John Clare On The Transcendence Nearby

In ‘John Clare and the Manifold Commons‘ (Environmental Humanities, vol. 3, 2013, pp. 71-91) Patrick Bresnihan writes,

Clare’s love of the smallest and most trivial details….In its resolute ‘here-and-nowness’…describes nothing more than the most commonplace moments, moments with no higher meaning….the very ordinariness of these moments allows them to resonate with others, to provoke…‘universal feelings.’…the commonplace experiences which Clare evoked….[were] not a finished or neat world of nature but a seemingly infinite series of pictures—of birds, trees, dawns, sunsets—which captured particular moments as they materialized….Clare’s poetry opens up common ground, “a sort of gate into another dimension, a dimension that turns out to be none other than the nowness that is far more radically ‘here’ than any concept of ‘here,’….There is a deep equality to this as human and non-human are all counted as singular entities beyond any particular configuration of roles or functions. It affirms instead the ‘democratic fullness of objects.’:

How beautiful e’en seems
This simple twig that steals it from the hedge
And wavering dipples down to taste the stream.
I cannot think it how the reason is
That every trifle nature’s bosom wears
Should seem so lovely and appear so sweet
And charm so much my soul while heedless passenger
Soodles me by, an animated post,
And ne’er so much as turns his head to look
But stalks along as though his eyes were blinded
And as if the witching face of nature
Held but now a dark unmeaning blank.

Clare was not the first, and certainly will not be the last, poet to find his poetic vision grounded in a sense of the world’s unity, its fractal nature, its ability to contain multitudes within its smallest atoms. Here–in this extract from ‘A Ramble’–he summons up this vision to remind and reassure us that transcendence lurks nearby, in the most ordinary and commonplace of things, in the particulars of the world’s objects, in what might seem in our less sensitive moments, to be mere detritus. Clare warns us against both blind obliviousness to this beauty–which would take it for granted and thus render it dull and meaningless. The world around us, and about us, was not a static, lifeless world to be captured in still images, in theories that froze it, but a world of nested things and the dynamic relationships among them.  Clare urges upon us a self-awareness which suggests that we see ourselves as part of that which surrounds us, indeed, he bids us see ourselves as arising out of, and being grounded in, this world of objects. This recognition is, as mystics have not failed to note, powerfully affective; it may reduce the anxieties of alienation, of the bewilderment that may otherwise be the lot of strangers in a strange land. It forms the basis of the paradigmatic ‘religious experience’; we are ‘rejoined’ with that from which we were originally cast asunder; there is no journey to be made to distant lands; all that we seek is about us and with us at all times.

Note: ‘A Ramble’ may be found in “‘I Am” The Selected Poetry of John Clare, ed. Jonathan Date, Farrar, Straus, Giroux, New York, 2003

Drones And The Beautiful World They Reveal

Over the past year or so, I have, on multiple occasions, sat down with my toddler daughter to enjoy BBC’s epic nature documentary series Planet Earth. Narrated by the incomparable David Attenborough, it offers up hour-long packages of visual delight in stunning high-definition: giant waterfalls, towering mountains and icebergs, gigantic flocks of birds, roaring volcanoes and river rapids, deep canyons, majestic creatures of all kinds; the eye-candy is plentiful, and it is dished out in large portions. While watching it, I’ve been moved to remark that my co-viewing of it in the company of my daughter–and sensing her delight as we do so–has been one of the highlights of my parental responsibilities.

Filming a documentary like Planet Earth, the most expensive ever, takes time and money and technical aid. The featurettes for the various episodes explain how they were filmed: sometimes using a cinebulle, sometimes “the Heligimbal, a powerful, gyro-stabilised camera mounted beneath a helicopter.” Now comes news that Planet Earth II, the second installment of the series will deploy even more advanced technology:

The BBC…has not only shot the whole thing in UHD, but it also used the latest camera stabilisation, remote recording, and aerial drone technology, too.

The use of drones should make perfectly good sense. Drones can be commandeered into remote and difficult to access territories and zones with great ease and precision; they can be made to wait for the perfect shot for long periods of time; they can generate huge amounts of visual image data which can then be sorted through to select the best images; without a doubt, their usage will result in the previously hidden–and beautiful–coming to light. Perhaps they will descend into the craters of volcanoes; perhaps they will hover above herds of animals, tracking their every move to record and reveal the mysteries of migration; perhaps they will enable closer looks at the dynamics of waterfalls and whirlpools; perhaps they will fly amidst flocks of birds.

Their use will remind us once again of the mixed blessings of technology. Drones can be used for surveillance, for privacy invasions, for the violations of human rights; they can be used to conduct warfare from on high, sending down deadly munitions directed at civilians; they can also be used to reveal the beauties of this world in a manner that reminds us, yet again, that our planet is a beautiful place, one worth preserving for the sake of future generations. Technology facilitates the exploitation of nature but also, hopefully, its conservation and sensible stewardship thanks to the beauties of the images brought back to us by the drones we use. The use of drones in Planet Earth II may refine our aesthetic sensibilities further: many of our aesthetic superlatives are drawn from nature, but that entity’s contours will now be revealed in ever greater detail, with more aspects brought front and center. And so, as we have never stopped noticing, even as technology makes the world more understandable, it reveals its ever greater mysteries.  Technology may make the world mundane, quantify it all the better to tame it, but it may also reveal facets of the world we may have been previously blind to, rendering some sensibilities duller and yet others more acute.