Preface

The delusion of another shows you who you can be; that is why being in love is so wonderful.

Perhaps it is the same with art; it can be your lover. It is the ability to see things as they aren’t but could be, if you but put your parchment to heat like Adso in Umberto Ecco’s The Name of the Rose, revealing hidden necromantic symbols on the edges of your illuminated passages. Or squeeze a lemon upon your map, like Nicholas Cage in National Treasure, to reveal the hidden lexicon to your future discoveries.

Proust, in the opening narrative of his multi-volume work In Search of Lost Time, writes, “Perhaps the immobility of the things that surround us is forced upon them by our conviction that they are themselves and not anything else, by the immobility of our conception of them“ (Proust 5). The Narrator later tastes a madeleine cake, the flavours and scents of which vividly launch within him memories of his childhood in Combray as if they were the present. He goes on throughout the volume speaking of the dream-world and shadows whose identities we guess at in the dark, finding in these instances that appearances conceal true meaning; there is an entire world in one madeleine cake dipped in tea.

What darkness do we enter but the dream-world when we are inventing? Perhaps invention is not the telling or prediction of the future but is the utterance of a parallel present, one that exists behind our heads, in the uncharted spaces between the orbitals of an atom. Inside of the paper rather than on it.

Maybe what exists in these uncharted spaces, this space where invention resides, is poetry. It is what poet Kazim Ali (1971-), writer of Orange Alert: Essays on Poetry, Art and the Architecture of Silence, calls “the unsayable” (Hennessy 31). When asked about the presence of silence in his work, he answers with this:

“Well, I was comfortable to an extent with my own silence. It allowed me into the provinces of poetry. Daring to speak was not so much a bravery against the possible backlash from my family or my society but a bravery against the possible loss of poetry. It was a gamble against the fear that my relationship to language, once sued to ‘communicate’ – (communication, that enemy of poetry, which traffics in the unsayable) – would turn ordinary. What if I lost my secret stone, the one under my tongue that transforms my breath into rivers of smoke.” (Hennessy 31)

Even Viennese architect Christopher Alexander, in A Timeless Way of Building, introduces “the quality without a name” in architecture, proposing that buildings should be designed with this quality as the desired child (Alexander 17). The book oddly resembles a book of poetry with small italicized quotes and unexplained full-bleed drawings and photographs. He believes that the architecture of a building takes shape in your mind, in your feelings, in your ideas. If it is not first alive in your mind, it will never be alive once brought into the physical world:

When a group of people try to do something together, they usually fail, because their assumptions are different at every stage. But with a language, the assumptions are almost completely explicit from the start.

Of course they no longer have the medium of a single mind, as an individual person does. But instead, the group uses the site “out there in front of them,” as the medium in which the design takes its shape. People walk around, wave their arms, gradually build up a common picture of the building as it takes its shape – and all, still, without making a drawing.

And, it is for this reason, that the site becomes so much more important for a group. And they are able to visualize the building, right before their eyes, as if it were already there.

The idea that “ordinary” people cannot visualize a building is completely false.

The building grows, and comes alive, before their very eyes.

A few sticks in the ground, or stones, or chalk marks, are enough to bring the image to mind.

And then the building can be built directly from these marks. (Alexander 449-451)

Sabrina Tarasoff, in her Fortune Cookies essay "Leisure Rules", describes the “euphoric, momentary belief in utopian visions for art’s future” in moments of group unity and creative exchange, aptly quoting Bernadette Corporation’s Reena Spaulings: “People want to be someones. But the really exciting challenge is to become no one. And where will you find no ones? In nowhere. Where things are exploding” (Tarasoff N.P.). If we are taking advice from Alexander and Reena Spaulings, we must first, under some common language, draw together as a group and dream, the non-illicit drug of children. Only then, after these energizing moments of togetherness, when our individual creativity is multiplied and almost redeemed by the other “ordinary” people around us, that we can see another potential present and start building.

