Janez Sedej – Reflections on the poetry by Maksim Sedej Jr.
I Might Be a Particle Which Hopes It May not Dissolve into Nothing
Reflections on the poetry by Maksim Sedej Yr.
The author of the present collection of poems, painter Maxim Sedej Yr. , gave in 2000 his artistic and intellectual visions a poetic expression in a book entitled The Four Faces of the Soul, where he talks about his art, sources of his artistic vision, the painting procedures he employs, his spiritual and intellectual background, his father and mother. More than just poetics, these writings are essays treating with great intellectual acumen questions of art, religion and science in the present spiritual situation, not only analyzing the state of things, but also opening up masterfully new directions of thought.
This collection of poems, on the other hand, marks the artist’s entry into the world of poetry, a confrontation with the language as a new means of creativity. He makes use of this medium, of new structural rules and principles and experiments with fresh possibilities and the new potential of his artistic drive, enabling his vision to be expressed in a new light, opening up yet unexplored horizons.
A special place in the collection is reserved for the introductory essay, a sequel to the author’s reflections in The Four Faces of the Soul, a masterly presentation of today’s state of science, religion and art, aiming at a synthesis of these spheres of human search for truth, which may open up new ways to human thought – a work worth being considered even by the most prominent scientists of our time.
The aim of these accompanying reflections, however, is to highlight the issues raised by Maksim Sedej Yr.’s poems.
A quick look at the poems in the collection will reveal formally very modern poetry, which shows in complete freedom from all that is not essential, that is artificial and wishes to please, i.e. from all that is decorative, such as the rhythm and rhyme. The verses, free of the dictate of form, however, do not strive at a decomposition of the language nor at playfulness in the choice of words. The expression, neither lost in modernistic experimentation nor following traditionalist conformity, is lucid and clear. In its ascetic structure, the verse is the basic structural element. The poem develops verse after verse, thought after thought, image after image. This simple sequence of verses is sometimes philosophically ascetic, sometimes colorful and figurative. Having read a poem, we are struck by its complex structure and meaning, reflecting the carefully considered structure of the whole collection.
The author being a painter, his poems nevertheless remain in all essential points linked to the literary tradition; they reflect recognizable literary ideals and create a world which, though belonging to the realm of art in general, is built in a typically literary fashion.
Each poem in the collection is accompanied by an original illustration, a vignette, referring to Maksim Sedej Yr.’s paintings or drawings. These vignettes are not merely illustrations; establishing a dialogue between the two types of artistic expression, they are also more than just complements to poems: the vignettes and the poems together form a complex unity, in which the vignette may be an illustration of the said and present, at the same time, an aspect that cannot be conveyed by words.
A special place in the collection goes, no doubt, to the introductory poem The Fiery Ring, a more than satisfactory entry into this superb reflective poetry. The poem is a motto, announcing, in an autonomously refined manner, the issues characterizing the entire collection. Providing not merely the background and guidance for interpretation of other poems, it is also a link between the poems and the essay that follows.
In the poem dedicated to Stephen Hawkins, the leading astrophysicist of our time, the author conjures up a fantastic image of “the great man in a crystal cube”, the man who- although physically most severely impaired – is able to clearly see in his mind (through his computations) the entire Universe down to its final borders, and can even imagine its beginnings and its end. On the surface, a scientist’s basic approach to understanding of the reality, his way of thinking in general, may appear radically different from and incompatible with an artist’s vision. The author, nevertheless, feels that what he has in common with this great man is being intrigued by the same questions about the absolute beginning and end – the same scope of view and the wish to encompass in one’s view the entire creation (Universe). His poem is a clear manifestation of his fascination with the position of Hawking the scholar, a view that is so completely different, but also so very familiar.
The poem The Fiery Ring begins with an attempt to make a clear-cut distinction between the two approaches, the two paths to eternity, infinity and love. The one felt with one’s essence, one’s soul, experienced in the vicinity of one’s object of love, is eternal and divine; the other, a product of reason and curiosity, is scholarly, limited, and belongs to the realm of the transitory. Based on this distinction is the basic understanding of the distinction between art and science, which, however, the poem shows to be relative. The ending of the first strophe places love, as described by the poet, onto a rational, conceptual basis. The moment love is expressed with words, it ceases to be absolute, eternal, it becomes human. The word, logos, brings us awareness, but also separates us from becoming completely merged with the creation. What then is divine and what rational?
