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People, Guy Pène du Bois; oil on canvas (1927), collection of Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts


Eupalinos (3rd Part)


In moving on I'll look back here and there to Parts 1st and 2nd of this extended post, to reintroduce relevant categories of content into the emerging or evolving context, hoping to offer a greater breadth of material; buttressing the argument while moving, if haltingly, toward a resolution of sorts.


As previously noted, there's a sort of hierarchy of found artifacts. For example, some people routinely scour the shorelines, in search of a fabulous (or not so fabulous) find. There are numerous, often interesting examples, ranging from the quotidian to grand. In his profile of Edinburgh author Alice Tarbuck in a recent issue of PN Review, Vahni Capildeo notes that,


Litter picking, like foraging is a mild form of greater housework that we undertake as inhabitants of (or passengers through) a place. Gathering is something else again. Edinburgh writer Alice Tarbuck in A Spell in the Wild…writes about gathering. 'Most people grow out of it: I haven't. My pockets are always full. Leaves and twigs and little bright stones, berries and chips of sea glass.'"


This version of collecting or foraging is even more modest than that practiced by Lara Maiklem, as described in her book, Mudlark (see Eupalinos 2nd Part). But there's more. In an interview with Filippo Menozzi in the February 2022 issue of World Literature Today, South African writer Henrietta Rose-Innes mentions finding a leopard trap on the veld:


That particular leopard trap was one I stumbled across while hiking in the Cederberg mountains, north of Cape Town. The kind of material history one can find lying about in the veld in South Africa, fragile, undocumented, often crumbling away, its context lost — as opposed to the often highly tended and curated history of Europe. It was a particularly potent object, with its suggestions of great violence, now stilled; of a creature of great vitality, now absent.


Menozzi asks about the importance of being elusive and invisible; Rose-Innes suggests that,


Part of it stems from living in a country where there is a lot of suppressed and hidden history, just beneath the surface of landscapes that otherwise present an idyllic face — like stone tools of genocided peoples just beneath the surface of the ground, if you dig a little; the Calvinist culture of the apartheid regime, where much was repressed or brutally erased. I grew up in this atmosphere, where the true lion was always just about to step out of the long grass.


The ancient artifacts left by nonwhite, indigenous peoples may lie unnoticed and undisturbed, absent a serendipitous discovery or encounter of this kind. A more purposeful response to such discoveries, as at Lascaux – in stark contrast to the experience of Rose-Innes, but apropos, perhaps, of the "tended and curated history of Europe" -- may be seen in a review by Tom Shippey in London Review of Books:


In September 2014 a group of detectorists were searching a field in Balmaghie, Kirkcudbrightshire, in south-west Scotland, when one of them got a signal. This wasn't entirely unexpected. There had been some small finds close by: a coin, some scattered silver. But when Derek McLennan dug down, he pulled out something more substantial, a silver arm-ring. The story goes that he immediately shouted 'Viking!' Buried alongside it were a decorated silver pendant cross on a chain of very finely coiled silver wire (which turned out to be Anglo-Saxon, but could still be Viking loot) and a layer of silver bullion – arm-rings, 'hacksilver' and ingots made from melted down silver coins and scrap.


The next step taken by the "detectorists" is indicative, taking advantage of the knowledgeable, seasoned professionals:


McLennan reported the find to Dumfries and Galloway Council, and an archaeologist arrived that afternoon to oversee the excavation. They had finished by the end of the day, but the detector kept recording a signal. The cross and the bullion had been laid on a four-inch bed of gravel, so the team dug up the gravel, revealing a much larger deposit: twice as much silver as the top layer, wrapped in leather; a cluster of four elaborately decorated arm-rings bound together, enclosing a wooden box containing a gold ring, a gold ingot and a gold bird pin; and a lidded silver-gilt pot. The pot was carefully wrapped and packed with beads, a pendant, a brooch, three filigree mounts, another gold ingot and a twisted rod, as well as some truly mysterious items: two 'dirt balls' and an object called a 'rattlestone', also carefully wrapped. In their catalogue to accompany an exhibition of the hoard (at Kirkcudbright Galleries until 10 July), Martin Goldberg and Mary Davis suggest that the top layer was a 'decoy'. If someone tried to make off with the hoard, or a piece was turned up by ploughing, the discoverers would find the cross and the silver and be so pleased that they didn't look any further. (In which case, the plan nearly worked.)


