Professor Giscombe is coming to talk with us on Monday, and he’s given an assignment for his visit. Please submit this via email by Sunday night, and bring a printed copy to class. The Basho reading is posted on the Syllabus and Readings page, along with an optional, but highly recommended, essay by Professor Giscombe.
From Prof. Giscombe:
In Margaret Atwood’s novel Surfacing the narrator goes into the Quebec woods in
search of her missing anthropologist father. The region is rife with ancient
rock paintings—mystic symbols from a bygone time, their meaning subject to
present-day debate. Her father had mapped the territory and she—the book’s
narrator—had his maps. But then she comes to her own conclusion:
The map crosses and the drawings made sense now: at the beginning he must have
been only locating the rock paintings, deducing them, tracing and photographing
them, a retirement hobby; but then he found out about them. The Indians did not
own salvation but they had once known where it lived and their signs marked the
sacred places, the places where you could learn the truth.
The point is that her map (with its Xs) was only a map to where a
vision—supernatural, holy, damning, saving, “the truth”—could be had, not
necessarily to the vision itself. What one saw at the sites (aside from the
paintings themselves) depended on the individual. Or perhaps one would see
nothing at all.
Much of the book describes lakes and portages, the journey itself to the
father’s desolate and abandoned cabin. Years after reading the book I happened
into the place where the novel was set—the Temiscaming region of
Quebec—recognizing it more or less instantly from her descriptions, this on a
several-days solo cycling trip in 1988.
I’ll ask that people write out directions to a real place where they have had a
vision. A vision? An epiphanic moment—a realization or understanding or
intimation. Or a vision, whatever that might mean—something holy or sexual or
weird. (I would direct you to a bridge on I-71 in southern Ohio where, on a
certain day, I suddenly forgave someone who’d done me wrong, this in the middle
of thoughts about other things; or I might direct you to a roadside in Triangle
township in upstate New York—near the St. Lawrence—where I heard a child’s voice
deliver a startling message about mortality, this in a place where there were no
children present. Nothing happened on either bridge or roadside except for the
moment of clarity.
Take no more than 90 words to give clear directions; use your word count
function!. Use Basho’s clipped prose as a guide. Below the directions include
a hand-drawn map. The point is to use a single side of a single sheet of paper
for the writing and the map. Do not mention what the vision was in the
writing. (Briefly describe it–the vision–on the back of the sheet.)
END of writing experiment!