Col­lage and the Se­cret Ad­ven­tures of Or­der

Like a pure sound or melodic sys­tem of pure sounds in the midst of noises, so a crys­tal, a flower, a sea shell stand out from the com­mon dis­or­der of per­cep­ti­ble things. For us they are priv­i­leged ob­jects . . . more mys­te­ri­ous upon re­flec­tion than all thos

New England Review - - Investigations - Vin­cent Czyz

The se­ries of events that oc­ca­sioned this med­i­ta­tion on col­lage be­gan with a dis­cus­sion I had with a close friend—about Fou­cault and his ar­chae­o­log­i­cal way of look­ing at things, of rec­og­niz­ing and ap­ply­ing pat­terns of thought. Sa­muel and I were in the midst of a ve­gan break­fast at Peace Food, a res­tau­rant on the Up­per West Side of Man­hat­tan, where we met once a week or so, usu­ally on Sun­day morn­ing.

“Be­fore Fou­cault,” Sa­muel pointed out, “his­to­ri­ans of ideas only paid at­ten­tion to the new thinkers who got things right. But Fou­cault took it upon him­self to go back and read all the stuff that the new thinkers had made ob­so­lete and search out the gen­eral pat­tern that all the ‘in­cor­rect thinkers’ had been us­ing. He wanted to show how the field of thought was changed and con­tin­ued to de­velop, and how it even in­flected new de­vel­op­ments.”

The fol­low­ing day I came across an ar­ti­cle in Amer­i­can Athe­ist that read, in part, “I be­lieve that we can . . . ex­am­ine pat­terns of knowl­edge, ex­pe­ri­ence, and learn­ing in or­der to ar­rive at a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of the low like­li­hood that any god ex­ists—par­tic­u­larly the god of the Judeo-chris­tian-is­lamic tra­di­tion.”

1 The ar­gu­ment it­self, one with which I was fa­mil­iar, was be­side the point; it was the re­it­er­a­tion of a theme from my break­fast talk that got my at­ten­tion.

When next I reached for a mag­a­zine—later that day—it hap­pened to be the Amer­i­can Scholar, where I was drawn to a brief ac­count of “How the Seashell Got its Stripes” and was struck by the fol­low­ing sen­tence: “Sci­en­tists

2 have long sus­pected that the stripes, zigzags, and spi­rals on mol­lusk shells have a neu­ro­log­i­cal ori­gin, but the ex­act cause of the col­orations has re­mained elu­sive.” I con­sid­ered the color pat­terns on seashells—and the well-known “Golden Ra­tio,” which trans­lates the shape of the cham­bered nau­tilus shell into an equa­tion—as em­blem­atic of the pat­terns of knowl­edge pro­pounded by Fou­cault, ex­plained by Sa­muel, and ap­plied by the Amer­i­can Athe­ist au­thor. While it wasn’t im­me­di­ately ap­par­ent on the sur­face, some un­der­ly­ing prin­ci­ple (both in the case of the mol­lusk and in that of the history of hu­man thought) had as­serted it­self.

Vin­cent Czyz

The fact that I sub­scribe to the Amer­i­can Scholar and Amer­i­can Athe­ist and that other au­thors are fre­quently my cor­re­spon­dents or table­mates is prob­a­bly ex­em­plary on a very small scale of what Her­a­cli­tus meant when he equated char­ac­ter with fate. (A more mod­ern ver­sion is “Sow a thought and it be­comes an ac­tion; sow an ac­tion and it be­comes a habit; sow a habit and it be­comes a char­ac­ter; sow a char­ac­ter and it be­comes a fate.” This is some­times at­trib­uted to Wil­liam James but just as of­ten seems to be con­sid­ered an anony­mous con­tri­bu­tion to thought.) In other words, our predilec­tions cre­ate a sort of grav­i­ta­tional field that pulls into our or­bits the very things with which we tend to be pre­oc­cu­pied, or, pos­si­bly, be­cause of those pre­oc­cu­pa­tions, we hap­pen to no­tice them when they turn up more or less at ran­dom.

Part of the neb­u­lous field of who I am, for ex­am­ple, and what I’ve sur­rounded my­self with in­cludes the fact that, at about the time Sa­muel and I had that con­ver­sa­tion about Fou­cault, I had just be­gun reread­ing Borges’s Other In­qui­si­tions, and on the train home from the bar where I work—a day or two af­ter our con­ver­sa­tion—i fin­ished an es­say called “Valéry as Sym­bol,” which con­cludes with Borges’s elo­quent sum­ming up of Paul Valéry as “A man who, in a cen­tury that adores the chaotic idols of blood, earth, and pas­sion, al­ways pre­ferred the lu­cid plea­sure of thought and the se­cret ad­ven­tures of or­der.”

An es­say by Valéry ( not Borges) of which I’d heard (in an es­say by Wil­liam Gass) but never had read (“Man and the Sea Shell”) came to mind, and again, the or­ganic ar­chi­tec­ture of the nau­tilus shell pre­sented it­self as a paragon of nat­u­rally oc­cur­ring or­der.

Just about this time, an e-mail from John, another writer friend, men­tioned a de­scrip­tion of a ru­ined wall in Rilke’s The Note­books of Malte Lau­rids Brigge. Rilke is an au­thor whose al­lure nei­ther of us can re­sist, and John con­sid­ered this pas­sage a stun­ning ex­am­ple of lyri­cal prose. I pulled out my bat­tered 1964 Nor­ton pa­per­back edi­tion, and although I couldn’t find the de­scrip­tion John had men­tioned, I came across this:

The ex­is­tence of the hor­ri­ble in ev­ery par­ti­cle of air! You breathe it in with what is trans­par­ent; but in­side you it pre­cip­i­tates, hard­ens, takes on pointed ge­o­met­ri­cal forms be­tween your or­gans; for what­ever of tor­ment and hor­ror has hap­pened in places of ex­e­cu­tion, in tor­ture cham­bers, mad houses, op­er­at­ingth­e­atres, un­der the vaults of bridges in late au­tumn: all this has a tough im­per­isha­bil­ity, all this sub­sists in its own right and, jeal­ous of all that is, clings to its own fright­ful re­al­ity. Peo­ple would like to be al­lowed to for­get much of this; sleep gen­tly files over such grooves in their brains, but dreams drive sleep away and trace the de­signs again.

Rilke’s men­tion of ge­om­e­try, grooves, and de­signs wasn’t far from the seashell dis­cus­sion and the se­cret ad­ven­tures of or­der.

All of this crys­tal­lized for me on a Sun­day night ex­actly a week af­ter the in­cen­tive mo­ment at Peace Food. I peeked into the liv­ing room to see what my friend and flat-mate Steve was watch­ing, and it turned out be Hunt­ing the

Hid­den Di­men­sion, a PBS doc­u­men­tary about frac­tals. Need­less to say the cham­bered nau­tilus was fea­tured as a prime ex­am­ple of a frac­tal for­ma­tion in na­ture. The doc­u­men­tary ar­gued that what of­ten ap­pears to the hu­man mind as pure chaos ac­tu­ally rises out of an un­der­world of com­plex equa­tions.

Af­ter the show ended I went to my book­shelf where, for at least a decade, Julio Cortázar’s Save Twi­light has been a fix­ture; the doc­u­men­tary on frac­tals and the re­cent in­ti­ma­tions of struc­tures im­per­cep­ti­bly stri­at­ing the ev­ery­day re­minded me of Cortázar’s de­scrip­tion of the or­ga­niz­ing prin­ci­ple at work in his won­der­ful lit­tle book:

It would grieve me if de­spite all the lib­er­ties I al­low my­self, this [book] took on the air of a col­lec­tion. I never wanted but­ter­flies pinned to a board; I’m look­ing for a poetic ecol­ogy, to ob­serve my­self and at times rec­og­nize my­self in dif­fer­ent worlds, in things that only the po­ems haven’t for­got­ten and have saved for me like faith­ful old pho­to­graphs. To ac­cept no other or­der than that of affini­ties, no other chronol­ogy than that of the heart, no other sched­ule than that of un­planned en­coun­ters, the true ones.

