Friday, December 20, 2013

The Lense of Vision

Moon photographed in 2012 with a 6-inch Newtonian reflector telescope I built

When I once brought my eye to the eyepiece of a telescope and witnessed the moon, it was not science but wonder that held me transfixed. And this, too, would not be correct, for what I saw was not suspended in hallucination, nor a vacant staring; I was instead enlivened by sensation. Noticing things, specific and concrete, both expanded my wonder and began a list of observations which descend to science and its purposes. But the open-eyed shock of near disbelief – the witness of one’s own miraculous vision – remained for all my life a welcome, if infrequent, occurrence. Art excites it, yet art seems a secondary illustration taken of vision’s prime effect. It is like memory rather than the first instance of seeing.

Oddly, Copley has some of that optical effect in his airless colonial portraits, and Vermeer practically sits us down in a camera obscura. It is more due to optical accuracy that the state of wonder is engendered in us like this, and it is ironic for the hard observational work – the science – needed for such a simple accomplishment on the viewer’s behalf.

So the state of seeing passes through stages – the first being prized for its sensational magic, and succeeding observations resorting to noticings, then measurements, finally a dry correspondence like this, or some account book registration.

Who will reawaken in us this first light of an object’s existence in our consciousness? Who can re-create the poetry of the brand new experience? Or have we forever passed beyond the ability to be thrilled by a movie of an arriving train? Must we now have a story to include it in?

Yet, the train arriving still thrills us in person. No story is necessary. The visceral is enough, yet the more we record it, the less we have of it. When I again have brought my eye to the lense of the telescope, and see there the moon in its finery of gray and satin whites, its bombarded continents and gray dust oceans; when I thereon do gaze languid in my summer comfort, breathing air that is nowhere present on the moon; when I partake of wonder at the stony sphere out there and of myself below drawn up by fascination; then am I at the tip-toe of my life, alive with the wonder of the all in all.