Unreal Nature

April 3, 2015

In All Men Hiddenly

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:43 am

… One could … devise an anthology in which, out of the same natural background, under the same stars, beneath the same forests, or upon the same seas, each man would evoke such smoky figures from his own heart …

This is from The Mind as Nature by Loren Eiseley (1962):

… In some of us a child — lost, strayed off the beaten path — goes wandering to the end of time while we, in another garb, grow up, marry or seduce, have children, hold jobs, or sit in movies, and refuse to answer our mail. Or, by contrast, we haunt our mailboxes, impelled by some strange anticipation of a message that will never come. “A man,” Thoreau commented, “needs only to be turned around once with his eyes shut in this world to be lost.”

But now an odd thing happens. Some of these men with maps in their heads do not remain mute. Instead, they develop the power to draw the outside world within and lose us there. Or, as scientists, after some deep inner colloquy, they venture even to remake reality.

… There was [a] man, Nathanial Hawthorne, who, as he puts it, “sat down by the wayside of life, like a man under enchantment.” For over a decade he wrote in a room in Salem, subsisting on a small income, and scarcely going out before evening. “I am surrounding myself with shadows,” he wrote, “which bewilder me by aping the realities of life.” He found in the human heart “a terrible gloom, and monsters of diverse kinds … but deeper still … the eternal beauty.” This region of guttering candles, ungainly night birds, “fragments of a world,” are an interior geography through which even the modern callous reader ventures with awe.

… One could, in fact, devise an anthology in which, out of the same natural background, under the same stars, beneath the same forests, or upon the same seas, each man would evoke such smoky figures from his own heart, such individual sunlight and shadow as would be his alone. St. Exupéry has his own flyer’s vision of the little South American towns, or of the Andes when flying was still young. Or Herman Melville, whose Pacific was “a Potters Field of all four continents … mixed shades and shadows, drowned dreams, somnambulisms, reveries.”

… [Melville] said: “I somehow cling to the wondrous fancy, that in all men hiddenly reside certain wondrous, occult properties — as in some plants and minerals — which by some happy but very rare accident (as bronze was discovered by the melting of the iron and brass at the burning of Corinth) may chance to be called forth here on earth.”

As a teacher I know little about how those wondrous events come about, but I have seen them happen. I believe in them. I believe they are more apt to happen late in those whose background has been one of long deprivation. I believe that the good teacher should never grow indifferent to their possibility — not, at least, if there is evidence even in the face of failure in some subjects, of high motivation and intelligence in some specific field.

At the height of his creative powers, Thoreau wrote that “we should treat our minds as innocent and ingenuous children whose guardians we are — be careful what objects and what subjects we thrust on their attention. Even the facts of science may dust the mind by their dryness, unless they are in a sense effaced each morning, or rather rendered fertile by the dews of fresh and living truth. … “

My previous post from Eiseley’s book is here.

-Julie

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