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3.30.2008

Atonement


I try not to post more than once in a day, but I finally saw the film Atonement this afternoon, and it bears blogging.

I have developed a bad habit with movies that I know beforehand will be emotionally strenuous. If I even suspect a film of being serious enough to make me cry - a quality I once found almost essential in a good film (I was a melodramatic child) - I get nervous beforehand. I think this began when I saw Dancer in the Dark, a film ... .. I won't bother trying to describe it or its effects. Anyway, I get nervous now. It is better if I go to see it in a theatre, because the process of buying a ticket and wading through the previews reminds me that it is an event. The roll of the credits at the end, the slow walk out of the building, and the mindless drive home all serve to draw me back out of the story and into the world.

Not so in my living room. How can I just drop the disc into the machine, curl up on the couch, watch the thing, and then stand back up again like everything is normal? I need transition. Without it, I get this knot in my stomach. My heart beats unusually fast (it skipped to the brilliant rhythm of the typewriter in the opening score). I try to think of excuses to put off pressing 'play'. Since when? How did this happen? I am afraid of where the movie will bring me. Actually afraid of the grief and despair - real grief, real despair - I have felt at the end of those few films I've seen, so ugly and sorrowful and hopeless as to cause real bodily sickness.

Atonement was not one of these films. Why did I think it would be? I've read the novel. It was brilliant. Rather, it was actually uninteresting for countless plodding pages (necessarily plodding, as I later found out), until it went off like a rocket and came down weeping. The film sort of reverses that formula. Not exactly, because it's all good, but it definitely begins with the best brilliance. The rest of it... well, perhaps I just expected too much. But it's also essentially very difficult to film a conflict that is entirely based on its own written form. That is, at the heart of Briony's 'atonement' is her writing of her own crime. The act of reading the novel is a participation in her atonement (or her crime?), that simply can't be translated into film. I found the ending unsatisfactory precisely because it attempted that translation - through monologue.

Then, too, when reading the novel, you are able to take the narrative as it comes. If you find out that the narrator is unreliable, why, it's an awfully bit of writing on the part of Mr. McEwan! But watching them on screen, if you're going to give me a deceptive ending, then have Briony be a movie producer - not a novelist. The film doesn't carry off that kind of unreliability aesthetically. If the camera is on Robbie, there is no reason why we shouldn't assume he's in the room. Otherwise, we're not being deceived by a guilt-ridden wench with a typewriter and cape but by Joe Wright.

Let me not end on too critical a note. James was again phenomenal; the cinematography and score were breathtaking; and, against my will, I am beginning to think that Keira Knightley is an astounding actress. And her green dress was simply gorgeous.

Telephone


I saw this on one of my favourite tumblelogs and thought I would pass it on, hoping it will lose none of its charm third-hand. It originally comes from the website Wooster Collective, which I will not attempt to advertise, but will simply direct you to.

3.27.2008

Musing.

Of all the things that have faded from my life, how many of the losses were my own fault? Which would have remained had I been more persistent, or even faithful? and which would have passed regardless of me?

3.23.2008

Easter Sunday

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday;this is the birth
day of life and love and wings:and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any-lifted from the no
of all nothing-human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

- e. e. cummings

3.22.2008

Saturday: Holy Week

Not less than a millennium
Has heard the hue and cry
Of the scattered people of God crying
Out to the dark heights.
Now more than a millennium
Has passed. Remembering,
Still I beg with promises and flattering
(as though it is not already done):

Yeshua yeshua come down
Oh, come down
And make of our sinning an unholy crown
And wear it and bear it
Where we have no will
But to nail and embed it
With unholy skill.

I’ll awaken the watchmen
Alert the high crier
Between garden walls
And the city’s high spires
Where statues rise up with cold cuddleless faces
Where pedants and peddlers take their various places
From the castle’s closed rooms
To the cold catacombs
In the wombs of the walls
Where the bones are all sleeping
I’ll beat out the baritoned sheeps’ gentle bleating
‘tween benjamin’s gate and the boards of the bridges
That span the great gorge breaking earth’s trampled business

And there in the corners
And there in the caverns
Inside the squares and the tucked away taverns
I’ll advertise you with the loudest to-do
With a bellow balloo
A hoot hock halloo
You you, the cross-cracked criminal
Christ
Who shouldered my slough like a beam
And burned off
All my wasted dust

This, I know, is a must.
The one right necessity.
You have told me.


Yet see how quickly I forget (ignore)

And join the shouldering crowds in their haggling
Committing myself to the shoddiest gabbling
With sweet-scented ears and mellifluous graces
All of the strangers with their pretty faces
the wandering souls cockily so alone
In their sugary dens and their sugary homes

it’s murder or mayhem
here in the cock pit
where the birds with their feathers
rustled worn and weathered
with the games
sit and aimlessly circle
each other
against the pit with their fingers all stretching
the dimers and dollars
‘gainst the border they’re pressing
to make known their bets
let the bookie make do
for the betters and voyeurs
casting lots under you.

My, I cut quite a figure
Sluiced in the midst of them
Clotting and clung to them

Far from the memory of you
Trapped on that totem pole
Stretched like ship’s laundry
Amast
And awaiting me
And my forgotten promise
Of declaration


I’ve yet to learn the meaning of this word:
grace


all the stars in the sky
select my attention
from the masses that pass
down below
and the moon in its moaning
and lone dereliction
attracts my affection
with its tide-pulling stone

so the lights of the night
with their wavering fullness
do make of my milling
a pilgrimage holy
so the dark that surrounds
makes me more and less lonely
for the contrasting calling
of the heavenly hounds

yes, in this dark, in this silence
both sin and commandments
subside, just as I, careless of I
and what I must do
and what I have done instead,
watch you glowing and yellow
not yet risen, but rising
across the vast and the cool
desert sky.

3.21.2008

Good Friday: Holy Week

from Richard John Neuhaus's Death on a Friday Afternoon:

This is the cross point in the Great Story, from the "In the beginning" of creation to the last words of the Bible, "Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!" At the cross point, everything is retrieved from the past and everything is anticipated from the future, and the cross is the point of entry to the heart of God from whom and for whom, quite simply, everything is. Here the beginning and the end come together, along with everything along the way from the beginning to the end. What is the Word of God but the love of God? In the beginning, God intended love. Why did God create? For love. Not for necessity, for, being God, he needed nothing, but that love might be, and that it might be more and more. Love is necessary, for "God is love."

He created out of nothing - ex nihilo - but his love. The Word is both his love and his beloved. "Without him was not anything made that was made." Through him God loved us into being. When he formed Adam from the primordial muck, he breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. He breathed love. Adam inhaled love. Here at the cross point, the new Adam exhales, "It is finished." The first Adam breathes in and the second Adam breathes out, and both breathe love. What began in Genesis is now finished. What began there is that love should give birth to love. So it was that through the Word the first Adam came to be and, because he did not love, the Word became the second Adam, who bore the fault of all the Adams and all the Eves of aborted love. Here at the cross point, that great work is definitively finished. Here is the one person who did and who was what through the centuries and millennia the rest of us had failed to do and be. Quite simply and wondrously, he loved the Father as he was loved by the Father.

3.20.2008

Maundy Thursday: Holy Week

This is when we learn that Jesus wants to give to his people.

Already, he has told his disciples: Unless you eat of my body and drink of my blood, you have no part with me.
This is a hard thing. This means following him through Jerusalem and watching him hang in my place for hours, panting and bleeding and sweating, barely breathing, sometimes crying out. This also means all that goes before: the strangeness of being a follower of the man who leads harlots and thieves. the awkwardness of explaining this to your mother. the arguments that erupt in the marketplace after the fishmonger's query, 'so what do you do for a living?' camping across Galilee. praying when you'd rather be sleeping. feeling guilty for sleeping instead of praying. dodging the cops. the scorn in the temple from the priest who first heard your confessions as a young boy - yes, scorn from the fathers!

It seems like a lot of confusion and sacrifice, though we know it is worth it. After all, to whom shall we go? Lord, you have the words of eternal life, and we have believed and have come to know that you are the Holy One of God.

