“Once you notice you’re mortal you additionally notice the tremendousness of the long run. You fall in love with a Time you’ll by no means understand,” the polymathic poet, painter, novelist, and thinker Etel Adnan (February 24, 1925–November 14, 2021) wrote on the foot of a mountain she noticed as a lens on the which means of life.
Half a century later and a landmass over, as daybreak was silvering the clouds of the Parisian night time, she slipped out of the mortal and into the timeless, lower than 1000 days shy of getting lived 100 years. (No quantity of life is sufficient life, and any quantity of life is sufficient life — as with love.)
Adnan’s unusual reckoning with mortality and the which means lives on his her remaining e-book, Shifting the Silence (public library) — a lucid and luminous stream-of-consciousness outpouring of perception into the character of existence, an inquiry into what offers which means to our mortal lives, partway between poetry and philosophy, between requiem and redemption, between Gertrude Stein’s meditation on belonging in a love letter to Paris and Patti Smith’s meditation on goals in a love letter to time. What emerges is the wakeful work, a life’s work, of naming what’s — the final word Is past the reasons that masquerade as which means but containing the final word which means.
Once we title issues merely, with phrases previous their which means, a cosmic narration takes place. Does the invention of origins take away the mud? The horizon’s shimmering slows down all different perceptions. It jogs my memory of a childhood of vacancy which appears to have taken me close to the beginnings of area and time.
Phrase-languages are a entice… They created chaos and made us sink in incoherence… Our phrases don’t go well with prophecies anymore. That energy is left to different species: to oak bushes, for instance, to the tides, which by means of their restlessness carry a phosphorescence we’re not outfitted to listen to.
From the lucky, ramshackle dock of her 9 many years — having lived by means of the splitting of the atom and the Moon touchdown, by means of the rise and fall of the Iron Curtain, by means of a civil warfare that savaged her homeland and a world warfare that savaged our civilization, by means of the heyday Picasso and particle physics and Plath — she observes:
My favourite time is in time’s different aspect, its different id, the type that collapses and typically reappears, and typically doesn’t. The one that appears like marshmallows, pomegranates, and stranger issues, earlier than returning to its sort of abstraction… At present I see eternity all over the place. I had yesterday an empty glass of champagne on the desk, and it seemed each infinite and everlasting.
Writing within the remaining season of her life, whereas round her a document heatwave is swarming Paris and wildfires are ravaging the Californian landscapes of her prime and her work, Adnan wonders whether or not this is perhaps the ultimate season of civilization, of the world itself as we all know it, wonders whether or not we will “maintain that unusual sense of sacredness that we knew, as if by inheritance, in our outdated days.” She paces the periphery of Paris one timeless step at a time, watches the fog flip the Eiffel Tower into “a faint mark on pure area,” marvels on the magnolia in her backyard “thriving on this non-tropical nation,” marvels on the first picture of an unlimited frozen lake newly found on Mars and its “pinkish land coated with ice,” savors “the night time’s totally different shades, its infinite richness,” reads a e-book of poems written by a synthetic intelligence and ponders the which means of actuality, the which means of intelligence. Her thoughts wanders to the physics of tides, to the Trojan Battle, to the epoch-making spacecraft that has simply landed on the darkish aspect of the Moon, to Picasso’s late erotic etchings of girls, to the burning mountain she as soon as lived in and cherished with the fireplace of life. Her wandering thoughts observes itself:
I’m within the midst of no matter I’m considering of. There are fires in California, they’ve returned. I’m burning. Am one of many bushes that’s disappearing within the fires. My physique black and gray changing into ashes.
And but there’s something else past the cinder of the thinking-mind, some vaster consciousness during which the crests and troughs of being and not-being merge into the continual sine wave of what’s, ruffling the oceanic floor of timelessness:
I have to simplify my considering: to come back to the roots of the olive bushes I’ve planted on my island, sit near them, have a look at each leaf. Begin early within the morning. Then shut my eyes and let the morning solar contact my face. Go to the Mediterranean on the avenue nook, go into its water, its salt, its acid colours, its warmth… cease considering… simply be, and for a lot of hours in a row, merge with this vegetal and metallic sort of consciousness which is so overpowering.
A philosopher-friend comes to go to, a kind of visits that “elevate the sky,” and so they discuss “the need of an pressing shift of future away from the cycle of the everlasting return of the identical, past no matter already is.” A poet-friend dies. “Expensive San Francisco, cry for him.” Invoking one other pal’s long-ago demise that she nonetheless carries, and folding into it the incomprehensible consciousness of her personal mortality — as we invariably do in apprehending one other’s — she displays:
Being, or not being, can’t be handled with considering, however are issues of expertise, skilled typically in murky waters… Their depth creates waves that invade us, that go away us shocked. There’s no decision to someone’s remaining absence.
One other pal vanishes into the fog of psychological sickness, leaving Adnan to ponder the discomposing dialogue between neurochemistry and id:
To witness a thoughts go wild, just like the California fires proper now, is the toughest factor one can expertise. And nonetheless, we do. The thoughts will get so fluid which you could’t cease it together with your will, you watch the desire’s annihilation. The query arises: are we only a sequence of chemical reactions? If we had been brave sufficient we’d say sure, we’re. However there’s something in these chemical reactions that make us reject the acknowledgment of their very own nature. We’re physique and soul, we are saying, let’s settle for this delusion. Plato did it.
Even our odd minds, she observes, are too typically befuddled by their very own senseless exercise, the ideas of which we presume to be the authors — however as any neuroscientist and any longtime meditator can attest, this too is a part of the dream of selfhood, the dream by which we flee from the truth that we’re every a passing flicker within the consciousness of time and matter.
With a watch to her personal expertise of “double considering” — one thing all of us have skilled in a single type or one other — she writes:
One thought sliding on one other, was startled, didn’t know which one to observe, overpassed each… Are ideas bouncing balls? Do we actually personal them?
She talks to herself, talks to the universe, talks to nobody particularly — after which — in a handful of arresting cascades on this stream of consciousness, she talks to you, talks to me, with ravishing intimacy. “I’m speaking to you as a result of I want you, and to want means to like.” She is speaking to us, too, as a result of she has one thing to impart, the best way an oracle does. (Residing a century with unrelenting wakefulness to life renders anybody an oracle.)
You already know, sunsets are violently stunning, I’d say that they’re so by definition, however there are lights, not even colourful within the routine sense, lights elemental, mercurial, silvery, sulfurous, copper-made, that make us cease, then lose steadiness, make us open our arms not figuring out what else to do, arrest us as if struck by lightning, a mushy lightning, a welcome one. I await these lights, I do know a few of you do too, wherever you’re, I imply when you’re standing by an ocean, alone, throughout the calmness of your spirit. Be planetary.
To be planetary, she intimates, is to acknowledge that we’re fully collectively and fully alone unexpectedly, a murmuration of solitudes hurting by means of area, out of time:
We’re on a planet sustained by nothing, carried by means of pure area by a willful star made of fireplace and in fixed ebullition. We’re vacationers overlaying touring grounds. Going, at all times going.
The undertone of the e-book, of Adnan’s farewell message to the dwelling, is the intimation that solely within the stillness of silence can we start to discern the place we’re going and why:
The universe makes a sound — is a sound. Within the core of this sound there’s a silence, a silence that creates that sound, which isn’t its reverse, however its inseparable soul. And this silence may also be heard.
This silence is the preparation of issues to come back, however isn’t free standing. It’s moderately the shadow of no matter is, which precedes or follows at will any component that presents itself to this world. Its favourite time is the night time.
Half a lifetime after she explored the connection between dreaming and creativity, Adnan returns to the unusual kingdom of sleep and people untrammeled territories of the nocturnal thoughts past thought:
In silence, at the hours of darkness, the tides shine, get slippery, their fluidity turns them right into a mirage. There’s a persistent hum to the ocean that interprets right into a back-and-forth motion of our physique. Partitions disappear and new visible formations invade the creativeness. One isn’t in regular dimensions. Sleep belongs to the previous, and the hours too. Luminosity enmeshed with darkness makes us cross over new territories. You progress into galaxies in a couple of seconds, space-time turns into only a recreation.
