Friday, June 4, 2010

digging, diving, reaching, grasping

Dearest love, it's hot again today and it never did rain yesterday though it's supposed to be stormy overnight and tomorrow too. I have been working on this post, and please forgive me, it has become a near-incoherent jumble. Too much is in it, reminding me of the Lucy episode with the out-of-control bread dough. All these ideas swirling together at once. I'm trying to set them down - and have confronted the limits of my intellect. I wanted to abandon the post altogether, start something else, but I keep coming back to it. That's one nice thing about the "blog" form - I can experiment with ideas, associations, even if they aren't in the end fully realized - or even coherent. Not that I'm trying to waste anyone's time on the other hand, either. What am I to do? I want very much to be in touch with you at the l'heure exquise, so mess or not here it is. Darling.

***
There is an intermingled cast of characters in my mind these days - you, Emily Dickinson, Jerome Charyn, among others - all individuals who "dig deep" in one way or another to find things out, build a narrative, get at hidden truth. I read a wonderful review yesterday of Charyn's book, The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson, in which the author of the review, Cindi Di Marzo, compares Charyn's literary approach to that of an archaeologist - an inspired metaphor:
Author of novels, memoirs, non-fiction, short stories, graphic novels, essays and reviews, Charyn revels in complexity. His portraits of people and places run deep; his interpretations of their histories, real and fictional, follow risky routes. Blending verifiable fact with emotional and psychological truths, accessed by him through great heart and imagination, Charyn creates worlds within worlds; like an archeologist, he sets forth to uncover entire civilizations teeming below the most benign exteriors.
"... he sets forth to uncover entire civilizations teeming below the most benign exteriors." I picture what you are doing, that bleak landscape and the ghosts it contains, events and lives that vividly occurred there once, artifacts to be unearthed, facts to be brought to light, the story to be shaped and told.

The conclusion of Di Marzo's review touches again on the archaeological metaphor:
... Literally blinded by light, Dickinson suffered from an eye disorder acute during her most prolific period, a time when her box of phantoms erupted into words with wings. Charyn’s excavation of Dickinson’s phantoms is as startling as Dickinson’s poems, which invite readers to consider worlds contained on the head of a pin. Alive to the magic of her poetry, Charyn weaves a Dickinson mythology equal to his subject.
Di Marzo's metaphor deepens my understanding of Charyn's quest as well as that of those at the frontiers of archaeology. The restless creative drives seem similar even if one is in the realm of "art," the other "science." In Salon this morning is a review of Brian Fagan's new book on Cro-Magnon man, a work of non-fiction that I gather combines current scholarship with imagined fiction in order to construct a scientifically accurate yet readily accessible narrative. Where it makes sense, I'm all for crossing genres - fun for the creatively driven, boundary-busting author, user-friendly on the lay reader - leave strict categorizations to librarians and archivists!

***
A blurb I read yesterday (via Maud Newton) also relates to the interplay between artistic and scientific inquiry.
It is often the case, observes Barri Gold in his new book ThermoPoetics: Energy in Victorian Literature and Science, that when we attempt to explore the interaction between science and literature, we restrict ourselves to considering the ways in which formalized scientific ideas influence our stories and poetry. Gold’s book departs from this approach, examining how ideas about nature — and thermodynamics in particular — often manifest themselves in Victorian literature before they are articulated scientifically. Gold posits that a prime example of this is Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s "In Memoriam":
Though ‘energies’ itself appears only twice, the concepts that energy eventually comprehends — heat, light, power, force — surface again and again, as do images that suggest the concerns of thermodynamics more broadly: loss and gain…the behavior of gases, order and disorder, and changes of state and form.
Considering that Tennyson worked on "In Memoriam" for two decades before publishing it the same year as William Thomson published “On the Dynamical Theory of Heat,” it seems there is merit to Gold’s argument. By weaving compelling examples like that of "In Memoriam" in with quirky history of 19th century Europe, ThermoPoetics provides readers with a fascinating investigation of the interplay between science and literature in the Victorian era.
***
I have also been thinking about another beautiful essay, by Christian Wiman, that I read yesterday morning (via Blog of a Bookslut), essentially on recapturing our sense of God by dwelling in and attending to the everyday. I love that the essay is surefooted and unsentimental. I appreciated Wiman's admonition against the "forced epiphany" - he puts his finger on what for me kills the writing of some very gifted writers (or stylists). In my experience epiphanies are rare, but when they happen they're electric. They're not sentimental codas to wrap up a dreamy little prose piece. Still - those sentimental codas - they sell. But that's different from being true and poetic, isn't it? I find it doubly annoying when the moral of a such a coda is about being truthful and poetic. What I love about Emily Dickinson - none of that.

