We moved into the new house this year and we’ve been making all sorts of choices about what’s kept and what’s left behind. We used to draw on this blackboard when we talked on the phone back when we lived at Maya’s family house when Maya was in Grad School. We stopped drawing on it when we came up with this lively composition, changing only the year each January 1st. See up there in the left hand corner? We stopped changing even that in 1996, then in ’99 we stowed this board when we moved out of state. We moved three more times in the intervening eleven years. I don’t know what the occasion was but some time in the last months in our apartment we hung this over our bed and left it still untouched, except to every once in a while scuff it with our heads by accident. With 2011 coming on, finally in a place of our own and with a hard year passing away, we’ve decided to exchange all this history for a fresh start.
Responding to my friend Danise’s question about what movie I saw on Ecumenical Cinema Day, looking up “ecumenical” to see if it had any churchless meanings, I came across the definition of “ecstasy.”
The etymology offered in this definition of ecstasy – “a being put out of its place, distraction, trance” in relation to its meaning as used, “a state of being overpowered by emotion” strikes me as rather sour. As if a person can’t be joyful and be attentive to where they are. Something wrong with here?
I have the same response to the etymology of “happy.” “Hap” is basically “luck” or “fortune” as in “happenstance.” So if you’re happy, the origins of this word suggest, you’re just lucky. Which may or may not be true, it just strikes me that the origins are a bit grumpy. They make it sound like finding joy in this life is as likely as finding poetry in the dictionary.
Among the synonyms though I find a way to think around this impasse. “Transport,” the dictionary says, ”implies being carried away by any powerful emotion.” Again there’s that sense that powerful emotion cannot happen here. But it called to mind a famous account of visionary experience I’d read years and years ago which contains the phrase, “I can be transported… in an anagogical manner.”
“Thus, when –out of my delight in the beauty of the house of God– the loveliness of the many-colored gems has called me away from external cares, and worthy meditation has induced me to reflect, transferring that which is material to that which is immaterial, on the diversity of the sacred virtues: then it seems to me that I see myself dwelling, as it were, in some strange region of the universe which neither exists entirely in the slime of the earth nor entirely in the purity of Heaven; and that, by the grace of God, I can be transported from this inferior to that higher world in an anagogical manner.” from Abbot Suger’s writing On the Abbey Church of St.-Denis and its Art Treasures (translated by Erwin Panofsky)
The experience recounted in this passage seems to entail a movement of awareness which transforms the place one is dwelling: first an appreciation of the gems calls him away from “external cares” (which I suspect is the “place” where the origins can’t find ecstasy.) From the gems Suger’s meditation shifts from material values to immaterial ones, to “sacred virtues”: in that shift, in the recognition I think, of the equal reality of material and immaterial virtue, he experiences a shift in the whole of the world as he perceived it: “I see myself dwelling … in some strange region which neither exists entirely in … slime … nor… purity…” In that shift in how he sees is a transport between a place he can’t value and a place he can.
O.P.S. Getting to “ecstasy” I also came across “embowel.” I was very happy (lucky) to see that it counted as a word, but surprised to find it listed as a variation on “disembowel.” (And “iterate” must come from “re-iterate”?) Embowel, in my an0nymous dictionary, is defined as “to deeply imbed.” Can I use it in a sentence? Why, yes, I can. ”You embowel a knife to disembowel a person.” (I imagine.)
I first learned of “disemboweling” when as a child I was reading about the historical origins of Dracula: Vlad Dracul or Vlad the Impaler had a penchant for pikes as well as disemboweling. To impale, I suppose, means ”to imbed so deeply as to pass through to the other side…” Which could, taken another way, be a place-friendly account of ecstatic transport… more like “transfixed” — which the dictionary assures me essentially means being fixed in place by being impaled. Now that’s a powerful image of vision.
Maybe I don’t mean “symbolic meaning for the thing” — Maybe I mean something more like: Isn’t a haiku supposed to present the thing in such a way that thought stops at it? It seems to me that “contain” raises too many questions about the nature of a reflection to let the mind rest on the image…
Freeman Ng of “Haiku Diem” fame broke his foot yesterdiem. Sorry to hear it, Freeman. I hope you mend quickly and suffer nothing further as a result of this accident.
