Hummingbird enjoying some flowers

Espial: Awe

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Your Reading Materials Are Here: https://www.dropbox.com/s/atuq8l82gy3tj68/Awe_ReadingPacket.pdf?dl=0

Is awe reverence or fear? This interrogation of awe looks to disentangle the paralyzing grandiosity from miraculous inspiration. 

Awe humbles, dominates, and can entertain like no other; yet the implications of awe are intent on unreachability. Fortunately, we pesky humans are impossible to dissuade entirely.

But also fortunately, an unreachable plateau enlightens: what about it is unreachable for you, and what are the parallelisms? In diagnosing that which feels familiar  and that which is recognizably distant, one distinguishes their own paths to Awe. 

As a state of perception, Awe can be achieved. 

Hummingbird enjoying a flower. Courtesy of Steve Zemke.

Reading #1:

Reza Negarestani, “The Dead Mother of All Contagions”

Jacques Prevert,

  1. “I’ve Seen Some of Them”
  2. “Rue de Seine”
  3.  “To Paint the Portrait of a Bird”
  4.  “The Combat with the Angel”

Ruminations: 

Prevert, ‘he was waiting for something…no matter what…/war…the end of the world…’

As small as dust containing the expansive power of the sun, awe as a power beyond comprehension. Negarestani writes, “When dust is utilized in creation to compose and concoct, it turns the object or to be precise, the created composition, into a fierce operative of horror, with a progressively thickening ominous plot or storyline…” ominousness and horror, created compositions — there are many agents of awe within this sentence. But the key operator therein, Dust, is such a minute and unmentionable object. 

Part of what is to be done with Awe is to consider where biases have been constructed in regard to Awe and worship and reverence and distance, take all of these and determine what functions they serve. 

I pair Prevert in this reading because of his line, “he was waiting for something…no matter what…/war…the end of the world…” For me, in understanding what Awe might be or what is capable of Awe, one also has to contend with Prevert’s ‘something,’ here — what is it that you might wait for, no matter what?

Exercise #1:

Choose a letter, or let a letter choose you. Random letter assigners. Connectivity and resonance. 

Find a surface you have not dusted for some time — one where you can rub your finger across it and see the trails. Write this first letter, then, close your eyes and write unrestrainedly. Create a word. You can use shapes, letters, numbers, lines, smears, what have you. Try to restrain yourself to under seven structures (‘letters’). There is desire in brevity. 

Ask of this creation what it was waiting for that, in order for it to exist, you had to clear for  it?

Write a paragraph or two understanding how and why you knew what it was waiting for. Be honest. The associations and implications invoked in our answers are oftentimes more illuminating than the answers themselves. 

Reading #2:

Mari Ruti, “Telling Stories” excerpt from Remaking Fate

Naomi Shihab Nye,

  1. “My Grandmother in the Stars”
  2. “Valentine for Ernest Mann” “What is Supposed to Happen”
  3. “Lullaby for Regret”
  4. “For the 500th Dead Palestinian, Ibtisam Bozieh”

Ruminations: 

Ruti, “How we go about making choices–and how aware we remain of the unconscious underpinnings of those choices–makes a difference not only to us, but also to others close to us.’

Nye, ‘Where we live in the world / is never one place. Our hearts, / those dogged mirrors, keep flashing us / moons before we are ready for them.’ — ‘This loss I feel, / this shrinking, / as your field of roses / grows and grows… // Now I understand history.’

Previously, we focused on the factors deciding Awe in Negarestani’s essay; however, now return and use that lovely phrase, ‘or to be precise, the created composition.’ Think of Awe as composition, the power to create, and, therefore, to choose or contextualize. 

Nye excellently gives us the poetry for this thought: “Where we live in the world / is never one place. Our hearts, / those dogged mirrors, keep flashing us / moons before we are ready for them,” or, “This loss I feel, / this shrinking, / as your field of roses / grows and grows… // Now I understand history.” Where we live in the world / is never one place. Ah! What boundless lyric.  And if our world is never one place, our lives, then they are compositions: who chooses, who arranges, and what glues these things together? Is there Awe in the dust in the joints? 

Ruti writes delicately toward the interweaving of narratives and stories in the importance of this composition; that anything worth deciding or giving influence is resultant of pledged story. She writes, “How we go about making choices—and how aware we remain of the unconscious underpinnings of those choices—makes a difference not only to us, but also to others close to us.” In the extension of awe, first from individual to composition, and now from individual composition to multiscalar composition, at what point does our consideration of ‘made differences’ become reverent?   

Exercise #2: 

Set up three habitats in your residence. You have the utmost control in these creations: comfort, stoicism, efficiency, color, wonder, or access are only some of the considerations you might equip your construction with. Leave these habitats up for one 24-hour cycle, where you might be able to encounter them in different phases of life and living. 

Try to have one thing to interact with in each habitat throughout the duration. This may be a glass of a prepared cocktail, or a toy meant for fidgeting hands, or a weight, or a crinkly piece of aluminum foil. Be deliberate with your placement, your choice to provide instructions for interaction, and any rules you might have. 