Sitting here on my couch next to my cat, sipping warm milk with apple honey, listening to the careful strumming of Michael Pritzl through the speakers, I know I must soon walk in the dust behind the beaten man, too broken to bear his own cross - out of the city, up the hill of dead bodies and rubbish - and I must stand and watch him die. I am afraid.


He wants me to know something first. Before it all happens. Before the sky turns dark and the temple is torn. Even before the dusty walk. Before he is abandoned to prison, before the familiar night walk through the olive trees. He wants me to know this:
He wants to give to me.

again,
he wants to give.
and he will give.

and give
and give

and give

and give

and give

and give

and give

and give

and give

and give

even if it means crawling on the floor, face to face with my feet. even if it means the blood and sweat and out-of-socket shoulders and ripped skin and so many things i cannot name and daren't imagine.

even if i am starving and the only thing to eat is his body.

even if i am dying and his blood is the only cure.

even if i am possessed of demons and the only way to free me is to give me his Spirit instead.

he wants to give to me. and i want to take.

and take.
and take.
and take
and take

and take
and take and take and take

with joy. and weeping.

The Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, 'This is my body which is broken for you. Do this in remembrance of me.' In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.'

Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. . . . 'If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.'

The Spirit and the Bride say, 'Come.' And let the one who hears say, 'Come.' And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.

Clear away the rubble. Make space. Make time. Make silence. So that he can give and give and give.
Clear the way without fear, with sorrow and eagerness.
Come to the foot of the cross boldly and with weeping.
Take take take - for he has already given it all.

3.19.2008

Wednesday: Holy Week

I would like to talk about distraction. I have noticed that Christians - Protestants in particular - spend a lot of energy feeling guilty for being distracted. Much of their guilt may be well-earned, a right response to careless error. Much of their guilt may be nothing more than spent energy. Hold on - this is not a 'their' 'them' matter. This is me as much as anyone. I have prayed against distraction, confessed it to my neighbour as one of my chief sins, fought and forgot about it over and over. I am distracted from thoughts of God by thoughts of the world, thoughts of myself, and even thoughtlessness. More specifically, I think oftener of food and boys and books and movies and which song to play in the car than I do of the great sacrifice made on my behalf by the Creator of the universe. And I am ashamed.

Sometimes more than I should be. I am often ashamed because I have this notion that faith is proved by frequent and unique thought about God. In the same way that I have often thought of effective prayer as consisting in frequent and unique words to God. I forget that I am child of God because of what He did for me - not because of how I am behaving concerning or because of Him and certainly not because of what I'm thinking about Him or how frequently I think it. I forget that some of what I call 'distraction' is really just being a human and living life (i.e. preparing a meal, relating with other human creatures, observing and reacting to the needs of my pet).

I recall that Wednesday a few years ago, a Wednesday of Ash, when I saw The Passion in the theatre. Jenny drove me home in silence. I was grateful for that gift of privacy, for watching that film inevitably engenders a period of real and burdensome grief. Weeping is almost silly, the sorrow is so great. I walked into my dorm room, closed the door behind me, and wondered: 'what now? how can i continue to live a normal life?' It was well past midnight, but how could I sleep? Even crawling into bed seemed audaciously careless. But I did. And when I woke up the next morning, I ate breakfast. I went to class. I read some things that had been assigned, chatted with friends (chatted!), did laundry, wrote a letter, any number of mundane and 'careless' things. Christ died, and I lived my life.

This is not sinful.

Praise be to the God of our salvation, who died and conquered death so that I may live my life!
Praise be to the Creator of the earth, who was born from a uterus, chatted with friends, and lived his life!

Now it may or may not matter whether I am remembering him in this moment, but this moment is redeemed regardless of my recollection! He has sanctified my mundane moments, whether I anoint them with my memory or not. It is good for me to remember to do the dishes, good to talk to the pool man about politics, good to buy a gift for my sister. It is possible to do all these things for the glory of God even without that intention. Do these things generously, responsibly, kindly, and attentively. Be honest, conscientious, consistent, and thorough. Righteous action is better done than intended, considered, or declared. These little things are holy because Christ is renewing the world - not because you or I have been thinking about holiness.

Don't get me wrong: we really should always be remembering Jesus. But we should be remembering him in the same way we remember our mothers or our friends. Not out of a sense of duty, but because that which is essential, beautiful, interesting, or meddlesome comes to mind frequently without much effort. And there is no one more essential, beautiful, or interesting (I am not so sure about meddlesome - it is probably the wrong word and the right idea) than Jesus, the Man on whom God's favour rests. And if you have been much neglecting this Man, I will not withhold from you either your guilt or your sense of it. Now, go and sin no more!

But when you are again walking with God in the cool of the day, please know that he is not farther from you in the warmth - even if you are more concerned with your bath than with the beauty of his face or his mysterious ways. He is near even then, even when we aren't remembering. Because he does not always minister through the mind, but even and often through the seemingly mindless things we do. And when we are awash with thoughts of other things. And when we sleep, and when we rise. (Even before our first cup of coffee.)

3.18.2008

Tuesday: Holy Week



Oh Death Where Is Thy Sting? IIa after Caravaggio 2007 by johnwalford / © All rights reserved
(yes, that copyright means this is sort of stolen. but as i'm not sure how that sort of thing works on the internet, i will simply give you my source: http://flickr.com/photos/walford/ and encourage you to go there yourself.)

3.16.2008

Monday: Holy Week

Let me tell you about the mountains.

Not just any mountains, but the mountains in my desert. I have mentioned them before. I have mentioned how they are lit by the sunrise. I will mention it again, only this time with more words. More words about the mountains and fewer about palm trees and the definition of beauty.

The mountains don't think much about the palm trees. Sometimes they watch them grow. They watch as the thin stalks sprout from their wooden crates, rise up like dazed giraffes, take root in firm earth, bend with the wind, wither, and pass away. The mountains see all this and more.

They see the desert shrubs grow and beget more desert shrubs. They see the shrubs unearthed - the earth covered by another housing development. The people come and go. There are cars; there are planes; there are roads wide and winding. The mountains see all these things.

The mountains bear with the howling winds. They shield the city from much of this. They shield the city, also, from much rain. Even snow is caught up in their rocky peaks, only to be seen by those below - not a flake falls on the city. And still the mountains stand, barely moved, unshaken, firm and resolute.

These are particular mountains. They are the brown mountains that rise up against the back of Palm Springs. They are rocky and bare most of the time, passable in most places only by the bighorn sheep who step gingerly between their boulders, gently down their slopes. Brown and boring: ugly.

These are ugly mountains.

That is the simple truth.

What more can be said of them but that they are brown and boring: ugly?

And they know this. After all, they are mountains. And nothing in nature has the wisdom of a mountain - all else shifts and unsettles, rises and falls, with swift abandon. To move a mountain requires eons or miracle. They know many things. They know of their own ugliness, but - but - they do not think of it.

This is what the mountains think of:
The dark, spread not like a blanket but like a pervasive gas, filling or being the air sits all quiet and cool as though it is the only Thing. Then, almost without being noticed, there is the slightest glow. It fills the whole of the darkness, thinning it as it grows from glow to earnest light. That light, newly concentrated at the edge of the earth, just across the wide valley from the face of the mountains, suddenly expands in glorious colour of red and orange, blue, yellow, peach, vermillion - there are no names for the colours it takes: it is colour throwing itself over the sleeping world.

This is what the mountains wait for so patiently. The dawn, not the rocky structures beneath, keeps the hills in place so certainly and so long. This is what makes the rain and snow so good to bear. Who would not want to shield and stand for the city when this is the great reward?

It is worth observing, too, that the mountains are not ashamed of their ugliness before the great and glorious light of the morning. They need no bloom of spring to reaffirm their worth to wandering eyes. They are satisfied to stand and see. Bereft in the best way of all self-consciousness, they bare their rough, untamed bodies to the sky heedless that such a baring is to the earth as well. And why should it be heeded, when they, too, are earth? Is it not that the mountains are only honest and true? And should some spring arise in which the sky has blessed the mountains with rain enough for blooms, do the mountains not know it for the sky's gift? Truly, they do not wear the grass and flowers as their own fashion, but as the prodigal bears the robe upon his back, draped there by the eager blessing father meeting him halfway to the gates.

