On the Heart of All Magnificence — Fenton Johnson on the Solitary Life - Geo Tv News

On the Heart of All Magnificence — Fenton Johnson on the Solitary Life


At the Center of All Beauty — Fenton Johnson on the Solitary and Creative Life

Promethean fireplace

“A few of us [are] born to be solitaries”, writes Fenton Johnson in his fantastic ebook On the Heart of All Magnificence. Just like the snow leopards of Siberia, or the desert tortoises of the Black Mountains, these estranged fellows experience isolation. You will note them each infrequently. Maybe you might be one your self. The lonesome soul on the library or museum or cafe. The person who prefers the silence of thought to the babbling of crowds. 

Certainly, many creatives and thinkers, Johnson reminds, from Henry James Thoreau to Emily Dickinson, have been nice loners. They “share the defiant spirit of Prometheus, he who stole fireplace from the gods and declared he would reasonably be chained to a rock and tortured than undergo their will.” These people beat to the drums of their inside world, typically out of step and out of contact with the clamorings of a loud society.

Troublesome paths

Johnson notes that solitaries have a pure proclivity to keep away from a simple life. They swim towards the currents of the instances. He factors, for instance, to Vincent van Gogh. To many, van Gogh is the image of creative genius. But to his neighbors in nineteenth century Arles, France, he was merely the fou roux, the red-headed madman.

Even his sister-in-law had this to say about him: “It appears as if [Vincent] intentionally chooses essentially the most troublesome path.” “To comply with the paths trodden by others, to undergo the need of different folks, that was not in his character, he wished to work out his personal salvation.”

Whereas capitalism compels the person to seek out that means in wealth and issues, solitaries like van Gogh, will seek for reality, magnificence, and the fascinating. The place the “narcissist needs to be admired by their work, the solitary is content material in its making”, writes Johnson. They lose themselves to their topics and passions.

As van Gogh himself asks and later solutions in his letter to his brother:

“Oh God, the place is my spouse, oh God, the place is my little one—is being alone actually residing?… This a lot I learn about myself, however my nervousness, that in each our characters there’s a basis of serenity… [A] serenity being based mostly on the truth that we really and sincerely love our commerce and our work, and that artwork occupies a big a part of our ideas and makes life fascinating.”

Vincent van Gogh. (1882). Letter from Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh, as cited in Fenton Johnson. (2020). On the Heart of All Magnificence.

Nuance and turnings

As emblematic of the solitaries, maybe, is Siddhartha Gotama—the South Asian ascetic who deserted his abode and riches to pursue enlightenment and a life freed from ignorance, craving, and struggling.

However our street to reality and self-discovery needn’t be comparable. Johnson factors, for instance, to the essayist Walt Whitman, who “roamed the continent… [as he] looked for magnificence… and the future of empires”; after which to the novelist Eudora Alice Welty, who reminds us that “a sheltered life is usually a daring life as properly. For all critical daring begins from inside.”

Every street and particular person, nonetheless totally different, are wonderful “position fashions for the cultivation of an inside life,” Johnson provides. All of them are “votaries, residing on the heart of magnificence”—“delicate to [the] nuance and turnings” of the world. What they share is an appreciation for solitude and silence—the wellspring from which they derive their potential to pay attention, think about, and introspect. 

Because the mathematician Blaise Pascal writes in Pensées, “all [of] humanity’s issues stem from an incapacity to sit down in a quiet room alone.” Johnson agrees, stating boldly that the orthodox prescription for economics, politics, and faith won’t save humanity from itself. “As a substitute of conquering nations or mountains or outer house, we [have] to overcome our want to overcome”, he writes.

Certainly, as Thoreau himself encourages of us: 

“Be reasonably the Mungo Park, the Lewis and Clarke and Frobisher, of your personal streams and oceans; discover your personal larger latitudes… Be a Columbus to complete new continents and worlds inside you, opening new channels, not of commerce, however of thought… It’s simpler to sail many thousand miles by chilly and storm and cannibals… than it’s to discover the personal sea, the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean of 1’s being alone… Allow them to wander… I’ve extra of God, they extra of the street.”

Henry James Thoreau. (1854). Walden, as cited in Fenton Johnson. (2020). On the Heart of All Magnificence.

College students amongst lecturers

To on a regular basis folks, the solitary who lives in seclusion and disconnection, could seem eccentric, workshy, or slothful even. Do they not have an obligation to a society in want of assist? However each seemingly worthless soul has latent and immortal potential.

As Johnson asks, “what could be misplaced if each Welty quick story and Dickinson poem, each Cezanne portray or Nina Simone recording have been misplaced?… Why sing? Why paint or dance? Why write?” And as Johnson himself solutions, solitude is usually a method to give and create for others. One forgoes a lifetime of reward or wealth for one thing deeper and more true. 

In fact, few of us will paint like van Gogh, compose like Dickinson, or sing like Simone. However that needn’t be an issue. There’s immense pleasure available in life, Johnson writes, to easily be “amongst them as college students amongst lecturers.”

On this method, we must always be taught not solely from timeless thinkers or creatives, he provides, however from “the grieving partner, the terminally ailing, the homeless,” and people whose solitary tales go untold. “Absolutely those that have essentially the most profound expertise of solitude could have essentially the most to show”, says Johnson. 

Dwell in chance

Certainly, the probabilities multiply once we open our thoughts’s eye to our inside self, and make the time for quiet and introspection. It might assist us to see the various paths that exist. We’re in any other case no totally different to that of animals, machines and firms. We turn out to be easy entities that comply with a prescribed algorithm, virtually all the time with out second thought or alternative to rewrite themselves. People that run themselves with out pause will dwell without end as a senseless automaton. 

Johnson is reminded of the poem that Emily Dickinson wrote throughout her seclusion contained in the excessive partitions and gardens of the Homestead in Amherst. I embody it right here in full spirit of the solitary:

I dwell in Risk –
A fairer Home than Prose –
Extra quite a few of Home windows –
Superior – for Doorways –

Of Chambers because the Cedars –
Impregnable of eye –
And for an eternal Roof
The Gambrels of the Sky –

Of Guests – the fairest –
For Occupation – This –
The spreading huge my slim Palms
To assemble Paradise –

I dwell in Risk — (466) in Emily Dickinson. (1999). The Poems of Emily Dickinson Edited by R. W. Franklin.

Sources and additional readings

  • Thoreau, Henry James. (1854). Walden.
  • Johnson, Fenton. (2020). On the Heart of All Magnificence.
  • Dickinson, Emily. (1999). The Poems of Emily Dickinson Edited by R. W. Franklin.



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