Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Rock pools of consciousness linked by the tide

California Coast Somewhere Between San Francisco and Santa Cruz
When the tide goes out, tide pools all have their own unique identities. But when the tide comes in, they all become part of one sea.

Christopher Isherwood employs this as a powerful metaphor in his novel, A Single Man, which I wanted to compare it to Tom Ford's movie version. I'll do that in another post, but I wanted to put this quote up because I think it's such a beautiful passage. It's a sort of framing device that comes near the end of the novel, as the author's voice emerges directly from the third-person interior monologue in which the rest of the story is told. It also reflects Isherwood's interest in the mystical tradition of Vedanta.
Up the coast a few miles north, in a lava reef under the cliffs, there are a lot of rock pools. You can visit them when the tide is out. Each pool is separate and different, and you can, if you are fanciful, give them names, such as George, Charlotte, Kenny, Mrs. Strunk. Just as George and the others are thought of, for convenience, as individual identities, so you may think of a rock pool as an entity; though, of course, it is not. The waters of its consciousness -- so to speak -- are swarming with hunted anxieties, grim-jawed greeds, dartingly vivid intuitions, old crusty-shelled rock-gripping obstinacies, deep-down sparkling undiscovered secrets, ominous protean organisms motioning mysteriously, perhaps warningly, toward the surface light. How can such a variety of creatures coexist at all? Because they have to. The rocks of the pool hold their world together. And, throughout the day of the ebb tide, they know no other.

But that long day ends at last; yields to the nighttime of the flood. And, just as the waters of the ocean come flooding, darkening over the pools, so over George and the others in sleep come the waters of that other ocean -- that consciousness which is no one in particular but which contains everyone and everything, past, present and future, and extends unbroken beyond the uttermost stars. We may surely suppose that, in the darkness of the full flood, some of these creatures are lifted from their pools to drift far out over the deep waters. But do they ever bring back, when the daytime of the ebb returns, any kind of catch with them? Can they tell us, in any manner, about their journey? Is there, indeed, anything for them to tell -- except that the waters of the ocean are not really other than the waters of the pool?

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