A Planet Sown in Beings
Spring 2012: Volume 3, Issue 2
Many who make and seek out art do so to locate meaning within the unpredictable. This search can change both artist and audience and, in the best instances, can transform the seemingly pedestrian as well as the painfully traumatic into something transcendent. The writers and artists represented in this issue of Newfound grapple with the complex emotions tied to the loss of people and places that formed them. How do we go on when our world is turned on its head? How do we create when that which created us falls away to dust? Won’t we, too, leave behind those we love? Why do this living thing at all?
This spring I’ve been looking to the 2002 sci-fi horror film “28 Days Later” for some answers. The film features Jim, played by Cillian Murphy, who awakens in an abandoned hospital twenty-eight days after a bike accident only to find London’s usually busy streets deserted. He walks through vacant thoroughfares, calling out for someone familiar amid the quiet urban wilderness, but in the shadows lurk the undead. When the sun sets, these zombie-like folk come out of the proverbial woodwork to take down uninfected, ‘normal’ humans who are unfortunate enough to be attacked. Not the most chipper movie to welcome in the new season, yet I find myself re-watching “28 Days Later” again and again this spring while tulips and crocuses sprout from Denver’s slowly thawing soil.
Why follow a tattered team of human survivors as they fight their way to a military fortress for safety only to be faced with another kind of repopulation horror, one where survival is deemed possible only through the basest of human acts?
For me, it’s the moment in the film when all seems lost that most captivates. Jim is left for dead, laid out in the moist, decaying leaves of a zombie-infested forest and staring at the sky. Then, for the first time since he awoke to his drastically altered world, he is witness to something promising true salvation: a common airplane spirits itself across the sky, leaving a trail of dust in its wake. This different “kind of seeing,” espoused by early Transcendentalists such as Emerson and revisited by my favorite nature writer, Annie Dillard, emphasizes the importance of de-familiarization in the process of self-reflection and growth.
For Jim, and for most of us, this Emersonian “transparent eyeball” moment becomes possible when we’re placed in the position to see. Dillard’s later work “For the Time Being,” offers thoughts on contextualizing personal and distant loss: “Ours is a planet sown in beings. Our generations overlap like shingles. We don’t fall in rows like hay, but we fall. Once we get here, we spend forever on the globe, most of it tucked under. While we breathe, we open time like a path in the grass. We open time as a boat’s stem slits the crest of the present.”
Spring is conflated with lengthening sunlight, renewal, and rebirth, but it’s rife with unpredictable weather, too. For the people affected by last year’s devastating tsunami in Japan’s Tohoku region, this spring serves as a reminder of unimaginable loss, as well as a progress report on the community’s rebuilding efforts after being rattled by an earthquake and then razed by 15-meter tidal wave. In her upcoming album “Silver Silver,” singer-songwriter, Simone White, does her best to commemorate the land and lives impacted by Japan’s tsunami in “In the Water Where the City Ends.” The artist behind the images in White’s music video, Hideyuki Katsumata, spoke with NPR about the collaboration and her process in developing images to accompany the song:
Through the long history of the Earth, there were unknown numbers of repeated natural disasters like earthquakes, tsunamis and severe periods of ice age…. These images stayed in my mind as recollections and reflections. Just like the beats of the melody of the song I heard and felt when I closed my eyes, I saw the repeated scene of the rise and fall of the histories. And when I opened my eyes, I gained the courage to move forward…. I perceive my view of life and death as like the wind and mountains. I am powerless and helpless in never-ending time and never-stopping universal cycles. Whatever is caused by nature, it is, after all, natural things to humans. Yes, there is so much sadness and sorrow. But we have to remind ourselves we are nothing but a part of nature. By accepting the facts, little by little, I woke up this morning to start another new day.
I re-watch the devastating footage of last year’s tsunami in Japan and keep thinking about Jim sprawled out alone in a moldering forest floor where death seems imminent. By all accounts, hope could be gone for good, destroyed by circumstances beyond his control. Art, however, can possess the power to create order in chaos so that even in the most difficult moments, when all appears lost or sick beyond cure, we might hold on a little longer.
Gwynne Middleton, Managing Editor