Let us be like the mountains, careless of ourselves, careful of the world, and completely enamoured - face full forward, waiting unblinking with utter abandon for the Light of life. (And should that Light, with all its colourful glory, make our rocky faces strangely lovely, let us still be careless and wholly transfixed.)

3.12.2008

The Book of Lost Things: a Romance

Flipping open A. S. Byatt's Possession, I find an excerpt from Nathaniel Hawthorne's House of Seven Gables inscribed in the beginning pages. I have not yet begun Byatt's novel. Rather, I started John Connolly's Book of Lost Things instead. To be more accurate, I began Connolly's novel over a month ago in the corner of my bookstore in the last few minutes of a lunch break. Soon realizing that the book deserved more than stolen time, I set it aside to begin in earnest at a later date. That date is the twelfth of March: today. I paused in my reading only to shut the back door, slice some strawberries (which were about to go bad), and make a cup of tea. Oh yes, and to casually open Byatt's novel to the Hawthorne inscription, note its happy relevance to my more committed novel, and blog about it.

Here's the inscription:

When a writer calls him work a Romance, it need hardly be observed that he wishes to claim a certain latitude, both as to its fashion and material, which he would not have felt himself entitled to assume, had he professed to be writing a Novel. The latter form of composition is presumed to aim at a very minute fidelity, not merely to the possible, but to the probable and ordinary course of man's experience. The former - while as a work of art, it must rigidly subject itself to laws, and while it sins unpardonably so far as it may swerve aside from the truth of the human heart - has fairly a right to present that truth under circumstances, to a great extent, of the writer's own choosing or creation. . . . The point of view in which this tale comes under the Romantic definition lies in the attempt to connect a bygone time with the very present that is flitting away from us.

Now, if you were to consider the 'bygone time' he refers to in that last sentence to signify childhood rather than the historical past (I admit, it is not meant to signify that, but humor me), this would be a very good description of the distinction between John Connolly's The Book of Lost Things and the average literary novel floating about today. I would not call it fantasy, for that implies a certain indulgence and often excess of other-worldliness. And does more than present an alternate reality: it depicts a disturbing (and engaging) muddle between reality and story. It is, as are most of my favourite tales, a story of a journey. And more than just a trek through a mysterious forest. It is a modern bildungsroman, with all the familiar angst and enlightenment any young person experiences when walking from youth to adulthood. And it is a fairy tale as well. A true fairy tale, honest about the darkness of the devouring wolf, the terrible cry of the Loop Lerou.

Someday, oh someday! I will be a blurb writer. Just you wait.

So, anyway, I suggest this book to anyone interested in fantasy that's somewhat more than fantasy - even though I haven't finished it myself yet. And though I am compelled by the story, I have occasional reservations as to its delivery. But the story itself is fascinating.

3.11.2008

Amen...

An observation all the more sad when one considers the date it was written... and how little things have changed.

3.08.2008

Pom Trees

Should any of you have been driving down Deep Canyon and 111 yesterday at 5:50 in the morning, I apologize for my erratic behaviour behind the wheel. I was distracted, you see, and if you had only glanced in your rear-view mirror as I did, you would have understood why. The sunrise was astonishing. It swept across the sky and cheered the tired, facing mountains, the one reprieve for those dry and dour rocks.

I was looking, too, at the effect of the sunrise on the palm trees all around (for those, like Chaeli, who did not realize there are palm trees here, be assured: there are many). One of my mom's students in a recently assigned story referred to them as 'pom' trees. It is a right word for their undignified sprouting, suddenly made dignified by the elaborate light, the flamboyance of the dawn. The play of dark on light - the dancing lines - ribbing the colours of the sky with unsuspected variance.

Staring as I did at the trees, lanky and delicate as giraffes, I was reminded of Elaine Scarry's conversion to palm tree-love as detailed in her book On Beauty and Being Just. She talks first of how little she loved palm trees ('Palms are not beautiful; possibly they are not even trees') and then lengthily of her new observation of the beauty of individual palms, from actual frondy trees rising above her during a walk to the constant repetition of the palm in Matisse's paintings.

