Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Can we look anew?

There is a part of everything which is unexplored, because we are accustomed to using our eyes only in association with the memory of of what people before us have thought we were looking at.
Flaubert, quoted in preface to Pierre and Jean, in Maupassant's 'The Novel'
James Wood quotes Flaubert in How Fiction Works. Wood attributes the rise of the modern novel to Flaubert. But what interested me was the observation above, in a section where Wood is talking about the satisfaction of specific detail. I'll come back to that in another post.

Our minds are the repositories of stories. We tell stories about people we know, we imagine we know their lives, outer and inner. We tell stories about the places we live in, and about the jobs we do. The most powerful of these stories has to do with how we feel about ourself, "...this is the sort of person I am". This most powerful of stories tends to be at the heart of all the stories we tell.

Each time we encounter something in the world, a loved one, the view from a mountain top, a favourite book in a library, we receive it through the eyes of these stories. I am the person who loves you, we have this history together... and so on.

Flaubert's point is that we not only encounter the world through these personal stories, but that we encounter the world through the eyes and memories of others. We inherit stories, from our peers, from our parents and increasingly from the media.

When we see the Union Jack flying, we have a sense of history, of an Empire perhaps and whatever feelings that might bring up, pride or shame. We are full of stories. Who amongst us would only see a few red and blue triangles, printed onto a white rectangle of fabric?

There is a part of each thing which is hidden from us. We obscure with stories, as much as we enlighten with them.

The act of really paying attention is not to ignore these stories, but to see the transparency of them, to see them but to look beyond to the mystery too.

What mysteries will you uncover today?


  1. I find it exciting that we all can look upon objects, people, places, etc. and yet we all have our own association with those things, different to everyone else's and probably unique.

    I need to keep reminding myself to slow down more in order to encounter the mysteries. :)

  2. Hi Eliza, yes it is exciting :) Thanks for joining us in this.

  3. Today I am remembering and telling a story about my daughter on my blog...she is 17, it is her birthday. Last night we sat together, just the two of us reminding each other of beloved memories...the mysteries of her perspective and mine unraveling and entangling, becoming a new story.

  4. Today I will step outside myself to observed myself - my interactions with others, my words, my thoughts. I will learn more of me. Thank you for the meditation.

  5. Thanks for sharing Laura - isn't it amazing how when we talk about something we have both experienced, it becomes something new?

    And Pen, you're welcome...

  6. Just wanted you to know how much I love and appreciate your project!

    Have a lovely day!

  7. Thank you Mimi - lovely to hear!

  8. I wander the river looking at the beauty of the stones. I pause and pick one up to examine, put it back gently and select another. These stones are not for skipping joyfully across a calm river, to become lost in the depths, they are to be enjoyed for the moment and put back exactly as found. From the heaviest stone to the smallest pebble, they fit perfectly into the river of your creation. Thank you