Tuesday, October 25, 2011
The scene opens to a man turning the platen of his typewriter to feed in a fresh white sheet of paper. Surrounding him are bookshelves on all sides. He stares at the blank sheet. After much fidgeting and sighing, he starts to type intensively, one page, two pages.... He looks pleased, goes over to the sofa to lean back and read, his glasses pushed up out of the way, the paper held four inches from his aging eyes. On his face we read a five-act drama: eager expectation—intense interest—satisfaction—puzzlement—fury. This last act is violently depicted by his screwing up each sheet in turn to fling it inaccurately towards a basket already overflowing with similar projectiles.
He paces the study in his silk dressing-gown. Tracking his field of vision, the camera sweeps across the packed shelves, allowing us to see the titles of some portentous tomes: the Holy Bible, Boswell’s Life of Johnson, Letters of T.E. Lawrence, Letters of Vincent van Gogh ... It pans rapidly across more titles before coming to rest at a series of slim black volumes with numbers down the spine in gilt. These are his journals. He pulls out one, then another, going through the pages impatiently like a bloodhound following a trail. Ah, here is an entry which interests him. The camera zooms in to show us the hand-written date: 13th May, 2007. The mood of the scene becomes a little brighter, more colourful. Background music suggest Spring, or a new beginning. Wordlessly, it’s conveyed to our subconscious that the source of freshness and originality may be discovered from our own past.
He takes the journal over to his desk, where a green-shaded lamp throws down a small pool of light; and sits. We see the precision of his eye as he reads: scanning, frowning, ready to pounce like a bird of prey. We see the precision of his hovering pencil, the sharpness of its point as he annotates the page: transposing words, changing punctuation, crossing out three sentences, scribbling a replacement in the margin, with a snaky arrow indicating its insertion point. He does all this with a light touch, like a schoolmaster commenting on the essay of a promising boy.
He takes it to the typewriter, starts a clean copy from his revised journal entry. We hear a merry clack of keys, which fades as if with distance, while we dissolve to a cloud-streaked sky, just before dawn. A typescript rolls slowly up as we read:
13th May, 2007
For days the art of writing has evaded me. I possessed neither subject-matter nor momentum. The other day a man asked me to write his biography, and I almost took it seriously. After all, I had nothing to write on my own account, but needed to justify my self-image as a writer. He runs a small shop selling produce and groceries from the Caribbean. I had told him about my biography of a former mayor of the town, himself a Jamaican. So now Everett the shopkeeper-man wanted a biography so as to tell himself (and me, and his other customers) he was something better than a shopkeeper-man--just as the former mayor had wanted to sieve his year of glory-days from the slurry of nondescript ordinariness. All three of us wanted to boost ourselves, as men do. What better than the dignity of written words? Me, I’d become so drained of motivation I could hardly drag myself outdoors, out from the cosiness of a small rented flat adjoining a busy road.
Then early today, this Sunday morning, I went out to post a letter. As soon as I got out the door, the open air enveloped me, took me in its motiveless embrace. I had been stewing indoors, unable to imagine what the outside would instantly do to me. Reality! This was it, unimaginable and all-embracing. Nothing was more precious than this unspoilt sharp air of dawn. Never mind that it was sending down a steady fine drizzle from low cloud that painted the sky with a uniform pallor. As I type this I’m inches from that unimaginable reality, for my desk faces an outside wall, beyond which exists something most ordinary and yet extraordinary: fresh air.
So this is what I mean by reality: that which hits our senses sharply, dispelling the mists of imagination, the constructions of abstract reason. Fresh air in the nostrils, the chill of morning percolating through my clothes to touch my skin. This kind of reality is generated in the moment. It never was till I feel it, for it’s the moment when you are touched, when the stale fog of ideas is blown away.
spandrel if you will, of our evolution. In the jungles of Borneo, an orang-utan catches on the breeze a faint pungent aroma, triggering a vivid memory of the durian’s sweet flesh. Thus memory and scent work together to send our cousin the ape swinging across the miles from tree to tree in search of its favourite fruit. Thus through memory, scent and other triggers, I can swing from year to year in memory and revisit my life. Reader, you too may reach an age when your past is a richer mine of possibility than your future could possibly be.
So I walked the wet streets at dawn. It wasn’t just the air, it was the echo of birdsong across rooftops, it was pathos in the way some ragged curtains hung in upstairs windows, shielding those still asleep from the sky’s light.