Although he explores the Universe conceptually, the great man does not fail to perceive its beauty. ”He observes and admires the glory of the night sky with billions of stars and galaxies expanding above him.“ Maksim Sedej Yr. shows the super-scientist’s sensitivity for the aesthetic dimension of his object of exploration, which is not a question of accidental; it is, in fact, the source of the scientist’s intuitive knowledge of what lies beyond the limits of the material world, our universe. ”He may not know it, yet he grasps intuitively a thought which sparked to life in the depths of the subconscious and entered the mind as a thin veil of mist.”
As is evident from his paintings and the essay The Four Faces of the Soul, Maksim Sedej Yr. has always been intrigued by the view of the star-lit sky, astronomy being his great passion. Back in the human history, man’s look into the starry sky marked the beginnings of mythology, art and proto-science, i.e. the beginning of all human spiritual and intellectual endeavors. By tackling the dilemmas of the Universe in his poems, the author places himself in the position of art in its most elementary function, which is to attempt to embrace, rationally and emotionally, the creation as a meaningful whole; this course – if it has been correct –is bound to bring him to the Creator himself.
Nowadays, however, the look into the sky with the naked eye is no longer sufficient. As we are told in The Beam, the beauty of the Andromeda nebula and its daughter galaxy have been revealed to the artist through a modern telescope. The key to a view of the Universe, its boundaries, are calculations, abstract constructs, or, as he says in the Fiery Ring: “the astronomer does not see the universe with his eyes, He sees it with his thoughts, his inner being, his visions.” In this poem the author thanks the scientist for the discoveries made, without which he would have been unable to develop his own vision of the eternal dilemmas that challenge, determine and contribute meaning to human existence. Still, is the Universe the reply to man’s endless longing for eternity? Maksim Sedej Yr.’s poetry suggests there is no simple answer.
In The Trees Strolling in the Morass he speaks about the City as a metaphor for human society and its immanent need to subdue both nature and man. Outside the City, i.e. outside human society, there is no reality, there is no untamed nature. The City-Society is in its essence possessive and totalitarian. Everything in the City is restricted, confined – the river in its concrete bed, the bushes in pretty containers, crowds of people in narrow streets, with eyes fixed on the ground. The Trees Strolling in the Morass strongly suggests that it is not possible to escape from this situation: “Everything I know, feel, sense, adore, love, loathe, everything I dislike or am enchanted by, and also everything I have done, good and bad, is contained in it, in my relationship with the City”. This is the fate of human destiny, yet, are we really condemned to living in despair, like the heroes of Peter Božič’s early plays? A way out, as suggested by this poem, is the look into the sky, or rather, any look beyond confinement and finiteness. This “look beyond” opens up new worlds and their beauty, new perspectives appear, love is discovered.
In the Morass, the City-Society is compared to the morass, a metaphor for constraint, decay, hopelessness. The society is the morass, a world built upon hierarchy of power, dominated by merciless fight for survival. Freedom is merely an illusion: “a question of power and not free will”. In this poem, Maksim Sedej Yr. keeps searching for salvation in the look up, or rather, beyond; his vision extends even further out than in the previous poem. He tries to find openness and freedom in the vast expanses of the Universe, a synonym for infinity.
After enjoying a brief moment of consolation, he, however, realizes that the Universe, like the City, is also a confined space, with a beginning and an end. “The universe has exploded from a fiery point, a singular line without mass, and is expanding, the problem is that regardless of its size, it is confined within the ring of the prime heat wave, which can never be pierced” – a poetically expressed thesis, expounded already in The Four Faces of the Soul. In our interpretation, however, we need to be cautious, since Maksim Sedej Yr. admits that he is talking about the universe he has discovered through books, i.e. the universe of scholars; such a universe and this kind of observers cannot be expected to “pierce the prime heat wave”. Scientific discoveries follow the logic of the material Universe – its natural, common-sense laws. In the same way as a finite universe can be seen as a morass, all who are confined by restraints of logic – people without “religion, mysticism or transcendence”, are doomed to a life in the morass. However, there exists something that can transcend the fiery ring in no time, a thought and faith originating in God, the Creator transcending his creation.