“My house is practical. I thank you, as I might thank Railway engineers, or the Telephone service. You have not touched my heart. But suppose that walls rise towards heaven in such a way that I am moved. I perceive your intentions … By the use of raw materials and starting from conditions more or less utilitarian, you have established certain relationships which have aroused my emotions. This is Architecture.”
– Le Corbusier quoted in The Philosophy of Interior Design by Stanley Abercrombie
Encouraged by the break out success of my first “for discussion” post, I choose this night of all nights to instigate a second rich conversation. PUNCH DRUNK LOVE is a wonderful movie. I see it as a meditation on the reality and formative power of things like the will.
The will too is a real thing no less than a body. It has a certain constitution, and it can be made healthy or unhealthy.
That’s what I love about the movie Punch Drunk Love. In part the movie is about this guy who’s been caged by his family’s constant characterizations of his behavior. The family constantly keeps him off-balance with demands for explanations of behavior they judge bizarre without ever attempting to understand. And he does seem sort of feeble and ineffective and afraid and at the same time he has these intensely destructive explosions of rage.
But the movie doesn’t assert that this character is caged from the get-go. First it just shows you this guy alone and he appears strange and you don’t know what to make of him. The medium of film allows us to watch his behavior for a long time before anybody has to put anything into words. In this way the film is able to create a real mystery around this guy’s identity and we are enabled to consider his behavior in relation to what we hear said of it. And we can watch the changes in his behavior in different settings, in the company of different people.
Two things happen in the movie. First, the character calls a phone sex line and becomes entangled with con artists who try to extort money from him. Significantly they try to prevent him from retaliating against their manipulations by judging him, by shaming him, “You’re a pervert, you deserve it.” Second, he meets someone and they fall in love. The two storylines become involved in one another and so the movie goes.
But the significant thing about the movie for me is that it offers two portraits of this strange guy. When he cancels his credit card to prevent the con artist from stealing all his money, four thugs are sent to force him to pay. When all he has is a family that continually shames and humiliates him, he is in this encounter with the thugs a person who flees. It’s an amazing scene, he bolts and runs and runs with this tremendous panicked whine coming out of him the whole time. He’s completely out of control. That’s who he is in that moment.
But then the second portrait comes after he’s fallen in love. The thugs return and this time they endanger his Beloved and threaten that relationship. This time he stands his ground and dispatches all four of them with impressive ease. That’s who he is in that moment.
What’s changed is his relation to his will. Before he fell in love, frustrated and ensnared by people who supposed to love him, the power in him could only explode in fits of “senseless” rage. After he falls in love, as he tells the con artist when he finally faces him down, “I have a love in my life, it gives me power like you wouldn’t believe.” In this new relationship he is a changed man, he is no longer what being on the outside of a family, taking any abuse, waiting to be invited in made out of him. He is not now waiting for some good that someone else has the power to proffer. He is in possession of a good, of a thing he values and it gives him the power of integrity, it gives him an untempered simplicity which knows no hesitation.
It is a marvelous meditation on the reality of things like the will. We think we can control things through our characterizations, but if the things we would characterize are substantial, they are real, and if our characterizations don’t fit, we pervert reality. And this affects our will, our ability to love, and etc.
The film emphasizes the ambiguity in just seeing and hearing things, and ultimately in just feeling and thinking things as well. It cultivates this ambiguity by taking this guy out of the range of characterizations, by calling characterization itself into question. It makes us watch things without our usual characterizations insulating us. As the character faces the hopes and anxieties of the first meeting of someone who might embrace him in spite of all he fears he is, who might want him as he is, we are with him in a world open to all of its own essential energies. We are standing with him without the higher ordering thoughts to flatten the experience into names. We are, as he is, involved, taken up, participating. The world once again seems a place of possibilities.
The film is at its funniest when the experience of love is characterized in its first completely disorganized sensations. The new couple has rendezvoused in Hawaii – a wild thing for either of these two people to have done – and they are kissing. He stops and says, “I’m sorry I forgot to shave.”
To which she replies: “Your face is so adorable … and your skin and your cheek… I want to bite it… I want to bite your cheek and chew on it, it’s so  cute.”
He nods and then says, “I’m looking at your face and I just want to smash it. I just want to  smash it with a sledgehammer and squeeze it, you’re so pretty.”
She: “I want to chew on your face, and I want to scoop out your eyes … and I want to eat them. Chew them and suck on them.”
He nods again and says: “Okay. This is funny.”
“This is nice.” They kiss again.