Tuesday, March 19, 2013

As Below So Not Above

When I think back to my childhood, and then trace ordinary, daily life forward from that time to this, the striking thing about it is that the basic arrangements have remained unchangeably the same. We’ve lived in single family houses or apartments. There have always been trees, bushes, gardens near; if we had no garden immediately next to the house, then plants grew on balconies and in our window sills. Turmoil, disturbances, flight, immigration—such as now plague Syria? They rapidly resolve into camps where tents stand in rows and the children play on puddle-pocked “streets” between tents. Life may be miserable, but the basics are still there. Now in my childhood and later, too, other greater turmoils in the greater world: great wars, monetary disasters, economic upheavals, political tensions, cold wars, wrenching transformations of whole “realms”—such as the collapse of communism. Vast changes in the arts, in the media of communications. Enormous changes in tooling—beyond the house. In the house we still cut carrots with a knife. The pot still cooks the soup.

The woodcut I show, of Albrecht Dürer’s St. Michael Fighting the Dragon, has long been a favorite of mine because, in a quite memorable image, it summarizes the contrasts between ordinary daily life—and the life of the culture in which we live. It does so spatially. Down below is a peaceful scene of the “ordinary.” See the houses, see the trees? But up above rages the great battle of the human spirit. Up above there is a furnace where raw ore is being melted and sorted into dross and the pure metal. Awesome image. I’ve shown it before on Borderzone. It deserves another look and contemplation.

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