Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Principles of Interaction Considered Upon the Viewing of Fungus II

Note: read previous post first. This quite literally picks up where the last one left off.

Rather than desire to shoot and stuff a thing that fascinates me, I desire to write about it. Or, at least, to contain it within my writing, for in the same way that my desire to somehow interact with it is frustrated, so too writing about it would be impossible. I cannot wholly conceive why I am fascinated by fungus. Writing that fascination would be a failure. Rather, I want to contain in my writing the fungus. I will allude to those fascinating parts, but I will not be able to plumb their depths. Hopefully, by simply placing a mushroom into my narrative and perhaps calling attention to some of its more interesting parts (the solid sponginess of the stalk, for instance), I will be able to contain all of its fascination. That is, by not describing it I can interact with it. I will not kill it, but rather it can grow by its own self.

But even this will not satisfy the desire. It cannot. Because, in truth, this desire cannot be satisfied. The desire, in the end, can only even temporarily be sated with interaction. In our physical experience, the closest approximation is talking with (or exploring with or playing music with or painting with or whatever form of mutual communication you would choose) someone. You can interact with a person: you can contribute to them as they contribute to you. You can also do this with pets, though it's largely non-verbal. I will here draw attention to a literary reference about this sort of interaction:
A mad chase began. Round and round the hill-top [Aslan] led them, now hopelessly
out of their reach, now letting them almost catch his tail, now diving between them, now tossing them in the air wiht his huge and beautifully velveted paws and catching them again, and now stopping unexpectedly so that all three of them rolled over together in a happy laughing heap of fur and arms and legs. It was such a romp as no one ever had except in Narnia; and whether it was more like playing with a thunderstorm or playing with a kitten Lucy could never make up her mind.
There is so much in this passage that I would like to touch on, but really oughtn't for the sakes of time and space, and also the sake of letting you find it yourself. Laura Miller gives some discussion of it in her book on the Narniad. But for now I will say that this is precisely the sort of interaction I desire to have with fungus or with slugs or with any of the things I find fascinating not because of an intellectual, academic concept they express but instead because of some ineffable thing about them that is one part memory (memory so old and elemental that it exceeds nostalgia) and one part aesthetics. But of course one cannot interact with fungus in this way. Rarely can one even interact with a person in this way.

I will refer you to yet another literary source, which has a slightly different, uh, thrust. It is from Book Three of the Faerie Queene:

That wondrous sight [of a statue] faire Britomart amazed,/ Ne seeing could her
wonder satisfie,/ But evermore and more upon it gazed,/ The while the passing brightnes her fraile sences dazd.

That's Canto Eleven, stanza 49, lines 6-9. It is similar to an earlier passage in which a number of knights were taken by a lady's beauty; it did not matter how much they looked at her, they always wanted more than that, which meant simply that they kept on looking. I bring a camera with me whenever I go somewhere that might be visually interesting. It is not simply that I like the art of photography (though I do), but also that I often want to somehow interact with the landscape. Looking is not quite enough. I have sometimes sort of regretted how often I looked at the viewfinder in the camera when I ought to be looking at the thing itself. It is this desire of appreciation: it want to really seriously appreciate the landscape, and so I try to interact with it. I have no learned the simple reception that some people seem to have, the ability to sit there and just enjoy.

(Read this paragraph only if you're 18+: as the FQ passage alludes to, "interaction" can take on a particular form when you have two people of mutually compatible sexualities, and I think that's not something we ought to forget in this context. The knights wanted not only to look but to touch, and not only to touch but to touch particular parts of her with particular bits of themselves. For both chemical and cultural reasons, this form of interaction has taken precedence for many of us, and we understand all interaction in ways that are analogous to or controlled by sex. Likely this is better than understanding it in terms of economics, but it is still not sufficient. Two old gentleman who have long been friends playing violin and piano together, or a man and a woman who are not romantically engaged gardening together, or, as in the passage from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, playing with a thunderstorm-kitten, are just as wonderful examples of interaction and are not sexual at all.)
And so, I take photographs and include toadstools in stories, but in ways these are not nearly as satisfying as horsing around with a girl I'm taken with (and not necessarily romantically taken with, though it's easy to confuse the two even within yourself), and that is not as satisfying as I would like it to be. That's the thing about desire: it cannot be sated. Desire fed may abate, but it will always come back, if the feeding was good.
Finally, I would like to note that there is also something enjoyable about the very frustration of that desire (whatever the desire may be), if you are able to take it lightly. What I am describing is not a tragedy, but a current state that has its own pleasures. It is like anticipation without the misfortune of the thing anticipated every having to come about.
Now, to those of you who care about this sort of thing, I would like you to think about all of this understanding that it was written throughout with the full knowledge that there is one thing that will eventually satisfy all the desires it evokes (usually represented as weariness or thirst). Of course I am taking about Christ, and, again, I'd ask that you consider for yourself the ramifications. For even this desire is one that is replenished as it is sated.

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