Cortázar was en­am­ored of the in­tu­ition and im­pro­vi­sa­tion that, as the Beats fa­mously in­sisted, is the essence of jazz so­los; his re­sult­ing book was not a col­lec­tion so much as a col­lage of po­ems, prose-po­ems, and ob­ser­va­tions. Or­der was still present, but it was the sub­tle and am­bigu­ous or­der “of affini­ties.”

Not sat­is­fied with the evening’s pro­gram vis-à-vis the emer­gent mo­tif of ran­dom sym­me­tries, I thought it was time I ac­tu­ally read Valéry’s con­tem­pla­tions on the seashell. Un­for­tu­nately, West­sider Books on Broad­way, which was nearby, loaded with literary rar­i­ties, and still open, didn’t carry the Valéry col­lec­tion.

It took me a few days to track down “Man and the Sea Shell,” which ap­pears in the un­help­fully ti­tled An An­thol­ogy. Well worth my wait, the es­say is a voyeur’s de­light: I was con­tent to sim­ply watch Valéry ex­trap­o­late from a par­tic­u­lar as­pect of the seashell to some­thing anal­o­gous in hu­man psy­chol­ogy or in that pre­cip­i­tate of hu­man psy­chol­ogy, art. Oc­ca­sion­ally, his sound­ings turned up par­al­lels, like buried train tracks, to the mus­ings of other po­ets. When he says, for ex­am­ple, that “per­haps what we call per­fec­tion in art . . . is only a sense of de­sir­ing or find­ing in a hu­man work the sure­ness of ex­e­cu­tion, the in­ner ne­ces­sity, the in­dis­sol­u­ble bond be­tween form and ma­te­rial that are re­vealed to us by the hum­blest of shells,” there is an echo of Rilke’s as­ser­tion that “A work of art is good if it has sprung from ne­ces­sity.” That, Rilke ex­plains in the first of his letters to a young poet, is the only way it can be judged. Valéry’s state­ment hints, too, at Emily Dickinson’s warn­ing that “Noth­ing sur­vives with­out fine ex­e­cu­tion.” Fi­nally, in this sin­gle sen­tence, Valéry re­minds us of the in­ti­mate re­la­tion­ship be­tween form and medium—rather than be­tween form and func­tion, which is no less im­por­tant but tends to get most of the at­ten­tion.

The para­graph in Valéry’s es­say that most in­ter­ested me, how­ever, was the fol­low­ing:

Vin­cent Czyz

The pat­tern of the col­ored fur­rows or bands that curve round the shell, and of the bands that in­ter­sect them, re­minds us of “ge­o­desic lines” and sug­gest the ex­is­tence of some sort of “field of force” which we are un­able to dis­cern, but whose ac­tion would give the growth of the shell the ir­re­sistible tor­sion and rhyth­mic progress we ob­serve in the fin­ished prod­uct.

I was struck by the way his lay­ered med­i­ta­tion con­nected, through the medium of the seashell, the con­cepts of field and pat­tern. I doo­dled notes to my­self in the mar­gins, un­der­lined words, brack­eted off pas­sages and sen­tences, and as­ter­isked ideas I wanted to come back to (gen­er­ally the more I de­face a book, the more in­ter­est­ing I find it). Fi­nally, I shelved An An­thol­ogy next to Valéry’s The Art of Po­etry, recorded ev­ery­thing in a let­ter to Sa­muel, and put aside my brief in­quiry—for a while.

