“Imagine the emptiness in you, the vast cavities you have spent your life trying to fill—with fathers, mothers, lovers, language, drugs, money, art, praise—and imagine them gone. What’s left? Whatever you aren’t, which is what makes you—a house useful not because its floorboards or ceilings or walls, but because the empty space between them.”
— Kaveh Akbar, from “The Miracle,” Pilgrim Bell
People can’t anticipate how much they’ll miss the natural world until they are deprived of it. I have read about submarine crewmen who haunt the sonar room, listening to whale songs and colonies of snapping shrimp. Submarine captains dispense “periscope liberty” - a chance to gaze at clouds and birds and coastlines - and remind themselves that the natural world still exists. I once met a man who told me that after landing in Christchurch, New Zealand, after a winter at the South Pole research station, he and his companions spent a couple of days just wandering around staring in awe at flowers and trees. At one point, one of them spotted a woman pushing a stroller. “A baby!” he shouted, and they all rushed across the street to see. The woman turned the stroller and ran. Nothing tops space as a barren, unnatural environment. Astronauts who had no prior interest in gardening spend hours tending experimental greenhouses. “They are our love,” said cosmonaut Vladislav Volkov of the tiny flax plants - with which they shared the confines of Salyut 1, the first Soviet space station. At least in orbit, you can look out the window and see the natural world below. On a Mars mission, once astronauts lose sight of Earth, they’ll be nothing to see outside the window. “You’ll be bathed in permanent sunlight, so you won’t eve see any stars,” astronaut Andy Thomas explained to me. “All you’ll see is black.””
— Mary Roach. Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void. (via hummeline)
‘Isn’t it strange how most significant human activity has to do with loss? Because we lose things we try to find them. The trying sends us on a journey. We encounter other things, things we hadn’t noticed that we had lost: and then we create. Art springs out of both alienation and loss. Art replaces what we have lost in spirit. It is therefore a magic replacement. And so it is with Arcadia, it seems to me. We’ve long lost our easy relationship with nature, with the universe. And so the ancient Romans betrayed themselves as the first alienists when they dreamt up and crafted the legend of Arcadia. It showed just how fucked up they were that they needed to invent an ambiguous Eden for themselves, where love is akin to madness. And so it would seem that art is a condition of unease, of dislocation, of being out of it all, an exile. Art cannot come from the happy and contented, from the lucky and the beautiful, from the blessed and the whole, unless an unrevealed tragic condition or premonition dwells under it all like an unseen volcano or an unsuspected cataclysm about to wipe away all that unnatural tranquillity. The last days of beautiful things are the most artistic. It seems then that art is a secret sign of dwelling under a guillotine, under a swinging sign of doom, under a hidden question mark, beneath the dread of death, in unwholeness, wanting to be healed and to heal, with a whiff of mortality and the inferno in one’s spirit, with a sense of sin, of unredemption. It seems that art is a magic plea, a magic howl, an enchanted cry, a delaying of madness, a deflection of insomnia, a canalising of negative energies. Art is finding one’s way in the dark, seeing with one’s fingers, divining water in the desert, creating an abstract realm made up in the mind of others to replace the realms of childhood and innocence lost for ever with the death of a mother. Art is finding a new homeland, and yet always setting sail. It is being deceived and lured by the gods into roaming the whole wide earth many times over and leaving bright cities behind in search of that which can never be found, but which seems as if it might be found, because of a dream which keeps moving like a bird, a magic bird, or a love, or a dream of rest, or the hint of a beautiful city in the middle of an ocean. But it keeps driving us on, keeps us going, till the skeleton wanders into a golden gate, and into a sunlit landscape where the sunlight is a perpetual darkness, while another part of us has ceased its wanderings, having found what it was looking for in a place where nothing is ever lost or found, a place without a name or an idea. Which is why there is a fatality in finding, and an agony in seeking. But between seeking and finding there is another place, a special place, and maybe it is such a place that we journey towards now, that we call Arcadia, a place that for some is a book, a piece of music, a face, a photograph, a landscape, a lover, a city, a house, a land, a ritual, a path, a way of being, even. Maybe, my dear friend, we are journeying towards an elusive thing in the desert, where thirst is quenched miraculously in the air, and the fragrance of a great love lingers in the shade…’
ben okri, in arcadia
I want to mirror your immensity.
I want never to be too weak or too old
to bear the heavy, lurching image of you.
— Rainer Maria Rilke, Book of Hours: Love Poems to God (tr. Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy)