Monday, October 21, 2013

After Listening to Pedro Cabral on Sketching: October 21, 2013.

After listening to Pedro Cabral, the brother of Luis, speak about his peripatetic sketching, it was exciting to hear him speak of his personal involvement with the most commonplace scenes – an involvement that included strong feelings, an excitement of discovery and perception - even smells - such that he had to draw them rapidly, color them later, or color first and ink in later.

   What struck me was that his capacity to see corresponded to  his personal involvement by sketching. Otherwise, he agreed, he couldn’t see.  The sketching seemed to be essential to the actual capacity to see.

I translate into my own idiom: It is Adam naming the animals and suddenly experiencing that he is alone as  a subject in a universe of objects. It is crossing the threshold from being a rational animal to becoming a person. Sketching must be the act of naming, of exercising mastery over self in order to subdue the earth, and, in the process of going through the Helen Keller experience, to wit:

“We walked down the path to the well-house, attracted by the fragrance of the honey-suckle with which it was covered. Someone was drawing water and my teacher placed my hand under the spout. As the cool stream gushed over one hand she spelled into the other the word water, first slowly, then rapidly. I stood still, my whole attention fixed upon the motions of her fingers. Suddenly I felt a misty consciousness as of something forgotten, a thrill of returning thought, and somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me.”

Helen immediately asked Anne (Sullivan) for the name of the liquid ("w-a-t-e-r) and pump to be spelled on her hand and then the name of the trellis. All the way back to the house Helen learned the names of everything she touched and also asked for Anne’s name. Anne spelled the name “Teacher” on Helen’s hand (Braille). Within the next few hours Helen learned the spelling of thirty new words.

   Her progress from then on was astonishing. Her ability to learn was far in advance of anything that anybody had seen before in someone without sight or hearing. It wasn’t long before Anne was teaching Helen to read, firstly with raised letters and later with braille, and to write with both ordinary and braille typewriters.

   What had happened? Was this the onset of abstract conceptual thought? I think not. I think it was the activation of her very "I." The self enters its proper role as protagonist in the world. Helen crossed the threshold into subjectivity and personhood. Before naming, she was able to connect sensation and object via concept. But she had not exercised her subjectivity. She was yet to become a queen.

   This is the great achievement of the last 5  centuries of modernity from the cartesian cogito to now. It has yielded the experience of the subject, of the "I," and therefore, the  ability to discover the ordinary - or better, the kingdom in a grain of sand something like Pedro Cabral going about the world sketching the commonplace and revealing to the beholder the wonder of the ordinary. Without the experience of the "I" the ordinary is the humdrum and boring (the French invented the word "boring" as being stuffed with self). This is all Walker Percy. But the equally great achievement is to understand that the "I" is the ontological context and therefore part of the perception. It seems to me that the act of sketching involves the "I" in the reality perceived. That is, I experience myself in the act of sensibly perceiving the most ordinary thing. I experience myself experiencing the sensible perceiving, and in doing that I experience the act of imaging God. Hence, the excitement and the perception of beauty in the very act of sketching (which is my "I" in act as subject) and which I convey to others in the object of the sketch itself.

   And so, the "I" is not merely consciousness and relativistic as Modernity has handed it down but absolute Being as image. I offer this as the huge achievement of  Karol Wojtyla who has perceived phenomenology as the key to access the "I," but, through the medium of "experience," as ontological. He gives us the key to take this immense discovery without reducing it to consciousness and therefore to relativism and nihilism. This is  always the fear. But he has made it possible for us to retrieve the jewel of  modernity and the subject and rid it of noxious subjectivism.

   Besides reminding me of Walker Percy who could not see anything in a museum because it was at a distance and detached (“Loss of the Creature” – chpt 2 of Message in the Bottle), it also reminded me of the theological epistemology of Ratzinger’s Thesis 3 of “Behold the Pierced One.” One cannot re-cognize Christ without experiencing Him ab intus – from within. This takes place by prayer. Christ, as relation to the Father, is prayer. Therefore, since like is known by like, only one who prays can re-cognize. I believe this to be the epistemology of the "new evangelization."

N.B.  Pedro Cabral:

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