Allow me, if you will, to quote her at length:

The signature of a palm is its striped light. Palm leaves stripe the light. The dyadic alterations of leaf and air make the frond shimmer and move, even when it stays still, and if there is an actual breeze, then the stripings whip around without ever losing their perfect alignment across the full sequence. ...

(Yes! This is precisely how the palms were beautiful yesterday morning! She continues on beauty in general:)

Matisse believed that we everywhere see in the leaf-light of his pictures, the pliancy and palmy reach of the capacious mind. Even when the claim on behalf of immortality is gone, many of the same qualities - plentitude, inclusion - are the outcome.
It sometimes seems that a special problem arises for beauty once the realm of the sacred is no longer believed in or aspired to. If a beautiful girl (like Nausicaa), or a small bird, or a glass vase, or a poem, or a tree has the metaphysical behind it, that realm verifies the weight and attention we confer on the girl, bird, vase, poem, tree. But if the metaphysical realm has vanished, one may feel bereft not only because of the giant deficit left by that vacant realm but because the girl, the bird, the vase, the book now seem unable in their solitude to justify or account for the weight of their own beauty. If each calls out for attention that has no destination beyond itself, each seems self-centered, too fragile to support the gravity of our immense regard.
But beautiful things, as Matisse shows, always carry greetings from other worlds with them. In surrendering to his leaf-light, one is carried to other shorelines as inevitably as Odysseus is carried back to Delos. What happens when there is no immortal realm behind the beautiful person or thing is just what happens when there
is an immortal realm behind the beautiful person or thing: the perceiver is led to a more capacious regard for the world. The requirement for plenitude is built-in. The palm will always be found (whether one accidentally walks out onto a balcony, or follows at daybreak the flight path of an owl, or finds oneself washed up in front of Nausicaa or a redbud or Seated Woman with a Book) because the palm is itself the method of finding. The material world constrains us, often with great beneficence, to see each person and thing in its time and place, its historical context. But mental life doesn't so constrain us. It is porous, open to air and light, swings forward while swaying back, scatters its stripes in all directions, and delights to find itself beached beside an altar from three millennia ago.
This very plasticity, this elasticity, also makes beauty associate with error, for it brings one face-to-face with one's own errors: momentarily stunned by beauty, the mind before long begins to create or to recall and, in doing so, soon discovers the limits of its own starting place, if there are limits to be found, or may instead - as is more often the case - uncover the limitlessness of the beautiful thing it beholds.

3.05.2008

Self-Deprecation

Somehow, this isn't as funny as some of the other ones. Not so much because it's personal. Maybe because I don't think most people with 'useless' masters degrees need any reminder that it makes them no more hireable or experienced than before. We are already a little embarrassed by our own education, and if anything is needed to keep us from pride, the monthly loan payments are surely enough! Even so, being once more included in the SWPL list has made me smile. Oh, blogger of cynicism, I can't help but think that your project is backfiring! when the White People chuckle to find themselves chuckled at...

3.03.2008

This review of Frank Schaeffer's most recent book would come across as an indictment - indeed, it is an indictment, but... - if it weren't ultimately humbling. I am reminded of the sour taste in the mouth, the bitter hard knot in the centre of the heart, that much of today's irony inspires. I remember that I am often the bearer of that very irony. And while I think this site is fabulously clever, I know that it, too, subsists on this same sort of tearing-down of spirit. I will laugh and feel foolishly known, and that may be good in certain measure. But to turn and do the same to others... when will we learn how to speak the truth in love? Let us humble ourselves, recall ourselves and be made rightly low. Remember that I will never know a thing unless first I love it.

3.02.2008

Penelope!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Warning: Lengthy Bellowing Freewriting Below

I woke up this morning at a normal hour. Normal if I was working, of course, and I am not working. I don't have to be anywhere for another three hours, in fact. So I stayed in bed for as long as I could, fighting the very real need to get up and go hunt for some tissue, and the results were interesting. I had the first authentically academic thought I've had since my dissertation. So it's only taken about six months to recover. Bravo me.

I thought I'd share the thought with you, if you care to read.

