For words are persons.

- James Hillman, The Poetic Basis of Mind

"This aspect of the word," says Hillman referring to the above quote, "transcends their nominalistic definitions and contexts and evokes in our souls a universal resonance" (163). A universal resonance. Perhaps this resonance is what Forster touches upon in his conception of the lower personality. Perhaps this quality is what approximates me to Bronte's state when she wrote. Woolf says that words are "full of echoes, of memories, of associations," that they are "part of other words," that they exist in an etymological plenum. By the very act of communication, through our usage of the written and spoken word, we are participating in a universally available history, a history as complex as human history, a history of entities that are alive as vigorously as we are. What is fascinating is not that Bronte and I can both use words, and participate in their history, but that when we use them with reverence, they subsume us. Hillman says, "We need to recall the angel aspect of the word, recognizing words as independent carriers of soul between people" (162). As words galvanize thought into expression, as they translate and transmit our souls, they lead an independent existence of their own, and if we are not mindful of that existence, our words are sure to fail us. Words can and do create their own world. An absorption into that world, a relinquishing of the self into the world of Jane Eyre, allows words the freedom to be independent carriers of soul, not mere slavish vehicles whose duty it is to serve, as information would have them be. Meeting words as our equals, not as our ministrants, allows us to meet each other as equals, allows us the freedom to communicate soul.

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by Louis Bury

This one fact the world hates, that the soul becomes; for, that forever degrades the past; turns all riches to poverty; all reputation to a shame; confounds the saint with the rogue; shoves Jesus and Judas equally aside.

-Ralph Waldo Emerson


In Media Res

I have a penchant for books, which is different from a penchant for reading. Books as objects seduce me, the way baseball cards did when I was younger. Both passions, I suspect, are a form of hero worship. When I was eight, Don Mattingly seemed to me the pinnacle of human existence. At twenty-one, Walt Whitman, or Jorie Graham, has replaced him.

My present passion conditioned my response to E.M. Forster's opening question in "Anonymity: An Enquiry," an essay in his collection Two Cheers For Democracy. He begins by asking, "Do you like to know who a book's by?" (77). My answer came almost too easily as I paused momentarily from my reading, looked at the glimmering names and titles elbowing for space on my bookshelf, and smiled, thinking it absolutely imperative that I know.

By starting "Anonymity" with a question, Forster places the reader right in the middle of the action, in media res. It is a practice we see him doing throughout the entire collection of essays, as he ranges from the profound, "Does Culture Matter?," to the unusual, "Does Three Blind Mice sound different when it is played in different keys?" (100, 123). His introductory questions function as a springboard for his meandering investigations. His essays quest after answers. His quests force him to travel unexpected roads. Each essay is a process for Forster, an explorative and transformative journey-a soul in the Emersonian sense. By abruptly thrusting us into the movement of his thinking, and forcing us to focus on what his essays build through investigation, Forster suggests that beginnings are inherently deceptive. They are arbitrary starting points-for even beginnings must have roots in other beginnings-and what is important is not how we begin or end, but how we get from one to the other.


Thus-rather vaguely-let us begin our quest.
- E.M. Forster, "Anonymity: An Enquiry"

Almost immediately, Forster's path seems to deviate from his controlling question. He establishes that words have two functions, "They give information or they create an atmosphere," and acknowledges that they often do both (77). The terminologies are entirely his own, and so he immediately launches into a discussion of what is meant by them. Already we see Forster taking detours on his road to a conclusion. He has to construct conceptual edifices that will enable him to answer his question with more thoroughness and precision. This building up gives the essay the feel of a periodic sentence. What has been started and promised in the essay's opening will not be resolved, or even directly attended to, immediately.

Though words often perform both of the functions Forster has ascribed to them, he focuses on their distinctions. Information, pure information, purports to tell us something factual about the world we live in. A "Stop" sign at a tram station "means that a tram should stop here presently," and a newspaper that says, "the Emperor of Guatemala is dead," means that the Emperor has recently passed away (78, 86). These examples contrast with statements that create atmosphere, such as a sign in a darker section of town that says, "Beware of pickpockets, male or female" (79). The sign causes us to suspect those around us of being thieves, causes us to speed up our pace of walking, causes us to be struck by a brooding, ominous feeling of unease. Since the sign arouses these effects, "it has created an atmosphere, and to that extent is literature" (78-79). It is rather bold to call a street sign literature, but Forster quickly tempers his claim by acknowledging that it is "not good literature," and "it is unconscious" of being literature (79). He is trying to emphasize the difference between words that only provide information and words that perform both functions, claiming it is "the first step" in his journey (79). The rest of his inquiry seems as if it will rest on this distinction, on these foundations that he has built. Yet isn't a "Stop" sign capable of triggering an atmospheric chain of thought as well? Forster says of the sign, "It creates no atmosphere at least, not in my mind" (78). But shouldn't such a crucial distinction, a distinction that is to hoist on its shoulders an entire inquiry, rest on more solid ground than the subjective opinion of one man, a man who in this case may have a lot to lose if his opinion is incorrect?

Before answering that question, I want to stay with Forster's argument, to see what he is working towards by establishing such a distinction, and if criticism of that distinction would prove fruitful. His next step is to imagine all the printed matter of the world arranged into one line, "with the works that convey pure information at one end, and the works that create pure atmosphere at the other" (79). As we trace the path from lyric poetry (pure atmosphere) to the "Stop" sign, we witness a progressive decrease in atmosphere, but an increase in utility. A lyric poem is of no use to the practical world, but a newspaper performs some useful functions. From this, Forster draws the conclusion that information "ought to be signed," so that the man who wrote it "may be called to account if he has told a lie," while "as we approach the other function of words-the creation of atmosphere-the question of a signature loses its importance" (81). At this juncture, we find ourselves concurring with his pronouncements. It truly doesn't matter who wrote, "A slumber does my spirit seal" because the poem itself does not matter in any practical sense (81). Though Forster's initial question now seems answered, it is really only another jumping off point that allows him to push further and ask, "What is this element in words that is not information?," a question that allows him to expand his inquiry, that allows his conclusions to resonate powerfully (81).

It is precisely at this point that Forster has left me dissatisfied, wanting further explication. He has concluded that "what is not information need not be signed," but has not given us even the faintest clue as to what is not information. There is an embarrassing vagueness in the phrase, "as weapproach the other function of words." Approaching the other function of words tells me nothing. I want to know at what point we have reached the other function of words. When can we safely conclude that a signature is irrelevant? If a "Beware of pickpockets" sign is placed in front of my house, though it may create atmosphere, I would like it to be signed, so that I can identify the scoundrel who falsely placed it there. My question becomes critical because as Forster proceeds on his quest, towards its most cogent parts, we find ourselves agreeing with him, but unsure what exactly we are agreeing with.

Forster's driving point in the essay is his notion of anonymity. The essay's very title alerts us to this. It is "Anonymity: An Enquiry," not "Signatures: An Enquiry," or "Information and Atmosphere: An Enquiry." He gets to this concept by identifying the element in atmospheric words that is not in informational ones: "their power to create not only atmosphere, but a world, which, while it lasts, seems more real and solid than this daily existence of pickpockets and trams" (81). The creation of an entirely separate world, a world that "internally coheres," that "has a new standard of truth," seems to imply that only works of fiction should be unsigned (82). A "new standard of truth" is a standard separate from our existing reality, a fictional creation. But Forster never names this outright; he only says, "All literature tends towards a condition of anonymity," and we are still uncertain what exactly constitutes literature, and what exactly ought to be signed (82).

