Monday 9 June 2008


Monday, and several days have gone by with no writing except for a commentary for Temple. I left the writing too late, and was up half the night with it.

Also people to be visited. Again I'm not on track. Late for the short course; that might be remedied today. My computer is playing up a little, though I've found a way round the difficulties.

I have been reading Paul Celan's Selected Poems (Penguin, 1995, Hamburger translation) at last, as well as leafing through Rilke poems (The Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke, edited and translated by S. Mitchell, 1989, Vintage International) and another wonderful book of Coetzee's essays, Stranger Shores, Literary Essays 1986-1999, (2001, Viking). It's a flittering, a fluttering, and no real work, no deepening. Not good. I read only a few pages at a time of Von Sturmer's Suchness, before sleep. Shall have to renew it next week, and maybe pay a fine.

The Amichai review still waits to be changed/finished.

Instead, last night I watched a very long movie, if you take in all the extras: Into Great Silence. About the Carthusian order, in France near Grenoble. No sound-track except the noises the monks make when they move around, pray and work. No conversations between them. No music except their chanting.

Various bells announce different activities. The big bell called them to church with a deep resonating asymmetrical sound, the hum of the strike went on beyond each individual strike of the clapper, as if it was calling from the centre of the universe, booming beautifully and just a bit faster than a regular beat, a sense that one should not waste time, though not hurry unduly either, the time is Now, and Now, and Now, ... We saw the monk standing still, in the church, the rope vertical in his hand, and somewhere distant a lighter bell rang, that was the signal and he would pull and let go, and pull, and this beautiful ringing would start, I've not heard the like of it in the Catholic countries I know.

In the monastery or Chartreuse as they call it, because it is located in an Alpine valley of that name, everything is spartan, the building old (ca. 17th century), well-maintained, though no polish on the wooden floorboards except in the church, electric lights here and there. Each monk lives practically immured in a separate little house and garden, linked by the Gothic galleries through which they walk to the communal areas. The stone is a creamy colour, the same as their robes. The sun shone through and it seemed as if they were made of the same material, all of it suffused with light. Beautiful filming.

Food is brought to them daily, communal meal once a week, a walk outside together on Sundays, four hours where they are allowed to talk to each other, and plenty of praying together in church every day and night. Shots of the church nave from above (God's POV?) - like the inside of a long boat, at the far end the little red flame which they call the eternal flame.

The film has a slow rhythm, shots of the countryside through the seasons, whole days passing in a long slow shot of moving shadows, the monastery within its walls under thick snow, an African postulant, a lengthy close-up of his cheek, eye and eyelid - you know that he is reading because of the way his eye moves, or maybe one heard him turn a page? We are shown the monks one at a time in long head-shots where they look into the camera silently without embarrassement for at least half a minute. The church is dark, and then a whole screen of green leaves, or foliage of swaying trees. The movie was punctuated with these luminous green shots, close-ups of leaves or panoramas of trees swaying. Also quotations from the Bible, white on black.

I watched some of the extra documentaries about the film, and one of them was about the Chartreuse liqueur they make: 130 herbs collected, dried and then a lengthy chemical process in a factory outside the monastery. The monk in charge said that the making of this liqueur is at the centre of everything they do, though it is not obvious in the film, except of course for the green shots. The liqueur is green. There is a Wikipedia website. The director was Philip Gruening. (Gruen means green in German, he is Philip Greening).

The info mentions that it took the monks 16 years to agree to do the film, from the moment he first suggested it and sent them the concept description, which he did not change. They probably both needed to be ready. He lived with them for 6 months. Every monk has work to do, and the film was his work while he was there. He is hardly to be seen in the extras.

It's all showing, not telling. How to work unhurriedly. One has to decide and then do. Shots of monks washing their cutlery slowly, washing their faces, learning liturgy, working in their little gardens - I wondered if that was where their involvement with the making of the liqueur lay.

I could watch it again. I hope some of that slowness is catching.

No comments: