Sunday, November 2, 2008
Alan's comment that our age of digital photography may leave few images in the future, along with yesterday's wonderful celebration of Dias de los Muertos at our library, converged with some general thoughts that my current project has brought to mind concerning change and vanity.
Our age has championed not only the snapshot, but the idea that the informal spontaneous image is actually superior, more natural. Beneath the surface of that idea is the reality that this so-called ease is supported by an immense, expensive, and very delicate technology. It is not just the camera that has changed the image, but the very rarity of portraits, for instance, in my grandfather's time, meant that the moment of the shutter opening, the flash of light onto the chemically sensitized paper, was an entirely different experience. In those days one had to prepare oneself to become an image. Perhaps there's a correspondence to the way people envisioned their identities in those days, not so much as something that a person WAS, but more something that a person MADE. The image was made to confirm the reality of their character, something carefully created. Now we tend to think of character as being something we have, not something we cultivate.
One of my recent interlibrary loan research books was a dud called "Imagining the Anglo-Saxon Past." Amongst the many tedious ideas it labored was a sweeping claim that romantic critics of Old English poetry try to find Germanic pagan residues where none in truth exit. The dismissal alledged that this focus on wild rocks, craigs and caves, was the equivalent of looking at the landscape and denying the presence of the far more important (and pleasant) cultivated fields and houses - we were to understand that in this metaphor the dank and dark insignificant caves were pagan delusion and the nourishing fields and protective houses were Christianity. I immediately thought of Pete's Spring.
A totally different view came from another book, concerning the African simba, or spirits, as translators would have it, native to the gullies where springs emerge. These beings, in some views, could be personifications of nature, or transformed ancestors, perhaps usually a seamless combination of both. The idea (I think) is that the virtues of nature and ancestor, as a nourishing source, converge in the recognition of the spring as an essential and positive character sited in the landscape.
The contemporary analytic mind may have trouble yoiking this, but poetry does it. The metaphor that would dismiss the cavern in the landscape as inferior to the cultivated field omits the underlying reality that water flows underground, and the very purpose of the field is dependent on the sustaining water.
Maybe the resistance to becoming an ancestor fused into a spring, versus living in an eternal city of gold, is really more a function of vanity than spirituality. Death may be, and certainly appears to be, an utter change. Personally I don't mind, and (if asked) would prefer that any post-life existence be completely novel. I intend to object if it is not. I'm not picky ~ being energy in a worm is fine by me, and I don't have to be conscious of it either.
My mom's oldest sister, Francis, used to say that she wanted to come back as a possum, so that she could ramble around in the autumn woods and eat wild grapes. Today, seeing the hill in all its autumn glory of transient gold, that sounds pretty good.