yellow-bellied sapsuckers

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, © 2015 S. D. Stewart

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker – immature male, indicated by red feathers beginning to show in throat

YBSA

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker – adult male seen in backyard through otherworldly mist

pierrot’s mist

His mind contained nothing but a mental, light, and almost luminous mist, like the fog on a beautiful winter morning, nothing but a flight of anonymous midges
Raymond Queneau, Pierrot Mon Ami

Click on the mist category below for more instances of mist.

sunday night

I thought I had something to say but I guess I was mistaken.

It may have been something about the coat rack falling off the wall for the third time in as many months.

There is no difference between the time the rack fell down twice before and the time it fell down today.

I could be wrong, though.

Instead of not posting anything, however, I wrote this.

We can blame Borges for this.

It is quite foggy out now.

Or is it mist. It may be mist. I’m not sure I know the difference.

molloy’s mist

“All that through a glittering dust, and soon through that mist too which rises in me every day and veils the world from me and veils me from myself”—Samuel Beckett, Molloy

More on mist here and here.

virginia woolf on words

How can we combine the old words in new orders so that they survive, so that they create beauty, so that they tell the truth? That is the question.

It is only a question of finding the right words and putting them in the right order. But we cannot do it because they do not live in dictionaries; they live in the mind. And how do they live in the mind? Variously and strangely, much as human beings live, ranging hither and thither, falling in love, and mating together.

Regrettably the audio recording of Virginia Woolf’s discussion on ‘the mysterious demands and duplicity of words’ has been removed from the BBC archives due to copyright restrictions. I found a transcript of the recording here, though, and it is a good read. Until the copyright police yank it down, there is also this excerpt of the recording on YouTube:

more on mist

I have been reading Virginia Woolf’s novel To the Lighthouse and yesterday evening I came across this passage:

It was odd, she thought, how if one was alone, one leant to inanimate things; trees, streams, flowers; felt they expressed one; felt they became one; felt they knew one, in a sense were one; felt an irrational tenderness thus (she looked at that long steady light) as for oneself. There rose, and she looked and looked with her needles suspended, there curled up off the floor of the mind, rose from the lake of one’s being, a mist, a bride to meet her lover.

Naturally I wondered if this was the same mist Kafka writes about not being able to expel from his head. He says that no one will want to lie there with him in those clouds of mist. Woolf’s speaker, Mrs. Ramsay, is troubled by this mist, by her inner life. She is at odds with it, and feels uncomfortable when her husband witnesses her in the throes of it:

Had she known that he was looking at her, she thought, she would not have let herself sit there, thinking. She disliked anything that reminded her that she had been seen sitting thinking.

And yet Mrs. Ramsay’s inner life seems extremely rich and rewarding. She maintains a special relationship with the third stroke of the Lighthouse beacon (the long steady light she refers to in the first quoted passage above):

Watching it with fascination, hypnotised, as if it were stroking with its silver fingers some sealed vessel in her brain whose bursting would flood her with delight, she had known happiness, exquisite happiness, intense happiness, and it silvered the rough waves a little more brightly, as daylight faded, and the blue went out of the sea and it rolled in waves of pure lemon which curved and swelled and broke upon the beach and the ecstasy burst in her eyes and waves of pure delight raced over the floor of her mind and she felt, It is enough! It is enough!

Her husband sees a beauty emanating from her while she is in this ecstatic state and feels he cannot approach or interrupt her, and yet his interpretation of her state is flawed:

She was aloof from him now in her beauty, in her sadness. He would let her be, and he passed her without a word, though it hurt him that she should look so distant, and he could not reach her, he could do nothing to help her.

The novel clearly portrays Mrs. Ramsay and Mr. Ramsay as being at odds with both themselves and each other. She snatches moments to wade into the mist of her mind and yet feels guilty about her indulgence, not wanting her husband to see her in such a state. Mr. Ramsay, on the other hand, mistakenly interprets this state as distress or sadness. Perhaps he cannot conceive of his wife wanting time to think to herself? Either this underlines a fundamental misunderstanding between the two, bitterly lampooning a superficiality characteristic of many societal interactions (even among spouses), or it lays bare what Kafka concluded, that the mist itself prevents the necessary connection from being made between two people. This connection being one that would allow sharing of one’s most private inner ecstasies with another.

One theory I’ve considered is that the mist may not be translatable into language. Perhaps that is the problem. And yet, the mist may also be related to Jung’s collective unconscious; it may be the shared ecstasy we all feel from time to time, something primal that humans have always known but are unable to adequately express to each other. If that is the case, we may indeed share that connection, but only by sensing it in each other, not by communicating it with words.

digging in the shade of the vowel tree

Sylvia Plath wrote of
intolerable vowels
entering her heart
but what of ruthless
consonants headed
to our brains.