In his Flight, a fantastic paraphrase of France Prešeren’s poem with the same title, the Universe is rendered again as a confined space, a “mere Universe”, a place without a real focus, its only reality being the “flight of everything” – all things fleeing from each other, subatomic particles and galaxies as well as moments in human lives. This poem indicates that it may be possible that man will once dominate the entire universe; still, the spirit requires openness, infinite new worlds. It represents the author’s vision of the “mere Universe” emptying itself into Nothing – as he states in horror in The Fiery Ring. This is Nothing of scholars, nihilism of the new age.
In this last case Maksim Sedej Yr. tells the story of the victorious march of science and the liberation of the new-age man from all bonds. He deliberately treats great scholarly discoveries by paraphrasing the ideologies of the new-era reason, which instrumentalizes scientific discoveries by encompassing them in the sphere of its ideology. The only reality existing within this sphere are the laws of nature, which can be discovered by means of an exactly determined methodology. Spirituality, which manifests itself in religion or love and eludes the reason, is eliminated from its sphere. The path marked by the inflated self-confident ego of the new-era rationalism, is the path thriving on annihilation of everything in its way, it is the path of diminution. It reflects totalitarian reasoning, permitting nothing but itself. Consequentially, however, it is also self-restricting, confining itself to a Universe that is finite and explicable in its very principle.
The aim of reason is control, transformation and production of, firstly, objects and, secondly, people. We are dealing with a manipulative reason, a product of modern society and its authoritarian restrictions. The science itself is being used by the reason and made into its instrument, its great discoveries an excuse for extinction of hope, of all that is emotional and individual, briefly, of transcendence in general. In this way the reason is involved in production of (non)sense, it is becoming a new ideology, an (anti)theology, supposed to liberate man by destroying his religion, hope and love, the aim behind it being getting control over the horrified man: once everything is objective, the subject ceases to exist.
Unlike Copernicus, Galileo or Darwin, who used to explore new worlds and open up new horizons, the new-era reason is imposing boundaries on human thought. New-era metaphysics is restricted to technology, it is a means of acquiring overall control; however, basically, this is a diminution, closing-up of horizons. And although scientists have embraced this ideology to a great extent, Maksim Sedej Yr.’s poems suggest that the meaning of science is in eradication of limits, in opening of horizons. The great man in the Fiery Ring sits in a crystal cage: by placing himself in this cage, he has willfully resigned action, making an impact; the crystal cage, however, enables him to obtain what he wants – an unrestricted view of the Universe, to discover its wonders, which makes him an observer and an explorer. By renouncing action, he is able to see the universe as a whole and to reach intuitively beyond its boundaries, thus truly participating in its magnificence. This world, on the other hand, is being dominated and transformed by science and technology, emerging as the new religion of the atheist world, in which technical and social progress are the highest absolute.
Radically different from technology, which completely dominates all social reality, are faith, hope and love; like divine sparks, they can instantly subdue our material confines. The Fiery Ring renders the artist’s vision of a confined universe, which fills him with horror, and is juxtaposed with the principle of divine, superseding all boundaries in a flash. In the poems in question, God is not to be found in learned theological treatises, and even less in dogmatic expositions. The divine can be approached through simple, live experience, touching us at our most elementary level; it can be found in crucial moments of our lives, when we feel “with all our being and soul”. When we are exposed and scared, when in horror we suffer, we find protection under St. Mary’s cloak; we are soothed and consoled by a simple prayer based on trust, and even more, on love. (“Without feeling love, no one can sense the divine.”)
At this point Maksim Sedej Yr. discovers another Universe, one that is greater than the Universe of science; he discovers what he calls the trans-cosmic, which reaches us as a “thought that sparked to life in the depths of man’s subconscious”. (God is present in his creation- the Universe, yet he is above it and inhabits realms that cannot be seen or conceived from the perspective of this Universe.) It is very likely that there exist numerous other Universes, other divine creations with a completely different logic of existence. This thesis was first presented by Masim Sedej Yr. in The Four Faces of the Soul in 2000; the multi-universe theory was, interestingly, proposed by science after this date. In a beautiful love poem the poet names our Universe “the Universe in a shrine”. The infinite Universe can be a blossoming meadow, bursting with life, where one’s beloved woman is walking, infinity in her eyes, since “drowning in her blue eyes is all there is”. Infinity and transcendence exist where there is love. It is the most perfect fusion with the divine.
