medieval art history, navel gazing, horizon scanning
Sunday, June 10, 2012
Home. Here. Home.
That old tree in that one place.
I don't know where to begin. How to separate out any emotion enough to see it and write about it. It's not that there are so many (happiness, gladness, wonder, and memory really are it), it's that they're so intertwined. I find myself agreeing with this beautiful post that proposes a "spatio-temporal geography" for ideas - a place and a time where ideas thrive, exist, are something. The deepest pleasure of reading Bryant and Bogost and Bynum in Brittany (ok, aside from the alliteration) has been the presence of, quite simply, a more animate universe. This friendship I feel myself coming alive into has (why do I realize this only now?) been uniquely epistolary for the past two full years. The joy of it emerging in voice and color and food and discussion and shared silences is near inexpressible. It is a presence, a thing in and of itself, and it is manifest here, and it takes my breath away. The joy, and let's add poignancy, of walking everywhere in town at seeing/remembering the children walking ahead of me, is all-enveloping. I realized, again shocked by the simplicity of the realization, that where in the academic job market, you don't necessarily choose where you go (Indiana? sure!), by contrast on sabbatical, you do choose. We chose Josselin - and dreamed about it, and walked the streets via Google maps, and read about it, and bought Breton folklore books in advance. And eventually, we came to feel that Josselin chose us: that this was exactly our place, that things fit, that we knew here (ourselves, the world, some days even What It's All For). Feeling the town's agency again, being led down that street instead of the other, finding that old tree that we all loved for its mossy gnarliness, listening for the familiar sound of the babbling brook at that one spot. This is where the idea of me as a person takes place.
There are problems with saying that in object-oriented ontology (chiefly, prioritizing the human experience, seeking it out most insistently). I'm prompted to do so for the old but elusive gladness of feeling like I belong to something wondrous. I'm also provoked by a response that my camera had to this wondrous world. The Bois d'Amour has been planted with poppies and foxgloves galore. Your eye moves through the landscape guided by color as much as form, and you feel light in all the possibilities. And so, perchance to dream to capture it, you take out your camera, and, having read books now that truly imaginatively seek to displace the dominance of the human subject, you marvel (you get it!) to see your camera struggle to find a face within the foxglove. It does this little thing where it will box and trace out a face when it's telling you it's focusing on one. I see through this when I'm taking pictures of actual faces, but here, of course it leaped out at me: even technology seeks out the human. (That doesn't argue that seeking out the human is an inevitable response - quite the opposite, it made me want to question the insistence more). More interestingly perhaps: technology sought out the human in nature. (Lots of parentheses here, because I'm reading a lot of stuff that is questioning the boundaries of categories (like nature) - so, technology sought out the human in this realm we've deemed the natural so often metonymically conjured up by flowers). Writing about a nature (deep breath) will be difficult. Naïve animism (it's alive!) and dichotomous moralism (it's good! it's evil! it cares! it doesn't!) can(have) both elicit(ed) powerful writing - but... well, but let's see if there are still other ways to write about what we have deemed the natural world, and its entwining with human existence - to the point where the boundaries blur.
Because if this is my walk home these days, then yes, I can claim that the love I feel for the trees and the water and the house further down on the island and the people in it are all absolutely indistinguishable. Seamless, continuous, absolute. I can ask what is a part and what is a whole of all this and see the fluctuations: how one rose in David's garden can be the whole of it, how one phrase of music can be that one that reveals the whole piece. We have this wonderful phrase, don't we: the "telling" detail. The one that speaks (for?) an ever-expanding greater whole: garden, gardens, Eden - music, Music, Kant. And so to turn ALL of this to the wooden choir screen of Le Faouët - to wonder about the power of the forms I've been writing about here gathered around and into an object that is the natural world (wood) and represents the natural world (Eden) and embeds human figures into one nature-morality scenario after another (Adam and Eve, vices and virtues, oh, and the Roman de Renart - discuss!). We go today, a first look, seeking the telling detail, that one that will make the work of art speak, that will draw us in, choose us, makes us parts of a whole even in just that moment (with or without ritual, depending on your place in history), or in that place where image is such that an idea is a material thing.