Time, even more than space, puts us at the doorstep of the unfathomable. As a labyrinth that unravels in one-dimension, time’s ethereal skin pulses with murmurs more felt than touched, and this affords us an intimacy of echoes with the Thing-in-Itself that space alone cannot make intelligible.
When I “think” I am “in time” doing it, not in space. That is, my thoughts have no spatial dimension. Hence, my sense of being dwells in this innermost dimension—or rather this innermost dimension dwells in me. From being, time acquires meaning, and of all the meaning we seek to establish through time, none is more meaningful to us than memory.
Our experiential memory is, of course, a faulty record on details, and this is nowhere more evident than in what we choose to keep and discard from our past. Whereas the present is elusive because of its inescapably immediacy, we use the past like a photo album to preserve and distill what we believe to be most true. Resultantly we have a personal connection to a past we do not have with the future: We make imperfect myths out of it, and see those forever motionless in it, like images trapped in a camera’s shutter, as being whole.
Though our sense of time compresses forward, it deepens backward, and every photograph that accumulates to our rear is more puzzle piece added to a finished picture than grain of sand lost to us in an hourglass.
There are moments when I lie down to nap in the middle of the day, and in the jumble of seconds before I drift off into the ether, some bit of my childhood—some bit of formative sense memory—comes flooding back as a beautiful frozen picture; and with such profundity of emotion I can hardly contain it. As suddenly as it emerges, it folds into sleep with me, like a sweet companion to hold my hand into that place most like death.
We live then by the empathy of memory, by first short and then longer steps. ~Omar
The opportunity to visit the library in Peabody Hall provided an excuse to explore the connecting student union, Nadir Hall. This great building was built after trustees purchased an old train station abutting school property. A large clock of some legend, entombed in a glass case at the main entrance, was the sole artifact to survive from this Nineteenth century structure. The timepiece reportedly stopped one high noon when a train car carrying the remains of a famous racehorse passed through town on its way to Chicago. Eerily, the mare’s name was Eternal Noon. (A yellowed copy of The Stonesthrow Register was framed beside the clock for any doubter to check.)
Beyond this curiosity at the door, Nadir Hall was a sprawling affair, and boasted a restaurant, bookstore, and bowling alley. The exterior was Gothic Revival, while the interior, with many interlocking stairwells and passageways, seemed inspired by The Winchester Mystery House: The resident of that adobe, the gun maker’s widow, constantly added to its architecture in hope of confounding avenging ghosts.
In making his survey of the strange premises, Aloysius was struck by discoloration on the walls where a number of plaques had presumably hung. A collection of paintings and watercolors now hung in their stead, although they did not match up with or cover the intrusive outlines. The visitor followed these vestigial echoes until he happened on artwork by Seth Bowles.
The fellow painter paused to study the Kandinsky-influenced watercolor, as well as an accompanying photograph showing his apparent rival receiving an award of recognition.
The philandering professor, Aloysius reasoned, was typical of the ivied, institutional experience. “With institutions,” Omar once wrote his friend, “self-congratulation is the sincerest form of obsolescence. The more irrelevant you become, the more accolades they heap upon you.” From the outsider’s perspective, ivory towers tended to be oxygen-poor work environments, and those lured into them as young men with youthful vision invariably become pickled in all the naiveté and vice of that age.
Truthfully Aloysius’ lack of art-current cachet was a symptom and not the underlying cause of his contrary nature. He had no great love for the fin de siècle art world, to which he grudgingly tied his fortunes. The painter had cultivated no useful allies in his profession, and saw most artists, rightly or wrongly, as being either chattel or poseurs: artisans of proficient but mediocre gifts who, in the main, pandered to the vanity of collectors by replicating styles that had outlived their moment vital. Omar, in occasional rhetorical letters, never tired of bolstering his friend in these opinions. He was forever pointing out how culture was myopic by association, not design. It was the politics of familiarity, which is first rewarded with gold, and later with contempt. Culture, to his turn of mind, primarily served a calcified bureaucracy of grant endowers and professional grant recipients, and few others. “Wherever two or more people are gathered in the name of culture,” he would say, “there is already a conspiracy against it.”
Among those of late century sensibility, Aloysius was labeled derisively as “imaginative.” Indeed, scarcity of imagination was always reason enough to either hate the attribute outright or, more charitably, regard it (with marked condescension) as “clever” or “novel.” In the titanic struggle that placed realism on one side, and highbrow conceptual gimmickry and political agendas on the other, Aloysius was censured (and not lauded) for his novelty.
In a wider context, the painter never met anyone like himself. In his areas of interests, he admired talent, but was only excited by genius. This admiration did not proceed from immodesty or self-delusion about his own abilities, but from a like way of thinking he instantly recognized and valued. It was one additional proof of this “like-mindedness” that so few shared his giddiness for strikingly original ideas. By his reckoning, most creative ventures undertaken by others were little more than aspects, which, like one-trick ponies, he readily absorbed within seconds of looking at something or hearing it explained. He could draw three circles around what other people were doing without them ever being able to draw once around his thought process. Was it arrogance that he could demonstrate what he knew to be true while it was not arrogance for others to devalue, with their silence or lack of curiosity, what they could not or would not understand? (This further explained why the prideful man drew no one into his confidence.)
The painter continued down the corridor, needing little encouragement in his calloused role as self-anointed pariah. He found himself alone in empty buildings more often than not; and whether he sought them out, or were left them by default, they underlined his acute isolation. With delusions of grandeur at one extreme, and irrational low self-esteem at the other, little lay in between to serve as a practical goal. Perfectionism preyed especially on this second of these weaknesses, where prior undertakings were never officially abandoned but reprioritized. In short, his fecund imagination was as blinkered as it was boundless; and for all the joy it brought him, he feared it would never be more than opiate in his veins. His many talents were not simply an excuse to be fickle and changeable, not simply “an embarrassment of riches”—they were symptomatic of a disorder.
Somewhere ahead the painter heard the sound of a vocalist and a band, and was thankful for the interruption. He followed a mellifluous rendition of But Beautiful to pass into the darker end of the cavernous building. Beyond a row of impervious busts of past college presidents, two towering oak doors marked the entrance to a banquet hall. A pretty little girl in a pink dress peeked out the gap between them, and with greater curiosity about the approaching stranger than the lively wedding reception behind her; an unseen hand materialized to pull her away.
Sudden movement in his peripheral view diverted Aloysius’ attention to a vestibule, where a chaffinch circled frantically between two sets of double glass doors. He wished to free the poor creature, but feared opening the door from the lobby-side would create an opportunity for the bird to penetrate the building. With luck, someone coming into the hall from outside would shoo it out.
Wanting to escape the bird’s dilemma, the interloper stepped guardedly to the hall’s entrance and watched couples engage on the dance floor. He wondered about what path he might have taken in life to place him on the other side of these doors.
Nothing of the newlyweds was seen; a four-tier wedding cake sat uncut across from a table covered with gifts, where one imposing box bore no tag; the sight of it reminded him of his point in coming on campus.
Turning back through the corridor, nothing more was seen of the chaffinch.
Chapter Twelve, Section Two/ Back/ Contents Page
Copyright © 2007 Michael Teague. All rights reserved.