Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Coincidental No. 2 and a Butterfly Dream: The Winged Things

When I was studying for my BFA, I took a course called Seminar of Art History, at the center of which was a 20+ page essay we had to write about an artist of our choice. I chose Paul Klee; my thesis was about the mythological, winged figures which populated and persisted in his work to the end: strange heroes with tree stump leg and broken wings, angels who forgot things, angels who wept, angels with breasts... These creatures appeared in different forms and sometimes morphed into each other. As a side, my professor recommended a German film about an angel who wanted to be man. I took the advice and used it as a source.

Then it happened that recently, about five years since I saw that film, some of its scenes began to reappear in my mind. I don't know why or how, or remember the thought thread which led to it. I tried to recall the name of the film, yet for the life of me couldn't no matter how hard I tried. After some forced attempts on my faulty memory, I gave up. Nevertheless the scenes kept coming back to me, like a tease and a taunt, off and on.

And then, this last Sunday, when I was sweeping the kitchen floor, it happened, it kinda just popped in: The Wings of Desire. That's it: the name of the film. . And I had no doubt. Yet I still couldn't remember the director's name.

Then it happened, again, this morning, when I was routinely going through my emails of the day, in an update from the Image magazine (on faith and arts, founded by Gregory Wolfe), a name it mentioned stopped me in my tracks: Wim Wenders. I immediately recognized that it's the name of the director of that film: The Wings of Desire.

So that's how lost memories are found: you sit on it, for a few days. Then you sweep your kitchen floor, then you check your email, coffee in hand, then, "Bingo!" It's there, right in front of your forehead, or your eyes. It's there. But try not to blink, or it'll just sly away in a twirl, like a fairy; or fade, like a firebug.

An ancient Chinese philosopher once wondered "Is it I who dreams of the butterfly, or is it the butterfly who dreams of me?"

A beautiful poem was recited at the beginning and the end of the film, something called When A Child Was a Child. I can still hear that dreamy, grave, wistful, German voice: "When the child was a child.."
Song of Childhood
By Peter Handke

When the child was a child
It walked with its arms swinging,
wanted the brook to be a river,
the river to be a torrent,
and this puddle to be the sea.

When the child was a child,
it didn’t know that it was a child,
everything was soulful, and all souls were one.

When the child was a child,
it had no opinion about anything,
had no habits,
it often sat cross-legged,
took off running,
had a cowlick in its hair,
and made no faces when photographed.

When the child was a child,
It was the time for these questions:
Why am I me, and why not you?
Why am I here, and why not there?
When did time begin, and where does space end?
Is life under the sun not just a dream?
Is what I see and hear and smell
not just an illusion of a world before the world?
Given the facts of evil and people,
does evil really exist?
How can it be that I, who I am,
didn’t exist before I came to be,
and that, someday, I, who I am,
will no longer be who I am?

When the child was a child,
It choked on spinach, on peas, on rice pudding,
and on steamed cauliflower,
and eats all of those now,
and not just because it has to.

When the child was a child,
it awoke once in a strange bed,
and now does so again and again.
Many people, then, seemed beautiful,
and now only a few do, by sheer luck.
It had visualized a
clear image of Paradise,
and now can at most guess,
could not conceive of nothingness,
and shudders today at the thought.

When the child was a child,
It played with enthusiasm,
and, now, has just as much excitement as then,
but only when it concerns its work.

When the child was a child,
It was enough for it to eat an apple, … bread,
And so it is even now.

When the child was a child,
Berries filled its hand as only berries do,
and do even now,
Fresh walnuts made its tongue raw,
and do even now,
it had, on every mountaintop,
the longing for a higher mountain yet,
and in every city,
the longing for an even greater city,
and that is still so,
It reached for cherries in topmost branches of trees
with an elation it still has today,
has a shyness in front of strangers,
and has that even now.
It awaited the first snow,
And waits that way even now.

When the child was a child,
It threw a stick like a lance against a tree,
And it quivers there still today.

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