Friday, April 22, 2011

The thing with feathers


Hieronymus Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights triptych has been the subject of musings here before, particularly between January 7 and 12, 2008 (see archive). The panels are so rich in imaginative detail that everyone can find some image that resonates with their personal life. The painting plumbs the human psyche, rummages among primeval archetypes, stirs up the murky depths of desolation and consolation. One could spend a lifetime grazing its lurid landscape.

And here, tucked into a corner of the orgiastic central panel, I find my personal avatar, sitting on a goldfinch, eyes closed, head in hands. (Click to enlarge.) Not unhappy. There is a certain dreamy softness to his repose, the hint of a smile. Bewildered, maybe. Bemused by the extravagance of it all, the sheer prodigousness of creation.

Consolation and desolation -- the two poles of Ignatian spirituality. Consolation (according to the saint) is that which leads us closer to God. Desolation turns us away. Which only means something, I suppose, if one already has a notion of transcendence. But here in the garden of earthly delights, where my avatar lives and works and has his being, the transcendent is not readily manifest. Two couples making love, or trying to, in the midst of dissonance. A conclave of birds with their glistening, indifferent eyes. The fleshy fruit, and the hungering flesh. An abundance of appetites -- satisfied, tasted, deferred, stifled.

And me -- I mean, my avatar -- on the goldfinch. Is he listening to some inner music, blocking out the roar of silence from all those closed beaks? Enjoying the bliss of solitude? Diving into the wreck? Not toward God but toward the inner quiet. Bemused and amazed that in this gorgeous, gratuitous garden of good and evil, of every realized possibility, one need only close one's eyes and stop one's ears to find the cool, still center of a centered self.