accumulation of sensation. As the traveler, he realizes the desire for adventure, for the voyage to become total and limitless, and therefore endless. A voyage that once one has taken, he cannot come back form. Being a mental trip. That voyage is free from the force of gravity, and its caricature of a frozen movement is thus reflected in the paintings. The “action” as Klee writes is the exception, not the rule. Therefore: “Action is the aortist tense; it must be contrasted with a static situation” (832). And as the “details” of that voyage were discussed before the mortar that will structure them into a complete work of art is patience.

I believe that it is that patience of Klee that is slowly composing the rhyme of irony which is hovering above the work. Best described in the words of Klee himself in the figure of “The Hero with the Wing: A tragicomic hero, perhaps Don Quixote of ancient times. The man born only with one wing, in contrast with the divine creatures, makes incessant efforts to fly. In doing so, he breaks him arms and legs, but persists under the banner of idea” (585). It is the oldest and most incessant belief, almost child-like, that drives the artist. It is that spirituality that brings upon him the cloud of the purest irony like that of a Spanish knight. Perhaps it is that irony of the one wing angel that is the crossing line from the analytical to the surreal. Perhaps it is only that one winged angel that can cross the border.

Last year I wrote:
Angels are the gods of the wind
Therefore they own the city,
The sounds of storming snow
The dance of the desert kite.
Angels have no color, but
That of desire, of the
Place they are – the
Color of time. Angels
Bring people together

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