Or Vertigo Without Fear of Falling
I like edges. I like where one thing stops and another starts. I cherish those points of contact, abrupt or indistinct as they may be, whether between atoms or idioms, between states of mind or states of matter.
Left: There are always faces in the foam, and explanation I find far more convincing than pinning the genealogy of mermaids on the rounded, if convenient, shoulders of the dugong and the manatee. Something of the Walter Crane in the curving wave, to see horses, sea horses. Or perhaps a glimpse of those sudden waves at Loudwater.
Center: Was it Peter Pan that Hook left marooned on a rock, at the mercy of the tides, to await the drowning waves? Rocks are always solitary, brave and doomed, though they never drown, even when the waves meet over their heads.
Right: A mooring post, the boat is gone, drifting down to Camelot. Or out to sea, to either the Isles of Serendip or the waterfall around the edge of the world. Or perhaps these are Mervyn Peake’s wistful and Desolate Shores, where we light a red fire and warm our paws, and sing us a song of the Long Before?
… the sea’s edge. Water, rock, sand and pebble, that place between the tides where it’s all noise and rolling and rushing and retreating and returning. A few yards of turmoil or gentle rising falling. It’s hypnotic, especially for a land creature like me who likes something solid under his feet – more the limpet than the albatross, I’m afraid. I pick up shells there, often the broken ones, where the intimate spiraled center is naked, Fibonacci of calcium carbonate, fractal and fragile, inviting helix around which I wrap my thoughts, like two hands, fingers intertwined.
… the edges of cultures, where they meet other cultures and intermingle, imitate, initiate, borrow and exchange. Where one flows into another, like a river into the sea. Where they create a vast delta of channels and waterways, complex, intertwining, everchanging. So many of the most beautiful things ever made have their origins in those places, from Axum to Zanzibar, La Tène to Oxiana, from Moorish architecture to Art Nouveau. All have somehow a harmony that is troubling and fragile, not meant to last, but ageless because of that.
Left: Some strange piece of agricultural equipment left to rust…
Center: If there is one image that springs to mind when I think of heaven (whatever, whenever and wherever that might be) it is water running over green grass. Sudden rains, enough to make rivulets that escape and wander down slopes: clear water running, bright emerald grass. All that’s missing is music, but is that because we are so accustomed to soundtracks? Music of rain and wind at very least, then.
Right: Merlin’s Wood, or perhaps the woods below Camelot (at the crest of that hill, just out of frame). True Pre-Raphaelite trees… missing but a brave knight and true, and the Lady of Shalott.
… the edges of story, where go those things too restless to fit between the lines. Devout medieval copists allowed the marvelous to gyre and gimble in the margins of their sacred texts. In the same manner, the gargoyle leers from cathedral parapets. Always leaning over the edge, as pious and profane rub shoulders, exchanging grimaces and trading jokes.
… the word itself. It has a geometry of economy. A compilation of consonants; no lingering vowels or susurrating syllables. Etymologically, it goes way back, to those convenient and amenable Indo-Europeans, on whom we bestow so many things that we cannot see the edge of, so far back is it in time. “Edge” has an edge to it. Old English ecg “corner, edge, point,” also means “sword” (cf. ecgplega, lit. “edge play,” ecghete, lit. “edge hate”). Both are used poetically to describe battle. In turn, this comes from Pan Germanic agjo (cf. O. Fr. egg “edge;” O. S. eggia “point, edge;” M.Du. egghe, Du. eg; O.N. egg; O.H.G. ecka, Ger. Eck “corner”), from PIE base ak, meaning “sharp, pointed” (cf. Skt. asrih “edge,” L. acies, Gk. akis “point;”). Razor’s edge as a perilous narrow path translates the Greek epi xyrou akmes. To have (one’s) teeth on edge is from late 14th century. As a verb, edge “advance slowly” is originally a nautical term, first recorded in the 1620’s. Quite a pedigree for a word so curt.
… the edges of the paper upon which I draw, the arbitrary inconvenience of format, the necessity to frame with a non-line that does not really exist. The autarchic edge that defines what is in any picture, what is explicit, what implicit. The narrative edge of any drawing has little to do with layouts and graphics, it’s all about not including the spectator, keeping them to the edge of the action.
… the edge of the point of my pencils, where the graphite meets the welcoming paper and leaves those edges of gesture we call lines. Put end to end, for a large sketch, how long would that edge be? Isn’t it a good thing that it is pointless and impossible to measure such things? Besides, we never see things as they are, do we? We see them as we are.
Left: Medusa’s head, forgotten by a distracted Perseus, or a Gorgoneion carelessly dropped by Zeus or Athena. Been looking, recently, for more archaic images of Greek mythology, less the classical, the stylized, but something older, harsher and closer to the origins of myth. Finding a few answers, between high tide and low. Beaches are dotted with the apotropaic, the chthonic, the insignificant and the divine. You choose.
Center: Slashed tyres and triffids… I can spend hours watching them roil in the waves when the tide is at the right height, and wondering HOW to capture that restless writhing. Surely it’s impossible to render. All the more reason to keep watching.
Right: Sea lions in the ancient bestiaries came complete with manes and claws. Modern ones are rather sleeker.
… the edges of people, the translucence of skin where the light folds around features or filters through hair or molds limbs in that eternal impermanence that movement has and that image-catchers chase after so assiduously with pencils, paints and lenses, though the result can only ever be a shadow of a shadow. Or touching the edges of people’s lives… sometimes fleetingly, some times more enduringly.
