The world would be desolate

I was struck by these thoughts on perception and the enlargement of the spirit, which I came across in an article in the journal Arts: The Arts in Religious and Theological Studies (vol. 28, no. 1).

The world about us would be desolate except for the world within us.

Thus says Wallace Stevens in his article ‘Relations between Poetry and Painting’. He goes on to challenge us to embrace

the extension of the mind beyond the range of the mind, the projection of reality beyond reality, … the determination not to be confined, the recapture of excitement and intensity of interest, the enlargement of the spirit at every time, in every way.

Paul Klee, in ‘Creative Credo’, reminds us that:

art does not reproduce the visible; rather, it makes visible.

And Robert Frost, ‘Education by Poetry: A Meditative Monologue’, insists that,

unless you have had your proper poetical education in the metaphor, you are not safe anywhere. Because you are not at ease with figurative values.

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We’re at the mercy of our descriptions

‘We’re at the mercy of our descriptions’, says Lisa Appignanesi, and again: ‘creatures of word and image, we humans are … made and remade by our descriptions’.

It’s hard to overestimate the importance of that statement. How we describe the world determines how we experience it. How we describe ourselves shapes our experience of ourselves. And how we describe others clinches which dimensions of the other we can and can’t perceive. Our description of the world we encounter becomes that world, becomes ‘reality’ – at least to us, not infrequently to adverse, in some cases even disastrous effect.

In a book devoted to the issue of feminism, Appignanesi applies this insight to women’s concerns regarding the fact that their lives have always been defined by male descriptions:

… from a little base of biology, humans elaborate who they are through their writing, culture, politics and institutions. For women’s lives to change, it was important to take more of that power of description into our own hands.

From ‘Fifty Shades of My Own …’, in Lisa Appignanesi, Rachel Holmes and Susie Orbach (eds), Fifty Shades of Feminism