The anatomy of perception (2)

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Anatomy of Perception


For this section, I borrowed a story from Dale, who was responding in turn to Susan’s question about the senses. Once again, the epigraph is from Pascal, and the subject, as in Dale’s story, is the late critic Cleanth Brooks.

UPDATE: Lines 5-8 of second stanza rewritten (10/31) in response to an objection from Dale (see comments).


Having assurance only because we see with our whole sight, it puts us into surprise and suspense when another with his whole sight sees the opposite . . . For we must prefer our own lights to those of so many others, and that is bold and difficult.

When the scholar’s eyesight fades,
what good are his books?
His library turns as unreadable
as Lascaux: scriptless drama of shapes
on the walls of a cave, the artifice
unglossed within the viscera
where the quarry – tissue
of allusions
– still bristles
with bookmarks. That flux of the world
of becoming:
to capture is
to kill it. Decipherment leads to loss.
The dance must be primary, he wrote.

I acted briefly as amanuensis,
lent him my eyes for a paper he had to give.
Bending to my task, I felt
of little use, a cheap fiction.
My West Coast accent flattened
the words he loved, robbed them
of shadows – like trading embossed
leather covers for a paperback spine.
Perhaps he sensed, even then, the germ
I carried on my youthful breath,
insidious as any misty paraphrase,
corrosive as hope.

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