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Photo‐Graphy‐Synthesis



'Tis
optophone
which
ontophanes.

James
Joyce,
Finnegans
Wake


In
"The
Harp
and
the
Camera"
Owen
Barfield
suggested
that
we
need
to

rethink
the
controlling
metaphors
of
our
age,
which
he
takes
to
be
first,
that
of
the

1
camera,
and,
consequently,
that
of
projection.
Like
Susan
Sontag
in
On
Photography, 

Barfield
argues
that
man
has
begun
to
pattern
his
beliefs
about
perception
and,

therefore,
about
the
nature
of
the
world,
on
the
basic

model
of
the
photographic
image:
light
is
passively

received
and
recorded
and
then
its
contents
are
projected

back
into
the
world,
thereby
creating
it.
Just
as
the

invention
of
clocks
once
resulted
in
the
proliferation
of

clock
metaphors,
now
the
predominance
of
photography

and
of
the
movies
in
our
century
has
resulted
in
the

widespread
adoption
of
metaphorical
notions
based
upon

their
qualities.
The
anthropological
theory
of
animism,
for

example,
is,
as
Barfield
shows,
founded
on
the
twentieth‐century
metaphor
of

projection,
but
it
seems
likely
that
we
are,
in
reality,
"projecting"
our
conceptions

into
the
mind
of
primitive
man.

As
an
alternative
to
these
metaphors,
Barfield
proposes
the
Romantic

commonplace
of
the
Aeolian
harp
as
a
model
for
the
ways
of
perception.
Barfield,

who,
it
should
be
remembered,
is
a
champion
for
what
he
calls
the
initiation
of
"final

2
participation"
in
Saving
the
Appearances, 
emphasizes
that
in
the
wind‐harp
we
have

a
device
which
"becomes
what
it
is
by
itself
becoming
an
'inside'
for
the
environing

air,
by
becoming
a
modulated
voice
for
it
to

speak
with"
(72).
In
this
it
differs
greatly

from
the
camera
and
the
eye:
for
the
harp

is
the
very
paradigm
of
"inspiration"
in
its

literal
sense.
Its
medium
is
air,
the

conveyor
of
sound
and
the
vehicle
of


1
Sontag notes that “The Primitive notion of the efficacy of imags presumes that
images possess the qualities of real things, but our inclination is to attribute to real things the
qualities of an image” (158).
2
For Barfield, man is “the theatre on which participation has died to rise again” (185).
The Collected Works of David Lavery 2

speech;
and
air,
unlike
light,
must,
if
it
is
to
convey
its
message,
enter
a
long
way

into
us,
into
the
"labyrinth
of
the
ear."
Light,
the
medium
of
the
camera
and
of

projection,
does
not,
however,
enter
into
the
body
at
all:
"It
is
stopped
short
at
the

surface
of
the
eye."

Consequently,
Barfield
thinks,
light
is
a
poor
source
of
metaphors
for
true

inspiration,
for
it
cannot
yield
either
a
theory
of
perception
or
of
creation
which

gives
due
credit
to
both
the
inner
and
the
outer,
to
the
individual
author
or
creator

and
the
"Author
and
the
Lord
of
the
archetypes
themselves"
(78).
Metaphors
for

creativity
based
on
light,
Barfield
seems
to
believe,
always
succumb
to
shallow

thinking
and
are
unable
to
account
for
the
complexity
of
true
creation,
which

Barfield
takes
to
be
verbal.

As
an
alternative,
Barfield
proposes
that
we
think
of
the
eye
as
having
built

into
it
a
sort
of
"mini‐harp"
stretched
across
the
lens
which
would
attune
itself
to

the
modulations
of
the
world
in
such
a
way
that
its
"projection"
would
become,
not

the
"punctiliar
nothingness"
which,
Barfield
claims,
the
invention
of
perspective

ushered
into
the
world
and
which
movies
have
done
little
or
nothing
to
change,
but

rather
the
joyful
products
of
a
participatory
imagination
in
which
the
word
and
the

light,
the
verbal
and
the
visual,
are
fused.

Although
Barfield's
attempt
to
redirect
our
metaphors
is
a
brilliant
and

necessary
one,
it
seems
to
me
that
he
is
mistaken
about
the
interplay
between
and

the
human
eye
and
the
world;
as
a
result
he
has
weighted
the
scale
unfairly
in
favor

of
sound
and
language
in
his
laudatory
attempt
to
resurrect
our
"original

participation"
with
the
world.