In the world created by literature it does not matter who wrote the words that created it because "while the author wrote he forgot his name; while we read him we forgot both his name and our own" (87). So when I look up at my bookshelf, I may be infatuated with the way Nietzsche's name looks next to Charlotte Bronte's, but I am merely infatuated with what those names represent, or stand for. When I revisit Jane Eyre's enchanting world, and am swept up by her plight as a governess, and by the mysterious figure lurking in the attic, Bronte does not exist there. I do not exist there. There are only Jane, Rochester, Bertha, the other characters and the places they inhabit. I value the world Bronte has constructed here. I value the forgetfulness it engenders in me. I realize that my penchant for books is preceded by a penchant for reading, that my hero worship only occurs because the hero first makes me delightfully forget her.

Requisite to producing a work capable of evoking this effect, says Forster, a writer must "dip a bucket down" into his "lower personality" (83). Distinctly different from the "upper personality," which has a name, is conscious, performs daily activities, and differs from person to person, the lower personality has "something in common with all other deeper personalities" (84). The world Bronte has created resonates within me because she forgot herself while writing-she became anonymous. Forster says that as we read great literature, "it brings to birth in us also the creative impulse" (84). Those words of Bronte's, those wonderfully enticing words, have cohered to form a world, and by participating in that world through the use of my imagination, I tap into my own creative impulse, an act that draws from the collective unconscious in the Jungian sense. What Bronte tapped into when she wrote Jane Eyre, I too tap into when I read it, and this action approximates me to the condition she was in when she wrote it.

In an anonymous statement, "Absolute truth, the collected wisdom of the universe, seems to be speaking, not the feeble voice of a man" (86-87). Herein lies the power of anonymity, and herein lies the significance of a signature. When we learn that "the Emperor could not have died, because Guatemala is a Republic," we are "defenceless against future misstatements" if the article is unsigned, because it has "usurped that divine tendency towards anonymity" (86, 87). A hierarchy of values is at work here. A signature is feebly human. Anonymous words are powerfully divine. What, then, ought to be signed? "Literature" is inadequate and hopelessly vague as a dividing line. Against my better judgment, I stop while reading "Anonymity," curious how bookstores classify collections of essays. Sure enough, I find emblazoned on the back cover the category "literature." The publishers certainly want a share of that "divine tendency." But does this essay of Forster's have that tendency? Forster has taken great pains to demarcate the terms and boundaries of his argument, carefully transmitting precise definitions and categories, and to that extent, it is an information-laden piece. Yet Forster is not just writing traffic signs, but tapping into something deeply important and deeply human. It makes me think that the essay is a peculiar type of literature, perhaps, in the line of all printed matter, the intermediary piece between informational and atmospheric writing. The essayist will tell stories, create worlds, make us forget ourselves; but those stories are rooted in fact. How we conceive of the essay's function-Should it be signed or unsigned? Does it express the collected wisdom of the universe or the feeble voice of a man? -determines, to an extent, how we conceive of ourselves. An essay, especially a personal essay, is one person's means of storytelling, of recording the factual experiences of his life. How do we conceive of the function of our stories, of the worlds we re-create through the telling of our experiences? We have a better idea, through the help of Forster, what our fictions can do, but what about our non-fictions?

I conjecture, as Forster seems to hint at with his notion of the lower personality, that the essays we write speak not only of individuated upper personalities, but also of collective human experience. If life is a journey, the essays and non-fictional stories we write seem to function as a compass, helping us to locate and orient ourselves on our trip.


In Media Res

I stand, back arched over a four-foot deep dirt hole, thrusting a long metal pole- "tamping" the soil it's called-with the warm, orange sun peeking up over the hills. It is only early morning, and already my body aches with exhaustion. This is probably the tenth hole I've tamped today, a process so slow I can measure my progress in inches. This in itself isn't so bad-it's knowing that yesterday I went through the same rote motions, and the rest of today, tomorrow and the week promises only more of the same. I'm unsure which is worse, the redundancy or the physical strain of the labor. My boss, Bobby, barks out a command, "Ho! more dirt," or, "Pick it up Louie, we ain't got all day," and though I am jolted out of my present reveries, though I am physically drained, I find a strange comfort in the language he uses. I can't help but laugh when a moment later he bends over to eyeball the fence we're building, casually farts, and remarks, "A farting horse never tires." Bobby's thirty years my elder, but he has the strength and the obstinacy of a young colt. As I plod on with my tamping work, "dog-ass tired" in Bobby's words, I think about how a man my father's age is making me seem like the old man here; much like a horse, Bobby never tires.

