The grass outside my window follows the gentle slope of the earth toward the pond. Royal purple violets wind between the green blades, in some spots a trickling line, in others a meandering patch. Over the last couple of days, the dandelions have begun to lift their bright faces above the rest and the pine pollen has given the surface of the pond a sickly yellow-green sheen. The grackles flutter up and down from the trees, their tails held like the rudder of a boat and flashing iridescent green upon their throats. Here and there, the orange-breasted robins hunt for worms between violent battles with their brethren.
The sky is blue and the trees that stand against it in the distance have just begun to put forth their leaves. Those bright green leaves are so young, so small, so vivid, that I could almost count them from hundreds of feet away; it is the sort of perceptual reality that I suspect the pointillists transformed into an new means of representing the world, a new means through which we could see everything else. Each piece of the world as if it were a tree in spring, setting out its colors like new leaves.
It’s a strange thing, to just take the time to see, to hear, to smell, to taste, to touch, to feel ourselves amidst the substance and being of the world. I can breathe and move my eyes to the world closer to me, to the books to my left, sitting atop a pile of papers and the cord to a set of earphones, to the CD case and camera case sitting atop a handmade cutting board, gifted to Stacey from her now departed uncle. There is a flash of green and yellow there, too, the border of a small mirror and small polymer tiles Stacey crafted to explore her personal alphabet.
In front of me, there is a turkey foot and two creature’s from the same uncle’s (i)menagerie: a deer’s skull with earrings and tiara mounted atop a winding woody vine and a playful creature made of a lightly worked branch brightened by paint and stained.
This is nothing more than a kitchen table and a view from a window, but think how much time and space are concatenated in it. The books, both from university presses, are born of years of reading, writing, speaking, editing, and production. They each cover quite a range of time. Principe’s The Secrets of Alchemy trace the science from antiquity into the early twentieth century. Keller’s Cloud of the Impossible plays the resonances between the negative theologies of early Christianity down into the present. It’s easy, sometimes, to mock the academy (sometimes it needs mocking), but think of all that time pressed for us to consume more readily.
These are relatively new books, too. Think of the time through which an old book has passed, the river or sea of hands through which it passes. This morning I was reading a bit of Sartre’s introduction to Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth. I have an old 1968 paperback edition, its pages yellowed almost to orange. There is time eating away at it like old leaves, but it still simmers in my hands.
Each of those CD’s are years of musical labor, artistic and otherwise, pressed into a form I can enjoy in an hour. Those polymer tiles trace a tale back to Stacey’s childhood and well into her adulthood, a tale that will be cross-fertilized by another block of time, the runes made popular by contemporary heathens. Those whimsical monsters are not just the fruit of a man’s hands, but of a life of a tree, a deer, and vine, and of the earth and ecosystem into which their living flourished. The view, from the birds to the pollen, is born of millions upon millions of years of evolution, and the many thousands of hours of human influence upon it, be it planting one tree rather than another or simply trampling a bare path with our feet.
There is a small statue of Ganesh just beyond the table whose own history is somewhat murky to me. Though born in India, this particular form passed over the ocean from Southeast Asia. 1,500 years and a few thousand miles resting serenely against my apartment wall.
All this to say nothing of myself, of the time that folds its way into my body.
Of late, I have added another layer to my morning routine of positioning myself in the world. Tot he pest of my ability, I have been projecting the tree of life into those direction, reaching out toward the sefirot through them. Occasionally, I have even been able to feel the glimmers of time and morality around the edges of the six direction, but mostly it has been about the space, about the concrete presence of things in space.
One of the most direct ways to experiencing the divine through the sefirot isn’t through a lot of abstractions, but the straight road into the place where you are, right now. That seems to be one reason why the apophatic dimension is so essential to getting the system to work. You have to clear your way to the place where you are, which is also the place where we are.
As Hegel well knew, though, this indexical operation is also the very same one that opens the way toward us being able to take flight into abstraction. The ‘here’ we uncover is always changing and in the sense that there is something ‘here’ that is still ‘here,’ we begin to lever signs and symbols from the world. The evacuation of the sefirot seems to be a movement toward the most fundamental level of this, where the abstraction and concretion are both maximally present. It is new and ancient all at once, and it gives birth to signs and symbols.
The generative force of the sefirot are to be found in the generative circumstances of our lives, present but bound up with so much more by implication.