These Are the Implements of Our Lives

You know the sound if you’ve heard it once. In spring, in my small-town housing development, the tree-trimmers come around to tidy up the neighborhood, to make sure it keeps that suburban feel, and the tree-chipper gets tuned to its high pitch, then grinds instantaneously down to a lower key as tree branches turn poof to mulch. It is by definition Leo Marx’s “machine in the garden”: that technological dynamo which disrupts the pastoral of our lives and forces us to a deeper complexity. But does it? Wood chipper, chain saw, lawn mower — these are what the suburban landscapes of our lives are built on. Where’s the rub?

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The Space Between

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“In his 1951 essay ‘Transitional Objects and Transitional Phenomena,’ British psychologist D. W. Winnicott wrote, ‘It is in the space between inner and outer worlds, which is also the space between people — the transitional space — that intimate relationships and creativity occur.’” - quoted by Alexandra Enders in “The Importance of Place: Where Writers Write and Why” (“The Literary Life,” Poets and Writers, March/April 2008) Read More

The Ethics of Elfland

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In his book Orthodoxy, G. K. Chesterton wrote a chapter evocatively titled “The Ethics of Elfland,” in which he relates how his philosophy of the real world is best mirrored in the world of classical fairy tales (think Brothers Grimm, Andrew Lang, George MacDonald, or the like). For example, the nature of the world in a fairy tale is magic; for Chesterton, likewise, the real world itself is magic. As he stated, “stories of magic alone can express my sense that life is not only a pleasure but a kind of eccentric privilege.” The world of the fairy tale and our own world are equally inexplicable in terms of why they are there or are the way they are. Both are equally startling and unnecessary, equally wonderful. Reality is a pure gift. The sun and planets and stars all “hang about” in the sky. Does “gravity” make that fact any more inherently explicable since gravity itself just adds one more thing equally inexplicable in its being and nature as the rest? Is the explanation of gravity any less peculiar, or indeed logically any different — on an ontological level — from saying that a magic spell holds them there?

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I think this is a metaphor.

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In the winter quarter of my junior year of college, I convinced my roommates to run away from school. It was 1973 and I was nineteen years old. We drove from Bowling Green, Ohio to Chicago, and after three days of feeding our stomachs with deep-dish pizza and 3.2 beer it seemed right to feed our souls with a trip to the Art Institute of Chicago. We wandered from one gallery to the next, when we stumbled upon a special exhibit featuring the works of contemporary artists. On a far wall was a massive painting of the head of an attractive woman. It was by the American artist, Chuck Close and it was unlike anything I had ever seen. Read More