Saturday, March 07, 2009


I was just reading this book by Elaine Scarry, called "Dreaming by the Book," and this particular quote stood out to me:

Aristotle said that what distinguishes human beings from other creatures is our capacity to love something without wanting to ingest it [LOL].  All animals, including human beings, he writes, have the power to smell in order to eat; humans alone have a second reason to smell; namely, to smell flowers, with no interest at all in eating them.  Our smelling of food, says Aristotle, is discontinuous and contingent -- whether something smells good depends on whether we are hungry -- whereas our smelling of flowers is noncontingent and ongoing.  Of course, smelling the flowers, seeing the flowers, touching the flowers, imagining the flowers is also a way of ingesting or at least interiorizing them, since we carry them in as objects of perception and imagining.  Ludwig Wittgenstein suggests that when one sees something beautiful -- an eyelid, a cathedral -- the hand wants to draw it.  Like smelling, like imagining, this too is an act of interiorization, the yearning to incorporate, to make a residual image.

what I like most about this book -- and, in general, about most books dealing with literary theory -- is its ability to perfectly describe certain automatic processes that I do every day.  this is also true of other books in their own ways, but Elaine Scarry's book has specifically been a joy to read for me because of it.  this chapter on imagining flowers has been extremely interesting, in the sense that, as she says, flowers are just about the most prominent objects used in poetry and other ultra-descriptive prose.  for whatever reason it is much easier to perform "perceptual mimesis" (fancy words for imagining) with flowers than with many other objects.  this is due, in part, to the fact that flowers are smaller, more colorful and thinner than many other objects.  mostly what I get out of this is that our brains are pretty sweet.

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