If there are other people with you, observe what they have to say or do with the habitats. Write these down and elaborate on how their actions or thoughts affect you. A creator is not always creating awe nor are its subjects always treating the creator with reverence; however, the act of creation can and ought remain an awe-inspiring act. 

If there are no others with you, let your imagination run wild: choose a handful of your friends, rivals, or memorable strangers and place them in your world to inhabit. Determine how they’d interact. Be unabashed. They are now part of your creations. You are now writing a fiction. Limit yourself to a page per person at maximum. Lord, imagine this exercise creating another novelist. 

Anselm Kiefer's 'The Cloud'
Working Title/Artist: Heavy Cloud Department: Modern Art Culture/Period/Location: HB/TOA Date Code: Working Date: 1985 photography by mma, DT202885.tif scanned and retouched by film and media (jnc) __

Reading #3:

Mark Fisher, “Don’t Let Yourself Get Attached”

China Mieville, “Excerpt from Perdido Street Station”

Lucille Clifton,

  1. “New Bones”
  2. “Last note to my girls”
  3. “My dream about the poet”
  4. “Moonchild”
  5. “Daughters”
  6. “Here yet be dragons”
  7. “Study the masters”

Ruminations: 

Fisher, ‘To a degree unprecedented in any other social system, capitalism both feeds on and reproduces the moods of populations. Without delirium and confidence, capital could not function.’ 

Mieville, ‘…loath to take his eyes off the extraordinary visitor waiting for him. He touched earth.’

Clifton, ‘only after the death / of the man who killed the bear, / after the death of the coalminer’s son, / did i remember that the moon / also rises,’

With these final three readings for Awe, I wanted to expose an understanding of how Awe feeds into and enmeshes itself within our ordinary world. While Clifton is anything but ordinary, her poems, for me, often take on the daydream-esque quality seen in “Here yet be dragons.” And so starting with Clifton, her lines, ‘only after the death / of the man who killed the bear, / after the death of the coalminer’s son, / did i remember that the moon / also rises,’ I think, do a wonderful job of tying the necessary awe of moon rising and monumental affect to the more grounded samplings of death. 

Similarly, while I wish I could assign entire novels for this purpose, I think Mieville does an incredible job at documenting the strange-innoculous as awe-some. With this excerpt, I’m thinking primarily through moments like, “…loath to take his eyes off the extraordinary visitor waiting for him. He touched earth,” wherein Mieville offers a taste of reverence, response, and ritual which comprise much of the ontology of Awe. 

Finally, returning in some ways to where we began with Awe in Negarestani, Fisher offers us a glimpse into the obligation, responsibility, and interactions between awe and the development and procurement of resources. In this case, I think about the affect of awe and reverence within a capitalist environment and how a system built on the irresolvification of purpose might abuse the tendency to enable awe in humans. Fisher writes, “To a degree unprecedented in any other social system, capitalism both feeds on and reproduces the moods of  populations. Without delirium and confidence, capital could not function.” I like to think of those two beads as delightful endpoints for thinking about awe: delirium and confidence, like an olive cake and tea. The entwinement of extraordinary existences and extraordinary destructions

Exercise #3: 

In the final tickings of awe, one of our most difficult procedures is to try to generate or discover awe in everydayness. While we’ve started this in the previous exercises, this final reading is asking to go beyond the augmenting of the ordinary into something within the realm of awe and instead is asking you to find awe sans augmentation. 

What better time? 

Surely you have a junk drawer, corner, cluster, shelf. Go to it in our time of need. Don’t dig into it or spend too long investigating the pile; instead, write a lyrical narrative that you imagine one might be able to learn about yourself from this hapless pile. 

For those looking for more guidance on their lyrical narrative, let no line be longer than 8 words, use six total sentences, and try to make your work be over 25 lines. 

After this, with your junk pile, consider someone who you’d like to give a gift to, what kinds of gifts they might enjoy, and determine how you might be able to use the junk therein to create a gift that they might find delight in. If you’ve time and energy, make it. If not, write out what you would do in a few sentences. Oftentimes, I find the idea of gifts to be the most awe-inspiring gesture a human can do. 

Final Exceptionalism: 

Make a series of collages of at least 3 and no more than 9 total. Unify them in whatever way makes sense to you; however, if you need guidance, try to have a color, an image, or a word present throughout each collage in some way, shape, or form.

There are plenty of ways to strategize and make this efficient, easy, or more interactive and I both encourage and discourage each of these attempts. A collage, for me, feels like an eligible way of entertaining the awe in the ordinary. The beauty in collage is that, dependent on your deliberateness, a strategy can be just as part of the creative process. An extra pair of hands, extra eyes, extra mouth, can all create something truly spectacular. 

If you would like guidance or restriction in materials: try to use only items from one room of your abode on any given collage, and try not to use the same room more than once until you’ve run out of rooms.