Stephanie Pope essay, Paper Cuts,
myth and poetry

Day Log


Paper Cuts by stephanie pope 9-29-06 6:30am

A friend stuck the work of artist Peter Callensen under my nose this week. Callensen works between two dimensional and three dimensional spaces. He creates his achievement by making paper cuts. You can see in the cutwork design the origin of the figure. As well, many of the themes chosen are mythical and romantic. On the whole there seems to be something tragic sensed and something else, too -an almost story.

Looking Back, 2006 by Peter Callesen   (click link for more)

The artist feels it is the paper substance itself, the secret soul, of the common weight A4 white sheet that has the magic. Though blank, it is already loaded with information.

Paper cuts hurt. Everybody’s had one sometime or other. It’s like the cut from a razor blade, but it hurts more than a razor cut. The shallow cut doesn’t bleed as much as the razor cut, and yet it hurts more. That’s because the skin on either side of the wound closes very quickly trapping paper fibers underneath and those fibers stimulate the pain receptors in the skin making the pain seem disproportionately painful in relation to the shallowness of the cut.

Along with the cut paper artwork and in spite of (or on account of) remembering the shallowness of the other kind of paper cut and the awareness of its invisibility through the presence of the pain, there is also the recognition of the shadow holes left in the paper in creating the figures, and a curiosity about them. Each artistic creation begins with a mutilation or deconstruction to the surface of the paper. To allow a secret soul to express itself and share itself with us, we must also embrace the empty space or empty spaces that must exist for this existence to show its self here.

The sudden awareness I have for the presence of the absence inside the expression of growing aesthetic complexity is unnerving. I did not select the photo of “Looking Back, 2006” at random. This year is the year I lost one of my dearest friends. The shallow cuts there that produce the art expression also reproduce another expression. They cut into another and invisible space and begin to tell the other story. Behind the visible world in this work of art lay this other world. This other world is a void I know. It is nameable and there, although invisibly, and I have a felt-sense about it. This void is no absence. It is a hidden presence -like the one that paper cuts when holding the sketch of pens.

What struck me about this particular expression was the sudden appearance of death. The skeleton is not imitating death. The skeletal remains are not even ‘dead.’ The image alludes to a contemplation of death. The figure sits down and thinks about death and dying and even the dead. Sitting down and reflecting an inside but invisible world is what summons this world to appear. Death appears in the two-dimensional space of the flat surface as if it were the shadow of the seated skeleton.

Such a world as this other world where Thanatos, or Death seems fused to something else not a thing and no where else is known to the Greeks as the House of Hades and indicates a world of mythical depths. The mythic realm of the Greek world then is a psychological realm now. In part, we have inherited our psychological life now from the Greeks. So, Hades does not refer to an afterworld it refers to a world of depth right now. James Hillman shares as much in Dream and the UnderWorld.

“The House of Hades is a psychological realm now, not an eschatological realm later. Because time has nothing to do with the underworld, we may not conceive the underworld as “after” life except as an afterthought within life.”(30)

The work of art has inspired in me an afterthought. I, like my friend in the picture, have summoned Hades, who Hillman says is simultaneously here and not “here.”

Hades is called the wealthy one and the wealth hides invisibly in things, such things as Callesen’s art work. Hillman goes on to share his sense for the wealth of Hades.

“Hades name was rarely used. At times he was referred to as ‘the unseen one;’ more often as Pluto, ‘wealth and riches’ or as Trophonios, ‘nourishing’. These disguises of Hades have been taken by some interpreters to be covering euphemisms for the fear of death, but then why this particular euphemism and not some other? Perhaps, Pluto is a description for Hades, much as Plato understood this God.  Then, Pluto refers to the hidden wealth or the riches of the invisible.”

For some time now I’ve been looking at images shaping myths of absences and the absence of myth shaping the image of an emptied soul. Poets study such things. When they do what they are looking for is a way to turn the story over through something already there and nameable, yet unknown. Poets try to make an image in the place of an image. Artists do, too. And when each can, they bring the two worlds together in a new way that is forever as it was in the beginning.

What I’ve been playing with I have named the h-space. The seated skeleton reminds me of it. I have a certain way I might be able to talk about it right now, although I think there is more to it than I will be able to share right now.

The wife of Hades is Persephone. The story of her abduction by Hades is well known as is Demeter’s search for her and her return. In her aspect of return, the anodos of the maiden, she is the blade, the new shoot. She is the return of spring. Yet, I’ve often thought Persephone the return of dying as much as the return of spring; she a blade, is the life that endures the death and maintains herself in it. The idea belongs to Blanchot.

What I want you to notice is the image doubling. The new spring shoot, the little sprout is a blade creating holes in the soil. It is the blade that makes the h-cut and also it is the blade space of the h-cut that summons the dark and cadaverous reality in what becomes a new story, from the depths. What is the h-space? It is the inherence where the recognition of the inner experience reenters and restates itself in completions as if also just born within the mystery of itself again. And that is how I think of Persephone still. She is that which remembers an eternal dying and gives speech to it by calling to life here what hides invisibly in all things.

When I think of the blade and the blade space, the cutting and the cutwork design in a work of poetry I begin to think of speech again and words again and the poet at work in the poet’s task.  A word springs into being when the poet’s blade cuts into the blank white paper. A story appears. In the heart of the story there is something that wants to flower. That’s what is giving life to the poet’s words. The words are the life of that death in that world that never died. And, that world is the one brought to life here and made visible again whenever the artist finds and successfully expresses the echo in the eco-sphere. Where she does she brings the cyclic and the chthonic worlds together as if the inner and the outer distinctions vanish between them.

I’ve been writing about the archetypal blade this morning. My good friend Dennis Slattery has published a grand poem as part of his second poetry book Just Below The Water Line.In this collection of poems is a poem retelling the story living in the other world in the blade. The poem is entitled, “First Knife”. To hear Dennis read this poem, click here.

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