Saturday, August 20, 2016

Seeing the Self in Others' Writing

Two essays, read today, both personal -- but both about some interior part of me that I have recognized at isolated moments throughout my life.

In "David's Ankles: How Imperfections Could Bring Down the World's Most Famous Statue," Sam Anderson writes about the first time he saw the David in person:

"I stood there in my filthy Birkenstocks feeling a sense of religious transcendental soaring: the promise that my true self was not bound by the constraints of my childhood — by freeway exits, office parks, after-school programs, coin-operated laundry rooms at dingy apartment complexes, vineyards plowed under and converted into Walmarts, instability, change, dead dogs, divorce. No. The David suggested that my true self existed most fully in some interstellar superhistorical realm in which all the ideal things of the universe commingled in a perpetual ecstasy of harmonizing trumpet blasts. If such perfection could exist in the world, I felt, then so many other things were suddenly possible: to live a perfect life creating perfect things, to find an ideal way to be. What was the point of anything less?"

I know about that "interstellar superhistorical realm." In Italy, I felt it, not from standing before the David but from standing in the Cornaro Chapel before Bernini's Ecstasy of St. Teresa and in the Galleria Borghese before his Apollo and Daphne, The Rape of Proserpine, and David (see here and here and here). For me, it's the same heightened experience I feel at times (not every time) that I walk with a camera, especially in nature.

Writer Katherine Towler says this in her essay "Why Do Writers Love Birding So Much?":

"With birds I have found another way of being in the world. The time devoted to watching birds is about nothing but what is right there in front of me. I am released from myself instead of sent deeper within. I am immersed in the senses, and freed of turning that experience into a narrative. Until I went out looking for birds, I did not understand how much I hungered to leave the self-consciousness of the writer behind."

I am not a writer or a birder, but if I remove those specific references, I recognize my own leaving "self-consciousness" behind in the fugue state of looking at what I have never before truly noticed. At essay's close, she writes,

"On a summer day, the song sparrow in my back yard gives his sweet, loopy song over and over in a repetition that is insistent. Listen to me, he says. Look out the window. Feel the sun on your face. I lived in my house for more than ten years before I noticed and identified the song sparrow. It seems inconceivable that he was calling to me all that time and I did not hear him, but I’m listening now."

Substitute seeing for listening and that's me. That's why I walk with my camera. That's why I lose all sense of time in an art museum or beside a pond. That's the state of suspended of deep knowing I am lucky enough to experience from time to time, the flow that relieves the mundanity of otherwise ordinary living.

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