Saturday, April 2, 2016

Tasso on the Aesthetics of Horror

 From Creation of the World, Day 5: 1222-35
As a painter, who portrays the pallor
and bleakness of a dead body, adorning
a bloodless face with the hues of death,
also adds there horrid beasts and frightening
monsters, and verisimilar ones at that:
though, as true-to-life, he may frighten you,
the mere illusion of those painted features
and his craftsmanship can delight you;
so, by means of these colors and lights
of poetical style, together with these
shadows of poetry, I create dreadful
shapes, and I thus try my best to please
the most sublime minds, and from deep horror
draw such delight that satisfies the more wise.
A footnote engages these ideas:
Among the “manifestos” we have already come across, this one is the most radically Tassean. Cf. Gerusalemme Liberata 1, stanza 3, but capsizing it: there, beautiful descriptions aimed at attracting readers and making them “drink” (that’s the verb Tasso uses) the more serious contents; here, a frightening surface calls the readers to a paradoxical discovery of Light and Beauty at a deeper level—in poetry as well as in life. Melville assumes a like posture in Moby-Dick, ch, 1: “Not  ignoring what is good, I am quick to perceive a horror, and could still be social with it—would they let me—since it is but well to be on friendly terms with all the inmates of the place one lodges in.”

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