Saturday, April 28, 2007

Image and the Evading Metaphor

This relation between the mind and matter is not fancied by some poet, but stands in the will of God, and so it is free to be known by all men. It appears to men, or it does not appear. When in fortunate hours we ponder this miracle, the wise man doubts if at all other times he is not blind and deaf. --Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature

And now, a 4,000 word essay on Nature, in honor of Emerson:

Easier than reading, isn't it? I went for a walk this morning and took my camera. On the sidewalks leading to the edge of the woods, I felt a genuine excitement growing in my chest--I knew that this was a good idea, a good project. I snapped the first photograph as evidence of how crazy modern life can be--the Romans will even make trees grow in abstract straight lines. The picture certainly serves its purpose; it supports my argument that there exists in American culture a desire to make nature subservient to human thought. But in itself, it is an ugly picture.

As I entered the woods for the first time this morning, it took my mind a while to switch into the mode I was looking for, so I snapped the second picture in hopes of supporting an argument: "Well," I thought to myself, "this will make a find case for..." And as the camera clicked, my sentence trailed off. Perhaps I was going to write about the wisdom and majesty of Nature, or possibly I was thinking of defending noble authority. What is important is not how I was going to conclude that thought in my mind, but that something stopped me. Picture #2 is not the kind of picture I was hoping for, but it served its purpose for me. I put my camera away.

Half an hour later, after following my own path through the woods, I came to the edge of the pond. It may have been the calmness of the water that prompted me, after a minute's peace, to take out my camera snap the third picture--the truth is, I don't consciously remember why I decided to start taking pictures again, and this third picture was in the camera before I realized why. The metaphysical inverse of Picture #2, Picture #3 is exactly the kind of picture I was hoping for, but seems to serve no purpose for me.

The fourth picture is, like the first picture, an idea-picture. That is, I was looking for an image that could express what I was thinking (in this case, whether or not geometric ideals exist in reality). If you look closely at Picture #4, you can see what caused the ripples: my spit. It is neither a good picture nor a very well-conceived thought... my philosophical intentions seem to undermine the foundation of the question.

In retrospect, the narrative reveals itself: it was that half-hour walk between pictures 2 & 3 where the mystery happened. My favorite poem by Wallace Stevens almost captures it:

It is posed and it is posed.
But in nature it merely grows.
Stones pose in the falling night;
And beggars dropping to sleep,
They pose themselves and their rages.
Shucks... lavender moonlight falls.
The buildings pose in the sky
And, as you paint, the clouds,
Grisaille, impearled, profound,
Pftt... In the way you speak
You arrange, the thing is posed,
What in nature merely grows.

To-morrow whent he sun,
For all your images,
Comes up as the sun, bull fire,
Your images will have left
No shadow of themselves.
The poses of speech, of paint,
Of music--Her body lies
Worn out, her arm falls down,
Her fingers touch the ground.
Above her, to the left,
A brush of white, the obscure,
The moon without a shape,
A fringed eye in a crypt.
The sense creates the pose.
It this it moves and speaks.
This is the figure and not
An evading metaphor.

Add this. It is to add.


Wishydig said...

I'm still trying to get around your use of "abstract" for those things we see (lines shapes borders...) and your view of geometry as imposed onto/into (unto?) nature.

I'm not against it. I'm just need to know what you mean. Because doesn't everything fall in a straight line? Isn't every orbit only one of several cross sections of a cone? Don't crystals form tetrahedrons hexahedron and dodecahedrons all the time?

I think I'm on board if you give me some answer about natural contexts and pure functionality as opposed to the Roman imposition of a foreign aesthetic. That might be what I need you to mean.

Casey said...

Very fair question. After all, the moon traces the figure of a circle and the horizon, from our perspective, a line -- it's not as if Romans invented these shapes.

And yet, I get the impression that I wasn't alone one year ago in having forgotten that the moon or the mother's pupil were very likely have been the first circles that most human beings ever saw. Most of the regular shapes that I have noticed in the past decade have been digital or synthetic.

It's not that I'm against circles or triangle. Instead, as I reconsider how (to paraphrase Emerson) particular natural facts are signs of particular spiritual facts, I want to remember--for myself if for nothing else--that the mysterious shape of the reflection of a dead tree on a sheet of water also counts as a particular natural fact, and must somehow correspond or have its place in the world.

Ultimately, I suppose, this is a personal quest -- my dreams had been flooded for years with words and shapes and other limitations.

Today's personal benediction: May I never forget the perfect curve of the circle while I investigate, all over again, the less regular shapes of reality.

Cathy said...

Piece of cake.

First picture: Your state of mind influenced by the dominate culture.

Second Picture: Into the woods/ innocence

Third picture (my fav) :Casey as pond –ready for enlightenment

Fourth picture : I’m temporarily distracted by the spit image – so I’m still working on this . . . hmmmm. OK, the shadowy ripples - mathematical models – cast by the expression of the life force/Soul symbolized by spittle. Quite a few creation myths involving spit.

Piece of cake.

(Sorry – just so glad to see you back I couldn’t resist – I promise to behave:0)

Casey said...

Cathy I totally thought of you when I was out in the woods taking pictures... you don't know this (or perhaps you do), but you're kind of my spiritual guide.


Cathy said...

Then let us stumble along together. Take my oh-so-human hand.