Guest Post, Nancy Mitchell: Musing on Reverie, End of 2019

Recently I came across notes for a paper I presented in 2010 for the Geo-Aesthetics in the Anthropocene conference in Salisbury, Maryland. Nine years ago. The term “anthropocene” had not yet been assimilated into the collective vocabulary beyond the academic culture. Spell check still doesn’t recognize it. Although many of our waking hours were increasingly spent behind the computer screen, social media had not yet exploded, and what my colleagues and I had heard of it we scorned as the height of hubris and vanity: Facebook-how aptly named. We were artists, individualists-we did not join! 

I look at these notes in wonder and cringe at how earnest, clueless and naive I was about what was coming and what we were to become. I include them below:

“As a writer, primarily of poetry, I can testify to the veracity of Gaston Bachelard’s assertion in The Poetics of Reverie that solitary contemplation of the natural world is the transcendent vehicle to poetic reverie, the wellspring of the poetic impulse, which will give birth to a new born poetic image-a simple image, with will be the seed of a new poem. I know so well of how all the senses awaken and fall into harmony with poetic reverie and how my writing depends on this harmony. Yet, at this moment, the crisp, sea-scented breeze clicking the lacquered leaves of a magnolia like castanets vies with the petty dramas unfolding in e-mail on the flat screen of my computer. Will I respond to this invitation and take twenty minutes before my next class to sit, bundled against the bracing fresh air, on a bench in the sunny courtyard, or will I, as I seem to do with more frequency, use the time to respond to this e-mail, or add my two cents to a blog? Will I choose the cold glare of the computer screen instead of the sun’s warm glow on my face? Will I miss the opportunity to wonder at how the bare, slender branches of a familiar tree could have supported the profusion of leaves that swayed in the summer breeze as gracefully as furled silk, how the tree is like a seemingly voluptuous woman who, in shedding the ruffles of her bell-skirted ball gown, reveals her slight frame?  I see my colleagues hunched over their computers and wonder and if I’m alone in this struggle. I know very well the deadlines, committee meetings etc., which suffice to explain why a committed relationship with natural world is so difficult to sustain; yet I’m beginning to think these are not reasons but rather excuses.

Rilke writes… beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror. Why terror and terror of what? There are reveries so deep, Bachelard writes, that help us to descend so deeply within ourselves that they rid us of our histories. They liberate us from our name. In reverie we are situated in the present, the now, in which we are not defined by our past or are pulled to the imagined trajectory of the future. We are liberated from our name, from what “we do,” what we have “done,” and what “we will do,” and must dwell instead in what we are in that moment, without the mirrors that constantly reflect our importance, our identity. Without these affirmations, we do not know who we are, and nameless, we are terrified, terrified that we will lose our selves rather than find ourselves within ourselves.”

Who could have imagined that nine years later, a century of selfies, so many of us would be caught in the vortex of social media, designed to be endlessly self referential, a meta-loop propelled by the centrifugal force of the most powerful of all addiction— intermittent reinforcement. Never have we been so far from being liberated from our names, of being rid of our histories. But look what we get—all these hundreds, thousands of friends!

Friends Here

All we are now
is floating text
next to a thumbnail
of the body
we left. We reminisce
on all the ways a warm
body feels against
another body, how
voices sound
so differently in fog
than in the dark
and day and everything
the smell of rain
changes. We try
not to complain
about the constant
ache of the phantom
body and to be grateful:
we like each other;
we have emojis.

–from The Out-of-Body Shop

There is growing evidence that use of our personal electronic devices is becoming a major contributor to climate change.

If we could save the planet by giving up our cell phones, our tablets, our PCs—would we do it?

We talk the talk with such passionate intensity, but can we walk the walk?

Is that Rome I smell burning, again?

Nancy Mitchell
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