Archive for November, 2011

Message in a Bottle

The bottle was mostly buried, a glimpse of neck, a cork three quarters inside. I have always thought of the message in a bottle as a nautical thing, a signal from a deserted island. But who’s to say a message in a bottle cannot be buried? The action of the ground expels what is within; rocks rising out of the hills of Ireland, tombstones rising out of the graveyards of Prague. A message, instead of arriving at a place chosen by the current and the tide, arrives at a time chosen by the weather and the earth.

The message in this bottle is indecipherable. It is hand-written, and at first examination, the letters appear to belong to our alphabet. But as you look closer, you begin to see the aberrations—that there is a wave in the cross of the t, that there are some letters o written at the baseline and some sliced in half by it, that there are so many dashes the dash must be a letter. No letter is quite the one it looks like, what appears to be a letter is often a combination of others, and there are rarer symbols, a square, a triangle. The text taken whole is evocative, is suggestive of meaning; you almost see the words emerge from it, you almost hear it speak. But when you focus on these flickers of intelligibility, they bounce like the floaters in your eye, or else they dissolve. The language you lost as a child. The dream you are forgetting. The revelation you will channel without apprehending.

I prefer the message from the bottle exactly as it is, beyond reach. The attempt at reaching is message enough, the failure at decoding is even better. With it I am simply in our perpetual condition: ears turned and straining to each other, to the march of history, to the genome, to the edges of mathematics, to music and the arts, to the very echo of the cosmos, for some quiet message. Any. And just when we think the message is revealed to us, it is the opposite. The symbols I have strained over have not bared their meaning to me, but they have laid me bare.

The true madness is to imagine that any god we contemplate can be captured within the contemplation. We are not even able to visualize a four-dimensional solid or an imaginary number. We will soon be able to create intelligences that can. We are so limited our own machines will surpass us. In the ancient stories, a glimpse of the almighty can turn the prophet blind. The word that cannot be contained in a word has never revealed itself, but has revealed us, has never made us whole, but has made us naked.

What are we so frightened of, that the moment we turn from the work of art, from the song, from the unutterable notion of the divine, to face each other, we immediately conceal and repress ourselves?

It may be a long time before I am any good for you. I will never be complete until I can try my hardest to understand, and be sustained in the knowing that I never will.