Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Dreaming by the Book

My in-flight reading on a recent trip to California included Dreaming by the Book by Elaine Scarry, a professor of aesthetics at Harvard. It’s an inquiry into the magic of narrative and poetry that draws the reader into a vivid multisensory experience through the agency of little black marks on a white page. For example, she analyzes how certain writers conjure belief in the solidity of a wall by streaming fleeting or filmy shapes across it. Locke says that in the everyday operations of perception, the notion of solidity “hinders our further sinking downward” – so we are confident of the floor or sidewalk we are walking on.

Some kinds of reading alter the way we see. I looked out the window of my taxiing plane and saw the sun hammer the window of a control tower into a shaman's bronze mirror, flashing light. As the plane came down, its shadow ran beneath us on the tarmac far below, tiny at first but growing fast as we dropped. We flew into our shadow, like lovers rushing into each other's embrace. When we paused for breath, the shadow of our wing erased the yellow line on the landing strip. Beyond the shadow, there were no boundaries.

On the edge of San Francisco Bay that weekend, the legacy of the storm erased solid ground and constructed buildings in the sky. Great puddles of water, shallow but wide and silver-bright, lay on the cement of the Fort Mason docks. They opened windows into a mirror world. Brick by brick, the buildings were meticulously reconstructed, rising towards scudding clouds in a blue sky far below. I was walking at the edge of a limitless drop. One inch to the right, and I would be falling into the sky.


Barbara Butler McCoy said...

How fascinating - before I rose this morning, before I'd seen this post, I lay thinking of photographs of Earth from space, our boundaries erased. Too, I've been listening to the newest CD, "Save Me San Francisco," by the popular group Train. One of the songs is titled "Brick by Brick." Thanks for this!

Robert Moss said...

Barbara - Studying Earth from space is another way of shifting and growing perception. The biggest shift that was effected in me with a physical image of this type did not involve a photograph, but an image painted under the direction of Maori elders. I found myself looking as if through a powerful space telescope into the spiral tattoos on the face of one of these elders.

Justin Patrick Moore said...

You wrote, "Great puddles of water, shallow but wide and silver-bright, lay on the cement of the Fort Mason docks. They opened windows into a mirror world."
This past weekend I read a novella by China Mieville called "The Tain" (Paralleling my reading of Kinsella's.)The two are quite different. Mieville's though is an elaboration of a theme spun out by J. L. Borges, based on his story "The Fauna of Mirror's". In Mieville's story the fauna from those mirrors escape from that prison into our own world.

Your post is a nice reflection on the mirroring properties of prosetry.

Robert Moss said...

Justin - I gave up on China Mieville eons ago halfway through his "Perdido Station" which features an anatomically explicit liaison between a human-insect hybrid and a specimen of homo sapiens with corresponding tastes. However, I'm intrigued by the notion that he has taken to the "Tain".

Borges, on the other hand, is a perennial favorite.

Don said...

Yes, Robert, I agree that books can and do inspire dreams. There are authors and poets who suck my mind into their stories. Some of the prose by Forrest Reid that I used to read is more poetic than what we are told is poetry. After reading a moving story or poem I do often enter it in a dream. Such is also true of a well-told history of adventure, such as "Sailing Alone Around the World," by Joshus Slocum. I shall see if the library has "Dreaming by the Book. Thank you for your post.

Nancy said...

Robert, I love this post about a different way of seeing. Yesterday I sat in on a session between a myopic friend and my holistic vision doctor. She was concerned that she is starting to see people other than they are physically, like a guy who had a stroke with a badly sagging face no else even noticed. My wise vision doc told her she is seeing people's energy, which badly frightened literal-minded her. I told her I see this way in dreams, and can do it sometimes by choice when I'm awake, while she can't seem to turn it off now and is often overwhelmed, pushing away what I view as a gift.

This all makes me wonder how many people are locked up and considered crazy, needing to be drugged, just for seeing things others don't.

Shining mirrors of infinite worlds to you. Seeing with poet eyes is not a malady!

Robert Moss said...

Nancy - You remind me of the theme so common in world folklore & mythology that the seer into other world must give up at least part of their ordinary sight.

And also of a woman who lost a vital part of creative energy and vision in elementary school when an art teacher punished her harshly for drawing colors around people that that the teacher couldn't see.

Justin Patrick Moore said...

"To be an artist means to never avert your eyes." -Akira Kurosawa

Robert Moss said...

Justin - Yes, but which eyes? Let's balance Kurosawa with Proust: "The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes."