Monday, May 25, 2015

The fringes of the wood-experience

 The woods around Kleve (Germany) have a mysterious atmosphere. They are old, having been named first on medieval maps. In those times they were part of a huge oak and beech forest running from Nijmegen to Xanten. The woods grow on a loamy, gravelly, glacial ridge containing "southern gravels" (to be explained another time, but a beautiful name anyway). We always get lost in them, no matter which walk we take.
The wonderful spring day and my healing foot should have inspired positive thoughts and an "awakening of cheerful feelings upon arrival in the countryside". Which they did, because we had a very pleasant walk. But somehow the observer in me was not looking for spring poetry like:
the green of the grass / then the green of the trees
slowly, but early showing / the small but budding leaves
It's a fresh Spring day / The muddy trails are soft
with the fresh scent of greenery / whizzing by... life in the moment
It was looking for the hidden part of the forest. The invisible, silent inhabitants: watching, waiting, decaying, dying. The "verso" side of the forest, its ruins. Something - maybe - revealed in the poetry of Peter Larkin:
Flown snag of an oak stump /  bitten now to the slights,
to the punctured kiosk /  in unvagrant slicing.
Awake cleared forest and /  enfuture a field for stump!
Curvate what stilts within root /  by knotting it swarms
of sprout below /  any wrangle in the height.
The stumps of a spring forest as pictured by David Lynch. Solar spotlights enhancing menacing details. Underground structures exposed, breeding dry silent monsters.
The hours. The places . . . All the pieces scattered with the dead bird wings on the ground under The Winter Tree.
But was this the right and proper way of looking? Was I missing a point? Was it a sinful way of looking? The way of looking discovered by Lovecraft, that reveals the swirling chaos underneath.
And the travellers gave no reason for their nervousness except vague tales of something unpleasantly large glimpsed moving beyond the most distant trees. But surely distance must have formed the trees into a solid wall; how could anyone have seen beyond?
This sense of the invisible often exerted itself in moments when he witnessed nothing more than a patch of pink sky above leafless trees in twilight ... within these imagined or divined spheres there existed a certain ... confusion, a swirling, fluttering motion that was belied by the relative order of the seen. Only on rare occasions could he enter these unseen spaces, and always unexpectedly.
But Eliezer Yudkowski would certainly criticize my attempt to explore the fringes of the wood-experience, while neglecting the main-body of the wood-experience. He warns that neglecting the mainstream and the settled is harmful:
Facts do not need to be unexplainable to be beautiful; truths do not become less worth learning if someone else knows them; beliefs do not become less worthwhile if many others share them ... and if you only care about scientific issues that are controversial, you will end up with a head stuffed full of garbage. ... Just don’t go thinking that science has to be controversial to be interesting. Or, for that matter, that science has to be recent to be interesting. ... You are what you eat, and if you eat only science reporting on fluid situations, without a solid textbook now and then, your brain will turn to liquid. 
But somehow this wood really has this strange atmosphere. It's ancient, there are burial mounds, there are war memorials, there is the always getting lost in it. There is a charged beauty, more intense than any normal wood. It's very enjoyable, a relief from the normal urban surroundings. I should investigate this more thoroughly.
What you must avoid is skipping over the mysterious part; you must linger at the mystery to confront it directly. There are many words that can skip over mysteries, and some of them would be legitimate in other contexts—“complexity,” for example. But the essential mistake is that skip-over, regardless of what causal node goes behind it. The skip-over is not a thought, but a microthought. You have to pay close attention to catch yourself at it. And when you train yourself to avoid skipping, it will become a matter of instinct, not verbal reasoning. You have to feel which parts of your map are still blank, and more importantly, pay attention to that feeling.
Then maybe I could finally understand the uncanny qualities of this wood and it's strange attractors.
Soon the moon became entangled in the branches of the trees, it hung for a moment on a branch, dangled like the head of a man from the gallows, and sank to the bottom of an abyss of black stormy clouds.
Klever Reichswald
Symphony No. 6 Beethoven
Petr Larkin - Poems
A Season in Carcosa (Laird Barron, Gemma  Files, Michael Kelly, Robin Spriggs, John Langan, Cody Goodfellow, Allyson Bird and Simon Stranzas)
New Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos (Ramsey Campbell)
Noctuary (Thomas Ligotti)
Rationality: From AI to Zombies (Eliezer Yudkowsky)
Kaputt (Curzio Malaparte)

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