Friday, March 09, 2007

Houseplants and white whales


Extraction of St Ignatius' Heart
c. 1488
Tempera on panel, 21 x 40,5 cm
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

I feel really terrible. Really ill. What does one do to cheer oneself up when one is feverish and snotty and diarrhea-y and sore throat-y and exhausted? I figured some Norwegian black metal might do the trick. So I borrowed some mp3s from some nice person on the world-wide WWW and have been smirking while giving them a listening-to. And, while they seem to complement my mood perfectly, Norwegian black metal is not making me feel any better.

I am obsessed with finding good music. Danica can attest to this. I have about 18 gigs of mp3s on this computer. Itunes says that's about 11 days worth of music. I bet Danica would be in hell for about ten and a half of those eleven days if she had to listen to it all. The thing I find interesting is that there seems to be a complete lack of method when it comes to my music listening. I'll put on some Guillaume de Machaut, then some Maher Shalal Hash Baz, then some Roscoe Holcomb, some Ghostface Killah, Jackson Browne, Blind Willie Johnson, Noah Howard, Juana Molina, Jesse Sykes, Panda Bear, Massimo Ferrante, Destroyer, The Beach Boys, Palace Brothers, Henrik Gorecki, Black Ox Orkestar, Rachel's, and on and on. I do the same thing with my reading of literature. Very unsystematic.

I do this because I am obsessed with cosmologies. I don't care much for art as representation. For me, if something is to be truly art (yes I am a pedant, but I'm also sick, so leave me alone), it has to create a new world. All those musicians and writers that I dig create new worlds for me to check out. I can step inside their world, take a look around, see if I like it better than the one in which I am currently living, stay a while or pick up my things and move on.

About a year or so ago I went to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City with the Black Hand and we were looking at the Medieval Christian art. As usual, we were discussing Christianity. The Black Hand has a hard time believing Christianity to be true, though he really seems to want to. I have a terrible time trying to seriously doubt Christianity. While looking at the paintings, we stopped in front of a certain painting, I can't remember the artist or the title, but it was of a woman being tortured and martyred. The description of the painting said that her tormenters tried everything they could think of to kill the woman but nothing would work: things like burning, pulling out organs, stabbing, hanging, etc. But she wouldn't die. I think the painting is of her being stretched on a rack that has a roller of spikes on it. That finally killed her.

Anyway, The Black Hand's initial reaction to a story like this is to doubt it straight away. It is much too ridiculous to be believed. When he said as much about this painting it kind of took me by surprise because I never would have even considered doubting it. As a corollary I never would have thought to claim that it is a true story. Such claims are completely besides the point for me. When I see a painting such as Boticelli's Extraction of St. Ignatius' Heart [While being martyred, the saint told his tormentors that they would find the name of Christ written on his heart. After his death two curious Christians attempted to find out if this was true. They miraculously discovered golden letters, invisible in this painting, on his heart.] I just let myself get taken away by the story and see how I feel about it - is it a good story or not, does it work? If it is a good story, I allow it to spread outside the canvas into my everyday life, so that in the world in which I live, miracles like golden letters on hearts take place.

I just got a houseplant. A couple years ago I studied some botany and learned quite a bit about plants that I didn't know before. Now plants really freak me out. They're so damned interesting to think about. Learning about them has opened up the idea of inhuman worlds for me. My houseplant has a world of its own. Its world is very different from my own. But I can at least try to think myself inside my plant's world. Every part of the plant, the flowers, roots, leaves, seeds, cells, expresses an openness, a changing. [A sunflower following the sun across the sky, leaves evolving into flowers, plants that taste bitter or coat themselves with wax so as to keep from being eaten or invaded, trees that need their seeds to be digested by a fish before they will sprout, orchids whose labellum has evolved to mimic a receptive female bumblebee...] Thinking about this makes me tremble with joy, with fear, with awe.
Am I just deluding myself? I don't know, maybe, but I don't care. As much as I love philosophy, I just can't bring myself to care much about something called Truth. I'm still just a little kid in an endless story-time. I want to make myself realize that I am just as open as my plant. I figure things are much stranger than I could ever imagine, so I should be open to that.

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