June 16th, 2002

abstract butterfly

I bring coals to Newcastle

In recent years, I've been intrigued with the interaction between the reader and the writer. To be a bit less grandiose, I've noticed how much of my own ideas I bring to anything I read. I began my recent focus on this phenomenon when I had a nostalgic longing to re-read the ending passages of Great Expectations. In Great Expectations, one may recall, the hero, Pip, spends significant portions of the novel longing for Estella, a woman who has been brought up by the deranged Miss Havisham as an instrument to wreak havoc upon the male gender, through the device of being both completely irresistible and completely unattainable.

At the end of the novel, there is a passage in which Pip and Estella, much older and wiser than the children and young adults they had been, meet in a story-closing finale. Here is where the problem arises. In my memory, this encounter was an extremely vivid meeting, accompanied by a long dialogue in which the older, wiser, but irretrievably flawed Estella
tells Pip in detail that she was in error and he was in the right.

I wanted to re-read this passage, for reasons that are now obscure to me. So one lunch hour, I headed to the Los Angeles downtown public library, to look it up. Sure enough, at the end of the book, Pip and Estella have a final meeting. But the text was far from the "you were right" soliloquy I was expecting. It is barely a glancing blow of a meeting--a good passage, but far short of my mind's eye version.

Something was wrong. Where was the passage I recalled?
Surely there was another edition. The LA library has an extensive literature section, and I was able to determine that Great Expectations' ending did evolve in different editions from the one I had initially located. That did not solve the problem, though. *No edition* had anything like the detailed discussion I recalled. I had lived some 25 years in which one of my favorite passages of literature was wholly a passage of my own invention. The Pip and Estella in my head had an extensive discussion, to which no reader but myself will ever be a party. Perhaps this is the central dilemma which causes people to write fanfiction, but I do not believe that my version of "Great Expectations--Pip and Estella Redux" will be hitting the stands anytime soon.

Since I learned this mildly troubling fact, I find similar things happen everyday. In the yahoo discussion group on marstokyo's artworks,
I frequently find that I "see" aspects of the artwork that I cannot, on reflection, find to be there, and then read explications by others that make clear to me that I failed to see literal portions of the artwork clearly identifiable to casual observer.

Even here on LiveJournal, I'll notice *just after* I posted a comment that I missed a key wrinkle in the post which made my literal comment apply to a metaphoric idea (or, in one notable case, vice versa). I also find that I add a great deal of plotting to people's journals based on intuition and surmise. In my work, this can be a very good thing, as the ability to "intuit" facts and ideas the client has not supplied can help me get to the truth of the legal problem. In reading, though, it can have real downsides as well as upsides. It's as though the poor Estellas of my heart and mind *should be saying* things to older but wiser Pip, and then my imagination makes it so. But why can't my internal Estellas just speak to me directly, and leave Great Expectations out of the equation?

Now, we all must bring interpretations and ideas to works of literature and art. The pleasing ambiguity that we bring in our differing interpretations
is one of the wonderful things about art and literature. But I worry that I clothe the emperor sometimes when in fact he has no new clothes, and that sometimes the garment from which the bride is stripped bare is the crucial set of threads, which I've altogether missed.
abstract butterfly

I find no fit in abstract thought, learned labs or even among pixels ,but fit someplace on concrete

I took a nice walk on the Chisholm Trail in Plano, a concrete sidewalk running by a creek surrounded by tall trees. Around me on all sides were suburban brick homes, each festooned with its own blossoming crape myrtle tree or shrub. I saw myriads of everyday "backyard" birds, mockingbirds, bluejays, grackle, house sparrows, and red cardinal birds. I saw huge tiger swallowtail butterflies, and even larger giant swallowtail butterflies. I saw white cabbage butterflies as well as a few little yellow sulphur butterflies. Black eyed susan flowers had already gone past best bloom and turned into seed pods. Other flowers of red and pink and white struggled their last few bits of prime before the scorch of July hits. In a short walk, I suddenly felt connected to something more "real" than anything I do, and yet something that is not at all unique or outre.

I came home and began to re-read CP Snow's the Two Cultures.
Snow's premise in a 1959 (the year I was born) lecture was interesting. He felt that English "literary intellectuals" and scientific intellectuals used what amounted to a different language, which led to tremendous misunderstanding in public dialogue. Snow's lecture was tame enough, but
sparked massive public debate, including vitriolic attacks, in its time. One particularly spirited critic resorted to the ad hominem device of questioning Snow's authority, on the ground that he was not a major novelist and not a major portion of the scientific establishment. I am a big fan of Snow's novels, but he will never be considered a "major" novelist. He wrote novels to make points and tell stories, and was heavily influenced, as he acknowledged, by Trollope, who was no longer fashionable in his day.

I thought to myself how polymaths, like prophets, no longer got respect by the 1960s, whereas an earlier time loved the renaissance public intellectual. I then turned on the television and watched an old newsreel on cable about how new machinery was making people obsolete, but with safe use of the machines, the few remaining necessary workers could avoid cutting off their hands. Then I flipped the channel, where a very pregnant Arnold Schwarzenegger was about to give birth.

I thought to myself that I have never felt at home in the world of the scientists or the world of "literary intellectuals". I feel at home on concrete trails through tract home suburbs, when butterflies are flying. But that's okay. Really. That's okay.
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abstract butterfly

Demeter

Heaven never gives justice, really,
just words and tales and myths.
When a violent man visited my household,
carrying my daughter
into the arms of Hell himself,
I could not believe this could happen to us.
But it did, and I was without my daughter.

I went to her father, a powerful man,
a man accustomed to making people do
what he wants to do;
a man who manipulates people as if he
could alter the very fabric of life itself.
He was useless.
The gall of men who pretend to be gods, and then
permit other men to do this to women.

I had always focused my attention on
making things work--
I farmed, I nurtured, I kept the seasonal holidays.
But nothing is gained from the passing seasons when your
daughter is in Hell.
Now she is lost to me, and I am utterly lost.

I just wanted to get away--
there's no point to the big house and the SUV
and the endless parties when
your daughter is in a life worse than death.
I watched her change and twist and mold and degrade
into the spouse of the man I despised.

I took a job, well beneath my qualifications,
a sort of glorified governess.
I had learned that protecting children was
all I really wanted to do.
I told my employers my name was the
Greek word for "seeker",
and, truly, I was seeking.

I thought for a moment that I could bury
myself in another family's son.
I had such big plans for him--
his life would be divine.
But they found me out,
just as I was showing him
how fire molds souls,
and my protege was hurt, somehow--
men rarely can stand the tempering to
make them stronger.
I had to tell them who I really was,
go back to my real life.

Now I see my daughter for a few days a year,
and focus on my work,
and burn constantly with rage.
I give in plenty,
amidst the harvest of the years,
but I also try to ruin
men who abuse women, and
men who stand by while it happens.