Saturday, October 13, 2012

Maya: Facts and Fictions of the Mind

Maya Deren gazing out the window of 
abandoned Texico station in Hooksett
Photoshop dream image: CC Jean Stimmell
A dream image: This is the way Texaco stations looked in the 1940s and 50s when Maya Deren was doing her best work. In her travels around New England, she undoubtedly stopped at such a station…perhaps she went inside to use the restroom and took her cat with her…pausing to gaze out the window.

  I was a kid growing up back then and used to go with my father to get gas at a Texaco station that was a twin to the building in my photograph. It was a simpler world back then – and more personal. Rocky, the proprietor,  always bustled out of the station to greet us with a big smile and embrace us with his enthusiasm and goodwill, despite his advancing years and fingers deformed into claws by rhomboid arthritis. Rocky is now long-gone, along with his gas station that was torn down in the sixties to  make way for a modern, multi-pump, self-service station, sterile and anonymous – where no one will ever be happily waiting to greet you. 

Somehow, the Texaco station I photographed in Hooksett, although shutdown for decades, has escaped the wreaking ball of history, just as Maya’s films have. I believe she would have been in favor of associating her image with an abandoned object because that concept had special significance for her: she believed a work of art is never complete, just abandoned at some point.  That’s what she meant when she, as she often did,  referred to her films as abandoned

As I write this, I find myself falling into a state of personal reverie because, in a real sense, this story is as much about me as it is about Maya: In the beginning, I was a little boy visiting the Texaco Station in Epsom with my father, but now I am an old man taking photographs of its abandoned twin, the Texaco Station in Hooksett. 

Luckily, Maya is once again able to come to the rescue: being well versed, not just in film making but anthropology, spirituality, and mythology, she is able to salve my weary soul, transforming the “material circumstances” of my plotting existence into an adventure of the mind.

While the following quote by Maya refers to indigenous rituals and ceremonies in Haiti,  I believe it is universal and applies to all of us.  It is from her book, Divine Horsemen, which Joseph Campbell, preeminent scholar and mythologist, encouraged her to write. Campbell wrote in the preface: “It has always been my finding that the poet and the artist are better qualified both by temperament and by training to intuit and interpret the sense of a mythological figure than the university-trained empiricist.” 

“THE POINT OF DEPARTURE 
Myth is the twilight speech of an old man to a boy. All the old men begin at the beginning. Their recitals always speak first of the origin of life. They start by inviting this event which no man witnessed, which still remains mystery. They initiate the history of their race with a fiction… Myth is the facts of the mind made manifest in a fiction of matter. 

The speech of an elder in the twilight of his life is not his history but a legacy; he speaks not to describe matter but to demonstrate meaning. He talks of his past for purposes of his future. This purpose is the prejudice of his memory. He remembers that which has been according to what could and should be, and by this measure sifts the accumulation of his memory: he rejects the irrelevant event, elaborates the significant detail, combines separate incidents of similar principle. Out of physical processes he creates a metaphysical processional. He transposes the chronology of his knowledge into a hierarchy of meanings. From the material circumstances of his experience he plots, in retrospect, the adventure for the mind which is the myth.” *

Please see my past blog entries on Maya Deren:
Ode to Maya Deren
Importance-of-Visual-Metaphor

*   Page xiii from Divine Horsemen: Voodoo Gods of Haiti by Maya Deren; preface by Joseph Campbell. Chelsea House Publishers: New York. 1970
** Page 21 from Divine Horsemen: Voodoo Gods of Haiti by Maya Deren.
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