How does a journey begin? Well, with a walk. A church and a cemetery affords the beginning. Bare branches on the edge of spring with stubs of brown-green grass and a path of graded small stones. An avenue of trees really, as we look down the path past grave markers and towards the dwellings of the living. All very ordered with wrinkled trunks, chiseled and polished memorials, and an overcast sky above where it’s supposed to be. The image of a gateway. Of passage from one world to another. A threshold.
Light and dark shifts as we step from path to woods. Now at first glance order doesn’t appear to reign any longer, but if you look close there is a well-marked path, the boulders are moss-covered but not buried and the pines offer a pleasing, balanced view rather than a riot of dark cones and needles pressing down upon the traveler. I negotiate the rise and fall of the ground without too much trouble, so my mind can muse a bit on what’s back on my writing desk.
I first read Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s The Reveries of the Solitary Walker fifteen maybe sixteen years ago. Casting back into memory to reawaken his walks following and amidst a turbulent period of his life, Rousseau writes,
The leisurely moments of my daily walks have often been filled with charming periods of contemplation which I regret having forgotten. I will set down in writing those which still come to me and each time I reread them I will enjoy them anew. I will forget my misfortunes, my persecutors, my disgrace, while dreaming of the prize my heart deserved. These pages will, properly speaking, be only a shapeless diary of my reveries.
The phenomenology of the image requires that we participate actively in the creating imagination.
The reality of love is mutilated when it is detached from all its unrealness.
A world takes form in our reverie, and this world is ours.
The space of my “self,” this entity somewhat attached to my name that exists within and without me; a felt experience that may be everywhere but is almost impossible to point at and say, “see, it’s right there. Quiet, or you’ll frighten it.” For his Second Walk, Rousseau writes,
These hours of solitude and meditation are the only ones in the day during which I am fully myself and for myself, without diversion, without obstacle, and during which I can truly claim to be what nature willed.
And out on a walk, one may find with the absence of interruptions from a mind buzzing with the noice of obsessive thinking, a self within the self and a world within the world where one may ply and play the creative imagination. Bachelard writes,
Poetic reverie gives us the world of worlds. Poetic reverie is a cosmic reverie. It is an opening to a beautiful world, to beautiful worlds. It gives the I a non-I which belongs to the I: my non-I. It is this “my non-I” which enchants the I of the dreamer and which poets can help us share. For my “I-dreamer,” it is this “my non-I” which lets me live my secret of being in the world.
Who and who I’m not and all wrapped together. If I walk long enough and far enough into the woods or if I’m walking through nearby neighborhoods and no one is out and about and the streets wind to and fro without any one to alter my free-flowing and free-forming gaze, then at a certain point when I come back to myself I realize that there is no separation from the calm and quiet outside and the calm and quiet inside. I have merged, melted, blurred and fused within consciousness which does not exist imprisoned within me but actually surrounds me and is inside me. Yes, the hard-problem of consciousness is that all the sentient and non-sentient nature around us has impressions and experiences connected to it that no matter how much we cut with our materialist-rationalist razor, with an idea of getting at what is really only really there, we still end up existing in a world that has meaning to us whether it is a rock or a deer, and that rock and deer are part of how a woods or hill exists and rock and deer exist connected to each other in their own being but also in the being of that wood, that hill, and that viewer which is me. Yes, panpsychism.
Which brings me to Pan, in this particular walk, in this particular reverie. Consider an accident Rousseau has during his Second Walk where he attempts to dodge an on-rushing Great Dane and carriage and so leaps out of the way and into a fall, shock and unconsciousness. Here is what Rousseau writes about coming to,
This first sensation was a delicious moment. I still had no feeling of myself except as being “over there.” I was born into life at that instant, and it seemed to me that I filled all the objects I perceived with my frail existence. Entirely absorbed in the present moment, I remembered nothing; I had no distinct notion of my person nor the least idea of what had just happened to me; I knew neither who I was nor where I was; I felt neither injury, fear, nor worry. I watched my blood flow as I would have watched a brook flow, without even suspecting that this blood belonged to me in any way. I felt a rapturous calm in my whole being; and each time I remember it, I find nothing comparable to it in all the activity of known pleasures.
Of this Bachelard states,
It is to prove that reverie gives us the world of a soul, and that a poetic image bears witness to a soul which is discovering its world, the world where it would like to live and where it deserves to live.
In Pan and the Nightmare, James Hillman writes extensively of the perception and experience of Pan, and over these next posts I will refer to his work, and one of the aspects of course to be noted of Pan is his calling-forth of nature and his being called-forth by the countryside.
To grasp Pan as nature we must first be grasped by nature, both “out there” in an empty countryside, which speaks in sounds, not words, and “in here” in a startled reaction.
In immersing himself in a walk without other humans and without the buzzing thoughts of human interaction, Rousseau slowly comes into contact with his “self” and the “self” of the outside world. Waking from his fall, he finds himself in a world of “all,” meaning a world of Pan.
In the Homeric Hymn to Pan, dating from the 6th century BCE, but of course the worship of Pan being far older than that, we are offered Pan as “the goat-footed, two-horned lover of noise, who roams through tree-filled meadows in the company of dancing nymphs.” Pan “hunts wild beasts on the mountain slopes, killing them, as he keeps sharp watch. But then only at evening he sounds a shrill cry as he returns from the chase playing a sweet tune on his reed-pipes.” As for his origins? Son of Hermes and the nymph Dryope, who gives his mother a terrible fright on being born with horns, hooves and a beard, but his father instead laughs and picks up the boy taking him to a banquet of the gods where “all the immortals were delighted in their hearts, but above all Dionysus. And they called him Pan because he delighted the hearts of all.”
Pan is with us when we walk into the forest. We are also joined by his father Hermes who guides and protects travelers, and of course his mother who lives in the mountains and the rivers and recognizes something wondrous and terrible in her son. A god who delights Dionysus most of all, leaving a question–what exists in all this delight? Something of Shakespeare and Westworld here?
I return home to apples, cheese and cognac. A simple but wide-ranging repast that sweeps into my mouth the tang and tart of crisp apples with a soft, slightly creamy cheese carrying a touch of veg and the distilled brandy aged in oak casks for at least ten years which brings dark chocolate, raisins, vanilla, and dried fruit. Quite a bit of delight here, but then any reverie is not completely delightful. Pan affords and offers more than a beautiful walk in the woods . . . far more. A suggestion of where I’m going in the next post, may be seen in a clip from Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist, which taking the way of Satan for its core realization and horror is actually more about Pan–of course, the devil only being how a Christian mirror or window chooses to see the goat-footed one. Husband and wife, Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg have returned into the woods to work on themselves and their marriage. Ah, chaos. Bon Appétit!