To an outsider like myself, there is a curious cult of nomenclature in central Californian ranch culture, a delightfully idiosyncratic quality that distinguishes the people, their land, and their objects.Everything has an intriguing name, and those names don't simply exist as a means of talking about something; they inherently characterize the things they talk about. Bobby refers to his skin as his "hide," a genius classification on his part, since it is leathery, tanned, and taut. Rifles aren't just variously powered weapons; they are practically people, a "Seven Mag" having a different, more authoritative personality than a "Twenty-Two." The barbeque isn't a barbeque, but a "pit," a homemade hunk of metal large enough to grill both Satan and the evening's "tri-tip" steak. The eight-foot long logs that are put in the holes I tamp aren't logs, but "posts," an expression that captures the eventual utility of the object. Some evenings, we ride the "quad"-the adult version of a motorized Playskool car-through the hills surrounding the ranch. As we ride, Bobby's brother, Walter, is perhaps looking for "cai-yotes" to hunt. And as the quad climbs to the top of a tall hill, we can see below us tiny clusters of houses and buildings, the entire 3,000-person town of Cayucos. In the distance, jutting out of the Pacific Ocean is the "rock," a craggy landmass belonging to the neighboring town of Morro Bay.

When I think of Forster's distinction between the "Stop" sign and the "Beware of pickpockets" sign, I am reminded of the time I spent building fences in California last summer. A word, any word, is never an approximation of what it tries to express; it is galvanized to what it does express. Why aren't "Stop" signs "Cease" signs? It's very simple. "Stop" is a more common, colloquial word than "cease." "Stop" signs exist commonly, colloquially. They are part of our routine lives, and as such, the elevated diction of a "Cease" sign would be pretentious, inappropriate. Why isn't the "pit" a "barbeque"? One look at the thing, and the atmosphere it exudes, and it becomes apparent that it couldn't be anything but a "pit." What I want to emphasize is that words, even simple declarative words like "stop," are incapable of not creating atmosphere.

Virginia Woolf lights upon this phenomenon in her essay "Craftsmanship," where she too takes up a discussion of words. She says there are two things we know for certain about them: "Words never make anything that is useful; and words are the only things that tell the truth and nothing but the truth" (633). Their usefulness is limited because "they change," and Woolf gives us an example of this: If we see a sign in a railway carriage that says, "Do not lean out of the window," we know not to lean out of the window, as per Forster's "Stop" sign (633). Yet as we sit looking at the words, they begin to "shuffle," our mind recalls past associations, and "we begin saying, 'Windows, yes windows-casements opening on the foam of perilous seas in faery lands forlorn.' And before we know what we are doing, we have leant out of the window; we are looking for Ruth in tears amid the alien corn" (633-634). Words must create an atmosphere of some kind; they must shift and change as they pass through the sieve of our minds. Indeed, I wonder if Walter truly did call coyotes "cai-yotes," or if this is simply a romanticized transformation my mind has performed on the word. The experiences we bring to words, and the associations we are able to make as a result, insure that they will always create some type of atmosphere. Perhaps when I see a "Stop" sign in the busy streets of Manhattan, I think of the relatively quiet suburb where I grew up, and how the "Stop" sign around the block from my house was almost optional because so few cars ever passed by it. For a "Stop" sign to mean one thing only, as seems to be the case for Forster, means that the viewer of that sign must have only seen the word "stop" used in that exact context.

