Sunday, December 14, 2008
The Darkening Land:
Time is always a place.
The dark has negative connotations for many, and is the common fear ~ add cold to that and no wonder people have ambiguous feelings about midwinter. The longest night is approaching, and if you're one of those creatures whose moods correspond with the amount of available light, there's a potential for a funk. My wariness about winter comes, I think, from spending lots of time with older people - it is hard on them.
The Cherokee call the West the Darkening Land. The color of that direction is black, and that's where the trail of the dead leads, toward a distant place, similar to here, but darker. It's the past. And the future. And yet we imagine it exclusively now.
I imagine it as being partly like sleep. Hardly original, but when we lay down and surrender the present, our body involuntarily twitching at the loss of being which we give, like a coin to the ferryman on our styx of dreams, we begin to descend into ever inkier realms of darkness. Darkness, in this case, equals not knowing. Who knows if the being that wakes up is the same one that went to sleep?
"No sooner do we start to fall asleep than space relaxes and falls asleep too - doing so a little ahead of us, losing its struts and fibers, losing its structural forces and its geometric coherence. The space in which we shall spend our nocturnal hours has no perspective, no distance. It is the immediate synthesis of things and ourselves. If we dream an object, we enter into that object as a shell." (Gaston Bachelard)
If the abyss of dreams is not the same as the abyss of the past, they share a lack of border. As I look at the tintypes of family members, tiny dark images that have to be looked at with a magnifying glass to make out the features of a face, I feel as though I'm descending, or traveling westward, into the darkening land. My imagination, slight candle in vast labyrinth, barely illuminates these ancestors, not enough to reveal their names, their loves, or even what they were thinking when the camera flash changed them from a person to a momento. It was important to them to be preserved in an instant for something like an eternity ~ see how they put on their best clothes, and their most representative mask of what they would be seen as, very still on the surface of the black mirror.
(tintype - my grandmother, Sarah Belle Cundiff is on the left. No one, as far as I know, knows who the others are.)
Dreaming about the past we anticpate our reunion with the ancestors. And what else is there to dream of? ... Do you dare dream of the future? Be advised: "There is about all divination a keen and melancholic spirituality, a blend of secret serenity and faint anguish, for the diviner always gives a little of his own light to illuminate others." (G.B. again)
So into the dark world of the tintypes I journey - to trade with the dead. I will give them a little of my fading light, and they, in turn, allow me to try on my mask, one which all the flashbulbs of restless time will not illuminate.
(sketch for The Darkening Land)