Quote Bag: Symbolism and Its Discontents


He thought that the light had ceased to shine in the west and the black wings of night approached across the misty ocean.

European culture had uttered its word. And this word had arisen like an ominous symbol. And this symbol was a dancing skeleton.

And the best in mankind which was not yet asleep was turning into sectarian madness and the ecstasy of delirium.

We "decadents" are convinced that we are the final link in an endless chain of experiences – that central station from which new paths will lead.

– Andrey Biely


Indeed, in its wider manifestations, the symbolist movement may be interpreted as a sort of modern Renaissance – one followed by a reformation, the politico-religious debate and strife that have predominated since the 1930’s and driven the esthetic vision very much underground.

For Biely the word was symbol, a unity of two incomprehensible substances: space and time.

– George Reavey


One of the objects of the Symbolic quest: that the myth, charged with special cosmic powers and appeals to the irrational, gave new meaning and sacredness to a succession of human gestures.

– Francine-Claire Legrand


"Symbolism" was the term Biely always used for the primary concern of his art and life – the tie between man and the transcendent. Rather than being a merely a literary fashion or a category of fictional devices, therefore, this was for him a radical epistemological stance: a new form of cognition, most often based in visual perception, that would accomplish nothing less than the transformation of mankind.

This is a classic example of a symbol as Biely understood the term. The perceiver creates an artifact – the image that exists only in the words that embody it – by infusing something he has seen with his "internal experience." And because these are rooted in a transcendent realm, the resulting symbol becomes an expression of a supernatural truth.

– Vladimir E. Alexandov

The life and works of a symbolist writer are inseparably connected, for his writings reflect his inner experiences insofar as they enable him to glimpse, in moments of creative ecstasy, the absolute that lies beyond the veil of Isis.

Symbolism implied a revelation of ultimate reality through the physical phenomena of our world.

– Oleg Maslenikov


The Symbolists did not wish to separate the writer from the man, the literary biography from the personal. Symbolism did not wish to be only an aesthetic school, a literary trend. It constantly endeavored to become a vitally creative method, and therein lay its most profound, and possibly unrealized, truth: its entire history, in essence, passed in the constant striving toward this truth. It was a series of attempts, at times truly heroic, to find the union of life and creativity, its own kind of philosopher’s stone of art.

– Vladislav Khodasevich


The symbolist, on the other hand, redefines the whole process of knowing and the status of reality in the light of poetic method. He tries to take both poles of perception into account at once, to view the subjective and objective worlds as functions of each other by regarding both as functions of the speech in which they are rendered. Here is the sum of his quarrel with reason.

– Charles Feildelson, Jr.


True symbols, in the sense that the term is here used, are the means by which we express our understanding, or helplessness in understanding, of what we cannot articulate verbally or by any other means. Symbols actually accrete and store the power with which we credit them, and become the more inexhaustible of that power the more they are used, providing the user still feels within himself what the power is.

– R. P. Blackmur


He got into everybody’s unconscious with his symbols. That’s part of what he’s about, you know.

– Gregory "Gigi" Hemingway


To find new and unexpected links and to add new possibilities to symbol was to many generations the essence of "wit."

Suffice it to say that to him and his contemporaries the Garden of Venus was still peopled with symbolic beings whose very beauty was charged with meaning.

– E. H. Gombrich


Whether celebrated in a poem or painting, Rossetti’s susceptibility to feminine beauty pervades all his work without abatement. The result is a tension between the actual model and the written or painted object that the artist utilized in order to re-create an alternative metaphor of exquisite beauty which fused real and imaginary viewpoints.

– Maryan Wynn Ainsworth


It must not be thought that in the Intelligible World the gods and blessed see propositions; everything expressed there is a beautiful image.

– Plotinus


He is often sublime, at times grotesque, and he is always bordering on the pathological. His painting is the fruit of hyperaestheticism, of abnormal, intolerable intensity. Attraction towards the inherent reality of things is not enough to explain this profound and complex art. He is certainly very conscious of the beauty of colors, but he regards them primarily as a fantastic language, a means of interpreting and visualizing Ideas. In almost everything he does he is a symbolist.

– Albert Aurier


A formidable withdrawal of the modern imagination toward the past, an enormous scientific inquiry, and hitherto unknown passions for a vague and still unknown supernatural have driven us to incarnate our dreams and perhaps our trembling before a new unknown in strange symbolism which translates the contemporary spirit just as ancient symbolism once interpreted the soul of the past. Only we don’t place in it our faith and dreams, but rather we put into it our doubts, our dreads, our ennuis, our vices, our despair and probably our dying agonies.

– Emile Verhaeren

About ubu507

memory documentation and manipulation
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