Image Source/Text: B.Mad.
Caption for the photo: "This may not be the specific torso he was writing about, but it's the one I think about. Rilke was probably referring to the Apollo torso in the Louvre, since he lived in Paris. However, I am sure that this is the torso that Michelangelo admired so much, and that had great influence on Renaissance, Mannerist and Baroque sculpture. This statue was discovered in the Campo de' Fiori, in Rome during the period of Pope Julius II (pope 1503-1513). It was once believed to be a 1st century BC original, but is now believed to be a copy of an older statue, likely dating to the 2nd century BC."
Rapid change from technological innovation eliminates many traditions, values and objects from the past. This may account for Millennial attempts to preserve styles from the past, such as Steampunk, or what I have described on this blog as Retro-futurism (defined here as instances where people take things from the past and revive them now, or project them into the future; retro-futurism is more usually defined as past attempts to imagine the future). Maybe one of the sacred tasks of this period is to select aspects of the past and preserve them before they are lost, or to preserve their meaning before they are reset in Post-Postmodern contexts which make them unintelligible.
But maybe preservation of the past only accelerates change. The still-powerful past determines which things we cannot discard; it reminds us of the things we cannot escape. As a result, it is a catalyst for introspection. And anything we specifically choose to save from the turn of innovation will provoke all the more self-questioning. Ironically, the continued power of the past thereby forces change toward the future. This paradox about the continued life of the past and its transformation into the future reminded me of Rilke's poem, Archaic Torso of Apollo (see a discussion at the Guardian and modern translations here).
"Archaic Torso of Apollo" by Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926)
(Translated by Walter Kaufmann)
We did not know his high, unheard of head
where his eyes' apples ripened. Yet his torso has
retained their glowing as
a candelabrum where his vision, not yet dead,
only turned low, still shines. For else the breast
could not blind you, nor could we still discern
the smile that wanders in the loins' faint turn
to that core which once carried manhood's crest.
Else would this stone, disfigured and too small,
stand mute under the shoulders' lucid fall
and not gleam like a great cat's skin, and not
burst out of all its contours, bright
as a great star: there is no spot
that does not see you. You must change your life.
"Archaischer Torso Apollos"
Wir kannten nicht sein unerhörtes Haupt,
darin die Augenäpfel reiften. Aber
sein Torso glüht noch wie ein Kandelaber,
in dem sein Schauen, nur zurückgeschraubt,
sich hält und glänzt. Sonst könnte nicht der Bug
der Brust dich blenden, und im leisen Drehen
der Lenden könnte nicht ein Lächeln gehen
zu jener Mitte, die die Zeugung trug.
Sonst stünde dieser Stein entstellt und kurz
unter der Schultern durchsichtigem Sturz
und flimmerte nicht so wie Raubtierfelle;
und bräche nicht aus allen seinen Rändern
aus wie ein Stern: denn da ist keine Stelle,
die dich nicht sieht. Du mußt dein Leben ändern.
See all my posts on Retro-Futurism.