With the ex­cep­tion of the mini-quest for Valéry’s book, the sym­bol of the shell and its at­ten­dant theme of or­der ac­costed me— as though, out of a crowd of passersby, I looked most likely to sign a pe­ti­tion—which prompted me to re­ex­am­ine Jung’s con­cept of syn­chronic­ity. Jung de­fines it as the chance oc­cur­rence of one or more ex­ter­nal events that ap­pear con­nected to the psy­cho­log­i­cal state of the ob­server. The events, Jung em­pha­sizes, are not causally re­lated (oth­er­wise, the im­pli­ca­tion would be that a state of mind is able to bring about em­pir­i­cal events). To il­lus­trate, Jung gives the ex­am­ple of a woman who, while in ther­apy with him in Switzer­land, re­lates a dream in which she is given a golden scarab, and just then a tap­ping at a win­dow be­hind Jung turns out to be a mis­guided scarabaeid bee­tle—cousin to those found in Egypt. Jung points out that he had never be­fore ob­served this type of be­hav­ior among this species of bee­tle and was at a loss to ex­plain it. (As it turns out, the day af­ter I wrote this, a friend who came to help me set up for a party de­cided to light some tea lamps around my apart­ment. She put one on a book­shelf, but I didn’t like the idea of a flame so close to books. When I moved it, I saw a blue scarab be­hind it—painted plas­ter prob­a­bly—that had come from Egypt years ago, brought back as a gift that I had left there and for­got­ten about.)

I don’t think syn­chronic­ity is the best ex­pla­na­tion for the se­ries of in­ci­dents I’ve out­lined, although it is cer­tainly rel­e­vant. Take the doc­u­men­tary on frac­tals as an ex­am­ple. Steve and I have been friends for three decades, and one of the rea­sons we’re friends is be­cause we share an in­ter­est in science, history, and re­li­gion. I there­fore ha­bit­u­ally peek in to see what he’s watch­ing, es­pe­cially be­cause I had no TV of my own; only the tim­ing was truly co­in­ci­den­tal.

In broader terms, the mag­a­zines to which I sub­scribe (one mi­nor mea­sure of my predilec­tions), the fact that I’m friends with other writ­ers (an in­di­ca­tion of my over­all iden­tity), my own ob­ses­sion with or­der and cam­ou­flaged pat­terns (not un­like Jung’s), my ad­mi­ra­tion for au­thors such as Rilke and Gass (Gass’s es­says led me to both Valéry’s es­says and Rilke’s only novel), and more gen­er­ally my char­ac­ter—in­clud­ing life ex­pe­ri­ences—along with any num­ber of other vari­ables, had a hand in the se­ries of con­nected con­cepts and the re­cur­ring

sym­bol of the seashell. It seemed to me that it was more than chance and tim­ing alone that brought these things to­gether, that it went be­yond syn­chronic­ity.

A fine ex­am­ple of the dual forces of at­trac­tion and chance at work is the fol­low­ing: while writ­ing this es­say (months af­ter record­ing the orig­i­nal in­ci­dents), I found my way to Wal­ter Ben­jamin, whose work I had seen ref­er­enced nu­mer­ous times over the years but which I had never read. I fi­nally bought The Ar­cades Pro­ject, an un­clas­si­fi­able book of sin­gu­lar bril­liance, and, when I opened to a ran­dom page, this para­graph was the first to en­ter­tain my eye:

Ex­tinct na­ture: the shell shop in the ar­cades. In “The Pi­lot’s Tri­als,” Strind­berg tells of “an ar­cade with brightly lit shops. There was ev­ery pos­si­ble kind of shop, but not a soul to be seen, ei­ther be­hind or be­fore the coun­ters. Af­ter a while he stopped in front of a big win­dow in which there was a whole dis­play of shells. As the door was open, he went in. From floor to ceil­ing there were shells of ev­ery kind, col­lected from all the seas of the world.”

Rather than syn­chronic­ity, I in­cline to­ward the Si­t­u­a­tion­ist In­ter­na­tional (SI) con­cept of dérive— lit­er­ally, drift. Guy De­bord, in his es­say “The­ory of the Dérive” (from Si­t­u­a­tion­ist In­ter­na­tional An­thol­ogy, the Bureau of Public Se­crets), de­scribes it as

. . . a tech­nique of tran­sient pas­sage through var­ied am­biances. [. . .] In a dérive one or more per­sons dur­ing a cer­tain pe­riod drop their usual mo­tives for move­ment and ac­tion, their re­la­tions, their work and leisure ac­tiv­i­ties, and let them­selves be drawn by the at­trac­tions of the ter­rain and the en­coun­ters they find there. The con­cept of chance is less de­ter­mi­nant than one might think: from the dérive point of view, cities have a psy­cho­geo­graph­i­cal re­lief, with con­stant cur­rents, fixed points and vor­tex which strongly dis­cour­age en­try into or exit from cer­tain zones.