I like edges because they are the surprising horizon of complex forms, arbitrary and particular to our points of view. Edges define us; where we perceive them defines where we stand, whether we’ve chosen the spot or it has chosen us.
I like edges because you can learn to see around them, to understand the verso of the recto. Edges are nothing but the temporary temporal template of… Just. One. Moment. That’s what an edge is. There and not there. A straitjacket and a mirage, it all depends where you stand. Suggesting the volumes by “wrapping” the light around them, far more satisfying than images whose edges are simply too crisp and flat. A practical concern as well as philosophical, softening those hard edges left by masking tape.
I like edges that have aged; crumbled stone or brick. Strange how time blunts edges, or fashions them anew and how little of that we can really see, living as we do split-second by split-second on the rim of the past, poised on the Occam’s edge of the present, leaning into the future. We are now. Always now, studious tightrope walkers all our lives, against a backdrop of was or will be.
… the purposeful edge of day, and the trailing hem of night. That moving circular swath that passes over us and governs our lives, as do the edges of seasons, poised and tumbling headlong into one another, somehow more meaningful than the edges of the years, of which we make so much, with countdowns to midnight and raised glasses. Also because edge of light is edge of night. Edge of left, edge of right. Through the looking-glass backwards.
Left: Sheep to shore… was Tasman feeling homesick or simply stoutly patriotic when he named New Holland halfway across the globe? Nonetheless, time has proved him right, the country is dotted with farm animals and windmills. Inquisitive sheep making guest-appearance on edge of image.
Center: The rough-hewn rock is like one of Bilbo’s Stone Trolls, wandered off a bit too far from his mates and forgot the rising sun. Or maybe it’s just a rock.
Right: Mist is the watercolour wash dawn does, before painting the daylight in full. Sometimes it flows, a slow waterfall, over ridges and down valleys.
… the edges of thoughts and words. I like where words touch to make a new word: day and dream, moon and struck and thousands more. Always wondering when those words met, when they edged closer and finally joined destinies. Words are always on the move. Concatenation. And portmanteau. (Thank you, Lewis Carroll.) All mimsy were the allomorphs and the morphemes outgrabe…
… the Edge of the Wild, the world beyond the round green door with the gilded doorknob, down the road to Wilderland (bewilder-land perhaps, “wilder” is an obsolete word meaning to lead or go astray). Or the Edge of the World, when it might have been flat, where there might have been a place where it stopped. Anticipation with a tincture of trepidation, on the edge of uncharted territory… whether geographical or metaphorical.
…. The edge of memory, those half-remembered things, lost melodies, of which only a few notes remain. Memory and dream have more in common than we think. We slide in and out of one and the other ceaselessly, sometimes in both, sometimes in neither. (Sidelong glimpses seem to work best, as there is a certain persistence of vision on the very edge of it.) The mnemonics of metonymy and synecdoche. Tatterdemalion’s coat-tails, disappearing around a street corner into dusk and distance… fades with the music from the last edge of memory. Where do things go when they are indeed forgotten?
“Striking sphinx,” I initially said. “I can see the paws, but where’s the head?”
“Sounded at first as though you’d lost yours,” was the reply, “but I see it now, or rather, where it isn’t any more.” Been reading a lot lately about where the contours of geography meet the edges of myth, about the origins of the landscapes of the mind. Privately, been regretting that they are always written by scientists, who greedily grasp at the most mundane of straws to explain those things they can only truly guess at. Myth isn’t necessarily science soluble.
Photo by Imola Unger
… the Edge of Myth. If there is one place that defies description, that cannot be accurately mapped, it is that place. Somewhere in the land of myth-image, beyond the predictable geography of the Euhemerist, deep in the world-before, , where there existed a dialogue we can no longer truly grasp. Mythology comes from a time before the world was a thing. As modern humans, we live in the era of “It”, where the workings of the world around us are explained scientifically. We do not need to know too many things; we can look them up in books and encyclopedias if we wish. Knowledge is less what our heads can hold than what books our local library can loan us, or what clever keywords we can type into a search engine.
For thousands of years, humanity lived in a somehow richer age, the time of “Thou” when the world needed to be addressed as one would another living, reasoning creature, moreover an occasionally fickle, unpredictable and implacable one. Life could be hard, life needed to be negotiated. An age of propitiation, of dialogue, of thanks-giving. If fire came forth when stones were struck together, then the fire was contained inside the stone, imprisoned until it was freed. To better explain, to more easily remember, a story was made, a tale of flint and how it swallowed fire, so that the knowledge could be passed along and its importance live on undiminished. (I often think stories grow like that. Like a stone, patiently waiting to become a flint.)
Naturally, when these stories no longer explained nature, they were still told, but they were no longer myth, since what they held that was sacred had come to be understood in another way. They became folk tales, fairy tales, old wives’ tales, and joined other dusty books on library shelves. And, while we still told the same stories, we forgot their meaning, and now, if we smile or shrug a little too easily when we read curious legends, it’s just because we read the names but no longer know what they truly mean…
But most of all… I like the edge between words and images, where they touch and overlap, where they fill in each other’s blanks. Where each leaves things unsaid, because the other says them better. Perched upon one, I like leaning out and peering into the depths and distances of the other. Vertigo, but without danger of falling. And, come to think of it, guess I’ve been describing that place all along; just the words and pictures change.
Postscriptum: Given the most complex nature of the next step tracking the sphinx’s pawprints, I’ve given it an extra month, to try and collect and organize my thoughts as best I can. Will pick up the their tracks then. Saw some paws of late, the trail cannot be far off.
Special thanks to Ann Carling and Imola Unger