Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Fearful symmetry

Sunday night Jan and I went to see "The Life of Pi"--which despite having rave reviews only had a dozen or so people in the huge theatre. I thought this Watercolor tiger painting (which you can purchase if you click on the hyperlink!) captured a bit of the essence of the movie--as well as Blake's classic poem at the bottom.  Richard Parker (the tiger in the movie) was the kicker for me: how the hell they could have done such an astonishingly perfect job of cyberartistry with this awesome cat? Apparently, the critters in the boat are all phony cyber creations, although they looked distressingly real to my eyes. I don't want to spoil your appreciation of this movie--it is well worth seeing on many levels. But I realized watching it that much of my life has been a struggle with my own personal tiger. Piscine (the protaganist) implies at the end that perhaps Richard Parker (the tiger antagonist) was in fact himself...I said the movie operated on many levels!
I've read two biographies of Bruce Chatwin, and they both mentioned Bruce's great interest in Dinofelis, a Miocene carnivore that appears to have specialized in eating our ancestors. The terror inspired by tigers in particular, may be a deep-seated human instinct inspired by millions of years of eluding (or trying to elude) the ironically named Smilodon. What if our intelligence came about as a direct result of "smarter" humans being selected because they found better ways to elude their ultimate predator and lived to procreate, passing on ever smarter genes?
I have a hunch that those increasingly smarter humans may have eventually developed methods to drive Dinofelis into extinction After all, paleontologists believe humans have driven dozens of other taxa of megafauna off the earth in the last tens of thousands of years through our extraordinary capacity for, well, let's be blunt--our mastery of destruction.
May I suggest (just as the "Life of Pi" seems to) that we are ourselves in fact the tiger. Until we manage to subjugate or at least grasp this fact that is. The tigers of ignorance and hate, greed and anxiety, guilt and fear are the creatures that drive so much of what we do from day to day. They do damage of course on their own, but also preoccupy us such that we do not attend what we should, something that may become an even greater predator in time, perhaps?
Let us hope we can somehow master that force within us--before we make all wild tigers extinct (not to mention the great bulk of other creatures out there that have not already been supplanted by Superstores, endless suburbs, shopping malls, farms and exurban wastelands).
And although the nearly extinct (or at least sputtering) Repugnican Party wackos would deny it, there is lurking out there a much bigger, much fiercer tiger than any of these (likewise our own creation--our own image, as it were projected onto an unimaginable scale): carbon emissions and the global warming they have set in motion are fiercer than any tiger you can conjure, although the eyes and teeth are not evident to reactionary pundits quite yet. Ironically, real tigers are composed mostly of carbon, come to think of it! How fearfully symmetrical!

The Tiger
By William Blake

                                                 Tiger, tiger, burning bright
                                                 In the forests of the night,
                                                 What immortal hand or eye
                                                 Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

                                                 In what distant deeps or skies
                                                 Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
                                                 On what wings dare he aspire?
                                                 What the hand dare seize the fire?

                                                 And what shoulder and what art
                                                 Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
                                                 And when thy heart began to beat,
                                                 What dread hand and what dread feet?

                                                 What the hammer? what the chain?
                                                 In what furnace was thy brain?
                                                 What the anvil? What dread grasp
                                                 Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

                                                 When the stars threw down their spears,
                                                 And water'd heaven with their tears,
                                                 Did He smile His work to see?
                                                 Did He who made the lamb make thee?

                                                Tiger, tiger, burning bright
                                                In the forests of the night,
                                                What immortal hand or eye
                                                Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?


  1. Panayoti,

    I looked up Paeonia cambessedessii which was shown in one of your recent posts. I saw that it was rated hardy to zone 7. This made me wonder, "How could you grow Paeonia cambessedessii in Denver?" I thought Denver's climate must be at least two zones too cold for a zone 7 plant. Even with mulch and protection I doubted it could survive winter in Denver. That was until I looked up the hardiness zone in Denver and found the following.


    After looking at the above website, I understood how you were able to grow this Peony.

    The warming climate made me think of all those wonderful alpine plants that grow in Colorado. As the climate warms they will be pushed higher and higher until they can climb no further.

    I also think about the people whose lives have been forever changed by the increasingly extreme weather. It makes me wonder when society will decide the damage caused to the world economy by global warming is no longer worth the immediate gratification provided by burning fossil fuel.


  2. You got it, James! Global warming should be the first item of a agenda in a functioning society: certainly not secession or the immense hate expressed by so many white yahoos against a president they do not deserve. We also saw Lincoln a week ago: this last election proves that the Civil War is still raging--especially in the Red States. The cultural tigers in us are killing us as people and as a country: let's hope Obama--with his amazingly steady hand and enormous integrity--can help quell the beast in the body politic: I am praying for him and us.

  3. The president is only as strong as the people following his leadership. To lead, he will have to engage all Americans, even the "yahoos." Change is a hard and slow process. Compromise is often necessary to begin moving in the right direction.


  4. It would be nice if the yahoos could be "engaged" by the President's leadership, but I have my doubts. I hope Obama works and leads on the big problems, as Acantholimon describes. Let him not spend time trying to convince the climate skeptics, the birthers, the grovers among our citizens. Sadly that appears to be a waste of time, which we have very little of.

  5. I thought you had more integrity and intelligence than to be taken in so easily by the leftwing climate clowns. You know, using real science instead of predictions based upon statistics generated by biased computer models. You have a very interesting and informative HORTICULTURAL blog here, that people of all stripes and persuasions and beliefs can enjoy. It would be nice if you could keep it from being sullied and soiled by unecessary political hate speech.

    1. Last I checked, the people who say climate change is real are scientists (people whose livelihood is science), and the people who deny climate change is real are politicians.
      Why, just a few years ago, the number of peer-reviewed papers demonstrating climate change versus those that denied it was one thousand to zero. One thousand demonstrating climate change, zero denying it. Zero.
      Demonstrating climate change is SCIENCE, denying it is POLITICS. Period.

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. I profoundly, sincerely and naively hope you are correct Mr/Ms Anonymous about those clowns: nothing would make me happier. But if we are right? Let's check in a few years from now and see: I'm rooting heart and soul for you to be correct. I apologize if I stray occasionally from my horticultural preoccupation. I have a wide spectrum of interests aside from gardening--perhaps I should create separate silos (so to speak) or blogs to vent my intense sincere and very leftish political observations--and then there are a few other hobby horses I'd like to trot out (I happen to like food and cooking a bit too much, and I am a bit more than a dilettante when it comes to classical English, Chinese, French, Spanish and Greek literature, various schools of history and Medieval art.) But plant are my stock in trade, I admit. But by my very nature, I blur lines and am painfully permeable. [I hate to cave it to despair: Pamit. You too appear to be right.

      P.S. It says I removed the content (and did) because I'd miss-spelled dilettante (a humiliating admission).

  7. A person who works in horticulture and/or loves plants will quite naturally be concerned about climate change. I think Acantholimon's comments are well-suited to his blog's subject matter. No fiddling for him, while Rome burns!

  8. Panayoti, At least you were finally able to get someone other than me to comment on your blog. :)


  9. But I appreciate your comments nonetheless! And I enjoy a bit of contention and discussion like this as well: it gets tedious when we are all singing Kumbaya and dancing the Hora as Rome burns...and thank you, Pamit, for the kind allusion. Nero and Caligula are near the top of my list of least favorite Roman Emperors. I am a big fan of Claudius, however!


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