Monday, July 28, 2014



As a rule, I do not stop on the street if someone is trying to get my attention, which may be why on this occasion I decided to stop.  The man I saw peripherally had been well-dressed.  He wore a turban and beard with a long moustache.  I assumed he was a sikh and because of his watch that he worked in the tech industry.  He had said, "Sir, you are going to be lucky." and he made a gesture that indicated something about the length of my forehead and the space between my eyebrows told him this.  At first, I thought he was lost and in need of directions, but he proceeded to tell me that my the last two years of my life had been a struggle.  He said this without any preface and with such confidence that it threw me off.  I was still expecting the request for directions when he told me that my mind was like a butterfly-- fluttering everywhere, but never staying in a single place.  Even at night, as I slept, it took long journeys. At the same time, I keep my heart too open.  I say too much.  I need to learn to guard my heart, but July was to be the month.  The struggles I endured over the last two years were about to end. I remained, despite having a limited time, to see where this was going.  It was an original approach and the man's dress, demeanor and confidence did not point towards the usual direction of a street encounter with a stranger in New York.  He asked if he could read my palm and while he did so he balled up a piece of paper then placed it in my hand then asked me a series of personal questions.  I asked him his name.  He said, Yogi.  I gave Yogi a few of the answers he wanted, smirking when he asked something I did not want to say.  The paper he had placed in my hand came from a small pad he kept within a leather case with his PDA and a picture of what I took to be a holy man, because it resembled an orthodox icon in its execution, but showed a smiling man with long black hair, a yellow line on his forehead and dot between his eyebrows and a single hand raised in blessing.  While I answered, he wrote my answers on his small pad.  He asked what I desired for the future.  I said peace and prosperity.  He had difficulty understanding this part, so I repeated it for him two more times and I watched him write words that appear phonetically similar to the words I just said, but in reality were closer to pears and property.  I let him know that I was short on time and he said okay, he was done with his questions.  He asked if I had anything I could give him as a sign that I believed my luck would change.  At this, I smiled, more broadly than the man in the icon in his PDA, and he could tell he was revealed in this moment, but he did not ask directly for money.  "This is by far the most original interaction I've had on the street," I told him and gave him a dollar, which he set over the face of the icon in his leather attache. He then asked me to look at the paper in my palm, but bumped my wrist, as if by accident.  The paper was so light, it dropped by our feet and I reached down to pick it up.  Written on the the paper were the answers to each of the questions.  I asked him his name again and he said, "Yogi.  But you will not remember it. Remember instead that July will be your lucky month, that your struggles are over." I wished Yogi good luck as well then walked away.  

In Treasure Island, the reader does not encounter Ben Gunn until the latter half of the book, when the crew has reached the island upon which he was marooned by Captain Flint.  Whatever happens in the first half of the book, Ben Gunn remains in the distant background on the island completely unaware of what is happening in the foreground, that his rescue is growing more imminent.  Likewise Jim Hawkins, Squire Trelawney, and Dr. Livesey are completely unaware of Ben Gunn's existence, just as they are unaware of the true nature of their cook or a good portion of the crew upon their ship.  The mutiny prepares the reader for the reality of Ben Gunn and when we do meet him, we are not confronted with the fact that his isolation has been a predication of the adventure that has come so far, it is placed upon the actions of Captain Flint who marooned the man years before. His remove from the mechanics of the story that preceded him are so perfect, that the characters have been either entirely ignorant of his existence or so perfectly mute to the possibility that he becomes a physical stand in for the unknown quotient within each character, the embodiment of the unspoken and of the unknown.

The life of a solitary castaway has always struck me as a kind of zen koan.  If a person exists in total isolation, do they still exist?  It goes back to that notion of publicity--- whether we learn to speak of our inner life or leave it there unfulfilled, do we require evidence to know it's there?  If we never learn to speak of it, it remains only a possibility and not yet a reality.  But if a castaway could be real and possess thoughts and follow actions, what proof would he or she require that they still existed outside of their hunger, their boredom, their loneliness?  The castaway is placed just at the utter end of human experience. Whatever record a castaway leaves of their experience, whether out of a habit of consolation bred to break up the monotony of the days or out of the hope of discovery, it becomes the inverse of that latent inner life. The record of the castaway's reality becomes a possibility, posited on the accident of discovery--  a person that was real and whose experiences were irrevocably apart from the rest of ours.  That is, there's always the possibility that someone will find a small island in the Pacific and on that small island written on the walls of a cave, the sign of a life, or within the cave just a small pile of remains judged to be human, modern and in the muteness of the walls a story too grim to imagine, or a testament to time spent alone.        

Christ was born a millennium before the Montefeltro chapel was built. This image foregrounds the duke's devotion by depicting Christ within his presence.  This is an early example of a political devotional painting, where the Duke's patronage to the church is the painting's main  subject.  The infant in the center of the painting, along with a number of assembled luminaries are examples of an historical/temporal vanishing point. The logical concerns of both time and space are erased in order to bring a historically and spiritually symbolic moment into the foreground. We ignore the implication of anachronism because devotional scenes became common throughout the Renaissance, but the irruption of the infant Jesus, like the Kool Aid man of early proportional painting, served as a spiritual reminder of the magic of transubstantiation, where sacramental bread becomes the body of Christ. 

One of the interesting things about franchises is that they provide the visual promise of sameness. In this way they break apart distances.  If you want McDonald's, you'll go to the one that's closest-- unless you know that one to be particularly bad. The idea being that the visual similarity of a fast food chain creates a broken landscape, where every few miles or every few hundred feet, depending upon where you live in the world, you will find the reminder of that thing you once ate and may crave and you can be assured of its similarity to the one you ate before and this, though the similarity belies a whole universe of rules that must be followed by the owner and staff of the restaurant, is another vanishing point, a four dimensional one meant to create a kind of parallel continuum where a particular flavor or mouthfeel can be found within a regulated, well-maintained space. Through franchising rights, blueprints and zoning laws, this continuum is executed so that a thing you desire, a thing you tasted before or encountered on TV, can be as convenient to your current location as possible. A point of reliance, a piece of food taken out of time and space, underwhelming when unwrapped, but eaten just the same.