In the Beam the author describes the state between dreams and wakefulness, the moment when on waking up the first outlines of awareness will appear. The author experiences the beautiful image of two galaxies getting connected in a poem at the moment when he is not yet fully conscious, before the world begins to be perceived rationally, through words. Only in such moments can one experience – for a brief instant – through intuition rising from the unconscious the elementary, non-linguistic reality, the magnificent cosmic “Matter –Being”. We ordinary people have such experiences only rarely, in exceptional moments, and only very few artists possess the gift to express them in a language that manages to reflect at least some of their pristine beauty. So close to God are only God’s creatures, like, for instance, Saint Francis’s birds singing their pure, divine song. The legend of Saint Francis’s sermon to birds suggests that his sanctity came from his simplicity, allowing him to experience the feeling of the divine so deeply that he could feel the song of God’s creatures more profoundly than other human beings.
Faith and religion have a common origin, which is love of God. In his Brothers Karamazov Dostoevsky shows God as unconditional love; in the same novel the literary critic Dušan Pirjevec sees and interprets God – in a touchingly profound manner – as pure pity, as an active love of self, freed of all ideologies and ambitions to transform people and society. Such understanding of the divine and God is contained in Maksim Sedej’s poems. They convince us since they are conveying a living experience of love and beauty of the creation.
Maksim Sedej Yr.’s most profound encounter with the Supreme Being is depicted in the poem Blackness of the black. In the timeless instant of the deepest despair, convinced that he had lost his beloved, he had, “in the seeming void of Nothing”, an unearthly communication with the Being, experienced as a pale-gold light. Facing annihilation of his beloved (which is worse than own death), he was confronted with the absolute Nothing, the realm inhabited by the Being. As explained in Nothing , there exists, besides a nothing of nihilism and a nothing produced by man, also the Nothing of the Creation (the creation emerging from nothing). This dense Nothing, the primeval nothing (with counterparts in many ancient myths), which holds congested the entire potential of the creation before it existed, is the “realm of creation and the realm of the Being”. The zero point in the process of creation may be the only point when we could have – even at the rational level – come to touch the God, who belongs to our Universe as much as to what is beyond. Apart from that, Nothing appears in the Creation as an existential experience of suffering, loss and internal doubt. The communication with God can occur only in the state of absolute despair, of Nothing, of void , annihilation of the ego, when one is off the beaten track, free of prejudice and beliefs. In our world one can experience communication with God – a fleeting moment – only when in the state of total collapse. Loss brings us closer to the divine creation, awakening man’s artistic creativity. Maksim Sedej Yr. states that the essential can be rendered only in black. Love, on the other hand, can also be the source of creativity, the realm of God, since it means a loss – annihilation of oneself in the Other. To reach the final truth one would have to annihilate oneself, which explains why artists so often tend to walk on the edge of their own an-nihil-ation.
Below our rational self and apart from that which reflects the Being, there exists in us, outside the domain of language, a dark, uncontrolled layer of instincts, drives and fears. This is a suppressed stratum, buried and hidden from our conscious selves, based in the micelius of our brains, in which dwells the inferno. In his poem Inferno, Maksim Sedej Yr. speaks about one of his paintings, which he produced, following freely his ideas as they were appearing, having put aside all intellectual knowledge, experiences and faith.
At a certain point, creating becomes traveling into the “cosmic void, inhabited by mystery, mystic beings, creations of the Universe – dead and alive, as well as mysterious energy and matter, expanding in the infinite Void – Nothing.” This is basically a journey into the hidden, suppressed realms of one’s own personality, where Nothing and the unknown reside, which are not necessarily evil. Similar to this was perhaps the underground world of the Egyptian Book of the Dead, where the individual and cosmic rebirth occurs: the death of the old and the birth of the new. This is the experience of diving into one’s own sea of darkness and animal instincts. In this inferno all scholarly learning, experiences, beliefs, even ethical values, disappear; one remains alone with primal instincts, fears and premonitions. Only the greatest and the bravest are ready to take this journey with no certain end (the poem is dedicated to a great thinker, Maksim Sedej’s friend Ahac; the term micelius has been borrowed from another friend and philosopher, Taras Kermauner) – who knows what light will appear in the end, who knows or dares to admit oneself the truth about oneself. Still, these dark, barren, archetypal lands, where there is no room for the word, constitute the space where life begins: these are the lands where one can reach beyond the boundaries of the fiery ring; this is where man’s individuality and uniqueness are born. The real artist and, seemingly paradoxically, the thinker worth this name must- sooner or later – set off on this dangerous journey, the inferno being an inevitable element of creativity, without which all artistic endeavors are doomed to fail. The poem dedicated to Dušan Pirjevec, his friend Ahac, is in fact dedicated to his unyielding and uncompromising journeying between darkness and light. And as the radiant light of eternity was lit for Ahac while he was writing his essay on God in the Brothers Karamazov, one cannot help wondering if the same light was lit for him when his search finally ended.
