Ambition

Unknown, Japanese Cranes in Flight, 18th Century Ink on paper, Memorial Art Gallery

Cranes in Flight, Unknown, Japanese, Memorial Art Gallery

Just replace “poet” with “painter” and this works. (As if a poet or painter could “forge a name” in the world now.)

“I once believed in some notion of pure ambition, which I defined as an ambition for the work rather than for oneself. But now? If a poet’s ambition were truly for the work and nothing else, he would write under a pseudonym, which would not only preserve that pure space of making but free him from the distractions of trying to forge a name for himself in the world. No, all ambition has the reek of disease about it, the relentless smell of the self–except for that blissful feeling . . . when all thought of your name is obliterated and all you want is the poem (where) ┬ásomething . . . realizes itself. That is noble ambition. But all that comes after–the need for approval, publication, self-promotion–isn’t this what usually goes under the name of ‘ambition’? The effort is to make ourselves more real to ourselves, to feel that we have selves, though the deepest moments of creation tell us that, in some fundamental way, we don’t. (Souls are what those moments reveal, which are both inside and outside, both us and other.) So long as your ambition is to stamp your existence upon existence, your nature on nature, then your ambition is corrupt and you are pursuing a ghost.”

–Christian Wyman, Bright Abyss

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