This unimaginable reality, I give thanks to it. Nothing else inspires me to write. I cannot describe it, only respond to its call as simply as the snails I saw this morning, extending their eye-stalks and feelers in joy at the drizzle’s wetness. These are the gestures with which they express themselves and enjoy their own being.
My website’s title is supposed to remind me of my topic, but only in the drizzle could I remember this morning what wayfaring is: to go aimlessly, caressed by reality—that thing so plentiful that it matters not which way I go.
One could sit indoors and say “This is not a day to go out. It’s raining.” That’s what imagining does to us. It does nothing for us, no favours, nothing for our existential well-being.
Says William Blake: “Eternity is in love with the productions of time.”
Posted by Vincent at 10:57 am
Sunday, October 02, 2011
His philosophical method:
Is it possible to grow a worthy cosmology by attending closely to our encounters with other creatures, and with the elemental textures and contours of our locale? We are by now so accustomed to the cult of expertise that the very notion of honoring and paying heed to our directly felt experience of things—of insects and wooden floors, of broken-down cars and bird-pecked apples and the scents arising from the soil—seems odd and somewhat misguided as a way to find out what’s worth knowing. (Introduction, p4)
It is for the reader to judge whether his declared method is possible or not. I must confess to bias. What he describes is an approach I already seemed to have blindly stumbled upon: so naturally I’m in favour of it. I embrace it eagerly, like a stranger meeting a fellow-traveller who knows the road.
Some might claim that this is a book of solitudes. For I’ve chosen to concentrate on those moments in a day or a life when one slips provisionally beneath the societal surge of forces, those occasions (often unverbalized and hence overlooked) when one comes more directly into felt relation with the wider, more-than-human community of beings that surrounds and sustains the human hubbub. (Introduction, p9)
Solitary immersion in nature, as I’ve experienced, is a way to leave one world and enter another, by leaving behind some of the baggage that stops us seeing for ourselves.
Learning from other animals:
How easy it is for inherited concepts to stifle our senses! So often we assume that other animals are not conscious—that birds, for example, lack real intelligence, since their brains (or their “brain-body ratios”) are so much smaller than ours....
“Other animals, in a constant and mostly unmediated relation with their sensory surroundings, think with the whole of their bodies. (“The Discourse of the Birds”, p188)
The meaning of inner space:
In truth, it’s likely that our solitary sense of inwardness (our experience of an interior mindscape to which we alone have access) is born of the forgetting, or sublimation, of a much more ancient interiority that was once our common birthright—the ancestral sense of the the surrounding earthly cosmos as the voluminous inside of an immense Body, or Tent, or Temple. For the ancient Egyptians and Mesopotamians, the vault of the sky was considered the canopy of an enormous tent held up by the mountains that rise at the boundaries of the world....
... And so, when Copernicus and his followers wrecked this Aristotelian image of the cosmos, Western civilization suffered the dissolution of the last, long-standing version of that huge interior. (“Mood”, pp154,155)
Abram considers that the Aristotelian cosmology was “a refined instance of the same [Babylonian] notion”. We are cradled in the world, the centre of our own universe. We are not terrified by its immensity, not like Pascal: “The eternal silence of these infinite spaces terrifies me.” That dehumanisation of the cosmos we owe to Copernicus, whose influence on our perceived world Abram blames for our modern notion of a private inner universe of thought.
It is only natural that psychological qualities fled from this open exteriority in the wake of the Copernican revolution, taking refuge in the private space now assumed to exist inside each individual. Feelings and moods are mercurial powers; they require at least a provisional sense of enclosure to hold them. (“Mood”, p156)
The feelings that move us—the frights and yearnings that color our days, the flights of fancy that sometimes seize us, the creativity that surges through us—all are born of the ongoing interchange between our life and the wider Life that surrounds us. They are no more ours than they are the Earth’s. (“Mood”, p157-8)
In response to my last post, Bryan has put up a new post on the question of immortality called Dust to Dust. John Myste has responded to his with a post called The Minds of the Dead. I felt sure that Abram said something about immortality too, but I haven’t been able to find it. I’ve already expressed what I think about it in two comments on Bryan’s post, and to date one on John’s. If I find something by Abram on the topic I’ll append it.
Posted by Vincent at 8:01 pm