RILKE IN A DIGITAL AGE
The road East to Charlevoix was already busy as families headed for the hills, still gloriously red and gold, the low St. Lawrence tides stretching silver under the sun. It was high time to escape after a month of classes and contracts, grant applications and violin lessons. Here already, we sigh as if we could keep the pumpkins from ripening or the leaves from falling off the trees. We had shivered under the nights of a long week of rain. Would there be anything left after the storm? How is it pumpkins can sit there, glowing in the field when their vines have long since withered on their way to merging once again with the field? Along the long climbs into the mountains, past new furrows, the burning hills, we look for La Maison de Simone with its low beams and wood stove, its distance from the bustle of our city lives.
Yesterday I listened to a speaker arguing the merits of integrating technology into the classroom. How our tendency, she persuaded, has been to look for ways to provide children with tools to protect themselves against the very real dangers of the digital world, rather than to lead them into a world of exploration. These are necessary points to consider. And yet, as an artist, I am deeply suspicious of the digital promise. Much virtual ink has been spilt over the marvels of connection and communication. We can reach across continents and scrapbook the work of thousands of generous art producers. We can be curators, co-creators of an immense online canvas that can be liked by millions. Our children will publish online and find motivation in the number of hits their work might generate.
I wonder what Rilke thought when he sat in Duino Castle near Trieste or later at Château de Muzot, when he lived through his depression, the war and creative passion he called a “hurricane of the spirit?” What was his motivation? There are many wells to draw from, and much of the time we don’t choose the bucket or the rope. But it seems to me that some are deeper than others. There has always been the motivation of greatness just around the corner for the struggling artist. That the world will finally come to its senses and recognize what should have been apparent all along. But somehow, the need to be seen creating at every step of creation seems to go beyond the general desire to create something great.
This may be a romantic notion, and I write this knowing I will send this out to you through this marvellous digital co-creation. When it was Emily Dickenson’s sister, Lavinia, who found the 40 notebooks in a locked chest after Emily’s death, who finally made sure that the poems saw the light of day, was artistic motivation even an issue? Obviously, I’m not calling for a locked box around art. Perhaps it’s simply a matter of style that makes it difficult to swallow. Some of us will flee to the hills when the evangelist tents set up on the baseball field and the public confessions begin. If art is a cry from the soul, why does it need to be heard by everyone present? Can’t the tree fall without sending a tweet? Let the ferns be the ones to take witness as they twine themselves between the trunk’s felled branches, and welcome it to the world of understory.