We’re probably just born like this. Fractured. Missing a piece or two. A few Lincoln Logs short of a home, a couple of shafts shy of a full Erector Set. For the bargain, though, we gain a knack for pulp and pulchritude–a penchant for work to play at making us whole. The Buddha said living was like riding on the back of a cart with a broken axle–everyone gets where they’re going, even if uncomfortably. And in Plato’s Symposium, Aristophanes playfully allegorizes our common want as a collective erotic quest for our “other half,” a necessary evil after the gods severed us from ourselves to spare us from too much success. I guess even in ancient times we were being punished for our own good.
“Wounded,” you might call us, as the pop psychologist, Harville Hendrix, does, deeply wounded from birth. In typical late 20th century Anglo-American style, Hendrix claims that the only way to treat our deep wound is human romantic relations–if Hallmark is our drug, then it’s also, apparently, our rehabilitation. It’s a bit saccharine but probably a fair strategy for most of us, as long as we have the right triage partner, but there’re lots of other ways to treat our injuries besides, other kinds of existents to love: art, poetry, god, music, sport, film, god, sailing, cooking, god. Lest you think otherwise, my godly repetitions are not denominational; indeed, they’re probably agnostic at best, mere signifiers for that which draws us down to a point, any point, focuses us into something more than just a self. Longinus, the 2nd century Greek rhetorician called it the sublime. For Aquinas it was the divine. Thoreau, the “unhandselled globe,” and for Andrè Bazin, the 20th century film theorist, it was “the holy.”
“The holy,” or Das Heilige, as a concept is most famously attributed to Rudolf Otto in his widely translated and influential, The Holy – On the Irrational in the Idea of the Divine and its Relation to the Rational (trans). Otto claims that the holy is the fundamental constituent of the embodied spirit, as atoms are fundamental to matter. Like the sublime, it reveals itself in elation. Brought out beyond yourself, to contact the numinous, the divine, the more than yourself–“Friend I’ve shrunk to a hair trying to say your story.”—the holy exposes a relation normally secreted in the larder of our lower order needs. Viktor Frankl wrote about it in Man’s Search for Meaning, in which he confessed that the love of others transported him beyond the squalid hell of his death camp, and brought him near the all, so much so that he made in those moments, a la William Blake, “a heaven of hell.”
Bazin, a proponent of “natural cinema,” believed that if a subject was held long enough, the holy might bleed through, “embalmed” in the light by the film. It’s a beautiful idea: the numinous suspended in time like some New England parish in a snow globe. I intend to play with the idea.