Friday, September 24, 2010

Language Crisis and Autumn Equinox

This is a difficult time for me. And a time of exquisite beauty.

The huge harvest moon has been hanging over the mountain.

There have been long warm evenings on the deck overlooking the deer that come at dusk to drink: a three-point buck the largest of them, two four-point bucks his companions, and then two does, each with a pair of fawns growing quickly toward the coming winter.

And there's the problem for me: this equinox is a marker for the coming winter.

Louis Menand, reviewing a new anthology of literary parodies in this week's "New Yorker," quotes Ezra Pound's depressive parody of the thirteenth-century round "Sumer Is Icumin In': "Winter is icummen in, / Lhude sing Goddamm."


The fading light, the Indian Summer, the harvest moon, the coming winter -- I take off my shirt and sit on the deck in the last light soaking up vitamin D, knowing it won't be enough in the months to come.

But there's another problem related to the fading light and to the coming depression, and, perhaps, related to broader issues in my body and mind as well, and that's a falling out of language and into experiences beyond or below or outside of language.

For Alex's and my seminar on "Language, most dangerous of possessions" (Hölderlin), I've just read Hugo von Hofmannsthal's heartwrenching Lord Chandos' "A Letter." Lord Chandos writes Francis Bacon that he's got a problem, that he's fallen silent in the face of physical/mystical experiences: "It is something completely unnamed and also unnameable that announces itself to me in such moments, a random revelation of my mundame environment filling me like a containter with an overflowing flood of higher life. . . . A watering can, a harrow left on the field, a dog in the sun, a poor churchyard, a cripple, a small farmhouse, any of these can become the container of my revelation." And in the face of these "revelations," Lord Chandos can't write a word.

I've been trying to finish an essay on Travis Low's and Torben Bernhard's film "The Sonosopher," and for a full month have been unable to write more than a phrase at any one time. Nonetheless, I've been alive with experiences like the ones Hofmannsthal has Lord Chandos report. A couple of mornings ago, for instance, well after dawn but just as the sun was finally clearing the mountains to the east, I walked our dog Blue along the hill by the house, dropping below the direct sunlight at times, rising into it at others. I stood at one point below the sunlight while Blue stood above me, arching his back and raising his tail to pee directly into the sun. The stream of urine flowed strong and burned a brilliant yellow-gold, shimmered with color so pure and bright that I quit breathing.

Tonight I sat on the deck short minutes after the sun had disappeared behind the mountains to the west and watched Blue, his light and dark yellow highlights still lit by Alpenglow, alert to sounds in the dry leaves below us, and found myself alive with sensation, alert to a thrill that overtook my body. It was how I feel when I wake out of a pleasant dream in the morning and lay in bed with first sun reaching my skin. It was like the satisfaction of oncoming sleep that blots out depression. It was like the spreading pleasure of gin-and-tonic as I watch Blue's alert yellows in the fading light. It's like the aftermath of sex. It's like the electric pleasure people with early MS report.

But focus on the essay? Not a chance.

1 comment:

Carmell said...

I admit to being very drawn in, immediately. I was so pulled, I could smell the urine. I'm serious. Still can. I had a moment this morning. I can't say, "I had a moment like this, this morning" though I nearly did say it. It wouldn't be true, would it. But I had a moment this morning on my run where sudden emotion, joy and everything, washed through me and all about me became crystal sharpness. The children's voices in a backyard pool, very early indeed. The rustle of something in the leaves along Carterville. But most irresistible, unavoidable, was the sudden sunlight over the rock wall that caught my eyes and my heart in a gasp and I stopped. Looked straight into it. Closed my eyes and looked longer. Felt longer. Observed the moment within me. Perfect. Breathless.

I felt this again reading your blog. I could feel the vitamin D soaking into me too. :)