January 11, 2007

What's in a Thing? A look into what makes an ordinary item sublime.

Things. Stuff. Goods. What are they? They are what they are, but what are they?

They are more than they are, always. A thing has a use. Its use might be as quiet as stirring coffee, a small stick of whittled wood meant only for that. A creative person could see other uses for a coffee stirrer, like building one of those bridges high school students sometimes make.

(see post examining wooden coffee stirrers: Morning Has Broken, But It Can Be Stirred Into Gladness - Wood Coffee Stirrers reviewed)

Other uses could be ranging from the obvious, like as a piece of little lumber for a very small house, to the less obvious, like as a toothpick for a very large man. The next level is where the challenge lay... the sublime. In regarding this level, there is the presence of reality. Just as a poem can draw a reader into a new place, in which the poet must depend on words that are both finite and vague simultaneously, so must be the same with a coffee stirrer.

I choose a coffee stirrer in this case because of its blatant ordinariness. Coffee drinkers, especially those on the go picking up java at the local 7-11, use these tiny, thin sticks to marry the coffee with the sugar and cream. We grab one, use it, and toss it. If we touch it more than 30 seconds, what have we done?

Within the very ordinary is the very sublime. Poets often write about flowers and mountains, both pastoral in the intimate sense, as well as, like the mountain, distant sense. The very intimate is more flowers. In fact, I would argue, because of how we might daily encounter a coffee stirrer, the stirrer is more intimate than the flower. Our relationship to it is more regular. As much as we ignore it, we know it better than a rose we see only when wanderung through a garden, or receiving them as a gift.

What is the sublime? It is something beyond the obvious, at the very least. It stops short of a spiritual or supernatural characteristic or experience. To find the sublime takes a close look at what the thing is, and being open to the vagaries surrounding it. Nothing, in this sense, then is ever benign. It is, at its core, romantic.

I examine some of the more unusual uses of two things, of string and tin cans, and invite you to suggest others.

Get your stuff, your things, your goods together and think about the romantic, beautiful, fantastic, amazing, incredulous and sublime within the every day world around you. It will not make a rainy day sunny, but it may help you see how wonderful a rainy really is.

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