(A meditation on mediation)
She left the web, she left the loom,
She made three paces thro' the room,
She saw the water-lily bloom,
She saw the helmet and the plume,
She look'd down to Camelot.
Out flew the web and floated wide;
The mirror crack'd from side to side;
"The curse is come upon me," cried
The Lady of Shalott.
--Alfred, Lord Tennyson
We forget that with “progress” comes change. This is facile, so I must elaborate.
To remember, one must forget. A memory, when vivid, when consuming, obliterates for a little while the present. Memory is safest when it lurks unlooked-at. But memory is aggressive, and it is jealous, and it does not like to compete with the present.
Our words for memory, at least in English, are telling.
We piece together parts of the past into a present comprehension, a presence. We Re-Member scattered fragments we Re-Collect, and when we present these pieces to another we Re-Count them (as in Account, but also possibly Countenance), we Re-Cite (from citer, “summon,” as in incite).
The opposite of Memory is not Forgetting. It is the Present, the Now, the Moment. Forgetting (For: Away, Wrongly: Get: to learn, obtain;) is not the anti-thesis of memory, it is the failure to Re-Call (again-summon) the past in a present moment. There is no question about Forgiving (Giving-Away) and Forgetting. Forgiving is the act one does when Forgetting fails, when a wrong is recalled, recounted, remembered from recollected scattered fragments of a past that exists only in memory.
But we must Forget in order to Remember correctly. Time must pass out of mind in order to recount (to give account again) for the past in a new way.
We must forget the present in order to remember what we have forgotten.
Before writing, there was only speech. Before books were everywhere, there was only story and the teller of the story, the Bard, the Grandmother, the friend. A change occurred, and we forgot what is forgotten when knowledge can be had in books. I am a writer, and I love my books, but because of this I do better by not forgetting this. I cannot see the face of he who reads my words. I must trust my own art and my own suspicions, and I cannot adjust, I cannot maneuver, I cannot change the cadence or the rhythm to entice the bored or distracted intended. Word-Art now requires an act of abandon, a suspended waiting for a response.
We rely on the other for understanding. If I speak and am never understood, I am alone. An increasingly good friend remarked recently on his pleasure that I’d read writing of his thought otherwise un-read, and I understood his pleasure: no one wishes to write into a void, to speak into a silence.
To remember what we have lost, we must forget what we think we have gained.
After the book came suddenly, in a great breaking-open of nature, much more. We’ve had millennia to adjust to written word, we’ve had only 120 or so years to understand the phone. The missive we’ve had for almost as long as the book, envoys of words (evoyer—to send away) to another. With the letter, we know only how our words were understood by the response, and over-land this could come months or even years later before, until Empire formalized communication (to impart, make common, to share; rivers are routes of communication, as are words) by building roads.
Only 20 years to adjust to phones which travel, messages which move without human hands. Only a bit more than a decade for words to show up in a pocket as if from a thief, and less than that for Facebook and Grindr.
What have we forgotten to remember?
Caitlyn and John Matthews chide Tennyson for confining the Lady of Shalott to her tower:
Here the Maid of Astolat [Elaine of Astolat, who fell in love with Lancelot as she nursed him back to health but was never able to tell him while she lived] is translated into an enchanted maiden who is doomed to weave whatever she sees in her mirror, but never to look upon the world of Camelot in person, let alone enter it herself. (Ladies of the Lake, pxxx).I take no issue with their feminist analysis, but I think we should forget in order to remember what exists now.
A friend and former lover recently had a very public suicidal episode. Splattered all over facebook were updates stating “OH GOD SOMEONE HELP ME” (capitals his) and “SO MUCH BLOOD.” I do not dare for a second, nor should dare anyone else, doubt the extra-ordinary nature of his pain (or of anyone else’s) which led him to such a public cry. The pain is the same, whether it is on display or not; few self-respecting extroverts, who loves people and realize their identities through them, would seriously consider a “public” suicide undignified. But it was not just public, it was Mediated.
Mary is sometimes known as the Mediatrix, the mediator between mortals and God, just as the Christ is known as the Mediator between mortals and The Father. In the same way, the Church became the mediator, not just between humans and the divine, but between life and meaning. And when the power of the Church fell away, this Mediation continued. To mediate (to be in the middle) is to connect, but also to intersect and divide (as in median). Media is the form communication takes, but what comes between is also a barrier of communication.
I do not think we should see the woman in the Tower, staring into the mirror and weaving what she sees as being imprisoned. She can leave at any time, and does.
That is, she can at any point look down upon Camelot, can look upon the face of her beloved. She is in no windowless tower. It is the moment when the life she sees in a mirror sings nearby, out her window. The Real of the Other, rather than the image of the Other, stands outside, singing. The mirror is before her, but the Real of the reflection is just outside her, and she cannot bear her confinement. But she confines herself, for the mirror, the loom is in her Tower.
I think on this when I’ve been in front of a computer too long. I am no ascetic prophet—I’m writing this to be read on the internet, after all. But, too, I am pained to be aware of what I have forgotten through this, what I cannot easily forget in order to remember.
What is seen in the mirror is shadow. A screen is a barrier—it keeps out insects and debris (i.e., life) from an inside that is destined to a dance of insects and debris. A veil is a screen between the face and the viewer, but veils can part, screens can only tear or break.
I suspect we are all half-sick of shadows. The curse is mortal existence. Life, the Real, the face of the lover, the Other all exist “out there,” and are only dimly reflecting in the mirror. From the loom of our imagination springs all manner of brilliant tapestries, yet they are only reflections of the Real. We cannot merely ‘like’ life to live it, any more than we can hope to find in the mediated mirror the true recognition of the Other which forges our own recognition.