Put another way, some­one, alone or in a group, takes a walk through a city or town with­out a des­ti­na­tion in mind. No­tice that although there is no pre­de­ter­mined ter­mi­nus, De­bord down­plays the sig­nif­i­cance of chance. (It should also be noted that De­bord, whose ideas were the pri­mary in­spi­ra­tion for SI, was heav­ily in­flu­enced by Ben­jamin—as was SI it­self.)

Just as some­one walk­ing the city at night might be at­tracted to a dark in­dus­trial dis­trict of brick ware­houses or a cross-sec­tion of streets lit by a clus­ter of bars, once pat­terns, seashells, col­lage, and ques­tions of dis­guised or­der be­gan ping­ing around in my head, I fol­lowed the signs, whether wood, neon, or fur­rowed into dirt, and looked for more. This prac­tice might best be char­ac­ter­ized as in­te­rior dérive: in­stead of al­low­ing the land­marks, streets, and lay­out of the city to draw us on, we fol­low a con­stel­la­tion of ideas, as­so­ci­a­tions, or rel­e­vant im­ages. We fol­low these con­nec­tions un­til . . . well, like go­ing for a walk in the city, un­til we’re too tuck­ered out or we stop some­where for a drink or a chat or a bowl of soup. Chance is still a fac­tor, pri­mar­ily in terms of tim­ing: we only know we have a theme if signs of it sur­face in var­i­ous ways over a rel­a­tively brief pe­riod.

Vin­cent Czyz

A col­lage ( from the French: coller, to glue) is an artis­tic com­po­si­tion of frag­ments ( as of printed mat­ter) pasted on a pic­ture sur­face.— The Merriam-web­ster Dic­tionary

The con­cept of col­lage and Cortázar’s or­der­ing by affini­ties got me dig­ging through one of my old jour­nals, where I found an en­try about a walk I took in the East Vil­lage in the late ’80s—a dérive, since no des­ti­na­tion is men­tioned, though I wasn’t yet aware of the term:

Brick walls cov­ered in lay­ers of graf­fiti. As one say­ing loses ef­fi­cacy, a new one goes up in a dif­fer­ent color. Fliers and posters lie over other fliers and posters; whitish pa­per scars have been left where old hand­bills have been torn away. A smi­ley face with a bullet hole in its head and a splat­ter­ing of inked blood had been the wave a while back (there are rows of this im­age). But there is al­ways the drive to carve another in­can­ta­tion in a set of dif­fer­ent runes: a col­or­ful poster of Ti­betan gods in a sex­ual em­brace, cheek to cheek, curv­ing lines of energy em­a­nat­ing from the point of union. Some­one with a brush painted un­der­neath: Diony­sus, god of or­gies and ex­cess, now sits at home most evenings with his feet on the cof­fee ta­ble and the TV on. Also: pos­ter­ized ghosts from another con­ti­nent, from a time be­fore I’d been born—shaven-headed, hol­low-faced and mal­nour­ished, the blue­prints of their bones show painfully through. Buchen­wald, Auschwitz, Lodz. A re­cent row of fliers: a face in liq­uid dark­ness, African, just eyes and an oval of face rimmed by some­thing dark and vis­cous, the rest sub­merged. The Wostop Gallery. Yet another se­ries of hand­bills advertising a per­for­mance artist who is strait­jack­eted and howl­ing, his crew-cut head thrown back, the too-wide mouth a black hole that drags you in. COM­MIT YOUR­SELF!

