Thursday, September 6, 2012

"Compass": Searching for Intimacy

Every single thing becomes a word
in a language that Someone or Something, night and day,
writes down in a never-ending scribble,
which is the history of the world, embracing

Rome, Carthage, you, me, everyone,
my life, which I do not understand, this anguish
of being enigma, accident, and puzzle,
and all the discordant languages of Babel.

Behind each name lies that which has no name.
Today I felt its nameless shadow tremble
in the blue clarity of the compass needle,

whose rule extends as far as the far seas,
something like a clock glimpsed in a dream
or a bird that stirs suddenly in its sleep.
~Jorge Luis Borges

"for it was not knowledge but unity that she desired, not inscriptions on tablets, nothing that could be written in any language known to men, but intimacy itself, which knowledge (Virginia Woolf, To The Lighthouse). Due to the wonder that is the worldwide web, at all times we carry with us our news updates, social networking sites, weblogs, email accounts, and whatever other general entertainment we might like.  In this Information Age, we are constantly connected.  Or are we?  Hold on.  Take a breath.  Relax.  No, I'm not about to bash social media.  As a historian, I can confidently assure you that we are more plugged into our friends and loved ones lives than our 19th century counterparts.  For example, in the 1890s, if you'd have written a letter that simply stated you ate a delicious cookie for lunch people might have considered you Funny Farm material, but thanks to Twitter, cookie reviews are acceptable tweets, nom, nom, nom.  But, if you want my opinion, one thing has remained the same throughout much of human history.  We're all on a desperate search for intimacy.  When we care about someone, we don't find joy in collecting data on that person's life in a little journal as one might with a science experiment.  No, we love learning the details because it makes us feel closer to the other person.  We feel connected.

"Behind each" of our names "lies that which has no name".   Reread that sentence.  Now, think about someone you love or have loved.  Sure that person has many wonderful qualities and attributes, but, at the very beginning, when you first started to fall what were you drawn to?  If you're like me, extremely intuitive and emotional, you won't be able to put it into words.  All you know is that something special is there you don't want to lose.  You are drawn to another person in a powerful way.  The idea of not having that feeling returned or losing the connection is scary as hell.  Yet, we're creatures built for love and cannot do without it.  Its not something that can be inscribed on tablets or written in any language.  It is intimacy itself that we seek.

*Note: Borges' poem, as does most of his work, suggests everything in life, even his writing, is a great unknowable puzzle.  When I first read "Compass" it made me think of the search for intimacy, but I doubt Borges would agree with that interpretation.

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