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The Living Muse

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Joined: 26 Dec 2002
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PostPosted: Thu Dec 26, 2002 1:09 pm    Post subject: The Living Muse Reply with quote

I have just finished The White Goddess , taking that work in small bites so that I could fully masticate and digest ( The Kellogg method) each part.

In the end, Graves writes that the goddess works through a living muse, in the person of a woman , since all women have the aspects which make them images of the goddess.

I like that Smile

MY hobby/obsession is the study of Evolutionary Anatomy ; those things which render our species human. (Bear with me for a brief synopsis )

There is a significant difference which, some 150,000 years ogo altered our original Eve , causing her to lose the trait of estrus ( estrous or heat ).

That is, Eve no longer went into heat at every ovulation, becoming instead the human female who is able to make a choice of whether to mate or not.

One of the most important aspects of this change was that Eve , like all vertebrates prior to mammals, once again began to expect courtship before she would allow mating . With obvious societal exceptions.

Woman functions much like a female bird and awaits the "correct" and pleasing "song" from the male.

This song, at it's most elemental and most powerful, would be the words "I love you."

Which is, for both bird, Graves and myself, where poetry begins.

It is the lot of Woman to find that the love of Man is inconstant.

Men do, after an initial foray into poetry , soon use up their imaginations and become those sport-loving couch potatos which we call husbands .

I suggest that the model of the Troubadour , and the system called Courtly Love, have given us the best suggestion for happiness in this life.

Rather than attempt to use the ball-and-chain to tie a Prince down to the gradual killing monotony of monogamy, Woman should look outside the marriage contract for her happiness.

This happiness will occur when she becomes a muse, inspiring in a man the desire to please her with the romantic words and tokens she loves best.

She must be always mindful, however, that even the most creative among poets, lose their ardor after time, and become un-pleasing to both the woman and themselves.

At which time a perceptive woman will recognize that the title of Muse has dropped away and she must look for a new poet and a renewal of the entire process.

The fiction of monogamy is one, after all, promoted most strongly, by the patriarchal society.

Serial monogamy, unencumbered by the Gordian Knots of patriarchal puritanistic law, will make for serial happiness.

This is as it should be, for no human can maintain continuous happiness without dire and fatal results.

I'd appreciate any and all comments.


In the backwater of Tully, New York State,USA ; Amongst the Fishes, Snows, and Muddy Run-Off Waters where All is Murky, usually Smile
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Tami Whitehead

Joined: 28 Sep 2002
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Location: Southeast Texas

PostPosted: Sat Dec 28, 2002 7:54 pm    Post subject: The Muse's Biological Imperatives. Sorta. Reply with quote

Hi Arne,

Thanks for joining us here, and we look forward to more posts by you. Your background in art and art history should give us a nice, new POV for examining of the topics in this forum. Come join us as we talk of cabbages and kings...

Interesting post, and interesting topic you gave us. If I follow your theory correctly, you say that since women do not go into heat, but require a 'courtship dance or song' that monogamy is a trap that, er, negates the power or authority of the muse? And that only outside the marriage contract can one be happy or inspired?

Well. Hm.

I am unsure if I am qualified or knowledgeable enough on such topics to answer this. But, being a bit of a smart-ass, and a self-proclaimed know-nothing, I can say that, being a woman, and having served as muse, I think you are both right and wrong...

Firstly, mating songs aside, women in general are still happily triggered by such "primal" mating triggers as pheremones, and grunting, strapping well built bucks still pretty much turn us on. I enjoy poetry as well or better than most women, and I must burtst your bubble a bit by informing you that no man who has written, recited, or sung poetry to me gained my 'favors.' However, the guy with the good job, the nice truck, and flattering tight jeans does.

