Tuesday, March 11

Reading: Still Life with Oysters and Lemon, Mark Doty:

Here and gone. That's what it is to be human, I think—to be both someone and no one at once, to hold a particular identity in the world (our names, our places of origins, our family and affectional ties) and to feel that solid set of ties also capable of dissolution, slipping away, as we become moments of attention.

We think that to find ourselves we need turn inward, examining the intricacies of origin, the shaping forces of personality. But "I" is just as much to be found in the world; looking outward, we experience the one who does the seeing. Say what you see and you experience yourself through your style of seeing and saying.

Someone and no one. That, I think, is the deepest secret of these paintings, finally, although it seems just barely in the realm of the sayable, this feeling that beneath the attachments and appurtenances, the furnishings of selfhood, what we are is attention, a quick physical presence in the world, a bright point of consciousness in a wide field from which we are not really separate. That, in a field of light, we are intensifications of that light.

I've rarely been transfixed by a painting the way that Doty describes in this essay, but that matters hardly at all. Interest in the point of departure isn't all that relevant in a lot of the great ones. This is a kind of prose poem on memory, on love, on grief, on death, on poetry and vision and the human in the things of the world, on the inner light. It is modest, brief, and moving.

I'm sad I left it on my shelf for so long before I picked it up, because it is that rare kind of thing that helps explain to me not exactly the world, but rather how I am in it.