Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Periodic Inventory

The shadows on the wall of Plato’s cave, the neon signs in a foreign country whose language we don’t speak, the shape of a cloud that Hamlet and Polonius both saw one afternoon in the sky, the sign Bois-Charbons that (according to Andre Breton) spells Police when seen from a certain angle, the writing that the ancient Sumerians thought that they could read in the footprints left by birds in the mud of the Euphrates, the mythological figures that the Greek astronomers recognized in the connectable dots of distant stars, the name of Allah that the faithful have seen in an open avocado and in the logo for Nike sportswear, God’s fiery writing on the wall of Belshazzar’s palace, sermons and books that Shakespeare found in stones and running brooks, the tarot cards through which Italo Calvino’s traveler read universal stories in The Castle of Crossed Destinies, landscapes and figures recognized by eighteenth-century travelers in the veins of marbled rocks, the ripped notice on a billboard reinstated in a painting by Tàpies, Heraclitus’s river that is also the flowing of time, the tea leaves at the bottom of a cup in which the Chinese sages believe they can read our lives, the shattered vase of Lugan Sahib that almost became whole in front of Kim’s incredulous eyes, Tennyson’s flower in the crannied wall, the eyes of Neruda’s dog in which the unbelieving poet saw God, the He kohau rongorongo or “speaking wood” from Easter Island that we know holds a message undeciphered to this day, the city of Buenos Aires that for the blind Jorge Luis Borges was “a map of my humiliations and failures,” the stitches in the cloth of the Sierra Leone tailor Kisimi Kamala in which he saw the future alphabet of the Mende script, the wandering whale that St. Brendan took for an island, the three peaks of the Rocky Mountains that outline the profiles of three sisters against the western Canadian sky, the philosophical geography of a Japanese garden, the wild swans at Coole in which Yeats unriddled our transience — all these offer or suggest, or simply allow, a reading limited only by our capabilities.

- Alberto Manguel, Reading Pictures: What We Think About When We Look at Art (7-9)

1 comment:

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