January 27, 2009

Yesterday, C. explained that one might understand the world as a theatrical production, a sort of tableau vivant constantly staged around us. Isn’t it fascinating how right she is, how much “the world” we think we meet as fixed reality with some weight or immanence to it is really just the vanishingly momentary circumstance of the encounter, an always already-reassembling set.

Properly considered, this is true about every experience; no one anecdote proves the point. But I’ve had an unusually charming (or unsettling) reminder this morning, making my way through Saturday, in which much hinges on a chance encounter at the gala for the Tate Modern’s opening in 2000.

It just so happens that my visit to the Tate, in spring 2005, was my first visit to London. The museum itself impressed, of course, but the real impact was the way the light, the bend of the river, the windows to the north, intimated the rest of the city. Something about that bridge over the water, fragile as thought, and finding oneself under St. Paul’s, and then time only for a glimpse back to the south bank and down Fleet Street to the west… it was enough for a certain spell to be cast, the sort of ledger of consciousness that though blank has everything already written on it. I immediately understood what Woolf knew, walking those same streets after the Luftwaffe was done with them: to walk alone in London is the greatest rest.

My London~my England, even~centers on that space. That is to say: the configuration of forms and materials in that corner of this planet has played a not insubstantial part in forming the way I understand the universe. I knew the bridge and the museum were very recent, of course… but not until reading this passage had it been driven home to me what an arbitrary and human process had brought them about, how much the terms of their existence were a matter of chance and contingency. Naturally, as I say, this is true of everything: what is not constructed, after all; what sanctity-in-things is not endowed by us?

And yet, even when you “know” this, how fresh a surprise it is, every time you probe the ground knowledge and experience are built on, and find only a fast-flowing river.

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