Over every threshold
we unconsciously haul
our childhood home.
Even as adults we retain the incubative space when our model of reality was made with neurons that survived their perilous migration upward to cast a mind.
i am in the elevator, not sure
on which floor I live; or which
door my key opens. Or, i am trying to find the mailbox with my name on it, crammed with letters not relevant anymore.
Because of such scenes, i am now a trickster caught in the net in his dreams.

"The Latin word for the sacredness of a place is cultus, the dwelling of a god, the place where a rite is valid. Cultus became our word culture, not in the portentous sense it now has, but in a much humbler sense. For ancient people the sacred was the vernacular ordinariness of things: the hearth, primarily; the bed, the wall around the yard.(1)

All entrances open to appearances from another age. "Preservation recognizes the necessity of the images of the past for the animation of the present. And it is a form of adornment, giving body, sensuality, attractiveness to the imagination of the past and soul to the imagination of the present."(2)

After physicists Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg visited Kronberg Castle, Bohr said to Heisenberg: "Isn't it strange how this castle changes as soon as one imagines that Hamlet lived here?" Later, Bohr continued, speculating that to the dismay of some archaeologists, (Jacques) Cauvin argued that major changes in thought preceded changes in substance: people changed their religion and symbolism before they became farmers, not as a result of becoming farmers. For strict environmentalists and adaptationists, this is heresy, but, somewhat ironically, it doesn't matter if Hamlet actually lived there. What matters is "the questions Shakespeare had him ask, the human depth he was made to reveal."(3)

In the Neolithic, walls "were like 'membranes' between components of the cosmos; behind them lay a realm from which spirits and spirit-animals
could emerge and be induced to emerge."
(4)

In Ancient Rome, Forculus was the god of doors,
Cardea goddess of hinges and handles, Limentinus
and Limentina deities of the threshold.

In Japan, two Niō protected temple entrances,
one's mouth was open the other's closed;
between them the span between birth and death.

Moving west across the New World, immigrants never lost sight of the home they had left. Thus, Queen Anne, Victorian, Italianate and Mediterranean architecture magnify these streets. In his lecture, "Beauty Without Nature," James Hillman says: "The great question in psychology is, Where is the subject, not what is the subject, but where is it? Where does it stop? Where does the unconscious stop? Where does the psyche stop?"(5) Hillman's mentor, C.G. Jung, said: "Nothing has ever been projected; that is a wrong conception really: the term projection is wrong.

"Such a psychological content always has been outside, it never was inside. A so-called projection is simply a thing which is discovered to be outside and then integrated by the discoverer with himself. Our psychology was all found outside, it never was in our pockets to begin with."(6)

The mind stops where imagination falters. However, Jung goes on to say that the psychology of "primitive" people "is identical with things and the things are his mind..." Referring to contemporary primal tribes, this is one of Jung's colonialist slips. But it still may give us insight into the Homo sapiens mind when it began to emerge in Africa, perhaps cultures grow, expand, and conquer, based on the need to fill up these white spaces. As we succeed, the tangibility of the emptiness recedes. It is farther and farther away. East and West, unexpected oceans, unprecedented continents. Magellan’s ship made it around the world; suddenly there was less mystery 200,000 years ago. The question becomes not "Where does it stop?" but "Where did it begin?"

 

What we don't see in the space of an old house is the archetypal structure that supports it. We may sense its revenants, but not what's behind them. In a new house, we can already smell the future. But how can there be a future without a past? So its walls are braced by the ribs of gnarled trees. Its roof is a canopy of sticky sap. Its foundation is poured into an ancient creek bed. Born from a universe driven through rings by magnets, its aura "by contrast, involves a permanent presence which ironically rests on invisibility, inscrutability and illegibility."(7)  By default, a building stands where a moment ago was an empty lot.

