Fata Morgana

Thine eyes deceive: A cold-weather mirage on a hot summer day. Anchorage Daily news. Dec. 7, 2012

This post is dedicated to my two sons, currently in their teens.

Beside the anxieties of cramming for exams and generalised collective growing pains, one question continually assails me: how can the voracious, wondering curiosity of young minds survive in a world devastated by globalised capital?

Traditional strategies fall short. Thinking things through clearly, rationally, responsibly is now woefully inadequate, counter-productive even. There is no shared vision of the future to act as yardstick, no alternative pathways for comparison.

Time out for travel is expensive, and where is one to go in an all-pervading, mono-cultural world of radicalised interiority, bereft too of biodiversity?

And where lies profundity? Like refracted images in water, depth of thought has become illusory, treacherous; aphorism has replaced analysis, entrepreneurs essayists.

Not to speak of community, extended families, embodied, temporal/spatial networks of people, squeezed aside by monetised asset sharing, the lonely gig economy.

No, wait. This is not the spirit. There is still marvel in the banal (‘le banal merveilleux’). Physics and metaphysics can still play peaceably together and we should join in the performance. As Virginia Woolf observed of the ever-changing, cloud-filled sky from the solitude of her sickbed,

“One should not let this gigantic cinema play perpetually to an empty house.”

In the monochrome hopelessness of our times, we must be alert to the prodigious in the here and now, to the poetry of the mundane. As André Breton asserted in the preface to his Surrealist poem ‘Fata Morgana’,

“elle (poetic analogy) tend à faire entrevoire et valoir la vraie vie “absente”.”

Science and logic describe the world but only our imaginations make it intelligible.

On August 14, 1643, in the Strait of Messina, Jesuit priest Domenico Giardina wondered at “a city all floating in the air, measureless and splendid, adorned with magnificent buildings, all of which was found on a base of luminous crystal, never beheld before.” He knew it was an optical illusion, a ‘fata morgana’ or superior image, and that there was no cause to impute divine intervention. He even gave his own chemical analysis of the phenomenon, which he described as a mobile specchio – a moving polyhedric mirror. Nevertheless, it was nature working her miracles and, as such, to be wondered at.

It was then and remains a wonderful world. There’s plenty of time for disillusionment later in life. Let it wait.

So I wander and wander along,
And forever before me gleams
The shining city of song,
In the beautiful land of dreams.

But when I would enter the gate
Of that golden atmosphere,
It is gone, and I wonder and wait
For the vision to reappear.

from Fata Morgana (1873) by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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