Middling Beast

Episode Three Hundred Twenty Six: Middling Beast.
In which we stride.


  1. The poem "Mystic Garden & Middling Beast" from 'A Thought Revolved', Wallace Stevens, 1937, finds its way around my brain on occasion, having made a habit of doing so for the last thirty some years. It's part of Steven's avocation of making sense of the poet's role in stoking the Imagination as an elevating practice, setting the mundane daily life of the poet (striding among cigar stores and hatters) against the sacred business of creating the transcendent (hero hymns). And the poem starkly finishes on a staccato note: laying out a series of opposites, the conclusion being that God is the garden of paradise, and Man is His creator. Such is the power of art. I'm not scholar enough to know how subversive Steven's refutation of the traditional religious power-structure would have been received in 1940 - certainly there were a whole series of movements that made similar manifestos even a generation prior - but it always feels surprising coming from a man in a New England suburbia, walking two miles each day to his Insurance job in a gray suit. Even Stevens having being swept up with the cultural differences in the tropical Florida Keys paradise, his annual winter escape from Connecticut, seems itself so mainstream. Anyway, I've spent most of my life absent repeating those lines in my head, hoping to make sense of them, and I'm still coming up short.

    As I also come up short on this strip here. I don't remember whether the title was specifically relevant (probably not). I know the first frame was a Bauhaus sculpture of a standing figure - seems Oscar Schlemmer - but I can't place it now. The second frame was wallpaper in a background from a tv show or a movie. It was quietly violent in the scene, but intentionally overlooked. And, of course, I don't remember from which show. (A show good wallpaper production design is always strong.) The third frame from a photo portrait of a W.H. Auden, I think, but rendered in a quickly sketchy manner that I'm still digesting. Currently not really happy with it. And the fourth is a close up of an animated Constructivist painting, I think, though the source and the Constructivist artist have been also lost over the weeks.

    So, not much to say, specifically, about the strip. I think I was looking for some bold, clean frames at the time...and I think it falls short. If I am the middling beast here, I haven't managed to elevate nuthin'.

    Mystic Garden & Middling Beast (II)

    The poet striding among the cigar stores,
    Ryan's lunch, hatters, insurance and medicines,
    Denies that abstraction is a vice except
    To the fatuous. These are his infernal walls,
    A space of stone, of inexplicable base
    And peaks outsoaring possible adjectives.
    One man, the idea of man, that is the space,
    The true abstract in which he promenades.
    The era of the idea of man, the cloak
    And speech of Virgil dropped, that's where he walks,
    That's where his hymns come crowding, hero hymns,
    Chorals for mountain voices and the moral chant,
    Happy rather than holy but happy-high,
    Day hymns instead of constellated rhymes,
    Hymns of the struggle of the idea of god
    And the idea of man, the mystic garden and
    The middling beast, the garden of paradise
    And he that created the garden and peopled it.

  3. ...I'm always stuck on the 'denies that abstraction is a vice except to the fatuous'.



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