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The Nature of Glimmers

     (1)     What is a "glimmer"? Less than a notion or a guess, it is closer to an "evanescent intuition," to an "obscure intimation." Let us say that it exists–derives from and goes back to–in a different realm: that of "Flicker/Flutter." Observe it then as real or imagined in the dynamics of time itself: Not Yet…Not Quite…No Longer. Join the "not yet" with the elusive, but sturdy AS IF, and we may have a bridge between Appearance & Reality. So our "glimmering" shuttles between the realms of the tangible/visible/expressible–and the intangible/invisible/inexpressible. The particular glimmer then hovers on the edge of perceiving, sensing, knowing. Peripheral to vision, we may on occasion: "dream it into being." But its basic nature is to be most often irretrievable.

     (2)     I’m tempted now to call it: "What/Where/When"–for which we seem unable to find the appropriate: "How/Why." It brings to mind the phrase: "A Series of Noticings"–which may be available to the patient bird-watcher as well as to the artist.

     (3)     Considering then "all that glimmers" being as much in shadow as in light, we need to confer value on what we cannot encompass or understand. For this I propose: a) It is what you make of it. b) But it is also something more & something else. c) We shall never get to the bottom of it. And the corollary of this:

The effort of the Intellect is to explain the Mystery.

The effort of the Imagination is to express the Mystery.

The Dream of Language

This was our human dream: that within language could be found the possibility of peaceful and fruitful coexistence. That the spoken or written word, reducing distances, providing names for the unnamable, unthinkable, might throw back the edges of the darkness. But in time, the word "became the sword"–vehicle for threatening & ambiguous gestures it could not withhold.

The Why/The Why Not

Heidegger’s Why? Picasso’s Why Not?: Heidegger calls this the first question of Metaphysics: "Why is there something instead of nothing?" Picasso’s "Why Not?"–reported as a favorite phrase, expressing his stance towards experience–may be heard as the artist facing a task which may require a "leap of the imagination," even a fall "into the unknown." Comparing the two then: Why asks to be explained. Why is to "look before you leap. "Why Not seeks surprise & discovery–expects the random & wayward as part of "calculated risk"–accepts the presence or absence of casual connection as a given: whichever it is, belongs to the "new territory."

The Who as What/The What as Who:

When Duchamp said: "Art is what the Artist says it is," the note of defiance expressed the sense of freedom. What was probably not foreseen in this is the concomitant: "Is the Artist who he says he is?" The question goes deeper than our contemporary situation, uncovering a perennial uneasiness within the basic archetype: that of the "Imposter."

Within the larger context of the individual and the environment, we find at work all that tends to turn subject into object, object into subject. ("We do it all for you" is a current advertising slogan: ‘We’ is the corporation that sells hamburgers; ‘You’ is the tenderly cared for consumer.)

What is being played upon here is a metaphysical pathos that may have a primordial, animistic source. Consider that personification is used to "animate" the inanimate, to humanize and make the environment less threatening. (And whatever happened to Ruskin’s pathetic fallacy"?) The manipulation then of the collective unconscious precisely in ways to defeat and degrade its deepest longings.

    1. Individuals that suffer from, survive through Institutions.
    2. Institutions suffer from, survive through Mystiques.

The And/Or Situation:

For a long time I felt, as did many others, the inadequacy of an "Either/Or" view. It seemed then that the "duality," the "polarity" could be better dealt with as: "Both/And." But the flaw there, it would seem now, is that the thing & its opposite are still considered from the standpoint of their distance from each other. Preferable to this might be a view that shows them as "intermittent," as "intermingling": Life and/or death (bios contains both).

Still what could be more difficult to accept? This is just where the "tolerance for ambiguity" is under severest strain. The need for directions, for goals, for answers, for diagnosis insists: it has to be "this or that." (This excludes that) At issue is the whole notion of choice, will and decision–along with the sense of value, the hierarchy of the more or less "important." Even more threatening is the suggestion that, where it doesn’t matter whether it is "this one" or "that one," the individual is made to feel replaceable, interchangeable.

Forms of Reality: The Given, The Created, The Substitute

This would be most difficult to illustrate, but we are fortunate in having Marianne Moore’s famous poem "On Poetry" which deals with it directly. Here are some relevant lines: "When dragged into prominence by half-poets/the result is not poetry." (The Substitute). Instead we must have "real toads in imaginary gardens," "hair that can rise," "eyes that can dilate." (The Created as the Real.) But we cannot neglect, must also include: "school books, documents & statistics." (The Given).

