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Like the crying lone-flyer of The Seafarer, I would like to whet your hearts for the whale-path, for what I have to offer you in this hypertext is a whale-path indeed, that stretches from the court of Philip II to the boudoir of Anais Nin, offering many opportunities, as the Waldrops say, "to think or swim." Our guide for the first stages of this journey will be Aldous Huxley, who calls to us with the following provocative phrase: "The pleasures of ignorance are as great, in their way, as the pleasures of knowledge" (53). Huxley's words echo strangely in the dusty halls of academe. What he meant, however, is not so strange. He was talking about the way that a certain amount of ignorance frees a mind already possessed of relevant knowledge--frees such a mind to speculate imaginatively on the matter at hand. In his case the matter at hand was an essay called "Meditation on El Greco," which was published in 1931, first in the Saturday Review (London) and then in a collection of his essays with the title, Music at Midnight. The specific ignorance that enabled this essay was Huxley's lack of knowledge about El Greco's intentions in a detail of a painting that Huxley first saw--or saw what he calls a "version" of-- at an exhibition in Burlington House, London. What he saw was probably the small sketch of the painting now in the National Gallery in London. He gives the impression of having later seen the painting in El Escorial as well, but he is a bit vague about this. In any case, the detail that caught his attention led him to an extraordinary flight of fancy in which he offered the image in question as the key to all of El Greco's painting and the strange power it exercises over viewers. This is mildly interesting in itself, but much more interesting is the way that El Greco's image and Huxley's meditation on it took on a strange new life in the writing of British and American writers of the thirties. My intention in this essay is to trace the life of this image in some key works of George Orwell, Henry Miller, and Ernest Hemingway, none of whom one would automatically associate with the paintings of El Greco.
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