We are the desert god.
His left hand plucks from the burning
what his right hand burns.
(8)

 

The first summer I lived here, my door opened onto a forest. Ten years later, I live on the top floor of a twelve-story building. Not like my childhood home that had two sides cleaved by a lobby and united by a basement and roof. Two elevators rose from the dark basement to a roof with gray shingles, wavy lines of tar, and clothes drying taut ropes.

One could enter the cellar, a uroboros with storage rooms, with steep hills of coal, discarded baby carriages, banks of electricity meters and fuse boxes, and an enormous room with three boilers blasting heat upwards to radiators howling with steam. I still have nightmares in which the elevator doesn't stop at the roof, but becomes a train speeding through tunnels of infinite space.

"an elevator system linking earth to space. In a sense it is a tower, rising clear through the atmosphere, and far, far beyond. Think of it as a four-track vertical subway or railroad, from earth to synchronous orbit. An engineering triumph, no doubt, but a psychological nightmare. I suggest that some people will go mad at its mere contemplation."(9)

There were six floors, twelve flights of stairs "the breath-bearing / Dioscuri climb up and down / Inaccessible stairs as the mountains / Retreat from

    the heavenly fortress / At night, and gone / The times / Of Pythagoras."(10)

Here there are two elevators, side-by-side, no basement, and they don't reach to the roof. Without a basement to rise from or roof to rise above, my severed memories are cached in a neural net physically inscribed with myths of my own making. Arriving home has come to mean entering the precincts of another dream.

 

Some left early, while others waited for the mutations that made them fully human beings. It was the Homo sapiens mind's need to see what's over the next horizon, test survival skills, and make culture of it all, that drove small groups north, then fan out east and west, refining tools and weapons along the way. In this way they became predictors more dangerous than their size suggested.

We do not know much about how early migrating peoples sheltered themselves before they lived under the overhangs of caves. Of course it would have varied with terrain, weather, and available materials as, unlike their conservative Neanderthal cousins, who stuck with what worked over millions of years, they became expert at adapting to changing conditions.

"Among the earliest huts to be discovered are those at sites in the central Russian Plain (today's Ukraine), dated to about 14,000 B.C.E. Constructed of mammoth bones and pine poles, with a lining of animal skins and the central hearth, the largest dome- shaped hut incorporated skeleton parts from nearly a hundred mammoths in its framework."(11)

It is proposed that before this they "crouched behind windbreaks, branches or twigs clumsily heaped or plaited together or large pieces of tree-bark,"(12) wearing and sleeping between the thick fur of animal skins.

 

I am sitting on a bench thinking that I'd like to leave the city and have dinner with the sun setting behind my tent, waking before dawn to backpack up an unfamiliar trail. Instead, the morphological and functional evolution of appendages has played a crucial role in the adaptive radiation of tetrapods, arthropods and winged insects. The origin and diversification of fins, wings and other structures, long a focus of paleontology, can now be approached through two pigeons walking up to me suddenly turn in another direction.

If there must be a god in the house, let him be one
That will not hear us when we speak...
(13)

 

Years before I climbed up to my hermitage cabin, nestled "between the north and east slopes of Boggs Mountain,"(14) I rented a spacious apartment in San Francisco's Fillmore District, working the night shift at the post office. One afternoon, while packing for a trip to Japan, I heard on the radio–

    Walking at night on asphalt campus
    road by the German Instructor with Glasses
    W.C. Williams is dead he said in accent
    under the trees in Banares...
(15)

Silently bowing to mountain temple buddhas, more than forty years later I can still see those cavernous rooms, and hear the poet's sonorous voice echoing through them. Where did I imagine I was going?

There is no single antecedent to our species.
The more bones dusted off, the more lines of descent anthropologists find. "Man cannot restore the body that shaped his mind."
(16)
Rather,
a late style would reflect a life of learning, the wisdom that comes from experience, the sadness that comes from wisdom and a mastery of craft that has nothing left to prove. It might recapitulate a life's themes, reflect on questions answered, and allude to where we began is a matter of which attribute is chosen to rent us from our animal past. There was no natal moment.