Is this unknowable and unnamable quality, this other present, this affection of poetry existing in the space between what is not and what could be, destroyed once it is made physical the way a secret word loses its magic when it is spoken?

My brother, Josh, built and attached an enormous makeshift sail to his longboard last summer. It was ugly as hell and didn’t work but it was beautiful to watch as he sailed down the sidewalk in my parents’ gated community in the suburbs, steering past little Paris Hilton dogs and emos drinking slurpees.

Oskar, from Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, is another inventor I feel I know traversing the world and the dream-world:

Is everything OK? Over?” “Grandma? Over.” “Yes? Over.” “Why are matches so short?” “Over.” “I’m not very smart,” she said, insulting herself like she always does before she gives an opinion, “but I think the matches are short so they can fit in your pocket. Over.” “Yeah,” I said, balancing my chin on my hand, and my elbow on the windowsill. “I think that, too. So what if pockets were a lot bigger? Over.” “Well, what do I know, but I think the people might have a hard time reaching the bottom of them if they went much lower. Over.” “Right,” I said, switching my hands, because that one was getting tired, “so what about a portable pocket? Over.” “A portable pocket? Over.” “Yeah. It would be sort of like a sock, but with a Velcro outside, so you could attach it to anything. It’s not quite a bag, because it actually becomes part of what you’re wearing, but it’s not quite a pocket either, because it’s on the outside of your clothes, and also you can remove it, which would have all sorts of advantages, like how you could move things from one outfit to another easily, and how you could carry bigger things around, since you can take the pocket off and reach your arm all the way in. Over.” She put her hand against the part of her nightgown that covered her heart and said, “That sounds like one hundred dollars. Over.” “A portable pocket would prevent a lot of finger burns from short matches,” I said, “but also a lot of dry lips from short ChapSticks. And why are candy bars so short, anyway? I mean, have you ever finished a candy bar and not wanted more? Over.” “I can’t eat chocolate,” she said, “but I understand what you’re telling me. Over.” “You could have longer combs, so your part could be all the way straight, and bigger mencils-“ “Mencils?” “Pencils for men.” “Yes, yes.” “And bigger mencils that are easier to hold, in case your fingers are fat, like mine, and you could probably even train the birds that save you to take shiitakes in the portable pocket –“ “I don’t understand.” (Safran Foer 70-71)

Oskar, in the novel, invents in moments of pain. He uses his inventions – or tragedy uses him to invent – to tune his ear to the hush sound of the escape route, the return from hell. Like in Dante’s Inferno, escape is the idea of a stream, not the sight:

“Down there, beginning at the furthest bound
of Beezlebub’s dim tomb, there is a space
not known by sight, but only by the sound
of a little stream descending through the hollow
it has eroded from the massive stone
in its endlessly entwining lazy flow.” (Alighieri 287)

This escape gets us out of a Sheole of the mind but could that be an act of cowardice? A refusal to see the harshness and bitterness of life? A barrier between us and the maturity to deal with our problems?

Returning to Proust, another grandmother, and another grandchild, there is a poignant moment in In Search of Lost Time where the Narrator is tormented by the persecution of his grandmother, describing her loveliness by saying, “…for all of us kisses seemed to spring from her eyes” (13). The Narrator longs to defend his lovely, humble forbear but instead seeks solace:

And yet, as soon as I heard her “Bathilde! Come in and stop your husband drinking brandy,” in my cowardice I became at once a man, and did what all we grown men do when face to face with suffering and injustice: I preferred not to see them; I ran up to the top of the house to cry by myself in a little room beside the schoolroom and beneath the roof, which smelt of orris-root and was scented also by a wild currant-bush which had climbed up between the stones of the outer wall and thrust a flowering branch in through the half-opened window. (Proust 14)

The Narrator runs to the smells and sights of what is more beautiful than the horror of injustice and the reality of his own incompetency in its face.

