“….We must be still and still moving, into another intensity.

In my last post I asked what my subject, Steve Dansky, had to teach me–to teach all of us–about aging and creativity.  Some of the answers to that question may be obvious. For example, and not surprisingly, there’s a continuity between his past work and his present. The photography may be new, the fictional prose may be different, but the same passion for social justice animates it. Nevertheless, something else has changed, or is changing. Something more profound. I’m reminded of this verse from T.S. Eliot (“East Coker”)

Old men should be explorers
Here and there does not matter.
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity.

(I know Steve won’t forgive me if I don’t first apologize for Eliot’s use of the word,“men.” The poem was written well before the ’60s and ’70s when “men” became “men and women,” “humanity,” “people”….)

The verse came back to me when I studied Steve’s photographs. “Another intensity.” When I first found Eliot’s verse, I was so struck by the phrase, so in love with the idea of it, that I almost gave this blog that name.

There are various descriptions of what may make old age especially creative, and why. Consider this quotation from best-selling author Julian Barnes (not as old as me, but getting there), who recently spent a whole book worrying about death, especially his own. (Nothing To Be Frightened Of) After considering a late piece of music by Rossini, Barnes wrote, “The artist is saying: display and bravura are tricks for the young, and yes, showing off is part of ambition; but now that we are old, let us have the confidence to speak simply. . . . This is not just humility in the face of eternity; it is also that it takes a lifetime to see, and say, simple things.”

Again, Steve’s photographs. They say something so simple. They exemplify humility in the face of eternity.

But not everyone sees the subject of creative aging that way. Consider Edward Said’s last book, On Late Style, published after his death in 2003. “Each of us can readily supply evidence of how it is that late works crown a lifetime of aesthetic endeavor. Rembrandt and Matisse, Bach and Wagner. But what of artistic lateness not as harmony and resolution, but as intransigence, difficulty and unresolved contradiction?” How far a cry is that from Eliot’s “another intensity.”

Said’s thought on the subject seems to me (and some reviewers), complicated and abstruse. I’m still reading, still trying to figure out what he means. I’ll try to report on it  later. But I’m afraid it may be more like me than Eliot’s fine phrase.  I’m not  particularly “still” in my old age. Certainly not as still as I think Steve may be. My stillness is an unquiet one. I seem to stew about small things much as I always did, and I can’t say I’m simpler or that  my confidence in myself has been bolstered by growing older.

And so, you other aging people out there, help me out with this post.  As you age are you filled with “another intensity?” Are you simpler? Or are you experiencing “intransigence, difficulty and unresolved contradiction?” What words best describe the fruit of your later years?

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2 comments on ““….We must be still and still moving, into another intensity.
  1. Jane Troy says:

    I know in my mind that I’m getting old, but it seems a relative term. I have lived a lot of decades, and half decades. And every once in a while I think about them, or something makes me think about them, brings them back to life in a vivid way. I tend not to dwell on the miserable times (why should I?), but the other ones are interesting from this… See More perspective. I guess being old means you have a different perspective on what you did in the past. You can appreciate (and perhaps forgive) your stupidity, and also your adventures and joys.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I came upon this writing early this morning while looking up a quote from T. S. Elliot. I do think that my outlook on life and death is becoming more simple as I age. A friend wrote this in her Christmas card, and I think it is profound: “Old people ought to be explorers; still and still moving into another intensity for a further union, a deeper communion. (Elliot) So we lay down our books and all our religions and all of our worn out images of the deity and allow ourselves to simply be. And somehow in this unadorned stance there arises a fulness that is not our own.”

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