By way of contrast, there's my own experience with the "stone figure" -- as described in previous installments of this post. I let the object go, returned it to the sea, as did Paul Valéry's fictional Socrates. I don't seem to have the collector's instinct, perhaps not the archivist's instinct either, though I have great appreciation for both, and have spent significant time in one or the other, now and again. Which begs the question: which of my characters was present and engaged on the beach at Barnegat Light that day? I'll try to draw this question out just a little here.


In the novel, Pereira Declares, Antonio Tabucchi's eponymous protagonist visits a health spa for treatment, where the attending physician assigned to him poses a fundamental question:


I have a question for you, said Dr Cardoso, and that is, are you acquainted with the médecins-philosophes? No I'm not, admitted Pereira, who are they? The leaders of this school of thought are Théodule Ribot and Pierre Janet, said Dr Cardoso, it means that to believe in a "self" as a distinct entity, quite distinct from the infinite variety of all the other "selves" that we have within us, is a fallacy, the naïve illusion of the single unique soul we inherit from Christian tradition, whereas Dr Ribot and Dr Janet see the personality as a confederation of souls, because within us we each have numerous souls, don't you think, a confederation which agrees to put itself under the government of one ruling ego…so in the case of another ego arising, one stronger and more powerful, this ego overflows the first ruling ego, takes its place and acquires the chieftainship of the cohort of souls, or rather the confederation, and remains in power until it is in turn overthrown by yet another ruling ego.


Interestingly, there's something strikingly like this in Valéry's Eupalinos dialog. Socrates is speaking:


I told you that I was born several and that I died one. The child when it appears is a countless crowd, which life reduces soon enough to a single individual, the one who manifests himself and who dies. A multitude of Socrateses were born with me, from whom little by little the Socrates stood out who was destined for the magistrates and the hemlock. 


Phaedrus, his interlocutor, asks what became of the others? Socrates responds:


Ideas. They have remained in the condition of ideas. They came, asking to be, and they were refused. I kept them within myself, as my doubts and contradictions… Sometimes these germs of nature are favored by circumstance, and then we are on the verge of changing our natures.


Socrates goes on to declare what may in fact constitute the crux of this series of posts:


One day, one of my more glorious days, dear Phaedrus, I experienced a strange hesitation between my souls. Chance placed in my hands the most ambiguous object imaginable. And the infinite reflections that it caused me to make were eqally capable of leading me to that philosopher that I became, and to the artist that I have never been…


Which version of Socrates was manifest on Paul Valéry's imaginal beach? Which version of myself was present on the beach at Barnegat Light? Surely not the archivist or the collector! But how about the "ethnographer-fieldworker"? This question has deep resonance, and I think is rooted more generally in the emergent and developing psyche. When does the ensouling process begin? How does it ramify, and whence does it lead? Hwanān...hwā...


In her recent novel, The Books of Jacob, Nobel laureate Olga Tokarczuk provides a usable image, in connection with the pregnancy of one the characters who appears early in the book:


But Yente can see that a separate soul has taken up residence in Sheyndel's belly, a soul still indistinct, hard to describe because many; these free souls are everywhere, just waiting for the opportunity to grab some unclaimed bit of matter. And now they lick this little lump, which looks a bit like a tadpole, inspecting it, though there is still nothing concrete in it, just shreds, shadows. They probe it, testing. The souls consist of streaks: of images, and recollections, memories of acts, fragments of sentences, letters. Never before has Yente seen this so clearly. Truth be told, Sheyndel, too, gets uncomfortable sometimes, for she, too, can feel their presence--as if dozens of strangers' hands were pressing on her, as if she were being touched by hundreds of fingers. She doesn't want to confide in her husband about it--and any way, she wouldn't be able to find the words.


I'll conclude Eupalinos (3rd Part) here, despite any lingering discontinuity.


More later…

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