The Nature of Glimmers
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 existsderives from
and goes back toin a different realm: that of "Flicker/Flutter."
Observe it then as real or imagined in the dynamics of time
itself: Not Yet
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/expressibleand
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.
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
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:
Why? Picassos Why Not?: Heidegger calls
this the first question of Metaphysics: "Why is there something
instead of nothing?" Picassos "Why Not?"reported
as a favorite phrase, expressing his stance towards experiencemay
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 & discoveryexpects 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 Ruskins pathetic fallacy"?)
The manipulation then of the collective unconscious precisely
in ways to defeat and degrade its deepest longings.
that suffer from, survive through 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 decisionalong with the
sense of value, the hierarchy of the more or less "important."
Even more threatening is the suggestion that, where it doesnt
matter whether it is "this one" or "that one,"
the individual is made to feel replaceable, interchangeable.
of Reality: The Given, The Created, The Substitute
This would be
most difficult to illustrate, but we are fortunate in having
Marianne Moores 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."
On a less serious
note, these three orders of reality are indicated in an old
joke: Whats 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
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.
(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.)
- We seek revelation,
enlightenment, forget the continuum that starts with theopaque,
ends with the transparent.
- 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.)
Something, Somewhere: In terms of Necessity: I must
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
mans art, that mans scope," brings in the
unconscious substitution of "any" and "every"an
endless source of confusion.
dreams: sometimes on the scale where it creates a castle,
a throne. Having
created the "Court", it sends for dancers, clowns,
- Airing voices,
we contrive and complain. Only later, in distress, do we
gratitude & reliefthat the reservoirs of silence
- Once more:
who is "We?" This time in terms of location, of
the tribe, within the "community of solitudes."
(Note: subject for a separate reflection, as a spin off
from this: Landscape & Community.
- We have fallen
out of History and into Time. Out of Time and into Space.
"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.
- Without Timeour
cleverest inventionwe lose also the related: "sequence"
and "duration" (The perishing ocean is not eternalmerely
- Without sequence?
Choice and no "con-sequence?" We are deprived
"one following the other," the sense of hierarchy,
of precedent; and "of one following from the
other;" the sense of causal connection.
- No more mystiques.
Accept instead the varying proportions of "trial &
error." The pitfalls & pratfalls that remaineven
increase as we venture into unknown territory.
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 droughtboth closer to the sources of dread,
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
viewingnot to mention realizingwhat might be a "natural
shape," "natural bent."
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 dominancemore
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?)
A leap to the wrong conclusion.
(Note: When I
quoted this line to a friend, she remembered one on the same
subjectwithout being able to name the source: Suicide:
someone who takes his own lifetoo seriously.)
On Consciousness & Imagination
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
The Well/The Will/The Vision
a chapter in J.L. Lowes, "The Road to Xanadu")
container for the "living water" of the Spiritwhere
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 ofnot apart from; Immunology:
The Plague; The Fall (Camus metaphors).
Symbiosis: Sea/Dream Immunology:
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
truththis 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.
in the writers mind. Something happens on the page. Something
comes off the pageinto the readers 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
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 pageand making it happen in the
readers 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
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
todaythe schlock of tomorrow.
Reproduction (cf. Walter Benjamin, "Endless Reproduction
in the Mechanical Age" from Illuminations)
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 reassuranceimages 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
Poetry & 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 silenceto
be content as "contained," or to seek expression
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 touchand to leave untouched: Metaphysics is to Poetry
as Soil Conversation is to Agriculture.
On Viewing and
a viewer. Does Vision imply a "visionary?" It is understood
that Vision implies seeing beyond the Visibletoward what
will be but is not yet manifest. But even here we need
the further distinction between what is "predictive"
and what "prophetic."
a far-reaching interpretation of data that is already, though
perhaps only slightly, visible.
derives from and relies upon "the intangible, invisible,
inexpressible" as a primary source: the judgment of
the Hidden upon the Manifest.
Blake wrote about the evils of industrialization. Whitmans
essay is full of foreboding for the future: centralized control,
pollution. But the tone is rational, although despairing. Blakes
charged, ecstatic language is often compared and linked to Whitmansin
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 perceptivewhen 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 thishowever limited and over simple"definition"
of Vision: "Vision is the force that correlates and sustains
the inner sense of outer thingseven 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 impulseonly at some
risk. Further to give way entirelybeyond instinct &
reasonmay invoke all sorts of dangers.
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:
- When in doubtjoin
- When in doubtimprovise.
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 goalong with the recognition that, in any case, there
is no escape from contingency.
Sightem: The weight of three doves/bodies geared towards winter/
on the slanted branch.
Reflection: 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.
- 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
- 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 darknessas from wildernesswhat 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 againstin that case I am against"
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
- The unacknowledged
compact or contract
- A wider,
the boundaries, barriers to approach: Another Realm.
- Further penetration
that leads to the colonizing of what was considering fantasy,
the undiscovered country.
- The other
person, the other thing: excessive empathy: "You are
myself." (Note: the inevitable concomitant: being,
entered, possessed, "taken over" by demons &
spiritsperhaps to an extent where "exorcism"
is called for.
- Into the
"symbolic dimension"the self transcended,
The polarity ofit
seems at firstthe "Open" versus the "Closed"
door. The need for freedom on one hand, for shelter or sanctuary
on the other. Observe though how the twoas it werebegin
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.)