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. After so many years spent reconciling myself to the discipline imposed by the tools of my trade, I too have arrived at this most 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. Having understood this—or, having remembered what these Greeks said we already always know—it now 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, both before and after words have been written on the page. 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 both the writer’s and the reader’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 artist, and a problem to which the writer in particular is susceptible, on account of their chosen medium. But this is precisely why, upon moving forward from this realization, I’ve determined that the only function which the writer should desire their sentences perform is to serve as the proof of their cleared and clearing perception, as they regard whatever handful of yet-to-be-named objects happen to have assembled at the time and place in which they too exist. This, as opposed to sentences which are declarations demanding your attention preferentially to your direct and personal experience of that which they refer to and describe.

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

Through introspection, surely: via long meditations upon any object and their 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 their observation of others? Is it a natural relationship, there to be discovered in due time in the same simple way a four-month-old baby discovers their feet? Or perhaps our relationships to the objects around us are established by an 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 now 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. It seems our world has been filled up ever more with these latter objects and experiences, and I’ve been thinking 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; this lack there to be discovered whenever we work up the courage to take a moment to sit and think about it honestly. On the other hand, if I were to insist upon this view as I’ve now just written it, or even expand and develop it further until it became all the more comprehensive and convincing, then it too would become nothing more than a barrier in the way of the reader’s and the writer’s further perceptual development. This, again, is the problem.

Lately I have been thrown into a chaos of disordered perception because I have doubted the premise and the motive 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: like so many words on a page I read but do not comprehend. I try to grapple with their opinions, but I am made anxious by the fact that every single one of them holds within it an implication of the ground of someone else’s perception of the order of things which I have lost sight of, and which I am certain I could not find again through their eyes—in other words, I have been made so skeptical of that which grounds their perspective because the ground of my own has fallen away; however, it’s mine which I need to reclaim, for both our sake. This sensation has been ongoing for at least a month. Good news, that the first and second paragraphs of this essay reveal how I might find my way to surer footing.

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, and declare it as a solution:

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, and also that I’ve seen how my understanding is superfluous to the order, or may even be counter-productive and harmful, insofar as I wish to appreciate it. Consider it like this: the background of the display case is the ground for the bold but so very stale declarations which I abhor and here commit to avoiding in my writing, but the above sentences themselves might just meet the criteria for the written word which I’ve attempted to outline in this essay. Their solution has given me much relief.

Over the years I’ve tried so very hard to understand, and have been using words as instruments for the capture and dissection of every phenomenon which caught my eye. Now I see what such attempts do to the butterfly, so to speak. Moving forward, I am willing to accept the superfluity of my commentary, and to admit my mistake in assigning to myself and my writing 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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