On clear days, from several points in this neighborhood three mountains appear. It is Mt. St. Helens who is best known, because of her eruption decades ago, flattening forests, spewing gray ash even over these streets. Many days, like a god she disappears. Then she returns mantled in snow; or naked like Danaë: dark rock festooned with ice-glittering stones. Majestically distant, even without her crown, this made me consider human Paleolithic social space.

I imagine a family circled around a fire during long nights of freezing winds howling from glaciers crawling forward not far away. Predators were also felt circling just beyond the sacred protective flame. There was also an outer circle of urine, with which our ancestors marked their place. Crossing the threshold from darkness into light, there is no bright line that untangles who we are from who we were.

i'm back on the streets of Brooklyn, looking for my first universe again. But the address numbers skip. Realizing i am on the side-street, i walk to the building's entrance. Inside, a door that leads to a staircase is guarded by two young men, one arrogant, the other morose. Not wanting to fight for entry, i walk around a corner. Two women are there. One shows me the elevator, whose door is a solid sheet of metal that doesn't open. So she slides out a draw full of its machinery, and begins to work on it. An older man appears, also looking for the elevator. Seeing what's happening, he says, "Let's take the stairs." We walk back to the staircase door. The Niō are gone. i follow him up a few flights of steps, then down others, when it occurs to me that this isn't my childhood home.

"Photography is subversive not when it frightens, repels, or even stigmatizes...but when it is pensive, when it thinks."
I suggest that photography is subversive when it imagines what the viewer can't. Connah continues: "Photography is probably subversive the closer to meaningless it takes us."(17)

Every photograph is meaningless until we think we “got the picture.” Lack of meaning is not subversive, only provisional, delaying the inevitability of description.
A subversive art would be one whose meaning is inherently transitional, intrinsically provoking metamorphosis.

The foyer has a closet, a small kitchen to the left. Ahead is a living room with two bookcases, a couch, an architect's tiltable table, a computer, Japanese roll-down blinds. In the bedroom, a desk piled with books, and two computers. There's a night table, at the place of descent from one world to another.This descent involves a progression through a sequence of the four doorways, of black, blue, yellow and and white mountain, each doorway guarded by a different animal: Red Bear, Red Snake, Red Coyote and Red Hawk. This sequence leads at last to a bed. Mirror of the bathroom's medicine cabinet is a portal in which we may see ourselves, as if we are ourselves dreaming of being at home.

"We are what we are today because our primordial ancestors followed paths and riverbanks over the horizon."(18) Now we are primarily urban dwellers drawn together by work and culture, perhaps for some of the same reasons our ancestors built walls: frightened, if not embarrassed, by species from which they had mutated, like the nouveau rich buying into gated communities. Or was it, in their hubrus, the old gods they feared?

 

These days I too am drawn more to what's around the next corner than over the next hill, intrigued by architecture's medley of facades, and that “our traditional forms of ornament, such as the egg-and-dart patterns and serpentine motifs, store forgotten magical ideas."(19) Although a wisp of air from the forest, or a hint of brine from the sea, still sets my lungs bellowing as if stoking up the blacksmith's forge. Who are the smittys of our century, "architects and artisans of the Gods," human or not?(20)

The commonly accepted myth is that the Hadzabe spend their evenings telling stories of recent hunts and ancient legends while sitting around a small fire, story lines punctuated with careful intonations, sound effects, and jokes. It is a rich and varied existence, and after several days of living with them I started to feel a distinct calmness, as the worries and clutter of modern life melted away. In an odd way, it felt like our technologies will always save us, as they have for thousands of years. But now the earth is posting conditions in which progress is measured in humans requiring less, while we stubbornly continue to value familiarity over reality. At ground level—

