Thursday, February 01, 2007

Unmapping The Heavens

Plates from Harmonica Macrocosmica, 1660 - Andreas Cellarius (c. 1595-1665)

"Ah what Bull, what Dog, what Bear,
What trophies of victory immense,
Once embarked on resourceless time
The soul imposes on formless space!

Charms, "Secret Ode", Paul Valery

Mathematical reverie has drawn diagrams of this immense tableau of a Cerulean night. These constellations are all false! They have grouped totally foreign stars in a dingle figure. Between real points, that is between stars that are isolated like diamond solitaires, the dream of constellations has drawn imaginary lines. Dream, that great master of abstract painting, sees all the animals of the zodiac done in a pointillism reduced to the minimum. Homo faber - a lazy maker of wheels - puts a chariot without wheels in the sky; the ploughman, dreaming of his harvests, erects a simple golden sheaf. Seeing such luxuriance produced by the powers of projective imagination, how odd this logical dictionary definition seems!

Constellations: the assembly of a certain number of fixed stars on which has been superimposed a figure, either man or animal or plant, in order to remember them better and to which has been given a name to distinguish them from other groupings of the same kind.

Naming stars to "help remember them", what a lack of appreciation for the speaking powers of dream! What ignorance of the principles of reverie's imaginary project! The zodiac is the Rorschach test for the child Humanity. Why have learned grimoires been written; why has the sky of night been replaced by the sky of books?

There are so many dreams in the sky which poetry, encumbered by old words, has not been able to name. To how many writers of the night would we like to say: "Come back to the principle of reverie; the starry sky has been given to us, not to think about, but to dream"? It is an invitation to constellating dreams, to dream about the easy and ephemeral construction of the thousand forms that our desires take. The mission of "fixed" stars is to fix some dreams, to communicate some, and to rediscover some. They prove to a dreamer the universality of oneirism. This ram, young shepherd, that your hand caresses as you dream - there he is up there, turning gently in the immense night! Then there will be two of you to sketch him, to recognise him, and to talk to him as a friend. You will find that the two of you have the same vision, the same desire, and that even in the night, in the nocturnal solitude, you will see the same ghosts pass by. How much greater life becomes when dreams are bound together!

We will understand to what an extent the imagination of the sky is falsified and impeded by book knowledge if we reread some passages in which writers have blithely lost track of dreams in exchange for "knowledge" that is as poor as it is lifeless. At that stage we will perhaps be justified in suggesting a kind of counter-psychoanalysis that might destroy the conscious mind in favour of an established oneirism, which would be the only way to restore a refreshing continuity to reverie. "Knowing" the constellations, naming them as in books, projecting a classroom map of the sky on the sky itself, is brutalising our imaginary powers and depriving us of the benefits of the stars' oneirism. If we were not burdened with the words that "help our memory"- the memory of words, the great sloth that refuses to dream - every new night would be a new reverie for us, a renewed cosmogony. An ill-formed consciousness or one that is too formal is as harmful for the dreaming soul as an amorphous or warped unconscious. The psyche must find a balance between the imagined and the known. This equilibrium cannot be satisfied by vain substitutions in which, suddenly, the imagining powers find themselves bound up with arbitrary schemata. The imagination is a primary power. It must be born in the solitude of the imagining being. As always, to understand contemplation, we must begin with the Schopenhauerean formula: the starry night is my constellation. It makes me aware of my power to form constellations. It puts in my hands, as the poet says, these weightless chalices and these flowers that grow in space."

From The Constellations by Gaston Bachelard