On a less serious note, these three orders of reality are indicated in an old joke: What’s the difference between the neurotic, the psychotic, and the psychiatrist? The neurotic builds castles in the air. The psychotic lives in them. The psychiatrist charges both of them rent.

A favorite quote from Hart Crane–"Silently as a mirror is believed/Realities plunge in silence by."–indicates for me the ambiguities, the constant shifting and dissolving of these forms.

Going Toward/Away From

(As an example of "what may or may not be," the following is presented more for its "speculative flow," than for precision of thought or language.)

    1. We seek revelation, enlightenment, forget the continuum that starts with theopaque, ends with the transparent.

    2. Who is "we?" In one sense: I plus Thou equals We. (But with species identification, "We" enters the generalized realm of the human. And at the level of survival, the "I" turns from a specific person, to the "one who" has these basic human needs.)

    3. Someone, Something, Somewhere: In terms of Necessity: I must be someone; I must have something; I must belong somewhere. The specificity of this, however, breaks down in the contradictory impulse toward freedom, toward the universal. For although "some" is better than "none," the desire for "this man’s art, that man’s scope," brings in the unconscious substitution of "any" and "every"–an endless source of confusion.

    4. Language dreams: sometimes on the scale where it creates a castle, a throne. Having created the "Court", it sends for dancers, clowns, tumblers, sages.

    5. Airing voices, we contrive and complain. Only later, in distress, do we remember–with gratitude & relief–that the reservoirs of silence remain intact.

    6. Once more: who is "We?" This time in terms of location, of belonging: within the tribe, within the "community of solitudes." (Note: subject for a separate reflection, as a spin off from this: Landscape & Community.

    7. We have fallen out of History and into Time. Out of Time and into Space. With "space stations" and "space shuttles," technology may provide some useful metaphors. But the basic activity of the mind requires a dialectic between: Making Alike/Differentiation. In undifferentiated space, we are more lost than ever.

    8. Without Time–our cleverest invention–we lose also the related: "sequence" and "duration" (The perishing ocean is not eternal–merely dying)

    9. Without sequence? Choice and no "con-sequence?" We are deprived both of "one following the other," the sense of hierarchy, of precedent; and "of one following from the other;" the sense of causal connection.

    10. No more mystiques. Accept instead the varying proportions of "trial & error." The pitfalls & pratfalls that remain–even increase as we venture into ‘unknown territory.’

Culture/This Culture

Ortega calls culture: "A treasury of principles." But makes the distinction between situations where culture is "at the service of life," and where life is at the service of Culture. This suggests we need also to distinguish between this culture and Culture itself. (As metaphor, I prefer reservoir to treasury. With the latter, the negative drain can bring us to bankruptcy. With the former, to pollution and to drought–both closer to the sources of dread, of void.)

Culture vs. Self:

More on the effort of this culture, and the negative reaction transferred to Culture itself: when the givenness of the environment is so entrenched, alternatives seem impossible, the Self is prevented from ever viewing–not to mention realizing–what might be a "natural shape," "natural bent."

Culture v. Creature:

The basic primordial conflict between a "culture self" and "creature self," between "culture consciousness" and "creature consciousness." The familiar associations here are that the "culture," through various systems, institutions, superstructures is imposed upon the "creature." (All that is "instinctive" on one hand, all that is "acquired" on the other.) Less familiar may be the notion that the "creature" inheritance involves more cooperation than dominance–more dialogue with things and fellow creatures: the ecological balance does not imply the "peaceable kingdom" or the "noble savage," but it does suggest another kind of communication, as a prior condition for living on this earth.

About the Word

Having lost sight of its ends, the Word lives now entirely beyond its means.

Having lived for some time beyond its means, The Word has lost sight of its ends.

(Also: the World?)

Suicide: A leap to the wrong conclusion.

(Note: When I quoted this line to a friend, she remembered one on the same subject–without being able to name the source: Suicide: someone who takes his own life–too seriously.)

On Consciousness & Imagination

Some different criteria to help distinguish the work of Consciousness/Imagination: As currently used, consciousness "seeking" and "expressing" is more at home in the transitory. Its mission is to go into itself, to explore itself. The movement of of Imagination at first appears also to go into itself, but it does this only as a prelude to further outward motion. This is to integrate, to work upon, even to transform what is "already there," already out there. Thus characteristically Consciousness is an extension and Imagination a preservation. Consciousness needs the excitement of the "emerging novelty." Imagination needs the reassurance of the correlative between "in here" and what has been, is now, and will be "out there."