Secondly, having served as muse to more than several men, I will tell you even how it usually happens. Some sensitive, intelligent, discerning gent spies me from afar and catches me in conversation. They are charmed by my warmly exuded feminity. They are enchanted by my wit and clever turn of phrase. They sit in corners blithely scribbling verses that praise me, my graceful form, my balm-like discourse, the wonderfully calming and healing energy in my bower...and it is right that they do so. However. I did not "agree" to become their muse. It is not my "problem" if men are either sexually aroused or poetically inspired by me. I owe them nothing, if they 'see' and adore the goddess I am (how's that for vanity?) which again, is only as it should be. As muse, my duties are simply that I am. It is up to the guys to follow through with any inspirations or arousals that come of it. And having been 'mused' and presenting me with their works of praise and adoration, I accept their offerings, and put them in a folder I keep for such things. The muse that they saw, that was me, is then mollified for the moment, and moves on to yes, another woman, who must handle it as she sees proper.

I don't mean to dispute your assertions, since I am not a social anthropologist. I just personally disagree with some of it. I think it is fine to be inspired by muses, courtly love and all that, sorta. I just think in application, it doesn't work that way.

For all the poems and drawings in my folder, I never was drawn to or desired any of the poets or artists. I rather took it as my due. However, my husband built me a very nice addition to our house when we first got married, up at dawn to hammer and saw and carpet and panel a bower for me. I laughed and told him then that I had often received poetry from admirers, but not one had built me a house, which was much more impressive from my nesting, maternal, housekeeping muse-self POV.

My point is simply this. Musings and inspirations aside, myself and the women I know are not attracted to the "mating song" per se, but rather the brightest plumage, the best providers, the strongest champions. It is our own biological imperative to seek and find the males who will best provide for us and our progeny.

I get the impression, and perhaps I am wrong, that your idealization of courtly non-monogamous love and happiness is the result of your personal experiance. Perhaps you did not find your happiness within the marriage contract. Indeed, there is something to what you say of monogamy being a patriarchal construct in society. I suppose it is indeed a biological imperative for men to scatter their seed. And it is women's biological imperative to seek stable providers and the best physical forms they can attract to carry on the species.

Comments? Insights? Disagreements? Let's hear them all! Looking forward to reading more on this topic.

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PostPosted: Sat Dec 28, 2002 9:46 pm    Post subject: The Living Muse Reply with quote

Hi Tami Smile

Thanks so much for your thoughtful reply.

Yes, I have experienced the downside of monogamy, as well as it's benefits.

I don't quarrel with the benefit of the 2 parents for raising children. It succeeded remarkably well with my own 2 boys; neither of which came with an owner's manual Smile

My interest in this topic has been colored by the experience of having an empty nest; and yet still being in remarkably good health.

We must not discount the impact of Medicine and (relative) prosperity in making a new type of society.

In effect, I am venturing on the next part of my life. I walk at least 4 miles a day, keep fit daily at the gym, have lost all those spare-tires I nurtured, and take mega-doses of Vit. C and E.

I am, in appearance, "not my age".

So, what is one to do with this new life we have been given?

I have launched myself into art and am re-evaluating the givens of our society.

Religion, with it's emphasis on a definite reward after death, makes no sense at all.

So I look back, to the time when women smiled, for my inspiration.

In Minoan Crete, as well as early Sumer and Old Kingdom Egypt, I noticed a while ago that the images of women showed them with smiles.

How delightful, especially when compared to the stern visage of Athena in the Classical period.

It appeared to me that there was a point after which the images of woman and goddess lost the smile- - - and simultaneously, acquired clothing.

Contemporaneously with the dour appearance of the Kores , the rights of women withered away.

Somewhere beneath the chiton of the Athenean matron was a woman's body; but it was swaddled and covered so that it lost it's impact.

The breasts became victims of the new nudity taboo which traveled from Archaic Greece, round the Mediterranean world, and was picked-up and sanctified by the patriarchal monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and then Islam.

At the same time the smile disappeared from the marble lips of women throughout the Grecian world.

Women today cling to the nudity taboo as though to the very idea of motherhood. It would be better to take their children than to take away the coverings that define sexual modesty clothing (!)

Something is amiss when we tell our daughters to cover themselves, lest they be ashamed.

Or, as another poetic voice observed:
Kahlil Gibran
On Clothes
"And the weaver said, "Speak to us of Clothes."

And he answered:

Your clothes conceal much of your beauty, yet they hide not the unbeautiful.

And though you seek in garments the freedom of privacy you may find in them a harness and a chain.

