CONFESSION AND DEATH
Donald Kuspit states that there is in many of the objects and figures of Modern art the expression of a death wish—all the stronger because of the loss of belief in immortality which is an expression of the life force. There is in Modern art, he goes on, a disintegrated, unstructured, disorganized, messy, almost chaotic look. There is a great effort to inhibit awareness of, to constrain, death in Modern art. Death usually comes in indirectly in the style of art; for to many artists death is unbearable, repressed, the concept of an afterlife a fantasy, an absurdity, a nothingness. They believe we are faced with annihilation, a merciless end-game, non-redemptiveness, no protective emotional security, imminent self-destruction, death’s haunting bluntness. And so, behind the often lively, vibrant and restless styles of Modern art there lurks a sense of emptiness, depression and a modern living death. Like the characters in Hemmingway or Conrad there is no triumph over death or life. There is wounding but no resolution.
-Ron Price with thanks to Donald Kuspit, “The Only Immortal,” Signs of Psyche in Modern and Post-Modern Art, Cambridge UP, NY, 1993, pp.163-166.
Traditional painting, sculpture and poetry were reinforced by a belief in immortality. And so is this poetry. I have replaced an old centre of faith with a new one. An ideal of transendence, of the sacred, of the numinous, of the idea that life is more than the sum of its material moments is behind all my poetry. Although I could go on writing poetry ad infinitum and although there is a surface appearance of fragmentation in the immense diversity of material I write about, and as readers will come across as they go from poem to poem, I feel a sense of wholeness, of completeness, of a fully realized mental construct in what I have created. I have a sense of the timeless, the true, the authentic lasting, enduring beyond the contingent and incompleteness of human life, a sense of a destination to be reached, a project which will be completed only with my own death or an incapacitating illness.
-Ron Price, Pioneering Over Three Epochs, Unpublished Manuscript, 1999.
Death lurks here, too, in my work,
but for different reasons,
not the sense of incompleteness
not wanting to return to my origins,
not a part of its intense and
pervasive presence in our world,
not as part of a living death.
But, rather, part of that
touchstone, that measure:
wish for death, if ye are men of truth.1
For I am scattered across two continents,
in several hospitals
where they electrified my brain,
with little pretension to purity left,
1 Qur’an 2:94.
2 December 1999