***
I caught the last 10 minutes of a Morgan Freeman interview on Charlie Rose today. Morgan Freeman's another "deep diver." Actually, that's what I've become so fascinated with more and more. "Deep diver" - that's a phrase I recall from studying Moby Dick way back in high school. Better to be a deep diver (or archaeologist, or poet) than to remain on the surface of things (at least to those of us who count ourselves as deep divers). Deep divers get the pearls. (That's an Emily theme.) Morgan Freeman said something intriguing - Rose coaxed it out of him, his personal theology. Freeman said in his lovely, thoroughly modest fashion, that he feels himself to be God. He was afraid to sound arrogant (how easily his words could be twisted) but I sense what he meant. That God is in all things and in each of us, but hidden, and to heed God we have to look very hard, look beyond the surface of things, ask questions. Also, he meant it in a being Master of Your Destiny way, like that formative poem, Invictus, by William Ernest Henley, that he recited from memory last time he was on the program.

Listening to him, thinking about God being in me, an aspect of me, made me feel a little better able to cope with the helplessness and physicalized feelings of dread and anxiety I experience when I think about the environmental catastrophe unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico. I was telling D in the car today the horror I feel when I come across an image of a bird in utter distress covered in oil. The sheer extent of the widescale suffering is unimaginable. The acute suffering of a single helpless, distressed creature is unimaginable. (What a pain it is to clean up a single raw egg that's dropped on the kitchen floor - how can it be imagined that marshland after marshland, beach after beach, and the ocean itself, can be cleaned?) And I went off on a diatribe about ethics and how it seems to have been cut out of all of our institutions, out of the system entirely, to the point where corporate actors (who attended schools to be shaped to be the way they are, and who attend church on Sundays) act in an utterly godless, irresponsible way. I felt that my being upset about this, viscerally affected (I don't mean to make it sound as though it's about me), is a reflection of God being upset about it. God didn't create this disaster. On the contrary, he created the beautiful ecosystems and the gift of the beautiful sea - God meant it to sustain life in its myriad forms, life that could enjoy itself in delightful diversity. God did not cause this disaster. Irresponsible man organized into ethically bankrupt, unsustainable systems - that's who created it. It's right to be upset about this - that is God in us.

Where did I read yesterday about seeing God in Nature. Not that God is Nature - but that Nature is a means by which we can get "glimmerings" of God. Of course, the Christian Wiman essay, quoting a George Herbert poem.
For if I should (said He)
Bestow this jewel also on My creature,
He would adore My gifts instead of Me,
And rest in Nature, not the God of Nature:
So both should losers be.
I'm looking in the glass, the glass of the sea, a looking glass of myself, and it's the very opposite of narcissism, it's looking behind things to see the deeper meanings, the raison d'ĂȘtre of it all...

I hope this won't be construed as putting a sentimental coda on things, but it's 6:07 p.m., the light has just begun to mellow, I've turned up the radio, I've got an ice-filled tumbler of rosé, birds are chirping.

I think of a wonderful woman I once worked for (I burst into tears when she told me she was no longer going to be my boss because she was leaving for a prize position in academia). Anyway, she always bemusedly wondered (we liked our cups) what do drinkers do when they're deployed in the military? I'm wondering - how's that going to work for you, when things wind down at dusk at, say, eleven p.m.? Is beaujolais part of the rations? I hope so.

So very many kisses, my dearest. Sleep tight.

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