Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Sophia's cat

I’ve spent a lot of time lately thinking about the magic of writing, about the godlike power of creating reality through symbols. I write the word cat and a cat appears in the minds of the people who read that word, accompanied by all their stored sense memories and associations. They hear the purring and feel the soft fur. If they know they’re allergic to cat dander, their throats tighten a little and they imagine that their eyes are beginning to itch. Lo, I have made cat, and it’s not entirely good.

Even writing our own names is an act of immense power, something we all know but acknowledge only occasionally. A will, a consent form, a confession—we sign on the dotted line and those scratches of ink on paper go out into the world, carrying our identity and authority with them. It’s a kind of spirit travel. We’re all shamans.

I think this extraordinary power is what gives writing its allure. It’s the reason some of us are driven to do it, and the reason others long to do it but hesitate. Words on a page can be fearful things. You never know what you might be unleashing. We tell ourselves that writing is a rarefied act, an expression of our capacity for abstraction and reason, but it’s also a direct conduit to our primal selves, to the child within who knows herself to be the possibility of all things.

Illustration of Sophia figure from the Aurora consurgens, 15th century


Julie H. Rose said...

Facebook is ruining me for communication. I was looking for the "like" thumbs-up button for this entry. I've nothing to add - just appreciated what you wrote.

jmcleod76 said...

I think this is why I enjoy a lot of post-moderny lit that plays around with the relationship between the writer and creation. Sophie's World was a rather heavy-handed attempt that this that I nonetheless enjoyed (if only primarily because I had fun revisiting Philosophy 101). I am the Messenger was cute, as it was meant to be, appearing as it does in the Young Adult section of the bookstore. Even Stephen King - who I've never really cared for thanks to a case of literary snobbishness I contracted in college, particularly during my time in the U.K. - has been captivating me for months with his Dark Tower series, in which he, himself, has become a key character (and he's delightfully self-depreciating about it, too).

In Zen, we talk a lot about how, as soon as you open your mouth (or set pen to paper) you tell a lie. Words are separate from reality, and as long as you believe too earnestly in the one, you can never really experience the other. Yet, Dogen Zenji seems to quibble with even that oft-repeated wisdom. Perhaps even a painted rice cake is all of reality, itself? Or, as Dainin Katagiri Roshi used to say, "You have to say something!"

jmcleod76 said...

Hmm, I've been bad at posting links lately. That one above isn't working at all on my computer. Try this: http://www.wwzc.org/translations/gabyo.htm