Notes on Cocteau (quotes from The Difficulty of Being and Criterion film collection edition of Orpheus)
The muses are like beautiful praying mantises who devour their beloved.
Hence inspiration / artistic creativity always comes at a high price to the artist. Jonathan Harvey’s book Music and Inspiration is a compendium of quotes like Mahler’s
My symphonies exhaust the content of my entire existence.
Cocteau likens the creative process to what Dalì called Phoenixology – the mythical bird arising from the ashes – dying in order to be reborn.
All poets are mediums and laborers, channeling the praying mantis muse, laboring to arise like the phoenix, seeking the myth-key to open for the poet the most locked of human souls…
Wanting to be understood is a particular obsession of mankind.
In particular, it is the eternal why that obsesses thinkers.
Such an obsession motivates fellow initiates Cocteau compliments as blood donors – the only artists I respect – whose long red train fascinates the polymath writer, painter, filmmaker and designer…
We artists are the humble servants of a force that lives inside us…we are taken by a force that is not external to us…
Philistines have always been a sore subject for artists like Cocteau, whose rhetoric must always appear cryptic to the uninitiated:
What do they know of the great river, those who only want to enjoy the ports of call?
The transformation through Phoenixology is the boon for the servant of art, while death changes a member of the academy into a chair. Make yourself comfortable, Professor…
Such grandiloquent righteousness might be mere posturing were it not for the single-minded dedication in which distinctions between life and work (read: life and art) are rendered irrelevant.
Our commitment is a matter for the soul. It consists in not keeping for oneself one iota of comfort.
Tending inspiration is like stoking a fire. Keeping the artistic through-line alive. Inspiration is literally the breath of life…
That is what’s important. The life of the line is always in danger of dying.
When asked what one thing he would take if his house were burning,
Cocteau wryly replied,
I’d take the fire.