Considering is dimmed when acquainted types of actuality disappear. This isn’t a loss. Lengthy durations of interior silence favor clearings, they let the sunshine in, the flooding, the blinding, the bedazzlement. We’d like areas for the reshuffling of latest playing cards, have to be nowhere. Considering doesn’t at all times come from previous ideas: I believe it’s at all times being born, even when it appears associated to the previous.
With a watch to Plato’s immortal allegory of the cave, she writes:
Now it’s time to open the cave’s window and go away it open. Let actuality fill the area.
Echoing Walt Whitman, who contemplated what makes life value dwelling after a stroke left him paralyzed, and echoing Mary Shelley, who contemplated what makes life value dwelling as she envisioned a twenty-first-century world savaged by a lethal pandemic, Adnan provides:
What’s left? This season of warmth and wind, this dinner tonight, and these massive bands of trembling waves of assorted shades of inexperienced that break up my coronary heart with their unbelievable magnificence.
That is Adnan’s parting present to this world, to us: the life-tested assurance that even when there’s an excessive amount of previous and too little future, life is simply ever lived everyday, for the dwelling day is all now we have — or what Muriel Rukeyser, one other visionary of unusual poetic perception into the character of being, reverenced as “the dwelling second… this second during which we contact life and all of the vitality of the previous and future.”
One such dwelling day, discovering herself “on the door of Time’s immensity,” Adnan writes:
The day is blustery, yet one more day following an infinity of days. And this one on its method out, in response to its destiny. If every little thing is alive, today is simply too, a life unbiased from mine, and nonetheless interdependent.
On one other dwelling day, after rejoicing in having lived to see a human space-probe attain the unseen aspect the Moon — “I felt the grounds open up underneath my ft, I felt I reached a landmark of cosmic proportion. I drank beer in a different way than regular.” — she echoes the civilizational sense that Bach is perhaps our prophet-laureate of aliveness, echoes San Francisco poet Ronald Johnson’s pretty formulation of the fundamental poetic reality that “matter delights in music, and have become Bach,” echoes thinker Josef Pieper’s insistence that “music opens a path into the realm of silence” and Aldous Huxley’s insistence that the one factor higher in a position to categorical the inexpressible than music is silence, and writes:
My palms are getting chilly, a musician is taking part in Bach on a lute on tv, and it suits: Bach’s music is the needle of the cosmic steadiness.
This has taken me into the core of a silence that underlines the universe: beneath the mesh of sounds that by no means stop there’s a wierd phenomena, a counter-reality, the rolling of silent matter. Silence is a flower, it opens up, dilates, extends its texture, can develop, mutate, return on its steps. It will possibly watch different flowers develop and change into what they’re… Silence is the creation of area… Silence calls for the character of night time, even in full day, it calls for shadows.
However in all my wanderings I by no means forgot the sunshine.
Radiating from these pages is without delay a welcome and a parting — an invite to the banquet of life on the deathbed of 1 explicit human who won’t ever once more recur as that exact ripple within the consciousness of time however who as soon as lived an extended, broad, deep life absolutely awake to the ephemeral ecstasy of aliveness:
I’ve invited to my banquet you and your neighbor, and animals too, and stones and mountains, rivers will convey their floods. I’ll let you know historical past is manufactured from wars, of concepts, of distress, of glory previous distress. Historical past is manufactured from every little thing that has ever occurred, the entire trajectory of people, of filth and galaxies. You might be Historical past, the squirrel is Historical past, the Universe is Historical past. It consists of God too.
Complement the transportable universe that’s Adnan’s Shifting the Silence with poet Lisel Mueller, who lived to the identical age as Adnan, on what offers which means to our ephemeral lives, then revisit Adnan’s beautiful painted poem about life, demise, and our cosmic redemption, created half a century earlier than she returned her borrowed stardust to the silence of spacetime.