On the brink of sharing presents for Christmas, yet feeling guilty that most of all I would like to shower myself with the ultimate gift, that of making myself invisible and disappear (I’m tempted by Norway), I think of three things:
1. One of my sister’s favorite quotes, a law – Murphy’s law:
“Blessed be the ones who don’t expect anything. They will never be disappointed.”
2. Levinas’s theory of the naked face filtered through H.D.’s poetry:
“What was it you saw in my face?
The light of your own face,
The fire of your own presence?” (Eurydice)
3. New York
The first point I dismiss quickly. It doesn’t go at all with the little book about the history of infinity that I’m reading. Not with all that abstract boundlessness that Shakespeare offers:
“My bounty is as boundless as the sea
My love as deep; the more I give to thee,
The more I have, for both are infinite.” (Romeo and Juliet, II. ii. 33)
or the more concrete type that Robert Frost talks about:
"They cannot scare me with their empty spaces
Between stars – on stars where no human race is
I have it in me so much nearer home
To scare myself with my own desert places." (A Further Range, Desert Places)
The second point I consider only briefly, since it takes longer to think about the possible implications of the possible answers to H.D.’s question. The scariest, and yet perhaps the most beautiful and absolute scenario would be taking stock of Blake’s famous formulation:
“If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.” (The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, A Memorable Fancy)
The third point, one that conflates space and place together through ways of seeing, or rather perceiving how we become part of one another, makes me think that the complexity of images – haptic, graphic, mental, verbal – created by what we imagine, project, and expect from each other is a vortex of unfolding a force of movement. We move each other, if, when, and how we think of each other. Sometimes this thought materializes in specific acts: acts of courtesy, acts of goodness, acts of love.
Now, one would like to ask: is there such a thing, as, for instance, courtesy of the absolute? Yes, I’d say, but never when we expect it. Here’s an example – a story, almost Hollywood style – but what the heck, if you put on the TV, you’ll be hit by a wave of romantic comedies, so a bit of sentimentality today, given that I’m still here, should be ok. In 2000 and 2001 I was in New York for several months doing research. I made friends with Sam, the Korean owner of Sam’s fruit and bagels bar on 8th Ave. and 52nd street, because I would pop in at regular but strange hours around midnight for watermelon and bagels. A quiet time, when Sam, who could barely speak a word of English even after 25 years in NYC, would feel less stressed and in my sole presence would pick up courage to ask me things. He soon found out that I went to the opera every night. He was horrified. He was sure that such extravagance must have been hard on my pocket, so without ever asking what I could afford, he simply insisted that my food be on the house. When I left New York, he cried. He gave me a box of Royal Jelly. I felt like a queen.
If I return to the first thought, on a day to day basis, Murphy has a point. In the absence of courteous acts, especially when we expect them, we must find a way to deal with our disappointment. We must go with the ‘so it goes.’ On the second thought, we must be grateful for the way in which others see us, especially if it touches us. So, gifts for Christmas. Why not? Here’s a thought for you all: when words fail us, “touch reminds us that reality is made up of others; touch is a lesson in objectivity.” (Sallie McFague, Super, Natural Christians)