Monday, August 20, 2012

The unpredictable strangeness of the world

Let me return this morning to my post of last week contrasting two Irish-based writers –- the late poet John Moriarty and the naturalist/cartographer Tim Robinson.

Moriarity the all-embracing mystic, Robinson the laser-focused empiricist.

What the curlew said (the title of volume two of Moriarty's autobiography), and the curlew.

The maybe and the is.

I suggested that I identify with Robinson, the evangelist of ordinary things, the exact observer of the commonplace.

But I don't dismiss Moriarty; why else would I slog through two fat volumes of misty-eyed, airy-fairy ruminations?

Just as Moriarty does not dismiss Robinson. Or science.

At one point in his autobiography, Moriarty refers to Durer's drawing of a patch of grass and Leonardo's drawing of a hand holding a herb. "On a bad day such miracles of exact observation would save my soul," he writes.

But he adds: "As well as the Linnaean eye there is the perduring folk mind. That mind and its needs. So I would also want the paths to be folktales, attesting in a way that science very often doesn't, to the unpredictable strangeness of the world."

I would not want to be so fixated an empiricist as to forget the unpredictable strangeness of the world. And that's why we need our poets and artists, as well as our naturalists and cartographers. That's why we need Anne's Sunday illuminations, which are close in spirit to Moriarty's eclecticism.

The trouble comes, it seems to me, when we mistake the folktales for literal reality, turning the unpredictable strangeness into a graven image, a plaster god. Moriarty, I think, comes dangerously close to doing this.

By the same token, maybe I stay too close to the kick-the-stoniness of what is, appreciative of the curlew but not allowing myself (as Moriarty says) to become the curlew. Well, maybe. But, as Popeye says, I yam what I yam, happy to be me and let the curlew be itself.