I will not describe the pictures that Strickland showed me. Descriptions of pictures are always dull, and these, besides, are familiar to all who take an interest in such things. Now that his influence has so enormously affected modern painting, now that others have charted the country which he was among the first to explore, Strickland’s pictures, seen for the first time, would find the mind more prepared for them; but it must be remembered that I had never seen anything of the sort. First of all I was taken aback by what seemed to me the clumsiness2) of his technique. Accustomed to the drawing of the old masters, and convinced that Ingres3) was the greatest draughtsman of recent times, I thought that Strickland drew very badly. I knew nothing of the simplification at which he aimed … But if I was puzzled and disconcerted, I was not unimpressed. Even I, in my colossal4) ignorance, could not but feel that here, trying to express itself, was real power. I was excited and interested. I felt that these pictures had something to say to me that was very important for me to know, but I could not tell what it was. They seemed to me ugly, but they suggested without disclosing a secret of momentous significance. They were strangely tantalising5). They gave me an emotion that I could not analyse. They said something that words were powerless to utter. I fancy that Strickland saw vaguely some spiritual meaning in material things that was so strange that he could only suggest it with halting symbols. It was as though he found in the chaos of the universe a new pattern, and were attempting clumsily, with anguish of soul, to set it down. I saw a tormented spirit striving for the release of expression.
I turned to him. “I wonder if you haven’t mistaken your medium,” I said.
“What the hell do you mean?”
“I think you’re trying to say something, I don’t quite know what it is, but I’m not sure that the best way of saying it is by means of painting.”
When I imagined that on seeing his pictures I should get a clue to the understanding of his strange character I was mistaken. They merely increased the astonishment with which he filled me. I was more at sea6) than ever. The only thing that seemed clear to me—and perhaps even this was fanciful—was that he was passionately striving for liberation from some power that held him. But what the power was and what line the liberation would take remained obscure. Each one of us is alone in the world. He is shut in a tower of brass, and can communicate with his fellows only by signs, and the signs have no common value, so that their sense is vague and uncertain. We seek pitifully to convey to others the treasures of our heart, but they have not the power to accept them, and so we go lonely, side by side but not together, unable to know our fellows and unknown by them. We are like people living in a country whose language they know so little that, with all manner of beautiful and profound things to say, they are condemned to the banalities7) of the conversation manual. Their brain is seething8) with ideas, and they can only tell you that the umbrella of the gardener’s aunt is in the house.
The final impression I received was of a prodigious9) effort to express some state of the soul, and in this effort, I fancied, must be sought the explanation of what so utterly perplexed me. It was evident that colours and forms had a significance for Strickland that was peculiar to himself. He was under an intolerable necessity to convey something that he felt, and he created them with that intention alone. He did not hesitate to simplify or to distort if he could get nearer to that unknown thing he sought. Facts were nothing to him, for beneath the mass of irrelevant incidents he looked for something significant to himself. It was as though he had become aware of the soul of the universe and were compelled to express it.
Though these pictures confused and puzzled me, I could not be unmoved by the emotion that was patent in them; and, I knew not why, I felt in myself a feeling that with regard to Strickland was the last I had ever expected to experience. I felt an overwhelming compassion.
“I think I know now why you surrendered to your feeling for Blanche Stroeve10),” I said to him.
“I think your courage failed. The weakness of your body communicated itself to your soul. I do not know what infinite yearning possesses you, so that you are driven to a perilous, lonely search for some goal where you expect to find a final release from the spirit that torments you. I see you as the eternal pilgrim to some shrine11) that perhaps does not exist. I do not know to what inscrutable Nirvana12) you aim. Do you know yourself? Perhaps it is Truth and Freedom that you seek, and for a moment you thought that you might find release in Love. I think your tired soul sought rest in a woman’s arms, and when you found no rest there you hated her. You had no pity for her, because you have no pity for yourself. And you killed her out of fear, because you trembled still at the danger you had barely escaped.”
He smiled dryly and pulled his beard.
“You are a dreadful sentimentalist, my poor friend.”
A week later I heard by chance that Strickland had gone to Marseilles. I never saw him again.
2. clumsiness [5klQmzInIs] n. 笨拙
3. Ingres:即让-奥古斯特·多米尼克·安格尔(Jean-Auguste Dominique Ingres, 1780~1867),法国画家,19世纪新古典主义的代表
4. colossal [kE5lCsl] adj. 巨大的,庞大的
5. tantalising [5tAntElaIzIN] adj. 逗引人的
6. at sea:迷茫
7. banality [bE5nAlItI] n. 平凡,陈腐
8. seethe [5si:T] vi. 充满,挤满
9. prodigious [prE5dIdVEs] adj. 巨大的,惊人的
10. Blanche Stroeve:勃朗什·施特略夫,小说中画家戴尔克·施特略夫的妻子,她喜欢上了书中的主人公思特里克兰德,后遭其抛弃,终因心碎而自杀身亡。
11. shrine [FraIn] n. 神殿,神祠,圣地
12. Nirvana [7nIE5vB:nE, nE:5v-] n. (宗教)涅
思特里克兰德在诘问我们:当我们沉浸在丰饶的物质所堆砌出的甜腻幸福中时,有没有想到在胸腔里那颗心可能正在窒息中慢慢枯死?如果灵魂需要痛苦来唤醒、来滋养,我们是不是能像他一样即便孤独与困苦,也要为灵魂求得一面自由的帆,远洋出海,只为看那壮阔的风景——头顶上是一片碧空,群星熠熠,大西洋烟波淼茫,浩瀚无垠? 赏析 / 陈 榕