Archive

Monthly Archives: January 2014

HPIM0936.JPG

What is the relationship between the real world and the invisible?

First, I suppose we must grant that there are two distinct worlds. I trust we all can agree that there is a “real” world–that is, the sum total of all physical, quantifiable realities: the known universe as defined by three dimensions, time and space (theoretical physicists and cutting-edge cosmologists please stay out of this discussion–but then, I don’t guess you’d be reading this blog, so your objections are withheld by default).

But about the other “non-real” world, I would expect considerably more debate. First of all, one might ask, is there anything not real, not confined by three dimensions and time and space? And if you grant that there might be something else, open that Pandora’s Box of possibility, then how many non-real worlds could one postulate? Why only one? How about two or seven or thirteen or six hundred sixty-six or a quadrillion (a number even greater than the U.S. National Debt)? And if the non-real worlds begin to multiply, how do we stop them? I mean, by definition they exist outside the laws of the physical universe, totally beyond our control. They could appear, or disappear, endlessly.

O.K. Let’s bring this post back around to some semblance of order. The non-real worlds may exist outside the laws of the physical universe, but within the world of jeffreyandersonfiction I have total control and final say. And for purposes of my initial question, I propose that we allow that there is a non-real domain and that all aspects of it can be gathered into a single if complex realm, perhaps as diverse as the real world but united by the defining attribute that all parts lie outside the laws of the physical universe. As such, the non-real world might be defined by such adjectives and metaphors as invisible, incorporeal, spiritual, transcendent, metaphysical, sublime, divine, ethereal, mystical, God, gods, heaven, hell. The number and variety of adjectives and metaphors for the non-real realm suggest at least our language’s inadequacy to circumscribe and define it (language being, after all, a product of the real world), and perhaps our wide-ranging understanding or belief in it: Is there anything else out there? If so, what is that else like?

But as one who has always, far back as I can remember, taken that else for granted and spent much of my life engaged in and with that else (and thereby outside of time, though my physical body doesn’t seem to have shared in the privilege), my current interest isn’t so much what is the else like? (those insights have appeared, and will continue to appear, according to a schedule outside of my will or planning) as what is the relationship between the two disparate worlds? This question surely has meaning for anyone who grants the existence of an invisible world; and, based on a quick glance at a list of top-grossing movies and bestselling books, the idea of a realm and powers that lie outside reality has a near stranglehold on our collective imagination (and hope?).

So what is the relationship between the two worlds? Does one impact the other? Do they ever overlap? Religion and art are the two areas where humans have, throughout history, sought to connect the two realms. Religions have crafted belief structures, traditions, rituals, habits, and dogmas in an attempt to create or codify overlap between the realms, and from that overlap perhaps connection, communication, understanding, and, most importantly, assurance–that the invisible realm is not hostile or indifferent, that it is defined by attentive and loving (if at times judgmental) benevolence.

Art through the ages has been every bit as intent on discovering or defining a connection between the realms, and has often used religion as a jump-off point (whether the religion allows such expression or not). But artistic expression has been much more diverse and divergent in its speculations and outcomes, showing as many (or maybe more) terrifying visions of that other realm as consoling ones, and a far more inventive imagining of possible overlaps and connections. (Go to an e-book webpage–there’s a link highlighted in my previous post–or Netflix and type “paranormal” into the search form if you don’t believe me!)

But what does all that chatter down through the millennia, raised to a deafening roar in our infinitely connected age, mean for each of us trying to understand the mix of visible and invisible, real and surreal, physical and transcendent in his or her own body and soul? In the end I think all that noise is too much–as in too much distraction, too much enticement, too much manipulation, too much confusion–and therefore amounts to not much–not much insight, not much understanding, not much reconciling of the two realms into a single cogent outlook and ethic.

So what is one to do? Listen–not to what is out there but to what is in here, as in inside you. The two realms do overlap, but not in the church nave or the magnificent waterfall or the Renaissance fresco. The two overlap within your heart. And if that overlap is uncovered, accepted, explored, and deciphered (that’s a lifetime’s worth of reflection and growth reduced to four verbs!), then (and I would venture, only then) will the overlap residing in the nave or the waterfall or the fresco have true meaning and resonance.

Then you will be able to hear the harmony formerly lost in the cacophony out there because you heard that sound, and got to know that sound, first in here, within your heart.

to CDA

  

Advertisements

Is the task of the artist to document reality or enhance it?

