Thursday, August 14, 2008

Surface of the Lake

I'm trying to pick up the thread of a post from a night or two ago, which has been interrupted by a long car ride, deep into the night through the Adirondack Park in the deep dark, and across Lake Champlain on a ferry at about midnight.  

The lake is broad, huge, and we cross, not at its widest part, at Burlington VT/Keene NY, but at Cumberland Head NY/South Hero VT, which takes you from the mainland in New York State to a large island in the middle of the lake.  Still, the volume of the lake is intense at night, sliding along in the dark on top of this vast swell in a glacier trough of thousands of years ago.  There are hardly any lights near this crossing: Burlington is a good 30+ miles south, and the only lights on South Hero at midnight are at the ferry dock.  The lake surface was barely wrinkled last night, and the light reflected from the sky and the trail of the moon was just enough to illuminate the bulk of water that suspended us.  

That late, the sky and the lake fold together like the crease in an envelope at the dim line of the horizon.  They're not quite the same.  And I like the way the shorelines en face stand off in equal darkness even denser than that of the lake.  The lake reflects light, and the shore and its dense foliage absorb it.

Earlier, we stopped in Lake George Village for gas before entering the main stretch of the Adirondack Park, where, for a stretch, there's no cell phone reception, no exits, no services.  Hardly a wilderness anymore, but, still, not where you want to be stranded with kids in the middle of the night without fuel.

I spent most of that part of the ride thinking about a line from an old poem of mine that had come back to me along with Professor Tayler's book: "Particulars don't matter."  I had been very focused on this line for a while in a poem that was about human relationship--I wrote it while in a workshop.  The poet who led the workshop is someone that I admire, but he was resistant to the line and what it implied--particulars do matter, he'd said, and something more about details bringing writing to life.  I knew he was right in terms of his own context, but I didn't know then how to explain my context for this.  

Perhaps I still don't.  But getting briefly reacquainted with Tayler's book before leaving for Vermont, I can see certain intersections of my subconscious that caused that line to arise.  I guess Plato might argue that particulars are what we see and know of the visible world, the world open to our base and gross senses.  So particulars do matter because they orient us toward matter, and by contemplating that matter, we may rise to ever-higher levels of consciousness that draw us to the idea itself of the matter--to its essence.  I don't remember the language (in translation, of course) of the theory of the cave that well.  I don't think he argues that particulars get in the way of knowing, they just don't lead us in and of themselves to higher levels of knowing, but they provide a gateway to the lower levels of knowing.  Plato is, of course, suspicious of art and of the surfaces of things.

But the Aristotelean arc that Tayler describes is somewhat different.  Particulars don't matter.  They're a distraction.  They direct us away from the essence itself, the idea, the knowing.  The watch-towre is like the third eye in eastern philosophy (maybe), and we see essence and quintessence with a different vision.  Particulars decorate a level of existence that has its importance, but this is not a 'surface' level into which we penetrate deeper.  It is a separate plane of existence.  And another plane, with a different method of observation and vision exists along with it (Tayler describes it and its early modern physiology and psychology in a close-by passage that I didn't quote a couple of nights ago).

I am thinking, too, of a Virginia Woolf quote from either To the Lighthouse or her journals--something like, what you see of us is just what rises to the surface, just the tip of something, but beneath it is all dark, it is all spreading, and that is what you know us by.  

The opposite shores en face.  The lake and its surface level.  Its details not of it, but reflection and distorted reflection--its details not really extant, not real.  Details of water?  The lake like a person unknowable--a plane devoid of particulars that would orient.  The surface of the lake as a third eye or a watch-towre, a space apart from the world, from which perspective parts of the world are unveiled or rearranged or brought from beneath.  A clearing from which particulars are brushed away.

1 comment:

Special Needs Mama said...

Beautiful, and so enjoying being able to leave comments from the main page.... :)