9 hours ago
Friday, January 29, 2010
"Monet's Rouen Cathedral. Whistler. Turner. Woozy light. The textured smear of dusk, fractured crepuscule. The world through a greased lens. A scratched negative. Blowing snow, perhaps, or driving rain. Or drizzle. Or fog. No clear lines, but, rather, indistinct waves, an almost fluid transition of color and light, light and darkness. Vibrations rolling out from a concussion. Consciousness as permanent mirage, a mirage in a constant state of flux and transmogrification. Wondrous, yet at the same time entirely untrustworthy. A world that requires vigilant attention. Things --everything-- ceaselessly receding. The polyphony of perception, if such a thing is possible. Paralysis, as the light and detail bleeds slowly from the day, dragging everything into the murk. And then, just as slowly, toward dawn, it all rises again to the surface, but never quite the surface...just below the surface of a pond or stream with a fragile skin of ice. The ice grows thicker as the day proceeds and night once again rolls in, until one can no longer be certain whether what one is looking at is a city under water or a funeral procession moving along a dark country road by the light of one feeble lantern...."
Such were the ruminations of Wuertz, prompted, he supposed, by the falling light outside the windows of the 18th century monastery where he was attending a three-day conference on "Scientific Conundrums and Biblical Scholarship."
He was somewhere in upstate New York. It had been snowing steadily since his arrival, and he was feeling increasingly claustrophobic, distracted, and bored. His notebooks were filling up with crude caricatures and notes not dissimilar to the above extracts.
At the moment he was sitting in a conference room listening to a panel discussion on the subject of "The Rational Challenges of the Jonah Story." Someone did a presentation on the impossibility of any man surviving 72 hours in the belly of a whale, given the documented potency of a whale's digestive enzymes. There were charts. Another man, an expert on Biblical languages and the book's history of translation, seemed to blame the historical misunderstanding on a lazy and convenient word choice on the part of an early translator.
"Clearly," the man said, "having closely consulted original sources, the creature in question was not, in fact, a whale --which did not exist in Palestinian waters-- but a sea serpent or a dragon."
There was some murmuring in the room, and another man interjected, "One of the problems we are always up against here is trying to rein these texts in from the gauzy worlds of pagan mythology and steer them into the clear, comprehensible word of God. The introduction of sea serpents and dragons does us no favors in the credulity department."
A marine biologist with a master's degree in archaeology then posited that the creature might possibly have been a white shark, which can grow to a prodigious size and has an unusual ability to store undigested food for a great many days.
On and on the discussion went, growing at times quite heated. Wuertz continued to doodle and daydream and stare out at the falling snow. His reveries were interrupted by an outburst by an elderly scholar who had risen to his feet near the front of the room. The man appeared to be trembling.
"Enough!" he shouted. "I have sat through these increasingly absurd discussions and arguments for more than forty years. We are talking about the Almighty, the creator of all things, as if He were an illusionist, and if we yammer on long enough we'll eventually get to the bottom of His tricks. As it has ever been, these things are not for us to know or understand, but merely to believe. I have grown beyond disgusted with this nonsense."
And with that the old man gathered up his things and left the room.
Wuertz turned his attention back to his notebook, and wrote: "A landscape from a Chekhov story, or a Gogol novel. Russian, at any rate, desolate. A loneliness so complete and impenetrable that it is no longer possible to recognize the feeling for what it truly is."