A striking example of such disorientation occurred in 1973 when we were crossing a range of rocky hills at the western edge of the Simpson Desert that Wintinna Mick had last visited many years before. When we surmounted the escarpment and found, instead of the crest Wintinna had anticipated, a 20 kilometer-wide plateau that he had forgotten, he became completely disoriented. His unwonted memory lapse had so disrupted his topographical mental image (mental map) that he was unable to reassemble it that day. (21)

 

Finally, our relentless journeying leads us back to the memory of when we knew we were cast from the same alloys as the whole of creation.
It is not a matter of shamanic metamorphosis, of shifting shape: we are already in "deep homology." Harboring the genes of other species is our unexpressed relationship to a larger vision of ourselves. Given enough breadth, home vents into world.

Whoever you are: some evening take a step
out of your house, which you know so well.
Enormous space is near, your house lies where it begins,
whoever you are.
(22)

 



1- Davenport, G. (1981) "The Geography of the Imagination." The Geography of the Imagination. San Francisco: North Point Press.
2- Sardello, R. (1982) “City as Metaphor.” Spring Journal.
to the dismay of some archaeologists: D. Lewis-Williams and D. Pierce, Inside the Neolithic Mind. London: Thames & Hudson, 2005.
3- Heisenberg, W. (1972) Physics and Beyond. New York: Harper & Row.
4- Lewis-Williams, D. and Pearce, D. (2005)
Ibid.
5- Hillman, J (2005) "Beauty Without Nature." (MP3) Oregon Friends of C.G. Jung Library, Portland.
6- Jung, C.G. (1964) "The Interpretation of Visions: V. Excerpts From the Notes of Mary Foote." Spring Journal.
cultures grow: D. Rothenberg, “The Idea of North.” In, D. Rothenberg, Editor, Wild Ideas. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1995.
7- Graeme, G. (2002) Walter Benjamin: Critical Constellations. Cambridge: Polity Press.
8- LeGuin, U.K. From, "Field Burning Debated” “Salmon Fate Discussed.”
9- Clarke, A.C. (2001) The Fountains of Paradise. New York: Warner/Aspect.
10- Hölderlin, F. From, "But when the Gods..."
11- Moffett, M. & Fazio, M.W. (2003) A World History of Architecture. London: Laurence King Publishing.
12- Camesasca, E. (1971) "A Roof Over Man's Head." In, E. Camesasca, Editor, History of the House. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons.
the morphological: N. Shubin, C. Tabin & S. Carroll, "Fossils, Genes and the Evolution of Animal Limbs." Nature. 14 August 1997.
13- Stevens, W. From, "Less and Less Human, O Savage Spirit."
14- Weishaus, J. (1973-74) Introduction to "Hermitage" http://www.cddc.vt.edu/host/weishaus/Poetry/intro-p.htm
15- Ginsberg, A. From, "Death News."
16- Eiseley, L. (1998) "The Star Dragon." In, The Invisible Pyramid. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.
a late style would reflect: E. Rothstein, “Twilight of his Idols.” Review of E.W. Said, On Late Style: Music and Literature Against the Grain. The New York Times, 16 July 2006.
17- Connah, R.(2001) “How Architecture Got its Hump.” Cambridge: MIT Press.
at the place of descent: E. L. Smith, “Doorways, Divestiture, and the Eye of Wrath.” http://www.janushead.org/JHSumm99/smith.cfm
18- Dutton, D. (2009) The Art Instinct: Beauty, Pleasure, and Human Evolution. New York: Bloomsbury Press.
19- Walter, E.V.(1988) ) Placeways. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.
20- Eliade, M. (1971) The Forge and the Crucible. New York: Harper & Row.
the Hadzabe spend: S. Wells, Pandora’s Seed: The Unforeseen Cost of Civilization. New York: Random House, 2010
21- Lewis, D. (1976) "Observation on Route Finding and Spatial Orientation Among the Aboriginal Peoples of the Western Desert Region of Central Australia." Oceania (June)
22- Rilke, R.M. From, "The Way In." R. Bly, Translator.