Camera Work: A Photographic Quarterly — 1912 (Heft 39)

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AS immortal as error, fairer than vice—being herself the first vice, the
omnipresent decoy—squats that painted Jezebel,—the Ideal,—at
L the crossroads of thought, of instinct, of action. She has trafficked
with our blood and brain and soul—is the misshapen spirit of time and space
itself, and she has lured us time out of memory to her painted paradises, her
pasteboard Utopias, her mirages set in bubbles. Tantalus walks in our
streets and rubs our elbows, on the faces of men are the chagrin of a million
ancient deceptions, the grief and tease of things lost out of hand. But the
newer generations pour out from the ever-fruitful wombs and are swift upon
the scents of life before the elder dupes have died. And the ancient blower
of bubbles has her smile again, for she knows that the newer generations are
the dead generations come again.
A history of the evolution of the Ideal would be the history of the evolu-
tion of Illusion, a fable of a continuously evoked Image and a chronicle of
a persistently recurring disaster. Every action presupposes an ideal of action;
each thought is only a tentacle feeling blindly for another thought which
shall be its own perfection. So all action and all thought in this passionate
quest are hurried into their own tombs, perpetually erasing themselves—one
may say telescoping one another. Once the attainable becomes the attained,
purpose steps into its winding-sheet—only, in perfect amaze, to resurrect
as another purpose. And it is so the circular days of Brahma are spun, and
it is thus we mortals play upon the shining films.
If it be defeat that constitutes the tragedy of individual lives, it is the
endless deception practised upon us that gives the tragedy meaning. The
chagrin of defeat is not so poignant as the mockery of success. Ah! the
mockery of success—that is the sting of victory: the suddenly perceived in-
congruity—a gap sinister—between the thing I willed and the thing that has
come to pass. Can that be it I labored to produce—labored in that sweaty
divine purpose—that poor thing standing just there in front of me, nude,
accomplished, out of hand, the gray light of reality pouring upon it—standing
there so piteously before me with that question in its eye: “Where are my
purple robes?” Out! I know thee not!
There are as many ills as there are souls; each has its special disease,
unique, incommunicable; a special characterization, one may say, of the
universal malady: progressive disillusion. We have all nibbled at some rare
bait only to feel the carefully concealed hook enter the raw flesh. We wear
about us the beautiful rags of our grief as best we may, some dragging in the
mire, others flaunted in a kind of defiance to the stars.
Into our hands, in our heyday, we took so confidently, so buoyantly,—
and with what an acceleration of the blood!—this heathenish, elfish matter,
thinking to mould it to some likeness of the mind's native dream; to stamp
upon it, as we thought, as one stamps upon a disc of gold, some everlasting
memento of ourselves, some souvenir of our too transitory presence here upon
the earth. But youth knows nothing of that eternal flux which makes of all
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