Would that you could meet the sun and the wind with more of your skin and less of your raiment,

For the breath of life is in the sunlight and the hand of life is in the wind.

Some of you say, "It is the north wind who has woven the clothes to wear."

But shame was his loom, and the softening of the sinews was his thread.

And when his work was done he laughed in the forest.

Forget not that modesty is for a shield against the eye of the unclean.

And when the unclean shall be no more, what were modesty but a fetter and a fouling of the mind?

And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair. "

Women are the natural object of the poet's veneration.

When this occurs, the man is happy and so is the woman, that surrogate for the Goddess.

To make a true religion, we must return to Woman the power of her natural state; ie- her body.

And in this religion, it will be the work of the priestess to see that the homage of the male ( the sacraments) is performed satisfactorilly.

So I would that each man become a poet and each woman the object of his veneration.

For it seems to me that we see happiness in the man and the woman when they are engaged in these functions.


In the backwater of Tully, New York State,USA ; Amongst the Fishes, Snows, and Muddy Run-Off Waters where All is Murky, usually Smile
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PostPosted: Wed Jan 01, 2003 9:50 pm    Post subject: procne Reply with quote

Welcome Arne,

Lots of wishful thinking flowing from that there conception of art and its impact on women. Talk to women artists and they have another story to tell. Talk to any muse, as Tami has pointed out, and she will sing the praises of something else entirely.

As an artist, I too am fascinated by the muse; in fact, it has become a major object of my attention, although I would hesitate to call it an obsession. Being an artist is not a decision one makes after all other options have faded away, and to begin making assumptions about muses is a dangerous thing, because women are far more clever than men are, and their retorts are withering. When you have finally ruined your life or the life of your muse, then you will know for certain. Until then, theorizing is dangerous and castrating, believe me. But we have to theorize and ask questions, regardless of the risk.

The muse has nothing to do with the artist. Tami hit everything on the head regarding the woman's role: the muse is completely a construct of the artist and his desire (for sex, for recognition, for reciprocal desire), how she deals with it is her business. From desire comes all that poetry and yes, I must admit, the wife is almost never the muse (and it doesn't bother her, she could care less about my work). So what is the artist to do? He finds a muse. What is her role? To shun him.

The muse is cruel as the artist is cruel, but never is their cruelty simultaneous. While under the spell of the muse, he is benevolent, bearing gifts, seeking her favor, creating for her, creating. She must shun him if he is to continue in this way; when she gives in, sleeps with him or marries him, the unattainable is suddenly commonplace, and the muse is muse no more. You see that in this discussion the only one whose feelings really matter is the artist's. The muse is inconsequential. [Not to belabor a point, but the artist, upon getting the muse into bed with him, gets bored, and his poetry turns into hatred, and thus the loathing begins]

There is a novel by Thomas Hardy called "The Well-Beloved". It is about a young sculptor who finds that this spectre of love that he calls the Well-beloved flits and flees to and from different women all the time. She could alight on a stable girl or in the body of a courtesan; a woman of the high society could be her perch next, or a cousin. But he must follow her, seek after her, always kept running. In the book, the feelings of women who bear the burden of the Well-beloved are rarely dealt with in depth, but that is part of Thomas Hardy's slyness: for in reality, the sculptor is seeking only for himself. The novel begins to revolve around three women, each named Avice, and how they collectively destroy this artist throughout the course of his life, through guilt, hate and fear. This book was written long before Graves even began to consider the threefold muse, so its potency for our discussions is oddly pertinent. [side note: it was written just before Jude the Obscure, one of my favorite books ever: its despair at the life of the scholar/ artist who is trapped in marriage is harsh and deathly, enlivening and terrifying: seek it out].

Woman as muse is a construct of the artist and the people around the artist who seek a tangible cause for the mysterious ways of the artist. It is not love, but impetus, reason for living. I suspect, though it is not my place to launch such generalities into the stratosphere, that most artists write for a muse because they want to screw her. How unartfully spoken, we say. They make love, they culminate their passions wrought out of the supple iron of poetry. No. They f.

But if in your heart you revolt against that callous statement of human sexuality, then perhaps your thesis is faulty from the beginning, and you should rebuild your foundations. In your first post, you said that one of your hobby/ obsessions was the study of Evolutionary Anatomy. So your first axiom (a priori) is that human beings are animals. Not much contesting of this fact here. But for the sake of argument, I don't hold poetry making or art to be equivalent to the mating songs of animals. Often I create not to get into bed, but to learn, to manipulate, to find, to kill. Why, with this insistence on the similarities between humans and animals, are we so bent on belittling the human spirit? Sure, maybe we are animals, maybe we are lower than the angels, but no animal ever composed the Divine Comedy, nor should we expect one to. Sorry, man, but Dante is far more important to me than any ritual a dog or a bird could ever come up with.

Dante's first major work was the collection of poems called La Vita Nuova, The New Life. It was his small monument to Beatrice, his first foibles with other women, his first contact with her, his first contact with the god Amor, a book of dozens of firsts. And midway through this life of mine, she died. Dante never consummated his love for her, and it turned into a divine love, his access to God. The time in which he lived was beginning to move towards a Neo-platonic conception of love, and his first stirrings were similar (though no way were they the same) to these Neo-Platonic conceptions embodied most fully in the works of Michelangelo. He loved, was inspired, she died, his inspiration climbed higher.

So, you might see a little why both Tami and I (a woman and a man) disagree with your notions. But you are right to search, I suppose. We have to look somewhere. The notion of the muse is another attempt to understand the workings of artists and their Work. Unfortunately, I hold conflicting views: I believe in the muse and I don't believe in the muse. Even worse, I rarely believe in artists.
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PostPosted: Thu Jan 02, 2003 12:56 pm    Post subject: The Living Muse Reply with quote

Hi Fell,
You sound a bit down.

The Living Muse is not something which exists only for humans.

Two examples from Nature:

The Bower Birds of Australia and New Guinea are, in my opinion, closest in mating behavior to H.sapiens of any vertebrate.

The male employs a panoply of attractions for females and these include a large repetoire of songs, sounds, calls,etc. ; a bower, which is an arch constructed of grass and twigs; shiny pebbles ; flowers ; choice viands ( of the Bower Bird sort ) ; and probably some things of which we are, as yet, unaware.

The object of this all is to attract the female and to induce her to walk through the bower. I surmise that when she does, her head is lowered in a gesture which both she and the male consider acceptance of his blandishments and affections. Almost immediately they will mate.

I have only seen the tapes and read of the Bower Bird but I consider what he constructs, as well as the decorations which he constantly re-arranges, to be art.

If a female is attracted, but does not go through the bower, then he moves shiny objects about; re-arranges - or even reconstructs - the elaborate bower ; and alters and adds-to his many songs and calls.

All this with a "bird brain" Smile

I have personally observed the local Fallfish ( Semotilus corporalis) ) of the nearby St.Lawrence River and other drainages, constructing it's peculiar rock piles. At first I took these to be left-over loads of gravel dumped in the shallows by dump-trucks.

I then realized that these piles, sometimes 1/2m H by 2m diameter, were built, stone by stone, by the male Fallfish. I assume this is done year-after-year , although I might be wrong.

Anyway, the Fallfish, like many fishes, builds a breeding structure which is suited to the egg-laying habits of the female. The sunfish family is famous for their cleared round nests.

The object is to attract a female and induce her to mate with him; the female laying her eggs in the Fallfish pile and the male fertilizing them there. The male will then guard the young as they hatch and grow.

Both the Bower Birds elaborate constructions and the Fallfishes large, but simpler, are art.

Their purpose is to please the female enough to induce her to chose him as mate.

This is classic Darwinian biology termed Female Choice ;Sexual Selection

To my mind, this is Darwin's most brilliant discovery for it reveals an activity which can leap-frog the evolution of a species by a factor of 10.

The key is the whim of the female.

Scientists purport to explain each variation resulting from Female Choice with a rationale based on healthier broodstock; brighter plummage; etc..

But in the end, it all comes down to some conclusion reached by the female, as inscrutible in the bird as in a woman.