The wall and side­walk I de­scribed in the East Vil­lage present a col­lage with many con­trib­u­tors and, si­mul­ta­ne­ously, with one con­trib­u­tor—the East Vil­lage—just as rope is com­posed of many in­di­vid­ual strands. (Oddly enough, af­ter more than a dozen re­vi­sions of this es­say, af­ter fi­nally achiev­ing what I con­sid­ered a fi­nal draft, I came across this cu­ri­ously re­lated pas­sage in Ben­jamin’s The Ar­cades Pro­ject: “Streets are the dwelling place of the col­lec­tive. . . . For this col­lec­tive, glossy enam­eled shop signs are a wall dec­o­ra­tion as good as . . . an oil paint­ing in the draw­ing room of a bour­geois; walls with their Post No Bills are its writ­ing desk . . .”) Art and art shows dom­i­nated the posted ma­te­rial, and the com­man­deered side of a build­ing was the back­drop. On the Up­per West Side, bill­boards and bus shel­ters—paid spa­ces—are more com­monly used for advertising. While fliers of­ten go up on un­claimed space, they are as a rule of a dif­fer­ent sort (usu­ally ser­vices of­fered by en­tre­pre­neur­ial tu­tors or babysit­ters). With its metic­u­lously main­tained bars and restau­rants that em­pha­size di­ver­sion and dis­trac­tion (no one wants to re­mem­ber the Holo­caust while out on a Fri­day night), the Up­per West Side rarely dis­plays much de­sire for po­lit­i­cal state­ment. Sex, godly or not, is gen­er­ally tied to pro­fes­sion­ally pro­duced ads. Tele­vi­sion shows and movies rather than art shows get most of the spa­ces vy­ing for pedes­trian at­ten­tion. Col­lage is largely—though not en­tirely—ab­sent,

the or­der be­ing of a more de­lib­er­ate de­gree.

If we de­cide to doc­u­ment an “in­te­rior dérive,” to pre­serve it, a col­lage of sorts does emerge—though it is the clus­ter (pri­mar­ily) of texts and con­cepts de­lin­eated above rather than a col­lec­tion of im­ages. Col­lage en­tails growth, ac­cre­tion, chance, asym­me­try, in­tu­ition, and of course the un­con­scious. The as­sem­blage hints at an un­der­cur­rent, a subter­ranean ten­dency—as iron fil­ings re­veal the con­tours and in­tan­gi­ble ribs of a mag­netic field.

Col­lage also im­plies char­ac­ter, that of a per­son or a place. In its ap­par­ent ran­dom­ness, col­lage re­veals. “Out of such pure dis­or­der,” Cortázar writes in Save Twi­light, “or­der emerges.” (It’s no co­in­ci­dence that Cortázar dab­bled in col­lage as an art form.) Mem­ory, too, is a kind of col­lage, erod­ing and weath­er­ing even as it goes about the busi­ness of fat­ten­ing its files. Maybe the joy we get from the works of Klee and Miro is that we see in the most col­lage-like of their paint­ings an oblique re­flec­tion of the ar­chives of con­scious­ness.

If I’m mes­mer­ized by those walls in the East Vil­lage, lay­ered with posters, pho­to­copies, and graf­fiti, it’s prob­a­bly be­cause I see some con­nec­tion be­tween cityscape and mind­scape. A palimpsest of im­ages and texts rem­i­nis­cent of a tell whose richly lay­ered de­posits in­ti­mate the in­car­na­tions of a city over cen­turies. And so, as though by fol­low­ing some math­e­mat­i­cally gen­er­ated, re­peat­ing curve, we re­turn to where we started—the ar­chae­o­log­i­cal, although the mean­ing has shifted some­what from its Fou­caultian sense.

