Monday, February 18, 2013

the world is charged

"It is far easier to travel than to write about it."
 - Dr. Livingstone, I presume
(aka Dr. David Livingstone, Scotsman, Explorer, Hero.)

In that moment, I swear we were infinite

A good book, to paraphrase C.S. Lewis, is one that you cannot read once. It is one that must be re-read. Some books you re-read by reading them more than once; others you re-read by finding them hidden in every other book you read.
Discovering Truth is a magnificent thing, because then you find it everywhere, you are constantly remembering it and re-reading it.
Travel, as I told my mother yesterday, is all about re-visiting places.
Travel is about finding a new place that was always somehow mysteriously a part of you.
It's about returning to a place over and over again, and finding that somewhere strange you never thought could be a part of you is actually your heartbeat.

As I was reading my book on the bus home, watching the countryside stream by, it all looked very new, and yet familiar. I'd read about the North of England in books and novels, and I knew what to expect--they had prepared me to see something different than the South. I knew to expect brick houses, factory towns, and rugged landscapes. 
In Scotland, I knew to expect an eerie atmosphere. 
I have never been in a city that is so uncanny as Edinburgh. Graveyards, crows, mist, mountains.

I'd never been in a city so Romantic.
The book I was reading told me that Romanticism was just a 19th century precursor to 1960's "Do whatever Feels Right," "Follow your emotions", etc., etc.
But what if Romanticism could be more?
Okay, yes, 19th century Romanticism was a reaction against the kind of 19th century rationalism that my beloved Jane Austen loved, and yes maybe the idea of "the artist's feeling is his law" makes for a lot of emotions in our art and too little beauty. 
But I really am a fan of babies, and I object to them being thrown out along with the bathwater.
What if the Romantics were onto something? Their sense of awe is unparalleled by rationalism's cool, keen "I can figure this out on my own, with my own mind." The world is a magical, mysterious place for the Romantics. 
In a Romantic worldview, the natural world and even our own hearts are part of a larger drama. Forces we cannot control move all about us and within us.

The heartbreak, the author of the book was arguing, in a book like Austen's Persuasion is more palpable, relatable, and real, than the thunderclaps and stormy heaths of Brontë's Wuthering Heights.
Austen is realims. Brontë is not.
In novels like Jane Austen, Jane does what few people do as well as she: she paints with clear, precise strokes the state of a human heart and psyche.
It happens to be the human hearts and psyches of Regency England men and women, but the beautiful thing about her work is that in writing about the particular truths, she has illuminated the Truths Universally Acknowledged. And that is impressive and amazing, and why her books are classics to the highest degree.
Romantics are not painting an accurate picture of the human psyche.
Of course, when your heart breaks, you don't hear the sound of a thunderclap. And the world doesn't burst into a raging, antediluvian maelstrom.
But, the beauty of a thunderstorm is that maybe it captures the awful feeling of raw anger.
Maybe the rain illuminates what hopeless tears of the pits of despair feel like. 
Maybe the sun sparkling in the sky captures the sound of laughter, gives it a physical presence, gives it a shape, a body, an incarnation.
The Romantics, I think, were onto something.
The world is a lot more Sacramental than we imagine, if we dare to entertain the thought.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
  There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
  Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs
--Gerard Manly Hopkins

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