The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.
Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made
is star-stuff too?
– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –
dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.
Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.
Monday, 11 July 2016
high summer, and the 're-enchantment of the world'
Meadowsweet is in full flower; what countryfolk cynically traditionally call 'love and marriage' – I think I've written before: sweet from a distance, with a slightly bitter sickly note up close. But let's not dis it – it provides salicylic acid, the active ingredient of aspirin, and is a whole lot gentler on the stomach than aspirin.
There's valerian in its tall spikes, too; excellent for insomniacs, and wired people.
Once the road becomes forest all the way, I drive an avenue of gold – all the many sweet chestnut trees are flowering lavishly, no doubt rich with bees, as they were when I first arrived here this time last year to stay either for a few weeks, or indefinitely; at the time, I didn’t know which.
Along the lane the sweet chestnut tree which provided so much of my last-winter vegan protein is veiled with promise, not yet quite as laden as the trees we've driven through.
Dog and I venture out into this morning’s drizzle. As on the first July Sunday I was here a year ago, swallows are swimming like fish around my ankles, performing dazzling aerobatics over the soft flowering grasses, presumably skimming off insects. The grasses have succumbed to the light weight of summer rain, and lie like sodden plumage.
Later, I go to the summer exhibition, 'The Fire Trick: how art can re-enchant the world'.
Each summer, the gallery offers a series of talks on the theme of the exhibition. This first was presented by Yann Queffélec, Prix Goncourt-winning writer, speaking on ‘when the novel re-enchants the world’. He delivered a good, engaging talk, and raised a number of laughs too.
I listened in vain, though, for some discussion of when, whether and how a novel might do such a thing. He did mention the idea briefly towards the end, saying that a novel and its author can convey human being, its issues and problems, with a degree of empathy, and that such a novel can enchant us, whether the novel’s tone is optimistic, uplifting, or sad.
Well, there’s nothing to disagree with in those statements. And he did emphasise the empathic qualities of good writing.
But is that really all that can be said about the role of art, or about re-enchantment?
At the end, I was thinking about the work I do under the banner of ‘Fire in the Head’. It seems to me that a writer’s task is exactly to be a lightning conductor, to catch a fragment of that Promethean fire, and pass it on to an audience or reader. In turn, that catalyses the fire in the witness or reader, potentially. It’s this spark, of course, that inspires imagination and creativity, whether through one's own written word or through facilitating it in others.
I wanted more. I wanted to know what lit his fires, creatively speaking. I wanted to know what sources of passion he knew of, both in his life and that reliably inspired others, and how he conveyed them to his readership. He spoke about sailing, and also about his car, but not really otherwise. (I never got the chance to ask the question which, given how hard it might have been to ask it in French with a big audience, was perhaps as well.)
I wanted to tell him that I was aware of at least three sources that, in my workshops, never or almost never fail to light the fire for a participant: the arts, whether the written or spoken word in its many forms, or visual art, dance or music; our relationship with place; and our discovery or rediscovery of the central relationship of our being – that with the whole of the rest of the natural world.
There’s a fourth, but I have learnt that this doesn’t do it for everyone, though it does for me: learning astonishing facts about our astonishing cosmos. (Of course there are many more directly personal inspirations in our human relationships, and the whole experience of being a human, alive in this life.)
So I left the talk feeling both inspired and also a little disappointed.
As I drove back, I was thinking again about the phrase, common to the extent of being rather over-used in certain circles (including my own) in GB: ‘Re-enchanting the world’ (or ‘the earth’).
I quicken at this phrase, without fail. It inspires me.
And it bothers me, too, as the suggestion is that the world has no enchantment of its own unless we bestow it from our grand human stature.
So I take issue with it. It seems to represent the majority view that I find so troublesome, that of unconscious anthropocentrism.
Actually, the world is perfectly enchanted and enchanting, all by itself – provided we can perceive that. It’s our lack, not the world’s; it’s we who have fallen out of magic and mystery and into disenchantment. What we need is to learn to see with different eyes.
I’m thinking this, and then a young chestnut deer, perfect in its deerness, leaps across the road in front of my van, from the woods on one side to the woods on the other.
There’s my enchantment for the day, and I will remember its sudden presence for longer than I will remember the content of the talk.
The world is world enough, and offers enchantment on every side.
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