This intentional or unintentional blindness to what ails, brings me to Irving Langmuir’s (1881-1957) “pathological science.” American chemist, physicist, and winner of the 1932 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, Langmuir coined this term to describe scientists’ wishful pursuit and delusional belief in faulty experiments and weak data. Many classically-trained, fact-based scientists believed so much in their theories that they knew them to be unquestionably true, evidence or not. Langmuir’s unequalled scientific ability and keen observational skills allowed him to debunk countless theories from René Blondlot’s (1849-1930) bogus N-Ray theory to the faulty David-Barnes Effect. Many of these “pathological scientists” refused to believe their data was false, even after the plain unearthing of inconsistencies and errors (Pendle 56). They ran into the wild currant-bush of their own dreams instead.

George Pendle, in his article, The Science of Things that Aren’t So, includes a list Langmuir drew up of the “symptoms of pathological science”. Some of the conditions listed, I say in the boldness of one in the confessional of the pen, could be synonymous with the qualities of an unsound and arrogant artist:

1. The maximum effect that is observed is produced by a causative agent of barely detectable intensity, and the magnitude of the effect is substantially independent of the intensity of the cause.
2. The effect is of a magnitude that remains close to the limit of detectability; or, many measurements are necessary because of the very low statistic significance of the cause.
3. Claims of great accuracy.
4. Fantastic theories contrary to experience.
5. Criticisms are met by ad hoc excuses thought up on the spur of the moment.
6. Ratio of supporters to critics rises up to somewhere near 50% and then falls gradually to oblivion. (Pendle 57)

Later, in the irony of a folktale, Langmiur, this champion of true science, manifested his list and became a pathological scientist himself. He conducted experiments in “cloud seeding”, the creation of precipitation with the injection of silver iodide, and soon found himself on the cover of Time magazine in 1950. He was the savior of agriculture, the military’s new Oppenheimer, and he was holding an umbrella. People wanted to believe in him. He claimed to have changed the course of a hurricane over the Gulf of Mexico and predicted that mankind would have complete control over the Earth’s weather in the immediate future (Pendle 60). He wildly and hostilely defended his theory. “Cloud seeding” was never proved or disproved. Langmiur spent the end of his life comparing the rainfall averages of Tuesday and Saturday (Pendle 61).

Inventing, dreaming, and predicting the present: it exists in an in-between space, the space of silence, not proven or disproven. But the least we can do is gather in a group, wave our arms, and develop a language to describe it. Maybe there are such things as mencils. And maybe we will be able to control Earth’s weather. And maybe Josh’s sailing long-board will be the trickling stream out of Beezlebub’s lair. I don’t know. Perhaps I would be a dream-stream-dwelling pathological scientist to believe that love can make me better or maybe there is a cloud in me already.

By Lindsay Sorell



Works Cited

Alexander, Christopher. The Timeless Way of Building. New York: Oxford University Press, 1979. Print.

Alighieri, Dante. The Inferno. New York: Rutgers University Press, 1954. Print.

Ecco, Umberto. The Name of the Rose. Italy: Gruppo Editorale Fabbri-Bompiani, 1980. Print.

Hennessy, Christopher. “An interview with Kazim Ali.” The American Poetry Review. Vol 42, No 5. Ed Stephen Berg, David Bonanno, and Elizabeth Scanlon. Hamilton: World Poetry, Inc, 2013. 28-32. Print.

Pendle, George. “The Science of Things That Aren’t So.” Cabinet: Issue 49, Death. Ed. D. Graham Burnett, Margaret Sundell, and Christopher Turner. New York: Immaterial Incorporated, 2013. 55-61. Print.

Proust, Marcel. In Search of Lost Time. Great Britain: Chatto & Windus, 1992. Print.

Safran Foer, Jonathan. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. New York: Jonathan Safran Foer, 2005. Print.

Tarasoff, Sabrina. “Leisure Rules.” Fortune Cookies. Ed. Lindsay Sorell. Calgary: Emmedia, 2013. Web. http://emmedia.ca/FORTUNECOOKIES/leisurerules.html

Turtletaub, Jon, dir. National Treasure. Perf. Nicholas Cage, Diane Kruger, and Justin Bartha. 2004. Film.