It is the female Perogative ; the ability to say "Yes" or "No" , and to enforce it by the ultimate power of reproduction.

The female Bower Bird is a Living Muse.

She is the inducement to the male to build the bower and arrange it to her satisfaction.

The bower is NOT a nest. It's function is only to please the female.

Similarly, the poet ( and I mean all artists with that term ) who is besotten with a woman and makes his art to please her, is no different from that bird.

Human behavior differs from the behavior of other vertebrates in elaboration, but not in kind.

We all follow the same pattern, hidden though it seems to the casual observer.

Only the eutherians, the majority of placental mammals, have a short circuit in this game of Sexual Selection and Female Choice.

Excepting H.sapiens ; the gibbons ; the tarsiers; and perhaps another species or two ; the eutherian females go into heat and are not able to exercize Female Choice.

But that is another story.

I do agree that a Living Muse is often chosen unawares. The decision is the male's and whether she knows or appreciates the designation is (too) often irrelevent.

As you rightly note, many of the greatest works of art have been made for the Living Muse. Beatrice did not even have to be alive to retain that title (!).

Picasso was famous, as were innumerable other artists, for his many mistresses and lovers, some of which no doubt served as his Living Muse.

Gauguin notoriously abandoned wife and family to sail to Tahiti and paint his Living Muse(s).

Man is fickle and inconstant. male artists are often moreso than accountants or other settled types.

Men can have a wife, beloved, but still keep a bevy of mistresses, some of which , if he is an artist, will be a Living Muse.

Female artists no-doubt do the same, although the female nature IS different in many ways from that of the male.

Often this difference is slight, as with the famous Sappho.

In women who are closer to the norm ( by which I mean those biological traits which a biologist would use to describe female
H.sapiens ) many of the male patterns of behavior exist but are different in the degree of expression. ( Male and female both have all the traits of the other. They differ only in the degree of expression rather than differing in kind ).

Somewhere in the preceeding are responses to your comments Smile

Is human art always dedicated to a Living Muse ?

That is difficult to say.

Is the Viet Nam Memorial the result of inspiration by a muse?

I would say that it is art and, beneath the layers of complexity which resulted in the artist's vision, there probably is some inspiration by a Living Muse.

I could be wrong since I am not within her mind.

I have not looked at the issue of the female artist in great detail and would welcome any comments on that subject.


In the backwater of Tully, New York State,USA ; Amongst the Fishes, Snows, and Muddy Run-Off Waters where All is Murky, usually Smile
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PostPosted: Sun Oct 26, 2003 2:42 am    Post subject: Living Muses Reply with quote

Love the reference to Satin Bowerbirds. I have these in my garden, and have found their bowers decorated with plastic clothespegs, bottle caps, and my missing ballpoint pens. These are chosen because of their blue colour, which matches the sheen on their black feathers, and not because of innate artistic sensibility. Like you I see a parallel with human sexual behaviour, but I would liken the male bowerbird to a Gucci-suited, BMW driving batchelor with a well-stocked pad making a display of his eligibility, rather than to Graves' model of a poet.
My take on the poet/muse relationship recognises three types:

Firstly, the poet/goddess relationship, where she is the divine in the abstract, and he a self-appointed priest in a private religion in which his poems are the hymns. This might be called an Isis/Lucius Apuleius relationship as described in Metamorphoses, and is philosophical not sexual.

Second, the poet/high priestess relationship, in which the poet seeks admission to a circle which regards women as nearer the divine than men, and his entry is conditional and temporary, and dependent entirely on his having pleased the high priestess with offerings of poetry, music or dance. This relationship is pictured in Alma-Tadema's Sappho and Alcaeus ( http://www.nrg.com.au/~devouia/almatadema.html ), and I think Graves regarded his time with Laura Riding as being of this kind.
Some may see something similar in the relationship between Salvador Dali and his beloved Gala, as seen in this sketch by Dali:

Thirdly, the smitten poet/object of beauty kind. This may be genuinely, love, and a test of it is whether it is genuinely, poetry that is offered. Graves in his later years seemed to pursue this model, and the young women who received Graves' attentions appear to have fond memories of them. This is certainly true of one such I have met.
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