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Saturday, July 16, 2011

That which is Sublime.

I have great respect for language.  I worship at the altars of great writers who craft each sentence as part of an assemblage --- which when we step back, takes our breath away. How do they know which words belong?  It is my intention when writing my little blog, to respect my readers and give them something worth reading both in thought and deed.  Whatever the subject, I try to provide my readers with honest and comfortably digestible copy.  I’ve written about the power of music, the joys of theatre, the engagement of movies, becoming a Mother, honoring friends, celebrating artists and even the weather. I’ll write about almost anything that strikes my fancy in the moment.  Writing a blog is like exercising. It keeps my skills sharp for the big projects.  But I’m not kidding myself. These little vignettes are not great literature. I’d like to produce great literature someday and I’m working on that, slowly.

JMW Turner's Snowstorm at Sea
When I was in college, I took a class entitled “The Philosophy of Painting”.  It was an introduction to the philosophies of Aesthetics. My professor, whose name I cannot recall, was a rather round Danish fellow who obsessively paced the floor and never made eye contact with any of his students.  I have a vivid memory of his pastel scarves, long blonde hair, fierce blue eyes and rather sweaty forehead. He spoke with flourishes and passion while his ten students raised their eyebrows. He was absolutely bonkers and Ludwig Wittgenstein was required reading.  If you are unfamiliar with Ludwig, I would certainly understand. While he is considered one of the great philosophers of this century, most of us don’t have the time or inclination to include Philosophy in our Must Dos.  But I include him in this blog because what he said provides a framework for talking about The Tree of Life, the actual subject of this blog.

Here are three of his gems:
 1. A picture is a fact.
How can we deny that which we see?  Wittgenstein talks about vision as a personal experience. He famously asked, if I see (the color) Red and you see Red, how can we ever be sure we are seeing the same color?  Does my vision of Red look the same as your vision of Red?  Is the actual color relevant?

JMW Turner's Sunset
2. What can be shown cannot be said.
One might consider this a more profound consideration of a picture being worth a 1000 words. Wittgenstein considers that what we see is unconstrained by the limitations of language, that there is a distinct visual vocabulary.

3. The limits of my language means the limits of my world.
This is my personal favorite because it helps me to recognize the limitations of a single culture as constrained by its vocabulary. If a particular phenomenon does not occur within a culture, does it even require a name or if there is something that has a profound impact or presence in a culture, is just one name for it enough? One example, Greenland has 38 words for snow.

Sean says little
So here’s my dilemma – I don’t want to diminish the experience of The Tree of Life by reducing it to words.  I cannot possess the vocabulary to do it justice. As I sat in the theatre I so wanted to capture my experience of seeing with my words, to be in the moment, to be present.  It’s not often that a word like beatitude or transcendent are experiential or even appropriate. Yet there they were on the screen in front of me. There is Commerce and there is Art and the difference was never so apparent to me as it was    witnessing this film, a haunting and melancholy and largely narrative-free depiction of the selective nature of memory, of the profundity of loss, of the complexities of love, of the scars of disappointment, and the miracle that is creation. Yes, I’m talking about a movie.

It’s not a film for everyone. It’s two and a half hours long and will not make for a great social exchange at its conclusion. I would never call it a date movie. It speaks to each viewer intimately. It is more like standing in front of a Van Gogh or JMW Turner or walking into a Cathedral or witnessing the landscape of Yosemite and your breath is taken away and you want to hold on to that feeling in silent solitude.

Brad the Dad  -- unlimited by words 
They are those few moments in life when what we witness fills us with a sense of wonderment, and demonstrates the presence of a higher being or power, an intelligence which surpasses our expectations of understanding. We bask in that profundity and recognize genius.

There are very limited moments when we can take the marvelous word sublime off of its special mantel and apply it. The Tree of Life is one of those moments. It is that which is sublime.

Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language.   – Ludwig Wittgenstein

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