The Numinous Landscape
One must follow the crumbs, notice what you notice… Just this week, a friend posted on Facebook the word Numinous (word porn definition). The word, at times used to describe my paintings, had not surfaced for a few years. It somehow felt right for a new group of paintings and so I adopted it as an adjective for an exhibit title: the Numinous Season. Of course, I wanted more and googled Rilke and numinous, to see if anyone else was making this connection–not so much Rilke with spirituality, but Rilke with numinous. I came upon the introduction to the book Rilke, A Soul History: In the Image of Orpheus which explores the intersection Rilke’s life and poetry had with developments in psychology. This intro begins with an examination into how Rainer Rilke is sometimes ridiculed by intellectuals for his sentimentality and connection to the spiritual, something I’ve experienced first hand from an atheist friend who believes only in the mind and body and rational thought and is therefore dismissive of anyone who treads onto ineffable ground. Visual artists are wary of “the spiritual” also–lest we be classified seekers of light and Thomas Kincaidish… Conceptual, high art, has nothing to do with the spirit. The author of Rilke, A Soul History references Robert Haas in relation to this spirituality and poetry connection and the numinous appears (my original search). I particularly like Haas’ definition of spirituality: “spirituality is the private relationship to the mystery of being alive…” In a 1999 address in Berkeley (“Raiding the Inarticulate: A Talk on Poetry and Spirituality”), Robert Hass explored the “connections between poetry and spiritual life,
The term that came to me for spirituality…is that certain kinds of experience are “numinous.” And I liked that word because it has philosophical echoes to do with feeling like you’re in the presence of the thing itself, which cannot be named, and also because it’s connected to “luminous,” that there’s a quality of light about that kind of experience.
And numinosity can be connected, on the one hand, to erotic passion; on the other hand, to intense grief; it can be connected to the presence of a liberating and terrifying ignorance, and helplessness. And it’s often accompanied in the spiritual traditions that interest me by an awakened sense of absence.”
I am intrigued and the book is on my to read list. Here is a review. “Daniel Polikoff has written a profound book that opens a new horizon in our understanding of Rilke. The splendid style of the writing, the breadth of cultural erudition, the coherence of the biographical narrative all contribute to the achievement, but these reflect something of larger import. By focusing the powerful lens of Jungian depth psychology, particularly Hillman’s archetypal psychology, on Rilke’s life and work, In the Image of Orpheus carries us deeper into the interior of the poet’s imaginative landscape than ever before. It is difficult to conceive of a study that might bring greater psychological subtlety and spiritual insight to the evolution of this complex, deep-souled poet. One ends with new appreciation of both the power of art in forging a soul, and the centrality of the soul in the creation of great art.”—Richard Tarnas, Professor of Philosophy and Psychology, California Institute of Integral Studies, author of The Passion of the Western Mind and Cosmos and Psyche”