The concluding poem in the collection, the Self Portrait, can be described with a metaphor from the Beam: a beam of light, which was sent from the Universe to allow the poet to admire its wonders, returns home after an infinitely long journey. Similarly, the poet has had to travel the vast domains of the Universe, reach its borders and go beyond. After completing this long journey, he could turn back and commence asking questions about himself. The real purpose of any journey is to submerge into oneself, to get to know oneself .
The poem Self- Portrait is about raising questions about oneself. The poet realizes that, although he has searched the Universe and what is beyond it, he has very little knowledge of himself and, moreover, that only very little true knowledge of this kind can be obtained. A look in the mirror shows only our external image; life is a mystery to man, and man is a mystery to himself . Instantaneous insights in one’s soul, in God in us, are revealed to Maksim Sedej Yr. on rare occasions, in moments of intense experience of beauty or when confronted with nothing. When one’s essence and one’s reflection in the mirror merge, one grasps intuitively – for a moment only – that which is beyond, the source of one’s artistic creativity. Once aware of that, the poet can employ self-questioning in his artistic mission. Maksim Sedej Yr. is convinced that one great work of art alone can provide the “eternal answer and is a signpost for all those who will set off on the journey into the cruel and indifferent Universe” of scholars. The final knowledge of oneself, however, can be gained only after one’s departure from this world.
Maksim Sedej Yr.’s poems convince us that the paths of spiritual people are bound to meet at a certain point. The artist’s creative path, not unlike the path of a religious individual, has its first source in the dark lands without language in oneself, and then in the “thought that sparked to life in the depths of the subconscious”, a reflection of divine eternity, infinity and love. These instantaneous revelations evade the logic of the material Universe, of which we are part and which an artist has to put in words, rationalize.
The scholar, on the other hand, can go very far following the course of logical operations. He will perceive intuitively what is beyond once he reaches the boundaries of learning, the edge where the logic turns against itself and the thought can no longer think within the framework of the existing world; in these border areas conceptualization proves to be inadequate, the horizons are penetrated by intuitions inexpressible with words, appearing “as a thin veil of mist in the mind”, as an aesthetic experience. The reality will swing.
The scientists and the artist, having followed their own cognitive and methodological paths, will meet at the extreme points of their courses; they have a common source; they are approaching it each in their own way, but they will never quite reach it. The true progress requires their mutual communication, understanding and exchange of ideas, which will lead to a synthesis of higher knowledge and sensitivity for human existence.
Maksim Sedej Yr.’s poems tell us that the communication between our world and that other, eternal world always occurs as a unique event, a moment that cannot be captured and controlled. Once in the past a message must have been grasped, a path must have been shown out of our confinement, and it found expression in what is perhaps the most perfect architectural achievement of human history, the Keops pyramid. One may attempt to understand this experience, to express it in this or that way, yet it evades both reason and language. Therefore, it is immanent in art, theology and science to continuously reexamine the existing knowledge, the truths and beliefs; therefore, it is necessary to acquire again and again fresh experience of the source of knowledge, emotions and beliefs, to approach God in new ways and from new directions. As long as the message/communication was alive, a passage existed in the pyramid, then it must have moved elsewhere; the old Egyptians’ experience cannot be repeated. All attempts to gain control over the connection are doomed to fail; what remains after an attempt are merely dogmatic constructs, plagiarisms, lifeless scholarly learning. The points of contact are like rambling trees, appearing here and there, impossible to catch and control; they are spheres of freedom, like true religion, art and science. Maxim Sedej Yr.’s poems are a vivid testimony to this freedom.