Welcome to day 2 of 31 Days of Apocalypse, Now, a month of posts about apocalypse, revelation, uncovering what’s been hidden. Each post will look at these ideas from its own vantage point, which may not obviously connect with the others, and which may only peripherally seem related. I won’t attempt to tie the posts together. They’ll all be listed here, as they are posted.
When walking through a warm and lush forest setting one’s thoughts can easily take flights of fancy. It is not difficult to shed the layers of modern life and find one’s more subtle or primitive beginnings. Somewhere from deep within[,] the spirit and majesty of each single tree steps forth and at once one can find themselves transported to a world of shadow and shade. – Susan Bosler, “Sacred Trees, Oghams and Celtic Symbolism” (1999)
Let’s break it down:
When walking through a warm and lush forest setting one’s thoughts can easily take flights of fancy.
It is not difficult to shed the layers of modern life
and find one’s more subtle or primitive beginnings.
(I mean, does anything look more primitive than a woodstork?)
Somewhere from deep within, the spirit and majesty of each single tree steps forth
and at once one can find themselves transported to a world of shadow and shade.
I had no problem finding images for all but one line: “It is not difficult to shed the layers of modern life.”
I love the idea of shedding the layers, i.e., removing what covers us (i.e., an uncovering, which is apocalypse), and the idea that what’s beneath the layers, what’s hidden inside the covering and waiting to be explored, is “a world of shadow and shade.”
But it’s effing hard to illustrate this “shedding the layers of the modern world.” I could offer photos of what’s obvious and tangible — homes and clothes beyond what’s needed, food trends and food selfies (guilty!), fast food, granite countertops and stainless steel appliances, climate control, cars, computers, cell phones, fitness gadgets, latte ventis, point-and-shoot cameras, a too muchness of almost everything material, and even backpacks, digital maps, flashlights, all-in-one tools, LL Bean boots, all of which, let’s face it, earthlings 100 years ago didn’t widely own — but the final shedding, the final uncovering, the final revealing of our “more subtle or primitive beginnings,” is completed at a level largely unseen, isn’t it?
First, there’s the unmasking, the shedding of a façade that resembles a pasted-on confident smile, a look of disdain, a goofy non-threatening grin, or whatever one’s mask of choice is; and then, in the layers below the skin, beyond the internal organs — somewhere in the terrain of the spirit, soul, heart — we shed the dis-ease, the painful but also strangely comforting strictures that the modern life can impart: a constant sense of time; a need to hurry; the fear of missing out; a compulsion for productivity, for self-improvement, for accomplishing something worthwhile; a mistrust of leisure and laziness; an obsession with growth, success, stuff, living our best lives; a belief that we get what we deserve, and that if we’re not getting what we want, or if we are sick, we’ve done something wrong; a need to be happy; and so on. These are hard to depict.
In her essay “Two Paths for the Personal Essay” (Boston Review, 22 Aug 2017), Merve Emre, in reviewing a book of collected essays, reviews, and short memoirs by Mary Gaitskill, mentions that Gaitskill uses “masks” as her only metaphor “for describing the mechanical quality of the world,” and Emre comments on the way that art — as well as walks in the woods, at one with the spirit of the trees — can be used to shed light on the face behind the mask, or, in other words, to dig beneath the layers of modern life, to uncover and reveal not only a “subtle and primitive” world waiting beneath but also the truth of the mechanicalness, the reality of our “maze of personality and persona” (Gaitskill’s words) and of “our inexhaustible social performances” (Emre’s words), that seem a compulsion for most of us:
“For Gaitskill, the best art illuminates the cracks in our inexhaustible social performances, lighting our way through ‘the maze of personality and persona’ so that we may, if only for a brief and fragile moment, forget who or what we are playing at. Often, the best art is not serious or dignified. It is silly and irrelevant, irrational and ecstatic. It is the frantic, funky murmur of the Talking Heads on their album Remain in Light. It is the closing number in Dancer in the Dark, when Selma, a factory worker on the verge of going blind, shoots a police officer who has betrayed her, and he, instead of bleeding to death at her feet or shooting back, rises from the floor so that the two may sing a rapturous duet called ‘I’ve Seen It All.’ It is Humbert Humbert’s feverish confession of his love for seventeen-year-old Dolores Haze, now ‘pale and polluted and big with another’s child, but still gray-eyed, still sooty-lashed, still auburn and almond, still Carmencita, still mine’ in the final pages of Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita. None of these works of art aspires to truth in any revelatory sense of the word. Most are elaborate jokes, toying with our romantic sensibilities. Yet each admits a sliver of light into the theater of tragic automata and lets it dance, briefly, with abandon.”
While slyly humourous music, painting, theatre, cinema, literature — or a walk in the forest or along a city street — may not aspire to “truth in any revelatory sense,” yet they may produce something very like a revelation, an uncovering of our façades, a light shone on what’s beneath: The shadow, the shade, the cold dark deep.
“Do not mistake me for my mask. You see light dappling on the water and forget the deep, cold dark beneath.” Patrick Rothfuss, The Name of the Wind
(“In the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul” — John Muir … a display at Paris Market in Savannah, GA)