Friday, April 18, 2014

Dying before articulating the important things

Tree Line at Maudslay Estate
CC Jean Stimmell: Newburyport MA. 4//17/14
A certain book, The Human Province,[i] jumped out at me, demanding my attention while I was browsing at the Book and Bar in Portsmouth recently. It is a journal by Elias Canetti, some one I admit I wasn’t familiar with.

But I like what I found out: he was a highly-awarded German writer who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1981 “for writings marked by a broad outlook, a wealth of ideas and artistic power".

He says in the preface that “this volume contains my jottings from 1942 to 1972.” I enjoy reading journals, particularly intellectual journals that trace the slender threads of fleeting insights to see if they weave themselves together into stronger cord or fall to the floor as random flotsam. In my conceit, I like to think of my blog, Psychoscapes, constructed of my own jottings, as such a journal.

Canetti’s jottings are often cryptic and enigmatic:

“Only an image can please you totally, but never a human being. The origins of angels.”[ii]
“The inklings of poets are the forgotten adventures of God.”[iii]
“Experiencing and judging are as distinct as breathing and biting.”[iv]
“A philosopher getting through life without a single answer. But oh how he asks.”[v]

Many are about death. My favorite quote– one I couldn’t get out of my mind – ends with the starkness of a mathematical equation:

“You carry the most important things in you for forty or fifty years before you venture of articulate them. For this very reason, you cannot reckon what it is lost with those people who die early. All people die early.”[vi]

Yesterday we visited Newburyport and while there, took the dog for a walk in Maudslay State Park, a former grand estate. Walking around the decaying formal gardens, once the pride and joy of the owner’s eye, Canetti’s quote came back to me, weighing upon my mind.

When I saw the line of trees (see the image above), I thought of the landowner tenderly overseeing the planting of them as young twigs. Now, dead and dying like a long line of us of varying ages, before either they or we could articulate the important things in our lives.

Again, when I came across a sad and desolate, ancient hedge (the image of which follows), Canetti’s quote transfixed me, this time in this dead and tangled vision of decaying trees planted in a straight line, against the dictates of nature. Of course they never had a chance to articulate who they really are.

Do you think it is the same with us?
Hedge in black and white at the Maudslay Estate
CC Jean Stimmell: Newburyport MA. 4//17/14




[i] The Human Province by Elias Canelli. The Seabury Press, New York, 1978
[ii] Ibid. page 2
[iii] Ibid. page 4
[iv] Ibid. page 33
[v] Ibid. page 124
[vi] Ibid. page 128
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