In
the
first
place,
there
is
growing
evidence
that

Barfield's
contention
that
light
does
not
enter
into
the

human
body
may
be
incorrect.
Experiments
conducted

by
physiologist
William
F.
Ganong
have
shown
that
in

various
mammals
sunlight
can
penetrate
skin
and
bone

into
the
brain
and
perhaps
even
affect
its
functioning;

and
there
is
some
evidence
that
light,
entering
the

skull
through
the
pathway
of
the
optic
nerve,

influences
the
production
of
enzymes
in
the
pineal

gland:
a
body
in
the
brain
which
in
some
forms
of
lower
life,
especially
lizards,
still

functions
as
a
third
eye,
and
the
removal
of
which
results
in
extreme
spatial

disorientation).
John
Bleibtreu
has
even
suggested
that
an
excess
of
light
in
the

The Collected Works of David Lavery 3

immediate
environment,
during
the
spring
for
example,
may
cause
something
like
a

mild
hallucinatory
experience
in
the
individual
due
to
the
effect
of
light
on
the

pineal
gland's
production
of
serotonin,
an
enzyme
which
plays
a
prominent
role
in

our
ability
to
think
rationally
(64‐82).
We
may,
then,
be
permeated
with
light
as

much
as
with
air.
In
fact,
light
may
be
the
most
elemental
fact
of
our
existence.

When
cataract
operations
were
first
performed
in
this
country
early
in
the

this
century,
adult
men
and
women,
many
blind
since
birth,
looked
out
for
the
first

time
onto
their
world
and
at
external
light,
and
what
they
saw
(as
recorded
by

Marius
von
Senden
in
Space
and
Sight)
had
little
in
common
with
what
we
take
to
be

the
visible
creation.
Most
had
virtually
no
sense
of
space
at
all;
some
thought
a

house
a
mile
away
to
be
close
by.
As
she
underwent
the
experience
we
all
go
through

and
forget,
the
moment
we
are
born,"
one
girl
saw
only
"a
lot
of
different
kinds
of

brightness."
Most
were
for
some
time
unable
to
distinguish
objects
at
all
from
among

a
"confusion
of
forms
and
colors."
One
young
man
witnessed
only
"an
extensive
field

3
of
light,
in
which
everything
appeared
dull,
confused,
and
in
motion." 

The
first
time
that
we
see
light,
the
French
philosopher

Condillac
wrote
in
the
18th
century,
"we
are
it
rather
than
see
it"

(quoted
in
Zuckerkandl
342).
What
the
testimony
of
von
Senden's

newly
sighted
and
Condillac
seems
to
indicate
is
that
light
is
an
all

pervasive
phenomenon
out
of
which
the
world
must
be
constituted

piece
by
piece;
the
world
is
a
series
of
learned
routes
through
the

primordial
aseity
of
light.
Our
century's
poetic
imagination
long
ago
realized
this
and

as
a
result
has
found
modern
physics'
conception
of
the

inextricable
binding
of
matter,
energy,
and
light
a
source
of

inspiration
of
a
new
kind.
William
Carlos
Williams,
for
example,

insisted
that
"It
is
.
.
.
white
light
that
is
the
background
of
all

good
work"
in
the
arts
(Selected
Essays
122),
and
he

consequently
thought
of
words
as
they
emerge
as
figures
against

the
whiteness
of
the
page
as
the
perfect
image
of
the
creation
of

all
things
out
of
light's
originary
constancy
(Imaginations
316).
The
very
strength
of

poetry,
he
believed,
was
that
it
allows
both
to
exist
simultaneously,
while
prose
(and

the
prosaic)
attempts
to
fill
in
the
whiteness
as
entirely
as
possible
and
thus
fails
to

show
man's
creative
indebtedness
to
the
light.


3
My quotations from the book are taken from Annie Dillard’s discussion of it in Pilgrim
at Tinker’s Creek (New York: Bantam Books, 1974): 26-30.
The Collected Works of David Lavery 4

Rainer
Maria
Rilke,
to
cite
another
example,
describes
the

angel
to
which
he
addresses
his
Duino
Elegies
as
"Gelenke
de

Lichtes"
("hinges
of
light"),
and
in
Sonnets
to
Orpheus,
II,
5,
he

finds
the
anemone
to
be
a
figure
for
the
poet's
task,
since
it

teaches
that
whatever
the
cost
a
poet
must
be
open
to
the

"polyphone/Licht
der
lauten
Himmel"
("polyphonic
light
of
the


4
loud
skies"). 