Our daily existence would be functionally impossible if words could not convey information; however, they seem unable to conveypure information in the Forsterian sense of the term. This does not restrict their truth telling capacity, for according to Woolf, they are "the only things that tell the truth and nothing but the truth." Her claim raises a distinction between truth and pure information. The latter pertains to fact, an objective event that occurs in the world, while truth encompasses fact, but moves beyond it to become fact colored by personal subjectivity. One might say that language itself, the very act of naming something, turns objective fact into truth. The object called a "pit" is an example of truth, for the language used to describe it colors it. That this pit performs the same function as a barbeque is an example of fact. Truth exists, for Woolf, but the truth words try to catch is "many-sided" (637). Words convey this "by being themselves many-sided, flashing this way, then that" (637). This multifariousness occurs because "words do not live in dictionaries; they live in the mind" (636). Forster's "Stop" sign would be useless if we did not ascribe meaning to it, and so long as our minds make wanton associations, a phenomenon unlikely to stop soon, words will lead a robust, changing, and atmospheric existence. Woolf is not arguing, however, that words can never possess a definable, knowable meaning. They have histories, they are "full of echoes, of memories, of associations," and furthermore they are "part of other words" (635-636). To say that a word signifies nothing is to disrespect the complex historical web it exists in, and the partnerships it has formed with other words; it is, in a sense, a creation of an entirely new word, a word apart from the one originally being used. Such a practice is so inherently dangerous, for as Woolf reminds us, "in order to use new words properly you would have to invent a new language" (636). Woolf delights in the provocative use of language as a means of capturing truth, but our use of it is obligated to be faithful to that language's history.

As promised, I have taken Forster to task on the facile distinctions he makes between information and atmosphere. Yet this has only muddled our issue further. We have determined that all words are intrinsically atmospheric; therefore, we can say that all writing need not be signed, an absurdly pernicious conclusion, for then all writing may as well be babbling about the Emperor of Guatemala. Essays, in riding the cusp of information and atmosphere, seem to warrant further investigation as a means of clarifying the mess we have gotten into. If we can determine what their function should be, we will have a better sense of this whole business of signatures.


For words are persons.
- James Hillman, The Poetic Basis of Mind

"This aspect of the word," says Hillman referring to the above quote, "transcends their nominalistic definitions and contexts and evokes in our souls a universal resonance" (163). A universal resonance. Perhaps this resonance is what Forster touches upon in his conception of the lower personality. Perhaps this quality is what approximates me to Bronte's state when she wrote. Woolf says that words are "full of echoes, of memories, of associations," that they are "part of other words," that they exist in an etymological plenum. By the very act of communication, through our usage of the written and spoken word, we are participating in a universally available history, a history as complex as human history, a history of entities that are alive as vigorously as we are. What is fascinating is not that Bronte and I can both use words, and participate in their history, but that when we use them with reverence, they subsume us. Hillman says, "We need to recall the angel aspect of the word, recognizing words as independent carriers of soul between people" (162). As words galvanize thought into expression, as they translate and transmit our souls, they lead an independent existence of their own, and if we are not mindful of that existence, our words are sure to fail us. Words can and do create their own world. An absorption into that world, a relinquishing of the self into the world of Jane Eyre, allows words the freedom to be independent carriers of soul, not mere slavish vehicles whose duty it is to serve, as information would have them be. Meeting words as our equals, not as our ministrants, allows us to meet each other as equals, allows us the freedom to communicate soul.

Works of fiction, then, are by nature excellent mediums for allowing words the full range of existence they demand. In a novel or a poem, words have nothing to conform to but the rudiments of the author's imagination, which we hope will allow them an expansive existence. Essays, which in the spectrum of printed matter edge slightly closer towards the informational end, are in a precarious and unenviable position. They, too, seek to communicate soul. Indeed, meaningfully communicating lived human experience is perhaps their essence. But now there is also an obligation to fact and information. Some words must be subservient to a factual end; they must risk ringing hollow like the words on the "Beware of pickpockets" sign; they must be vessels for communication, instead of persons who communicate. Here we see why even though Forster's terms were not precise enough, it did not detract from his ultimate argument. All words must create atmosphere, but not all words are treated as persons. Only in the latter case-when words are not solely conjured to serve an informational end ­ does literature tend towards anonymity, towards a universal resonance evoked in our souls. But what can be meant and understood by "soul"? If an essay must effectively communicate soul without sacrificing fact, then a discussion of soul is in order, and may perhaps aid us in our quest.

