Unreal Nature

June 26, 2015

The Latency

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:31 am

… Tomorrow lurks in us, the latency to be all that was not achieved before.

This is from the essay ‘Man Against the Universe’ found in The Star Thrower by Loren Eiseley (1978):

… When I was young, in a time of boyhood marked by a world as fresh and green and utterly marvelous as on the day of its creation, I found myself attracted by a huge tropical shell which lay upon my aunt’s dressing table. … It was held up to my youthful ear and I was told to listen carefully and I would hear the sea. Out of the great shell, even in that silent bedroom, I, who had never seen the ocean, heard the whispered sibilance, the sigh of waves upon the beach, the little murmurs of moving water, the confused mewing of gulls in the sun-bright air. It was my first miracle, indeed perhaps my first awareness of the otherness of nature, of myself outside, in a sense, and listening, as though beyond light-years, to a remote event. Perhaps, in that Victorian bedroom with its knickknacks and curios, I had suddenly fallen out of the nature I inhabited and turned, for the first time, to survey her with surprise.

The sounds stayed with me through the years or I would not be able to recall them now. Neither does it matter that in my college days I learned that it was not the sea to which I had listened, but the vastly magnified whispers of my blood and the house around me. Either was marvel enough — that a shell, a shell shaped in the seas’ depths, should, without intent, so concentrate the essence of the world as to bring its absent images before me.

Emerson had had, like Darwin, an illness and a voyage — that strange road taken by so many of the nineteenth-century romantics — romantics who were finally to displace the sedate white doorstone into nature by something wild and moon-haunted, whether in science or art. He may have had, as he himself once ventured, “an excess of faith” — faith in man that may cause us to stir uneasily now, but which he expressed at a time when London was truly a city of dreadful night. Above all, he seemed to sense intuitively what Alfred Russel Wallace had believed — that man possesses latent mental powers beyond what he might culturally express in a given epoch. In Ice Age caverns he had painted with an artist’s eye; modern primitives can master music, writing, and machines they have never previously experienced.

[line break added to make this easier to read online] In the words of the eminent French biologist Jean Rostand, “Already at the origin of the species man was equal to what he was destined to become.” A careful reading of the American transcendentalist would demonstrate that he had an intuitive grasp of this principle — so firm that neither the size of the universe nor the imperfections of our common humanity distressed him overmuch. He knew, with a surety our age is in danger of losing, that if there was ever a good man there will be more. Nature strives at better than her actual creatures. We are, Emerson maintains, “a conditioned population.” If atavistic reptiles still swim in the depths of man’s psyche, they are not the only inhabitants of that hidden region.

Tomorrow lurks in us, the latency to be all that was not achieved before.

… He stands and listens with a shell pressed to his ear. He is still a child before the infinite spaces but he is in no way frightened. It was thus that his journey began — perhaps with a message drawn from an echoing shell. Now he listens with his own giant fabricated ear to messages from beyond infinity.




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