The Well/The Will/The Vision

(Borrowed from a chapter in J.L. Lowes, "The Road to Xanadu")

The Well: container for the "living water" of the Spirit–where all we have "received" is stored. The Will: by which we organize and transmit the "materials" of creative expression. The Vision: the inner sense of outer things. The combination of these is used to develop "scenes & panoramas," "landscapes & inscapes" that include the Known, the Unknown, the Unknowable…


Relating to the above, but with a focus on human vulnerability, its kinship to other "life-forms," is the special awareness that our basic notions and metaphors stem from the fundamental situation of life lived on the land. This is in effect an "Immunology": we keep apart basically not to become physically or spiritually infected. The history of plagues, of primitive peoples destroyed by diseases of the "civilized," deeply embeds in the collective unconsciousness. But life in the Sea exists by a symbiosis with a clarity and transparency that leaves hardly any room for "Immunology" A shorthand notation on this: Symbiosis: Part of–not apart from; Immunology: The Plague; The Fall (Camus’ metaphors).

Symbiosis: Sea/Dream Immunology: Land/Waking

Just Glimmering

The situation of this moment. Of what is immediately before us. I become aware that, in preparing this condensed text, what has largely survived so far is the more conceptual material. The accent is on propositional truth–this somewhat at the expense of the feeling tone of the more confused, wayward, sometimes playful, sometimes painful search for the felt truth of the original text.

Something happens in the writer’s mind. Something happens on the page. Something comes off the page–into the reader’s mind. The bare bones of the situation seems mundane, obvious. And yet we come back to it again and again, making adjustments, trying for a better balance.

One way of getting at this is to look at one haiku of Basho: ‘Ancient pond/frog jumps in/water sound." One translator makes the point this could also be: "Ancient ponds/frog jumps in/plop!" (We are not concerned here with literary merit, or the exact number of syllables.) And this gives us the choice between putting the plop on the page–and making it happen in the reader’s mind. This remains an issue, with the current feeling that language has not been explicit enough, or daring enough. But I recall coming across a reference to a newspaper review of one of the early editions of "Leaves of Grass," in which the reviewer complained that "Whitman has brought the slop-pail into the parlor."

If we refer to the much longer history of Chinese poetry, the view that emerges is of a pendulum that keeps swinging between the implicit and the explicit.

But coming back to our present, it would seem the self-conscious avant-garde, with its insistence on the explicit, might be offered this longer view: The shock of yesterday is the schuck of today–the schlock of tomorrow.

Endless Reproduction (cf. Walter Benjamin, "Endless Reproduction in the Mechanical Age" from Illuminations)

Endless reproductions in print, record, film, tape: playing or showing it again and over again. No recognition here that, as Whitehead said: "Fatigue is mere repetition." The effort instead to make everything instantly and constantly accessible: to be retrieved at will, reenacted at the push of a button. This possibly starts at the level of reassurance–images against the void, the literal "nowhere"–but then goes so far as to stir the unconscious with intimations of immortality.

There is no longer any way to calculate the effect of the distortions to the perceptual system. Time can be spliced, edited, replayed, reassembled in a bewildering jumble of before, during and after. Thus technology substitutes the trivial, unnatural ‘again’ of the late, late movie for the spirit-echoing depths of experience. The sense that something truly endures, that can be called back, called upon, when needed: the most stirring images of art and religion.

Poetry & Metaphysics

"If Metaphysics is the foundation of Poetry, and poetry of metaphysics, must there not be some common ground between the two? Is it prelinguisitc?" (Question addressed by F.C. Copleston to Jean Wahl, Philosophical Interrogations, Harper Torchbooks, 1970)

My first reaction is to be pleased with the way this is phrased. A second look brings the thought: the "common ground"–what is that? A third suggests a feeling that grows through silence–to be content as "contained," or to seek expression…The wind blows across the ground. With or without voice. Within or outside the range of our hearing…But if we move from this to the question: Can something grow here, we take a significant step. We are then looking at the "ground" as a place for cultivation. And we are preparing to say something or do something that will alter what is originally and inherently ‘there.’ There is not only what is to be used, brought to flower, but also what may be wasted, destroyed. Taking all this into consideration, we need to distinguish carefully what to touch–and to leave untouched: Metaphysics is to Poetry as Soil Conversation is to Agriculture.

On Viewing and Vision

Viewing implies a viewer. Does Vision imply a "visionary?" It is understood that Vision implies seeing beyond the Visible–toward what will be but is not yet manifest. But even here we need the further distinction between what is "predictive" and what "prophetic."