And
did
not
Dylan
Thomas,
in
"In
My
Craft
or
Sullen
Art,"
declare
his
true

vocation
to
be
the
articulation
of
light?
"I
labor
by
singing
light,"
Thomas
playfully

and
ambiguously
proclaims,
and
even
a
cursory
reading
of
the
body
of
his
work
will

substantiate
his
faithfulness
to
light
as
muse.

In
Thomas'
"Love
in
the
Asylum,"
he
describes
a
girl
"mad
as
birds"
who

comes
to
a
mental
hospital,
sharing
a
room
with
the
poem's
persona,
who
attempts

to
describe
her
madness.
She
sees,
we
are
told,
clouds
entering
"the
heaven‐proof

house"
of
the
hospital,
and
she
paces
about
the
floor
raving
wildly.
About
her
the

narrator
can
only
conclude
that








She
has
come
possessed

Who
admits
the
delusive
light
through
the
bouncing
wall.
.
.
.
(119)


4
I am using the translations of, respectively, J. B. Leishman and Stephen Spender for
the Elegies and M.D. Herter Norton for the Sonnets.
The Collected Works of David Lavery 5


What
Thomas
seems
to
be
trying
to
make
us
understand
here
is,
quite
simply,
that

for
the
insane
girl
the
wall
of
her
room
does
not
shut
out
the
light
from
outside.
For

it
is
"bouncing"
and
somehow
permeable
to
her
in
her
madness,
and
she
is
able
to

"admit"
the
"delusive"
light
to
have
access
to
her
through
its
interstices.
In
the
midst

of
the
walled
alienation
of
a
mental
hospital,
she
remains,
somehow,
without—in
the

world.
But
if
she
is
mad,
then
so
is
modern
subatomic
physics,
which
tells
us
that
the

wall
is,
in
fact,
bouncing,
that
it
is
in
reality
a
pattern
of
energy
with
only
apparent

solidity,
created
by
the
incredible
velocity
at
which
the
subatomic
particles
of
which

it
is
made
travel.
(A
wall
is
solid,
to
propose
a
gross
analogy,
only
in
the
way
a

revolving
propeller
seems
solid.)
But
such
a
"reality,"
we
are
told,
is
only
to
be

considered
theoretical;
one
is
not
supposed
to
experience
it.
And
yet
the
word

"theory"
itself
means
"to
see"
etymologically.
Has
Thomas'
mad
girl
been
too
literal?

Did
Thomas
not
tell
us
that
he
wanted
all
his
poems
to
be
taken
literally"
(Selected

Letters
196).

"Love
in
the
Asylum"
I
take
to
be
a
sort
of
analogue
of
the
poetic
process.
I

like
to
think,
if
I
may
be
allowed
some
impressionistic
speculation,
that
the
wall

which
stands
between
the
girl
and
her
world
and
through
which
the
light
enters
is
in

reality
not
that
of
the
hospital
room
but
her
own
skin,
including
the
surface
of
her

eyes,
and
that
the
light's
entrance
into
her,
her
"possession"
by
it,
is
near
perfect

way
of
understanding
how
poetry
comes
to
be
made.
The
girl's
roommate
knows
this

well:
that
in
her
"madness"
lies
the
secret
of
all
origin
and
all
poietikos,
for
to
be

"taken
by
light
in
her
arms
at
long
and
dear
last,"
that
is,
to
be
seized
by
her
and
her

demon,
is,
the
narrator
tells
us,
to
"without
fail/Suffer
the
first
vision
that
set
fire
to

the
stars."
As
the
20th
century
avant‐garde
composer
Edgard
Varese
succinctly

explained,
"Art
means
keeping
up
with
the
speed
of
light"
(quoted
in
Cott
185).

Thomas'
mad
girl's
gift
is
precisely
this
"keeping
up,"
and
so
too
must
poetry
be
if
it

participates
in
the
natural
world.

On
a
1978
episode
of
the
National
Educational
Television
science
program

Nova,
an
incredible
experiment
was
presented.
A
photographic
negative
(I
believe
it

was
a
simple
image
of
a
man
from
the
chest
up)
was
soaked
in
alcohol
and
then

attached
to
a
leaf
of
a
plant
and
exposed
to
light.
The
result
was
that
after
a
period

of
time
the
image
on
the
negative
was
transferred,
fully
developed,
onto
the
surface

of
the
leaf
itself,
due
to
the
action
of
photosynthesis
as
it
traced
out
the
pattern

provided
for
it
by
the
negative.
I
wonder
if
this
amazing
"development"
might
not

The Collected Works of David Lavery 6

provide
a
potent
metaphor
for
our
understanding
of
the
poetic
process
closer
to

physical
reality
than
those
of
the
wind‐harp,
the
camera,
or
even

Barfield's
alternative,
the
Aeolian
eye?

