Thursday, January 20, 2011

our sphere is not the only way

I took notes in class while we were discussing Hawthorne's "The Minister's Black Veil", and one of the things I wrote down was "there is no meaning in anything. Meaning is a human perception and way to find/create order." In The American Scholar Emerson says "what is classification but the perceiving that these objects are not chaotic, and are not foreign, but have a law which is also a law of the human mind?" Nature is man's perception of it.

If a person does not have a 'concrete' meaning or explanation for something, their minds will germinate into knots trying to figure out an explanation, and will not stop until the sturdy tree of explanation is found to rest under. But, not everything needs an explanation, and that concept is very hard to grasp sometimes, because as humans, we fear the unknown. In "The Minister's Black Veil", the parishioners allowed themselves to live a life of dis-ease because of the obsession of what Father Hooper's veil might mean. I understand how Father Hooper might be considered a villain, and how as a pastor he shouldn't have necessarily brought this gloom onto his parishioners, but ultimately it was they themselves who allowed the gloom to linger. It's a situation of mind over matter. A person's life is what that person makes of it, how that person deals with the cards dealt. Also, Father Hooper's donning the veil at a whim, with whatever notion he had, and with whatever time-span he intended it to be, it eventually grew into this permanent exiling burden that defined the rest of his life. It was the idea, the principle, the lesson, that he felt he could not deter from or go back on. But I was told that it is okay to contradict yourself.

In Hawthorne's "The Birth Mark," Alymer allowed his thoughts to wander about Georgina's birthmark. In his mind, the birthmark went from a mark on the surface, to a terrible gash deep within. The story says "selecting it [the birthmark] as the symbol of his wife's liability to sin, sorrow, decay, and death, Alymer's somber imagination was not long in rendering the birth-mark a frightful object…" In the beginning, Georgina loved her mark, but because of Alymer's feelings towards it, she began to detest it as much as he did; and eventually, his imagination wondering what it might 'mean' wandered into dangerous territory, which eventually led to her death.

The human mind is a very powerful thing, and I believe that we can eventually convince ourselves that anything is true. I was in Wyoming, walking down the Granite Canyon trail, in the Grand Teton Mountain range; all around me were huge mountains, lush green shrubbery, a clear blue creek, and a pale blue sky overhead. I was so overwhelmed that I felt the need to thank something or some One. Then, it suddenly hit me; I realized that this is how it must have started long long ago, before religion and the belief in a creator. The immense and tantalizing landscape calls forth in humans the demand for an explanation. This beauty could not just be, it had to have been made; but by whom or what? And so, with our great imaginations, we began to ponder and to find "clues" that led us to many explanations.

When a seed is planted, it will sprout and germinate, and can sometimes grow into a huge, seemingly immovable tree. The tree means we've found an explanation. Eventually having the tree will force us to forget about other trees (or possibilities), and that one seed becomes fact. From this "fact" we form habits and everlasting traditions. In "The Great Lawsuit," Fuller phrases it as "the slavery of habit." We contain ourselves in a "sphere" and forget that the present way is not the only way.

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