You say, “Yes and yes.” And I’d say, “Good answer!” But I didn’t start this post with a biggy question just to answer it with three words (a very short post). So I’m going to pursue the question a little further. You can follow or stop with your three words, as you wish.

In this question, I’m referring to intention–purpose, calling–rather than ultimate product. Place two painters before an actual landscape and one could strive to document what he sees and the other could strive to enhance what he sees and the two paintings may, to the objective observer, appear identical. But what matters, to me in this question, is not the outcome but the means to get there, the intention of the artist in creating the work of art.

Of course there’s more at play in such intention than just artistic goal, however important that one purpose is. Personal background and history–from earliest memories and experiences right up to today’s–shape this outlook. Culture, nationality, society, class, period, philosophy, religion, hobbies, health, relationships, even fate–maybe fate most of all–feed into this choice. Arguably, for the artist this one question is the most fundamental expression of self. Are you–or is the muse or God or the gods or angels or the cosmos or the zeitgeist or the voices or the visionary acting through you–striving to record what already exists or somehow reshape it, in a manner of your, or the muse’s, choosing?

Can one do both, either simultaneously or by turns? Well, perhaps, in which case my question is kind of meaningless. But ultimately I don’t think so. Again, it’s this expression of self thing–I don’t think someone can live on both sides of such a fundamental fence–more like the artistic Grand Canyon. Either the world as perceived–at whatever and however many levels–is sufficient subject for your efforts or it isn’t.

This gives rise to a logical extension. Everything perceived–again, at whatever level: our five physical senses or however many others we collectively or individually possess–was created outside of the artist–by humans, God, natural forces, time, or some combination of any or all of these. But what the artist reshapes–if that’s his or her goal–is created inside the artist. In both cases, reality is transmuted within the artist. But to what end? To honor, capture, record what exists, what has been created? Or to alter or add to it? Remember–the paintings may look the same; but the intention makes all the difference in the world, at least to the artist.

In Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, Swann falls in love with Odette. But to do so, to fully immerse himself in the lofty and transcendent feeling of love, he must filter Odette’s reality through an artistic ideal, in this case the ideal of a figure from the wall frescoes in the Sistine Chapel, the figure of the Old Testament maiden Zipporah painted by the Renaissance master Botticelli. For Swann, the real person of Odette is not adequate stimulus or repository for his desired goal. He combines that reality with an artistic masterpiece (another reality) in an internal alchemy to fashion something new and acceptable: his own creation. Now Swann is a single character in Proust’s grand scheme. But one can’t help but see in Swann’s internal reshaping of external reality a version of Proust’s approach to the entire memory-based epic. Proust’s real world and real memories aren’t adequate for him or his narrative. They must be reshaped into something greater, something higher or lower but in any case more. More what? Human? Divine? Resonant? Artistic? Durable? We don’t know–only something more! The reality is not enough.

In Becca’s Book Zach returns from Rome and the next night sees Becca in a pose that reminds him of a masterwork he saw during his trip:

Zach opened the door and Becca stepped into the room with a bulging book bag over her right shoulder and a stack of a half-dozen books cradled in her left arm and tucked against her chest. She dropped the stack of books on Zach’s coffee table and he helped her slide the heavy book bag off her shoulder. She wore baggy gray sweatpants and a gray sweatshirt over a white T-shirt with its crewneck collar showing above the sweatshirt. Her long blond hair, still damp from a shower, was woven into a single braid tied at the tip with a rubber band. Wisps of hair had worked loose from the braid and the hair pulled tightly over her ears and head, giving her the appearance of one busy but not quite harried, radiating grace through stress. Her appearance reminded Zach of Botticelli’s Zipporah, daughter of Jethro the Midianite, from the Moses Cycle fresco on the wall of the Sistine Chapel, the image of all the myriad artworks he’d seen in Rome that had held his attention the longest, and for obvious reason. Becca could’ve donned a queen’s robes or Cinderella’s gown of finest satin and he would’ve found her no more lovely than she was at that moment.

For Zach at that moment and indeed throughout the narrative, he has no need to enhance the reality before him or the reality he’s living in. The challenge is not to enhance but rather to appreciate, document, record, and honor what he’s been given. And, as with Swann to Proust, while it may be dangerous to infer the author’s intention from a character’s, in this case it is enlightening. The author’s goal of recording and honoring the world as it is, however transmuted by the muse, is ever paramount.

Is the task of the artist to document reality or enhance it? The answer depends on the artist; and within the artist, it depends on many things. But the one thing it isn’t is a choice. Either what’s created and perceived is enough, or it is not.