We all know about a-e-i-o-u and sometimes y. They may be intolerable but their numbers are small. And they are more easily made to do our bidding. The consonants, in contrast, are legion and their rigidity stifles. Perhaps the only way to harness their true power is to one-by-one start taking them away.

Anna Kavan wrote:

I had only learnt how to be friends with shadows; it might be too late to learn the way of friendship in the sun.

Friendship in the sun is a mirage. The way to it is false. The sun fades color and one day it will kill us all. Shadows make easy friends: we pass through them as they do through us. Few stay long. It is their nature. Sometimes it feels like it is in all our natures to expand and contract, pull away and grow close, like a squeezebox played by a jittery ghost.

Kafka wrote:

No one will want to lie in clouds of mist with me, and even if someone did, I couldn’t expel the mist from my head.

This gets at the heart of the problem, I think. One feels an isolation and maybe a desire to connect, sometimes even a desperate mania. But who can share a dreamy solitude? By definition, no one. And if it was at all even possible, the mist remains. How could we find each other. How could one’s dream self operate in reality? The pilot seat in your head is unlike the one outside of it. Out there, we cannot twist the knobs, adjust the instruments without consultation, without repercussions, without the sun blinding us. In the shadows, the mist, these difficulties melt away.

Jung wrote:

A man can hope for satisfaction and fulfillment only in what he does not yet possess; he cannot find pleasure in something of which he already had too much.

Yikes, Carl, that’s bleak, even by my admittedly generous standards. In fairness, on the next page of Modern Man in Search of a Soul, Jung also states: “The needs and necessities of individuals vary. What sets one free is for another a prison.” So I guess one could argue that for some people overindulgence sets them free, although I don’t think that’s his point with the former quote. I think it is about anticipation. Jung is talking about this concept in the context of the development of analytical psychology, and yet it stands out in the text as such a sweeping statement. But I don’t think this aphorism or whatever you want to call it can be universally applied. Certainly competitive eaters don’t find pleasure in the 18th hot dog in a row that they’ve shoved down their throats. But can Jung honestly think that attaining the love of another person does not lead to satisfaction and fulfillment? I mean, I will grant him that unrequited love is an exquisite thing, and possibly more intense on the whole than many long-term relationships. But no satisfaction and fulfillment for those in love? I don’t know, maybe he is not including love or other emotions here. Maybe he is referring strictly to material things, in which case I willingly concede his point.

Édouard Levé wrote:

The full weight of depression comes on between 1-5 PM, particularly when I am home by myself. Mornings and night are more filled with promise.

Filled with promise. Is that what we are after? Moments filled with promise? Is it merely the anticipation we crave, what Jung says we can find satisfaction and fulfillment in? Anticipation can be tantalizing, I’ll admit. But how. How can we be satisfied with mere promise. Inherent in promise is a pledge to fulfill at some point in the future, not at the moment of the promise. Like an IOU. Is it the step we take to accept the promise that is meant to satisfy? Is it the mental and/or emotional trust fall we allow ourselves to take? If so, what of broken promises. Do those negate the previous gain in fulfillment? Well, do they, Jung? If he were here, I’d have more than a few questions for him.

Levé also wrote: “Above a certain height I like what I see. Below it I don’t.” I suppose we can read this on a literal or a metaphorical level. What is the certain height. And is it a chronological point, a philosophical one, a spiritual one. Who knows. I think we can safely say, though, that whatever the certain height represents, it changes between individuals. Remember how Jung said what sets one person free is another person’s prison.  Some people don’t like what they see above a certain height, while others crane their necks for a peek. Some spend their lives craning for that view, but some are content to not look. They don’t want to know…they look away in fear, shame, embarrassment, whatever.

So what is the conclusion. Is Kafka’s mist the same as Carson’s foam? Sometimes it’s a strain to make all the connections. Certainly reading and writing are key decoder rings. Endless battles, ceasefires, sneak attacks, and truces with the vowel and consonant armies. And maybe the ladder stretches high enough to see above the mist. I think others have ladders high enough, too. If we squint hard enough we can probably see each other, mouths flecked with foam, across the scorched battlefield strewn with bloody words and mangled sentences. Hello there! I do not have rabies. I am merely seeking the sublime. Perhaps you’d care to meet in the mist and discuss for a few moments. I’ll be waiting.

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