Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Blasts from the Past, 3

I wish I was as smart as I was in college. Seriously. When I look back over some of the papers I wrote, I have no idea how I came up with such lofty ideas or how I came up with so many of them for all my different classes.

So today's post is a short paper I wrote during my first year of college. This particular paper jumped out at me because I remembered the meditative part of the assignment (i.e., sitting outside my dorm and listening to the night), but I have no recollection of Annie Dillard's essay or who in the world Soetsu Yanagi is/was. So without further ado, here's "Artificial Eyes" (copyright October 12, 1993 by me).

When the editors of Webster's Third New International Dictionary defined "seeing" as "the act of using one' sense of sight," they obviously had not undergone a meditative experience nor had they read essays about seeing by Annie Dillard or Soetsu Yanagi. After I had completed these activities, "seeing" conjured up a more complex definition: the process of perceiving the artificial obvious through personal and sensual involvement. But how do people do this? Do they need artificial eyes?

In her essay "Sight into Insight," Annie Dillard says that in order to perceive, one must have a love for the object being perceived. To illustrate this idea, she explains that a horse lover can readily draw a detailed picture of any type of horse, even if he or she is not an artist, and those who do not love horses will struggle to come up with more than a stick figure. Another prerequisite for perception is the knowledge that comes from prior experience with the object which one wants to see. One must use this knowledge to create a situation which will allow the artificial obvious (that which is present, but usually overlooked) to be seen. For instance, deer hunters cannot look for the full body of a deer when hunting. Instead, hunters must go to a wooded place, look for hoof prints, listen for the sounds of leaves or branches crackling, and search for patches of white in order to see a deer. Therefore, personal experience and sensual involvement unite to enable one to see an object.

Soetsu Yanagi offers different insight on the subject of seeing in his essay "Seeing and Knowing." Yanagi's essay, which dwells on how to see beauty, presents several views which directly conflict with Dillard's views. Yanagi says, "Seeing is a born faculty . . . ." Yet one who has no experience cannot place what he or she looks at into context. For instance, people seldom remember the events that occurred before their second birthdays because they had little prior experience with which to associate the events and thus no way of forming a memory. As more experience is gained, the ability to see becomes possible. Therefore, Dillard is correct in saying that the ability to see comes from learning and experience. In addition, Yanagi states, "seeing and knowing form an exterior and an interior . . . " and are separate. However, Dillard's example of people who have cataract surgery disproves Yanagi's view. Those who have had no experience with seeing must revert back to their own way of "seeing" things, such as by touching, tasting, etc., even after they regain their sight because the sight of an object does not enable them to recognize the object. Thus, as Dillard proposed, knowing and seeing must work together to provide more knowledge. Yanagi also contends that if a work of art is picked apart by scrutinization, it will crumble because the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Dillard, on the other hand, says that only when one searches for the details can the artificial obvious, such as the deer, be discovered. Thus, Dillard's essay, rather than Yanagi's essay, helped me to grasp the concept of seeing, but it was not until I meditated in nature that I fully understood what it meant to really see.

My time of meditation allowed me to view a familiar place in a new light. I felt in touch with nature because I actually heard the crickets, and I felt the wind as it made my hair tickle my ears and my neck. I forced myself to pay close attention to the sights, sounds, and smells of the area, and I became an immediate nature lover. I was able to understand why environmentalists get so excited about saving the earth. Also, this closeness with nature permitted me to release my tensions and to develop an inner peace. Most importantly, though, I realized that unless one consciously perceives the details of life, details do not exist in one's mind. Therefore, I developed a process for seeing the details or artificial obvious all the time.

First, we should strain to see beyond the obvious because the obvious does not give us insight. In order to get beyond the obvious to the artificial obvious, we should create an artificial situation in which we interact with the object to find out what is artificial about the object. Interaction can include past experiences with the article or how the article affects one's self. Once interaction has taken place, we must generalize about the object in relation to its place in the world. Finally, we should look at the object as a new object included in our life. Thus, in order to gain sight of the "artificial obvious," we must go through the steps of private exploration, public or world exploration, and private reflection. The "artificial obvious," then, is a combination of all three elements, which is why it is so difficult to see at first.

The previously described process becomes useful when meeting new people because people are often predisposed to stereotype others based on appearance. For instance, people who do not know me well would never guess that I describe myself as a quilt with many varied pieces which form a uniquely, organized and interesting pattern. Some pieces are instantly noticeable, but others are very subtle and take longer to find and to discover how they fit into the total pattern. Several events in my life have caused temporary stains, but other have become permanent stains. At times the fabric has become torn, but it is usually mended easily and does not affect the overall form. Occasionally, the quilt is compactly folded up and tucked away, but most of the time it is spread out for all to see. Sometimes the quilt is used to comfort those who are cold. However, once those people are warm, it often gets pushed away. It would like to please everyone--those who want to enjoy it from a distance as a wall-hanging and those who want to experience it more personally as a coverlet. Yet, the quilt cannot perform such a feat, so it does its best to please as many people as possible. Some people dislike the first piece of the pattern and decide to move on to other quilts without looking any closer at my quilt. But if everyone would view the quilt's intricacies as unique details, rather than as deterring flaws, his or her views would change because he or she would see the artificial obvious in me.

Seeing the artificial obvious takes love, experience, and knowledge, rather than artificial eyes. Once one is able to truly "see" according to my definition, he or she can find the inner peace that comes from not taking the small details of objects for granted. After all, one will not be able to discover the quilts of life without learning to see the artificial obvious.

If you read all that, you are quite the devoted reader, and I thank you. I hope that there are no questions because I have no answers as I no longer know what all that meant! Class is officially adjourned.


Kellie said...

I alays love it when I go back and read something I've written that is good. It surprises me! A lot!

Anonymous said...

Well said, as always.

I find it interesting that Dillard's idea is to perceive something, one first has to love it. I find that an interesting subject in and of itself.

True agape love is, at some point, a choice that we make. So maybe, to some extent, what we truly perceive is a matter of choice as well.

Krista said...

Wow!! Surely you got an A on that one. Loved the quilt analogy!