What Entrances Us About the Butterfly

‘I wrote this essay back in December and had published it elsewhere, however that other website is down so I moved it here. I wrote this essay after spending several weeks at a loss as to how to account for the power and influence of the words we insist on sharing with each other. For a while I felt psychologically crippled by this problem, unable to write down or even think anything which would provide me with stability, and this of course affected my work. The story as to why that happened will surely be told at another time and place; for now, what is outlined here is the solution which I’ve been slowly adding to, all the weeks since.’

What it means to be a writer is to take full responsibility for one’s own thoughts. This is due to the precision of words, which are a writer’s tools and medium: once they become expert enough they cannot feign ignorance of the implications of even the most careless utterance. They hold themselves to it, which is why, when (good, honest) authors appear in public—to give interviews, say—they are halting in their speech, and cautious in their manner. It is not an affectation of the honest writer, but a consequence of the burden of the responsibility they unwittingly took on, and they wisely refuse this responsibility when they venture to speak on anything but their own experience—that is, when venturing to put into words the experience of another. Considering this, after so many years spent reconciling myself to the discipline imposed by the tools of my trade, I too have arrived at this crucial insight: that it is not my job to articulate and make intelligible the universal order of the world or the era in which I live, as if without my doing so there would be no order; rather, it would be better for me to trust that this world and the things in it will exist even if I do not name them with so many strokes of my mighty pen, and that whatever rationale behind the movement of these things, as they interact with each other, it will proceed even if not understood by me or my readers.

Ancient Greek philosophers referred to this cosmic logic—which henceforth I too shall place my faith in—as the logos: the story of the universe which man must simply perceive, if man strives to know anything. Now, having had this insight—or, having remembered what these Greeks said we already always know—it becomes clear, to me, what the task of the writer is: to move beyond words and the consequence of their precision, to try to discern the development of perception itself, and to meditate upon this phenomenon first and foremost, in one’s work. Perception—here understood as the order and intensity with which sense impressions arise in one’s consciousness—is what shapes the thoughts which form sentences, but what is unfortunate is that these sentences, once formed, too often become an impermeable barrier in the way of further development of one’s ability to perceive. In other words, the pronouncements one commits one’s self to, and to which others hold one accountable, stagnate the process of experience, and this of course is anathema to the process of the artist, a problem to which the writer in particular is susceptible, on account of their chosen medium. But this is precisely why, upon moving forward with this realization, I’ve decided that the only thing I want the sentences I write to do is serve as proof of my cleared and clearing perception, as I regard whatever handful of yet-to-be-named objects happen to have assembled at the time and place in which I too exist.

However, the question must be asked: how does one arrive at the so-called direct knowledge of their perception, so that what they apprehend is not the ‘what’ of their perception (the object), but the faculty of perception itself?

Through introspection, surely: via long meditations upon one object and one’s relationship to it, in order to apprehend what is the basis or premise of that relationship, and where it came from. Was it taught? Or was it, all this time, merely presumed, based on one’s observation of others? Is it a natural relationship, there to be discovered in due time in the same simple way that a four-month-old baby discovers their feet? Or perhaps the premises of our relationships to the objects around us are simple matters of habitual give and take: of this object being of some use to us; of our being able to gain something by the correct handling of this object; of it being an object of status which others covet and which, when in our possession, elevates our status, too? Then again, there are also objects which we are indifferent to, and especially so in this modern era of mass production: of such production which permeates and taints every level of experience to the point that there are throwaway actions and throwaway experiences just as there has always been throwaway objects, all of which we forget just as soon as they leave our sight, when we’re through with them. Or maybe it’s just me, thinking that lately it seems our world has been filled up ever more with these latter objects and experiences? But perhaps this is why there seems to be a lack of meaning in the things around us, as well as in our own movement through the world, whenever we work up the courage to take a moment to sit and think about it honestly.

Lately I have been thrown into a chaos of disordered perception because I have doubted the premise of my relationship to the world around me, so I have had nothing to anchor the seemingly never-ending stream of sensation and information coming my way. For this reason, others’ words, too, have seemed a babble to me, as I try to grapple with their opinions, for every single one of their opinions holds within it an implication of the ground of their perception of the order of things which I have lost sight of, and which I am certain I could never see through their eyes—in other words, I was as skeptical of their perception as I was of my own, but it was mine which I needed to figure out, for both our sake. This has been the case for at least a month. Good news, that the first and second paragraphs of this essay describe how I’ve found my way out.

I wrote the following a week or two ago, in the midst of this disorienting process, and here might be the proper place to give it context:

What entrances us about the butterfly cannot be pinned down, though we try, literally pinning the butterfly—or at least its body—to a board, to be displayed and examined in greater detail.

Also, its camouflage is without context against the background of the display case.

What this means is that my understanding of the order—the logos—is not necessary for the order to exist, or persist, thus I see that my understanding is superfluous to it, or may even be counter-productive and harmful, insofar as I wish to appreciate it. What a relief this is, as, over the years, I’ve tried so very hard to understand, using words as my instruments for the capture and dissection of every phenomenon which caught my eye. Now I see what such an attempt would do to the butterfly, so to speak. Instead, I am willing to accept the superfluity of my commentary, and to admit my mistake in assigning to myself this task of comprehending the universal. I accept instead the beauty of an order it is not possible for me to name, which always flutters just beyond my grasp, and which exists beyond my words. In fact, I hope that my words, too, become more and more like so many butterflies: beautiful, entrancing, elusive; in all likelihood impossible to pin down without losing something vital, because, if I’m being honest, this is now how things appear to me.

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