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Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Lens caps, viewfinders, Grand Canyons

In rereading Walker Percy’s book of essays, The Message in the Bottle: How Queer Man Is, How Queer Language Is, and What One Has to Do with the Other, I’ve gotten stuck on his essay, “The Loss of the Creature.” Perhaps these twenty years after first reading it, I’m in a different place which is why it is all the more significant to me now, or at the very least, significant in a whole new way. Perspective really does matter. Where I am on the wall matters…if rock climbing is my metaphor, what are those slick surfaces where you can’t grab hold, those overhangs that cast such a big shadow, those tiny crevices where no piece of your body is small enough to connect?

The essay means something different to me now, and it means something about direct engagement in life. Or not. Is blogging a direct engagement in life? Or is language always a deflection, a thing to hide behind, a way to be clever?

I found my way from Walker Percy to an essay written by a student for his English 101 class, entitled “Cameras, Gun Shops, and the Grand Canyon.” I’ll let his words speak:

“I have never looked at anything as intensely as I have through the viewfinder of a camera. It may seem odd that my most intense experiences of reality have come through an artificial lens, but a camera is a close cousin to both a magnifying glass and a microscope. It is not only the ability to see things in more detail that commands our attention. It is something else, something about the art of photography that forces us to examine the world as we don’t normally do. Normally we don’t see things as they are. The familiar is forced into the background of our focus. Objects become ideas.

Walker Percy calls this the problem of symbolic complexes. In his article ‘The Loss of the Creature,’ he describes the loss of such grand monuments as the Grand Canyon to these complexes. He states that it is almost impossible to experience the Grand Canyon as its discoverer did because people have already formed an idea in their heads, thanks to the myriad of tourist folders, postcards, and sightseers’ manuals that they have seen before the confrontation. Instead of coming upon this great thing and admiring it for what it is, sightseers come upon it and compare it to their already formulated expectations. The whole situation is made worse, Percy says, when the tourist has a camera. In this situation, the tourist comes upon the thing to behold, takes a photograph, and leaves without ever really seeing the thing. He “waives his right of seeing and knowing,” as Percy puts it, ‘and records symbols for the next forty years.’

In order to take pictures — and by pictures I mean good, interesting pictures — one has to see what one is looking at, just ‘as one picks up a strange object from one’s backyard and gazes directly at it.’”

So which is it, I started wondering? Is blogging a disengagement, a deflection, a problem of symbolic complexes, of linking only with those who support our already formulated expectations, of distance from and commodification of? Or is it a means for seeing differently and more intensely? What is my Grand Canyon, I wonder?

Patti, as someone who is relatively new to blogging, I notice how insular and self-referential blogging can be. And, also how unique and amazing it is for what it can create.

However, there's a whole wide world of interesting, smart and witty people in the world who have no idea what a blog is, and are just fine that way.

So, blogging is important to us because we're in it; and, as with many things in life, my sense is that it's only as valuable ultimately in what it affects. I want to keep asking myself this as someone who blogs: what's possible, or new, or better, or improved, in the world because of this writing?
Patti, wonderful post! I fear for those who link only to those who are already of like mind. For them, the expansion of life that is possible is never a consideration.

I love the ability to find new voices, or voices anew, and new viewpoints. Just one new voice or point of view a day makes the day a success.

Hanna, I believe that anything becomes possible when you start with yourself. Ghandi said we must be the change we want others to become. In that the change we make adds value, it is one small step in increasing the overall value.

I am in the middle of reading Marcus Buckingham's new book "The One Thing You Need to Know" and he references a study done where an accurate self assessment hindered individuals while exaggerated self assurance enabled individuals.

Hence, if in these posts and sharing of ideas, we gain the self confidence to make a change, take a new step, and act on it, then follow through and deliver; we will have added value.
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