Almost at the ocean edge, I look back up the hill, over the martian landscape to see the miles of frozen stone rivulets, overlapping and intertwining upon themselves, blanketing anything that ever had been there. It is dark, hardened lava which was at one point molten and seeping from wounds in the earth, crawling down the topography according to gravity, until it slipped into the ocean with a burst of steam cloud.
I cried unspeakably when I first saw this, at Kilauea. At first I thought I was responding to the experience of primeval vastness – a meeting with an uncompromising, prehistoric force. Or maybe because it was humbling to be in the presence of the beginning of land, the birth of earth.
For some reason, this is the image that comes to mind as I ponder why I have inexplicably taken a break from writing here.
At some point my philosophy mentor mentioned to me that it is best not to overwhelm the writings or artworks of others with my own subjectivity. It is a balancing act to read the work of others and engage in dialogue, to make comparative study without projecting too much of my own material and subsequently dampening them. To listen without talking over them.
In the last few weeks I have been reading hyperactively, but in a way also bordering on attention-deficit disorder. From Kierkegaard’s crowd of untruth to Anna Akhmatova’s poetry of personal truth amidst a crowd of censors. And there is George Steiner’s grammars of creation, eruditely nostalgic for the messianic, and Wittgenstein’s language games of lost faith. I have let the writings of these thinkers run over me, perhaps not unlike the rivers of the slow moving, but nihilistic lava, making its way to a border of another prehistoric vastness – my ocean of ignorance. While the writings have been resonant, elegantly constructed and provocative, they are opaque. And maybe it is best to let them do their work before I attempt to crash in with my callow response, my impediments, my convictions.
In short, to let answerability take the form of silence. However, for those of us who know the therapy office, the dead end of a conflict, or know the time in front of one’s own intransigent painting or sculpture, there is a silence that is laden with an almost perceivable din, however healing it may be. And then there is a silence of a higher order, of untranslatability.
Schopenhhauer said, “Were the universe to perish, music would endure.” And in the moment of pondering the lava field, where seedlings somehow sprout in rock, and liquid rock in its extension of earth annihilates life — creation meets destruction. Artists and writers might want more to be mediators of where sound meets silence, and form meets formless. Paul Celan’s breath-turn. In the end, if I were in that lava field, facing the force that we all perish by, I may be trivial and sentimental, but I would want to hear Olomanu’s plaintive slack key guitar and the lyrics of a homecoming: “Last night I dreamt I was returning. And my heart called out to you: To please accept me as you’ll find me. Me ke aloha ku’u home o Kahulu’u.”
Today’s Advice: “It is through words that words are to be overcome. (Silence may only be the tying of the tongue, not relinquishing words, but gagging on them. True silence is the untying of the tongue, letting its words go.).” – Stanley Cavell