Long have I been interested in two trains of thought related to literature and - as literature reflects socio-cultural trends - culture. These two trains are A) the loss of mythic sensibility in the modern world, and B) tourism. I have known that these two thoughts are intimately related for some time, but have often had trouble expressing why. I was, in fact, forced to forgo making the connection in my dissertation last summer precisely because I could not adequately prove that the connection existed. I have sensed it; I have read little about it.

[Now would be a good point to throw in a book reference. I have read parts of Walker Percy's Message in the Bottle - completely unrelated to the Nicholas Sparks novel - and happily admit that he talks about this sort of thing eloquently. But I couldn't make his particular analysis shed light on James Macpherson's poetry without some serious finagling that would have been embarrassing for my adviser. Even so, the same book is back on my reading list and will, especially after this morning's happy thought, probably be the next one devoured.]

But as I was tottering about in my brain, trying to keep the cat comfortable while shifting the pressure in my sinuses from one side to the other, one word flashed into my brain with the brilliance of a car dealership before closing.

Voyeurism


This word has come up in my studies before. Mostly regarding Thomas Pynchon, when we read his novel V. (I could write a preposterous but compelling argument asserting that the enigmatic title letter stands for this very thought.) In the academic world - and slowly creeping into the vernacular - voyeurism is no longer strictly a sexual term. It refers more broadly to the tendency to satisfy the need for experience through distanced observation. Thus, one of V.'s main characters, Benny Profane, begins the story in the sewers of New York City - never able to quite fully join the real wakeful world above. (Though it is suggested - three sad cheers for modernism - that the world he must partake in from a darkened distance is itself only an exponentially distanced and distancing world from other worlds of like distance. Voyeurism has devoured itself like a motherless spider swaddled in its own stomach.)

This is where the loss of mythic sensibility gives birth to the tourist industry. We have lost our sense of time and place. We know the name of where we are and we can read the clock, but we do not know the grain of the soil or when the wind will best blow through the palms. 'Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers: / Little we see in Nature that is ours; / We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!' And we have replaced true experience with a tourist awareness of the world. We do not see; we photograph.

Perhaps you will wonder, where was myth in all of that? Myth was replaced by history as a valid form of cultural narrative with the Enlightenment (ah, if my dissertation could only have been a blog entry, I would have been entitled to such broad strokes of summary and assumption! Who needs proof? Just take my word for it: this was the Enlightenment...). And before. And after. Myth became metaphor. Or an artifact from the past. As an artifact in particular, it took its place as one of the first great souvenirs of history. But as we lost the ability to understand ourselves in mythic terms, we lost our ability to understand our own relation to our particular place and time. If there are no brownies aiding your endeavours, any field will do for a farm. If your ancestor was not, in fact, a great giant able to stride the distance between Temora and the Highlands, does it matter what your name is?

It is significant that the first tourists began with Italy and Greece, where mythology's marks line the streets in glorious architectural form. That tourism and museums arose about the same time. It was not just an increased interest in history - but an increasing distance between Things and Meaning. We have Things enough. What we go to look at are Things that once held mythic significance - a scepter in a glass case, a temple to a dead god. (What do you do when your tour guide takes you through an old church, and you find a woman still praying? Is she part of the show? Or are you, in fact, looking at it in the wrong way after all? Ah, for the tourist on his knees!) What is curious is that we now have tourists in forests, tourists at the seaside, tourists in the desert. It is no longer only the Things that have lost their meaning, but Nature itself. And experience.

It is here, and perhaps here alone, that I will remind myself of the frailty of human perspective. It is possible to know a thing, but we have unknown all things in a vaguely self-righteous attempt to be thorough. So we are left with nothing but a TV screen - showing us life at a safe distance, life packaged in glass, prepared by producer and costume designer. If we venture out, we have life delivered in the fine lines of corporate culture, life streamlined, life with a logo.

These are my fantasies: kneading bread. building a brick wall. sweeping the palm of my hand over newly planed wood. toes in the mud. the breathing body of my cat against my arms. not reading but making paper from newly ground pulp. loose leaf tea. carding wool, the warp and the woof, the shuttle, the strings. not ecstasy, but my hand in your hand, dipped in the dirty water, slowly stacking the dishes and breathing barely in time.
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