3 You, I, and the rest of us are in some sense fields at­tract­ing in­di­vid­ual fates and cre­at­ing dif­fer­ent species of col­lage that are in part prod­ucts of chance but also ac­crete ac­cord­ing to predilec­tions, affini­ties, and what is al­ready part of who we are—what the col­lage of iden­tity is cur­rently com­posed of. Had I not read spe­cific works of Rilke, Gass, and Borges—for ex­am­ple—i likely would not have no­ticed the above con­nec­tions. Of course it’s much more than a mat­ter of what we’ve read; it’s what we’ve ex­pe­ri­enced and what we can still res­cue from the drift of mem­ory. An anal­ogy cast in terms of David Bohm’s in­ter­pre­ta­tion of quan­tum physics would be that the present mo­ment is de­pen­dent on the ar­chi­tec­ture of the pre­vi­ous mo­ment, it­self the sum­ma­tion of the in­nu­mer­able mo­ments that pre­ceded it.

Chance is coun­ter­weight or com­ple­ment to our own in­flu­ence, to the im­po­si­tion of our in­di­vid­ual wills. Chance is a weath­er­vane that tells us which way the cos­mos is blow­ing, that in­di­cates a zeit­geist in­de­pen­dent of hu­man en­deav­ors and yet some­how in­ti­mately con­nected to them. This as­sumes a sort of unus mundus as the al­chemists called it—a sin­gle un­der­ly­ing re­al­ity that con­nects ob­server and event—a Bohmian di­men­sion, an Abo­rig­i­nal dream­time that sur­faces in myths, nov­els, po­ems, paint­ings, sec­tions of cities, col­lec­tions, dreams.

The col­lage then, de­spite its hap­haz­ard look, its hel­ter-skel­ter style, can be a crude map­ping out of a hid­den or­der. It is a valid struc­ture for a novel, a poem, a col­lec­tion of writ­ings, a paint­ing, a film (mon­tage is, ob­vi­ously enough, close

Vin­cent Czyz

kin, the for­mer oc­cur­ring in space, the lat­ter in time). It wouldn’t sur­prise me to one day learn, from some fu­ture No­bel Prize win­ner, that a hu­man be­ing is a field that in­cludes cer­tain fixed pat­terns, that we do in­deed in­habit a cos­mos ex­hibit­ing a strange sort of un­de­tectable non-eu­clid­ian ar­chi­tec­ture, and that we are most drawn to where the two—mi­cro and macro—over­lap.

Even if the cos­mos isn’t in­tri­cately blueprinted, how­ever, any num­ber of im­per­cep­ti­ble cur­rents surely flow through it. Time per­mit­ting, it seems to me there are few bet­ter ways to go about the day than by ex­plor­ing what­ever it is that at­tracts us, track­ing down the var­i­ous col­ored stones that seem part of an enig­matic mo­saic, trac­ing out tra­jec­to­ries that un­ex­pect­edly in­ter­sect. This may re­quire con­sid­er­able ef­fort, and of­ten, with no prac­ti­cal value in sight, the pro­ject may be aban­doned—even by an artist. But it’s pos­si­ble that noth­ing in the end is more prac­ti­cal be­cause noth­ing is more re­veal­ing of who each of us is and where each of us stands in re­la­tion to . . . just about ev­ery­thing else.

In me­dieval Europe en­sur­ing the sal­va­tion of the im­mor­tal soul su­per­seded all other con­cerns, at least among hon­est folk. While at­tain­ing a heav­enly rest­ing place re­mains be­tween the in­di­vid­ual and his or her re­li­gion, we in the twen­tyfirst cen­tury have a chance, through col­lage, to get a snap­shot of the soul as ex­pressed in its fas­ci­na­tions—a Do­rian por­trait of sorts, that, rather than age, will be­come clearer, more de­tailed, and take on a more var­ied pal­ette with time. 1 “A New Ar­gu­ment Against the Ex­is­tence of God, The Ar­gu­ment from Pat­terns,” Jim Cor­bett, Amer­i­can Athe­ist, Septem­ber/oc­to­ber, 2010, p. 8. 2 The Amer­i­can Scholar, El­yse Graham, Au­tumn 2010, p. 16. 3 The hard­back copy of Fou­cault’s The Ar­chae­ol­ogy of Knowl­edge, which sat on my book­shelf for years be­fore I gave up on ever read­ing it, had a cross-sec­tional photo of a cham­bered nau­tilus dis­played promi­nently on its dust jacket.

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