Catching the view from unexpected windows
Beautiful. I’ve a mention regarding how a chance encounter with polyphony broke my world open in an upcoming essay. I’ll definitely reference this piece in mine.
Glad you’re writing here!!!
Lovely, cohesive, thought provoking. I particularly love your own "doubts." There's a key there which you seem to hold naturally. Negative capability comes to mind. To be able to doubt your writing as you write it. It implies an open, organic stance very rare today. I'll be digesting this for a while.
Thank you for this lovely mingling of ideas, stories and reflections. I had the privilege of reading Sharon Todd's upcoming book "The Touch of the Present", where she talks about the importance of enculturation and becoming as movements of encounters. A passage from the book popped into my mind as I pictured you sitting, looking out the window in Oxford, being transported to these other realms, other lands (I also studied there and felt some nostalgia, despite my experience being similar to yours in many respects).
The passage reads "I suggest that what is educational about encounters needs to move beyond polarizations, particularly when we look at encounters in an embodied way, if we are to understand more fully how education both interrupts and instantiates different ways of being for different bodies. . . I question the place of the body given in these accounts and argue how the senses are not only intimately involved in educational encounters but can be considered to be a fundamental part of what is educational about them in the first place.” (p. 32)"
When you talked about re-reading the poem, I was reminded that perhaps your encounter all those years ago, was just that - an embodied encounter that lead to a form of becoming you could not know or describe. What was 'educational' about it was not the fixed location of the beginning, the journey, or where you are now. It was and is the embodiment of the feeling of being starkly interrupted by the unknowable. Yet your senses felt this interruption, you were 'touched' by this encounter. That which is still 'your body' was reading the poem again, but this time intimately connected to these other encounters to which you enculturated to a way of being and knowing. You may not have the same educational experience of becoming, or even re-becoming, yet I felt a sense of this profound connection, and wonder how it has evolved through entanglement with polyphony and mushrooms. Thank you for this gift.
Glad to be settled onto a mossy rock alongside your stream once again, stirred by the polyphony of your words and following the glinting droplets of the links and commenters!
One nit to pick (with either you or Henryson?): as someone for whom “the living cosmos” is taking shape as an expansive physicality, adding layers/scale to our bodily-experienced sense of place, it grates when otherwise attuned writers and artists glitch their imagery of the sky (eg crescent moons facing the wrong direction, or too high).... Venus at sunset is always on the way to setting, rather than rising!
Though: when setting in the evening sky, it’s also always approaching closer day by day....emerging from behind the sun, swinging wide to the left of it (seen higher and later in the evening...so yes, rising, higher day by day while still close to setting on any given night...), then, as it arcs between us and our star, lower each night once again, growing brighter most of the way, until its (relatively) huge crescent passes into the glare once again. So in that way, perhaps, it is indeed rising in our felt awareness and in proximity! (So also: Venus as the harbinger of dawn is indeed rising ahead of the sun, while always moving away from us, emerging bright and close from between us and the sun and disappearing distant and faint behind the rising sun a few months later.)
This is a glimpse of reciprocity and communion within the Solar Body, as experienced from this earthly vantage.
I have been on quite a Tallis kick in the last several months, and particularly “Spem in Alium,” or “my hope is in none but god.” The medieval world, with its layers of order and being that intersect in multiple colluding and counteracting ways makes much more sense of the way I have always experienced things. It can be overwhelming to have this perception in a world that demands straightforward causal analyses and narratives and demands action based on them; how can you know which of the multitudinous intersecting threads to pick out and tug on?
Which is where the hope in none but god comes from, which from my perspective is the unifying consciousness holding it all together, not in a flattening, homogenizing way; but rather like the painter holding the vision of the masterpiece he is creating; except the painter is the masterpiece. And from that understanding, I can go to the source and ask, “which thread do I need to follow?”
As for progress in medicine, it’s interesting to me that in our antibiotic age, having assumed bacteria were something to be exterminated mercilessly, we are now dealing with the consequences of drug-resistant bacteria, the destruction of our microbiome, and its myriad and only dimly understood effects on our overall health and well-being, and that health is something like a balancing of multiple factors that foster well-being and right functioning, not simply an absence of an offending agent. Not the four humors, exactly, but there may be more wisdom in the past than we realize.
Anyway, I am overwhelmed with things in my inbox and news feed and have been attempting to focus my attention more recently, but something told me to follow this particular thread when I saw it this morning, glad I did.
Apologies in advance for the ramble.
You wrote, "lectures ... often felt like standing on a railway platform while the train you want to board speeds through the station without slowing down." These days, it's often podcasts that feel this way to me. I am grateful for transcripts and 15-second rewind buttons that give me opportunity (when in position to do so) to have visual access to a thought so I can absorb it at the pace I need (which, like you, requires reining in a "mind wandering off, mid-paragraph, chasing spiralling patterns of connection, struggling to stick with the line of someone else’s thoughts").
"Later, it struck me that something else was lacking ... I had not yet found any questions of my own; questions of the kind that would light a deeper curiosity and provide a sense of direction." I have never forgotten the instruction given by a priest upon assigning the first essay I wrote at the Jesuit University I attended, to always begin a writing project not with an answer or preconceived conclusion but rather with a question -- guidance contrary to all the instruction I had previously received from teachers.
I don't recall ever reading Henryson’s Testament of Cresseid, but I do know that in my youth I read many a tale composed in the "long and ugly tradition of stories about how women are punished for their sinfulness." These threads got woven into my own psyche so early and repeatedly that it took decades to recognize and unravel them, and I continue to work at mending the holes left behind, or patiently allowing them to be mended by serendipity, or simply learning to live with them.
I so appreciate your introduction to Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing’s The Mushroom at the End of the World that I have ordered a copy. "What Tsing is looking for is a way of staying with the ruins and noticing how life goes on and new possibilities emerge, after the failure of modernity’s promises." In the middle of my 7th decade on this planet, I have just recently begun working with a "life coach" for support in doing exactly this. I am intrigued by the idea of reviewing/noticing my own life and identity as an "assemblage" of "multiple temporal rhythms and trajectories" rather than as a single story line of either success or failure. And I will keep in mind the words of the leper, "Why do you dash yourself against the wall, / To slay yourself and mend nothing at all?"
I keep several books on my shelves that I read decades ago and was deeply yet mysteriously affected by and have longed to read again, hoping both to rediscover what treasure (emotional connection) I found there before and to discover what I assume I missed the first time. Yet year after year I avoid going there. These include Homer's The Odyssey (I even purchased Emily Wilson's recent translation after hearing her speak about and read from it at a nearby bookstore) and Chaim Potok's My Name Is Asher Lev (which moved me so strongly as an artsy teen with Anabaptist roots that I even wrote a letter to the author, though I never received a reply). Perhaps I will let go of my fear of disappointment and make reading at least one of these a thread in my "coaching" adventure.
Part of the draw of reading for me has always been to find connections between my little self and the Big World "out there." Thank you, Dougald, for all the connections I found here.