Hillman conjectures that soul is "a perspective rather than a substance, a viewpoint towards things rather than a thing itself" (154). Souls are mediators, not mediums. They differentiate between doer and deed. They are highly individuated mechanisms. They filter and color outside events, in the way language colors objective fact. We can in fact see, by abutting the two phenomena-souls and language-with fact, that language is critical for communicating soul properly and effectively. If it were mandated that "Stop" signs become "Cease" signs, the entire atmosphere created by those signs would change. This is unimportant when it comes to street signs, but when we are attempting to communicate soul, our most private and inner self, we surely do not want to bungle our expression.

What essays search for is a mode of expression that will allow words their greatest autonomy, a mode that will resonate universally. After establishing what soul is, Hillman then speculates how to tap into its "deeper meanings" (156). He formulates that "the dimension of soul is depth (not breadth or height) and the dimension of our soul travel is downward" (156). Therefore as a writer moves downward through the soul, he is changing his perspective towards the world, a move that occurs when we treat words as persons. In Forsterian terms, he forgets his upper personality. He moves closer to seeing as others do, and this is because he treats words as suggestive possibilities rather than finite meanings. The challenge, for the essayist, is to move beyond merely individuated visual impressions, and get closer to their primary source - a place where words possess a free range of motion, where they exist as possibilities, permutations not yet fully realized. Information deceives, tyrannically proclaiming that temporal facts are the end all and be all of knowledge, that knowing can be pinned down and pointed to, examined, studied, even memorized. The difference between a "Stop" sign and Jane Eyre is that the novel deliberately and provocatively moves our mind by means of the imaginative world it constructs, while the "Stop" sign deadens any possibility of meaning that may be latent in the word "stop." When I admire my bookshelf, I am fetishizing objects, forcing their meanings to congeal, the way "stop" is stripped of its associations when posted on a street sign. Jane Eyre is a process, a world; it is not simply something Charlotte Bronte wrote, but something greater-the words move; they have a life of their own.

The trick for the essayist, it seems, is to tend towards the anonymous state while describing things that are factual. To be able to do this, one's language must open up, not close down. It must continually move, refine, expand, contract, twist, flip, float across the page, and never stay still. It must, in two words, be restless and controlled. Always teasing out histories, associations, and memories. Always approximating itself to, and situating itself within, the etymological plenum in which it exists. Then it must change and change and change, always restless, always controlled. No formula exists for accomplishing this, but the result of successful accomplishment is certain-anonymity, for both writer and reader alike. And as the writer's language moves him downwards, beneath where language crystallizes, congeals and hardens, beneath static, unchanging information, he is shifting perspectives, plunging deeper and deeper into the soul. As he plunges, he is confronted with the fact that the history he is participating in, the well of meaning and experience he is tapping into, contains fathomless depths, is a ceaseless dialogue. Hillman quotes Heraclitus to emphasize this point: "You could not discover the limits of the soul (psyche), even if you traveled every road to do so; such is the depth (batbun) of its meaning (logos)" (156). The soul is illimitable, and the language that expresses it is as well. The movement through both is everything. Knowledge is not a "Stop" sign; it does not harden into one knowable fact. Knowledge is a movement, a world. Knowledge is investigative inertia, initiative, blissful kinetic energy-abecoming. The extent to which we allow ourselves to re-imagine who we are, the extent to which we participate in a dialogue with language and the soul, potentially marks the limits of our world, our possibilities. The essayist must tell and re-tell his stories, and it is not so much the details that matter, as it is the telling and the re-imagining.


In Media Res

I stand, thoughts running cartwheels through my mind, looking at Cezanne's Still Life With Jar, Cup, and Apples.I stand, singing and cheering, as Billy Joel plays the final song of his set. Though it is a still-life painting, the tablecloth, being unnaturally draped over the side of the table, seems as if it is about to move. From my nosebleed seats, the crowds below me look like tiny little ants, swaying and clapping in unison. The tablecloth, and the sundry multi-colored apples that cover it can astound me, but all I can do is observe. There is a certain connectedness that occurs in the audience during a concert. Cezanne has crafted a world here, a world with a "new standard of truth," and I do not exist in it-I am anonymous. Madison Square Garden seems like a self-contained world, a world I am a part of, but whose magnitude renders me anonymous.

When we create art objects, or when we attend to them, we give ourselves up to a world which functions independently of the actual world. In another essay, "Art for Art's Sake," from Two Cheers For Democracy, Forster claims that all art objects have an "internal order" that our unstable, chaotic reality will never possess (95). The tablecloth and the apples and the jar and the cup in Cezanne's painting all cohere by virtue of their relationships to one another, not by virtue of their relationship with me, the viewer. The notes of Billy Joel's song are able to affect the entire audience, but it is by virtue of their own "internal order." Similarly, the essayist is able to craft a world through the internal order he constructs. Not solely by virtue of the stories he tells, but by how the stories he tells are placed in relation to one another. My encounter with Cezanne's painting, and my experience at the Billy Joel concert, would read differently if they were uncoiled. An essayist can adhere to informational requirements while still creating art, while still creating "little vantage grounds in the changing chaos" where "the desire to create order has found temporary gratification," as Forster says (94). An essayist seems to be ordering actual experience in a fictional way, creating vantage grounds that don't truly exist. What gives the craft its appeal is its hybridity, its connection to both the fictional and non-fictional realms. When Cynthia Ozick writes a stunning essay, it is capable of resonating meaningfully because she is not describing the fantasy world of a governess whose plight is simply intriguing; she is describing the actual world, the one I must live and exist in, filtered through the sieve of her soul. I can finish reading her essay about Manhattan, "The Synthetic Sublime," and leave my apartment and walk through the very city she talks about. But no matter where I live, I can never view the maligned Thornfield Hall, where Jane and Rochester once wept and prayed.

There is one more point I want to emphasize on this subject. Since the world the essayist creates will always have its roots in reality, his work demands a signature; otherwise he may as well be talking about a fantasy world. The dividing line for signatures is fictions. Not as we approach fiction, but when we have reached it, only then can we safely conclude that the issue of a signature is irrelevant.


The question can now be carried a step further.
-E.M. Forster, "Anonymity: An Enquiry"

What qualities are there in a signature that make it so undesirable? Why, in other words, does a work diminish in impact if signed?

"This one fact the world hates, that the soul becomes," says Emerson in "Self-Reliance." The verb "hate" is a powerful word to be used here. The world doesn't passively accept the occurrence. The world doesn't have a mild dislike of it. The world hates it, loathes it, wishes that it would never occur. And why? It degrades the past. It means we incessantly change. All our life being but a beginning of a beginning. This assertion contrasts rudely with the mindset of our day and age, where self-help and how-to books line bookstore shelves as if life needed, or were capable of having, a step-by-step instruction manual; as if Forster's essays were simple questions and conclusions. "To lose oneself"-a notion these books fight to prevent-is inevitable, since we are constantly shedding vestiges of former selves. We are butterflies emerging from butterflies, not cocoons-the process happens not once, but continually, beautifully. "To find oneself" -perhaps the goal of these books-is even sillier, since we ceaselessly metamorphose. The only way to locate oneself is in the act of telling, itself an inherently elusive location. The best self-help book is a story. An essayist's writing is not so much a compass as it is a canteen, sustaining, not locating, us on our journey.