Predicative: a far-reaching interpretation of data that is already, though perhaps only slightly, visible.

Prophetic: derives from and relies upon "the intangible, invisible, inexpressible" as a primary source: the judgment of the Hidden upon the Manifest.

Whitman & Blake wrote about the evils of industrialization. Whitman’s essay is full of foreboding for the future: centralized control, pollution. But the tone is rational, although despairing. Blake’s charged, ecstatic language is often compared and linked to Whitman’s–in this instance though, the expression is quite different.

This is somewhat of a detour; and the distinction may be only of minor value. (As with the sometimes useful distinction between rational and irrational value.) More to the point, to come back to the dialectic: Viewing is not necessarily even seeing. And at its highest, most perceptive–when it brings the sense of "seeing through"–is still not Vision. For as previously noted, this only activates the tension implicit in the further dialectic between the Transparent and the Opaque.

It may be useful then to offer this–however limited and over simple–"definition" of Vision: "Vision is the force that correlates and sustains the inner sense of outer things–even when it cannot project or find corresponding images to relate the parts to the whole."

On Impulse & Improvisation

A closer look at these familiar words often brings the view of what we have wrongly taken for granted. Note first that spontaneous is used in a positive, and impulse usually in a negative sense: one "gives way" to impulse–only at some risk. Further to give way entirely–beyond instinct & reason–may invoke all sorts of dangers.

And improvisation? It must be used with caution, in situations where knowledge is insufficient, data unavailable. In contrast to this I suggest the existence of two basic procedures:

  1. When in doubt–join something.
  2. When in doubt–improvise.

What may be added is the necessary practice to improve improvisational skills. The combination of experience and intuition, with a feeling for context, may suggest how far the testing of inner strengths can go–along with the recognition that, in any case, there is no escape from contingency.

The weight of three doves/bodies geared towards winter/ on the slanted branch.

: Thus as I look out the window, I am gifted with the sight of what is there. But with a change of mood, I perceive the "darker side" of seeing. Negative phrases to express this: The Tyranny of Sight/The Arrogance of the Visible.

  1. In the arrogance of the visible, Image takes the place of Idea and Ideal. Image proliferates into images that are mindless and without consequence: war, murder on television

  2. In the tyranny of sight, Everyman becomes a photographer, scurrying around, determined to leave no stone un-photographed. It never occurs to these "stalkers of bird & bush" (Wallace Stevens, "Anecdote of The Jar") that what we publish takes from darkness–as from wilderness–what cannot be replaced. Silence, the invisible, is also dwindling resources to be protected: essential components no longer to be considered apart from physical survival within the ecosystem…

In reworking these Glimmers, the question of what to include, what to leave out is ever-present. The following reflection on personal pronouns seems borderline: worth including for latent content:

Where is the "you" of yesterday?

Sometimes it reappears as the intimate "thou;" sometimes as the distanced, negative "other." It can also be placed in an intermediate position between "I" and "We." There is also a feeling of association, and one of disassociation: "Whoever you are, your gods are not mine." (Nelson Algren). "When I am told I must be for or against–in that case I am against" (Camus)

Out Of/In To:

A whole cluster of reflections starts with the observation that the word emerge is e/merge: out of/into. With this "humble" beginning, insights expand toward the larger theme of Access/Refuge. And as a related configuration: Entering Into/In Trance/Entrance. Since these are ongoing, this must be considered a tentative saying:

Entering Into:

    1. The unacknowledged compact or contract
    2. A wider, deeper space
    3. Crossing the boundaries, barriers to approach: Another Realm.
    4. Further penetration that leads to the colonizing of what was considering fantasy, the undiscovered country.
    5. The other person, the other thing: excessive empathy: "You are myself." (Note: the inevitable concomitant: being, entered, possessed, "taken over" by demons & spirits–perhaps to an extent where "exorcism" is called for.
    6. Into the "symbolic dimension"–the self transcended, transfigured, metamorphosed.


The polarity of–it seems at first–the "Open" versus the "Closed" door. The need for freedom on one hand, for shelter or sanctuary on the other. Observe though how the two–as it were–begin to dance toward each other, until it seems possible to say: "Access is Refuge. Refuge is Access." (Not only do we "hide& seek"–but seek to hide and hide to seek.) And note the potential benefits of both: Access to the Self: possible enlightenment. Refuge from the Self: from the burden of excessive self-consciousness. (Note further: the role here of "The Mirror" and of "The Lamp." The Self that absorbs light, reflects the Image; the Self that provides light, projects the Image.)