Photography
means,
literally,
"light
writing."
(The

photographic
pioneer
William
Fox
Talbot
liked
to
think
of

photography
as
"the
pencil
of
nature.")
A
photograph
is
an

"index,"
as
Peirce
long
ago
observed:
the
print
is
the
quasi‐
predicate,
the
light
rays
the
quasi‐subject.
Yet
in
this
experiment

the
photograph
is
developed
by
photosynthesis,
the
process
in

which
glucose
and
carbohydrates
are
produced
in
an
oxidative‐reduction
reaction

between
carbon
dioxide,
water,
and
chlorophyll
when
light
is
absorbed,
thereby

providing
the
basic
unit
of
the
entire
food
chain
and
in
the
process
helping
to
renew

the
oxygen
in
the
atmosphere.
So
the
reproduction
of
the
image
on
the
leaf
is

therefore
a
kind
of
"photo‐graphy‐synthesis,"
in
which
the
most
basic
and
essential

process
of
all
living
matter
serves
as
the
creation
vehicle
of
a
visual
image.

Poetry,
I
want
to
suggest,
is
as
well
a
kind
of
photo‐graphy‐synthesis,
but

with
this
difference:
the
end
product
of
the
process,
in
which
potential
images
of
the

outer
world
are
absorbed
into
the
metabolism
of
the
poet
instead
of
a
plant
and
are

developed
there
through
the
photosynthetic
effects
engendered
by
the
exterior
light

with
which
his
imagination
keeps
pace,
is
not
a
photograph,
but
a
different
kind
of

"light
writing,"
governed
by
a
"wild
logos"
(Merleau‐Ponty)
wholly
ignorant
of

propositional
truths
and
faithful
only
to
a
deep
structure
which
lies,
not
like
some

homunculus
buried
in
the
human
brain,
but
in
the
participation
of
the
eyes
with
light

5

In
"From
Love's
First
Fever
to
Her
Plague,"
Thomas
remembers
a
time,
soon

after
his
birth,
when
"All
world
was
one,
one
windy
nothing
.
.
."
and
"The
sun
and

moon
shed
one
white
light."
Lost
at
first,
"after
the
birth
of
the
simple
light"
(as
he

puts
it
in
"Fern
Hill")
in
a
"confusion
of
forms
and
colors"
like
that
experienced
by

the
newly
sighted
after
their
cataract
operations,
Thomas,
however,
begins
to

"prosper"
and
to
construct
out
of
the
"windy
nothing"
a
world.
But
as
he
does
so
he

retains
for
a
time
a
synaesthetic
awareness
of
his
first
days;
sound
and
light
are
for

him
interchangeable:


5
For the comparison between Chomsky’s rationalist conception of “deep structure:
and the homunculus, I am indebted to Walker Percy, The Message in the Bottle (New York:
Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 1975), 298-327.
The Collected Works of David Lavery 7

.
.
.
the
four
winds,
that
had
long
blown
as
one,

Shone
in
my
ears
the
light
of
sounds,

Called
in
my
eyes
the
sound
of
light.


Poetry
is
born
at
this
level.
In
a
sense,
Emerson
was
right

when
he
suggested
that
"poetry
was
all
written
before
time

was,"
for
poetry
as
a
primordial
making‐power
would
seem
to

be
a
photosynthesis
born
from
mankind's
evolution
beyond

the
timeless
"simple
light"
into
which
he
is
born
in
both
his

ontogeny
and
phylogeny,
in
which
the
perceiver
and
light
are
one,
into
a
world
of

multiplicity,
in
which
light
continues
to
be
poetry's
"food":
it
is
the
record
or
graph

of
that
evolution.

It
is,
therefore,
no
contradiction
to
think
of
light
using
man

as
the
"dark
room"
for
its
signatures.
"'Tis
optophone
which

ontophanes,'
Joyce
playfully
suggested
in
Finnegans
Wake:
man
is

nature's
"optophone"—literally
"vision‐voice"
or
"vision‐sound

instrument"—the
means
of
poetic
conversion
of
light
into
sound;
as

the
universe's
photographer,
he
"ontophanes"—literally
"lights

being"
or
"makes
reality
appear"—even
with,
especially
with,
his

poems.


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