“But to what purpose/ Disturbing the dust on a bowl of rose-leaves/ I do not know.” – T.S. Eliot, “Burnt Norton”
October 7, 2016
Thanks to Alissa Simon, HMU Tutor, for today’s blog post.
Recently, I was blessed with the opportunity to attend Philosophy Camp in the Adirondacks of New York. St. John’s College in Santa Fe and SUNY-ESF campuses combined forces to offer this fantastic experience. I will continue to dwell on some of the points discussed during this exceptional conference, but in the meantime, here are a few reflections based upon the time among vibrant trees and colorful conversation.
I wanted to attend this conference with the idea of listening first and speaking second. I am not sure if I achieved my goal because, of course, I did participate. But in separating from our daily lives and heading into the forest, I think we each desired a moment of peace and perhaps even a moment of clarity. I am curious about the ways in which so many of us are able to disconnect and also reconnect (or even connect at all). One of the questions that the group struggled with was a way to understand, visualize and discuss time. It is something so inherent in our being, yet we rarely take note of the language we use regarding time or how it structures our internal lives. Is there a way to comprehend the metaphor of time in some sort of container? Is there a way to capture the connections we forge through dialogue? Is there a way to enter each other’s past in a way that enriches our future?
In the Four Quartets, T.S. Eliot greatly abstracts time to explain how past moments filter into present times and even overwhelm the present scenery. So, in looking at a garden, he layers past memories over the roses. The roses themselves, then, transform, becoming both childhood and flower. Sound and emotions filter into the scene, which literally carries past and future into the present. He calls this the “still point of the turning world”. It is almost as if the emotionally heavy moments weigh more than others, even than the present. These become our focal points through which we see dimensions of other times. Therefore, we communicate through universals, ideas which exist both inside and outside of time. In other words, universal and timelessness must participate in some communicable chronology. Perhaps they offer a language of sorts, or more likely, they offer perspective of a thing that perpetually changes perspective. A thing such as time.
If time perpetually changes, and our understanding of time perpetually changes, then so does our experience. This is of vital importance because humans resort to metaphor in order to articulate our own specific perspective. Just as Eliot intentionally reshapes the past throughout these four poems, the reader finds common points of access and is then able to interpret some of his memories through the reader’s own. However, gaining these access points still does not allow the reader to experience time in the way that Eliot writes it. In fact, an infinite amount of access points would not enable the reader to experience life as Eliot has. In other words, the points of access are functional, but not direct. Therefore, ten readers of Eliot’s poems come away with ten different perceptions of time. These poems focus on language’s inability for clarity. However, they also focus on the miracle that language allows intersections at all. There is a beauty in the idea that we must all participate in metaphor to create connections. In pictorial representations of language, images such as rose bowls and gardens carry more weight than a point to point transfer would. Language is not exact. It is representational. What then, enables language to transfer from one point to another?
These points would interact on a variety of grids, but no common ground. The grids themselves act as fields or frames that offer points of intersection – mutually experienced realities. Euclid says that a point is that which has no part. After reading Chomei’s Hojoki, the Bhagavad-Gita and Eliot’s Four Quartets, I think that we are all points on a field. The individual self equals one point. The field is our current circumstance. Our circumstance affects and influences all action. Our actions create a narrative by allowing us to move through, past, around, next to, adjacent, inside and outside of the space also inhabited by others. The points where we intersect make all the difference. They distill time in a way that is unique to both the present and memory. From these still points, we construct our world.
T. S. Eliot says that these points allow for a dance and he emphasizes that “there is only the dance”. There is only the dance – the face to face rhythm of beauty and grace, the face to face approach of two unlike points, the face to face twirl that allows an intimacy, a connection. There is only the dance – the fact that we can connect and communicate with grace and emotion, with passion and eloquence, with hesitation and honesty, with experience (our own) and experience (all). There is only the dance and when we complete this dance, we have reached an end. For me, dance is the container of time. The ebb and flow of rhythm, time kept as a movement, is the metaphor: it is the movement in which we all participate. Hopefully the completion of every path (even incomplete paths) results in an elevated dignity that the world can at least see, if not fully access. Presence almost becomes clarified through absence – through the interaction on the field and layers of memory, emotion and present circumstance.
And so there we were, all of us among the mountains, lakes and trees of the Adirondacks. All of us on one field. All of us dancing.
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