Visual Sound

I'm sitting at my desk typing this and, out of the corner of my eye, I keep seeing a piece of white cardboard.  It's probably around three feet from me.  Meanwhile, from the other room, Frank Ocean sings and mutters to me.

Where, I ask you, is this sound?  Well, it's right here, in this room. Sure, it comes from the living room but, as everyone knows, sound travels. And so what emanates from the living room is not just in this room, it's winding into my ears, into my body.

Now what about that piece of cardboard? My instinct is to say it's over there. But if it's over there, how come it feels so close, impossibly close, like it's in my eye, in my head, in my body?

Vision is strange. It eliminates distance, folding the horizon into my body — and, I suppose, folding my body into the ocean (pace Merleau-Ponty and his erotic chiasm). 

When I see something, I take it up — with my eyes. It's tempting to imagine seeing as distant, as not touching. But to see is to grasp — in the words of Merleau-Ponty, to palpate. I love that: to see is to handle, to finger, to touch, to grasp, to molest, to fiddle and fondle. Vision happens at a remove but, super hero like, is able to bring that thing that's three feet away, 1000 yards away, 90 million miles way right here!

But it's not just that the thing sits there and I, with my super sticky eyes, grasp it. It, that thing, traverses all the space to come to me. In fact, even if I don't want to take it up, have it enter my body, it hurls itself at me across the room or across the cosmos.

Space, then, is not empty. That cardboard and I are not sitting in empty space. No, we are sitting in an infinitely dense space, a space filled with all these things — desk, screen, pen, pad, books, dust, phone, glass of gin — traversing space, becoming elongated, stretching themselves to me.  I am a focal point thanks to my eyes — my eyes which are as much fingers as they are ears, able to reach but also at the mercy of what presents itself.

One of my favorite things is watching a dog's ears move — they are literally feeling their way through and amongst sounds. I can't do that.  My ears just sit there and all the noise of the world pours in. I filter somewhat, tuning out this and that. But all that sound pours right on in.

The same is true of sight. I filter, even closing my eyes now and again. But so much, impossibly much, pours into my body through my eyes.

So then I look around my apartment, my bachelor apartment that is sometimes co-inhabited by an eight year old boy. There is stuff everywhere — legos, wads of tape, scraps of paper, socks, crumbs, stray lettuce. These things ricochet through this space creating a cacophony until, one day, I can't stand the sound and begin picking up the scraps, vacuuming the dust, tossing the lettuce in the compost, putting 4,327 lego pieces in a bucket.

Sometimes — nay, usually — I think to myself: that cardboard is over there so what do I care? It's not like it's really in my space. But that's not right. That piece of cardboard — what the heck is it? Oh, it's from a clothes hangar — sits there and emanates, like Frank Ocean, pouring into my eyes, into my body, filling this space between me and it with itself.

1 comment:

Eugene Chen said...

I had a very similar contemplation recently. On a meditation retreat sitting, especially with eyes closed, I naturally tuned into sounds. In particular in the morning there, the birds would start to wake up (after us) and start to argue. I spent a lot of time listening to this. Since we were spending the time in awareness of mind, I was really conscious of how the sounds felt like they were residing in mind as much as located over by the bird (which I couldn't see anyway). Literally, you might locate sounds as they break on the surface your ear drum. Or, you could pinpoint them in the auditory cortext of your brain, in a mechanical sense.

I had a funny moment, where I was acutely aware of thoughts, the "sound" of my internal voice but also aware of the sound of a (real) drum. And I thought well, they're both the same thing. But I had to remind myself a moment later, there's a huge difference. If you think the voices in your head are real, people will think you're crazy. There's a big difference between the internal and external, but only from point of view of the external. From the internal pov, there's not that much difference between noumena and phenomena.

After a day or two of this, I felt it was an accurate sense of reality, but also a bit claustrophobic. Even more so regarding the visual. I don't want to think "the birds are in my head". It felt like making the world smaller.

So, then at night looking at the stars, I thought to reverse it. Instead of "the stars appear in my mind", it could be "my mind contains, or includes the stars". Not just contains the appearance of stars, but actually includes actual stars themselves. This is almost the same idea really, but feels more spacious. (Infinitely so).

So I practiced that for a few days, looking at everything and saying "I am that": rocks, stars, trees, bugs, birds, my own organs, thoughts, other people. I kept remembering this line "I Will Recognize Whatever Appears As My Projection, And Know It To Be A Vision Of The Bardo" - which I know because it was printed on the staff tshirt of the Roratonga Rodeo bar in Arlington, VA.

In our private dokusan, my teacher suggested changing it from "I am that" to "We are this". Which makes sense, since I can't make the sound without the bird. That's as far as I got so far.