If this becoming shoves aside both Jesus and Judas, then what does it do to us? We are; we exist-this was a fact known before Descartes told it to us. We do not, however, stay the same, and one of the most dynamic processes of becoming occurs when we create and attend to art objects. Affixing a signature to those objects is like affixing a "Stop" sign to them. The I that our signatures stand for did not congeal or harden while writing. The person who began writing a piece is not the same person as the one who finished it, though signatures pretend that that person is a static entity. That person is a knowable entity, and if we pay close enough attention to the movement of his writing, the way he arranges his stories and employs language, we become aware of him.

By willingly relinquishing ourselves to the self-enclosed world of an art object, a world that possesses its own "internal order," art stands us on our heads, inverts the typical subject-object relationship between the self and others. We participate in a world where we are not the subject, but where a jar, a cup and apples are. We are anonymous at this point; we have forgotten ourselves. The paradox is that this forgetfulness can make us acutely aware of ourselves, and of our relation to the world. As I look at Still Life With Jar, Cup, and Apples, I realize that I exist in a world independent of the one Cezanne has crafted here. I am a museum patron, in the 19th Century European Painters Wing, on the second floor, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in Manhattan, in New York, in the United States, in North America. . .I see myself as an object, as a drop in an ocean, and become almost indistinguishable from the drops surrounding me. The forgetfulness that art is capable of engendering in us precedes the self-awareness that it can make us feel. To move forward requires a reverence for, and a relinquishing of, the past. It is not a phenomenon that occurs with every painting I view, or every concert I attend, but it is a phenomenon I am participating in nonetheless.

When I was a child, an exhibit at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C fascinated me. It was called Powers of Ten. It was a series of professionally made dioramas that all focused on one object, a book sitting on the hood of a car. Each diorama past the initial one increased its viewing distance of the object by a power of ten. So the first diorama viewed the book from 100 feet away, the second from 101 feet away, the third from 102 feet away, and so on. By the last diorama, we have zoomed so far out, that all we can see are solar systems. What captivated me about this exhibit was the realization that I was a part, albeit a miniscule one, of that last diorama. I existed not just among books, cars, trains and people, but also among majestic multitudes, among planets, suns, and solar systems. And I feel this through art, through a concert where I am not separate from the little ants below me, but one of them. I feel a part of the world's rhythm, swaying, clapping, dancing-moving.

As I stood at the Billy Joel concert, there was a certain rhythm to the event as a whole-not the type of rhythm that goes "diddidy dum," that "we can all hear and tap to," what E.M. Forster dubs "easy rhythm" in the "Pattern and Rhythm" section of Aspects of The Novel ­ but something akin to the "difficult rhythm" he speaks of, which in a symphony is "due mainly to the relation between its movements" (164). There is a complex, symbiotic relationship between the two types of rhythm, between the individual and the world at large. "Difficult rhythm" is only capable of existing because it is composed of "easy rhythms," but a solitary "easy rhythm" would lose its cogency if it did not exist in relationship to the other "easy rhythms" within the "difficult rhythm," if it did not exist in a rhythmic plenum. Essays thrive on the movement between stories. Not simply between one individual's own stories, but with how his stories are intertwined with those of his fellow man. The essayist depicts and frames his becomings according to the mandates of his soul, but we can only fully realize our becomings by virtue of the relationships our stories and our language exist in. And it is so vital that we tell our stories because we are located in the act of telling; it is the best approximation of a budding self. This expansive act of storytelling suggests that even as a person participating in some larger "difficult rhythm," whose magnitude is so staggering that he seems to be an insignificant drop in an ocean, that person still possesses something distinctive to him, his own "easy rhythm," which Forster defines as "repetition plus variation" (168). We stay the same while we change. Though we must change, we need to claim our changes as our own, especially in the permanency of print. It is not signatures that are pernicious, but our conception of them. The moment we say of Charlotte Bronte, "She was born in 1816. She lived in Thornton, Yorkshire. She was a recluse," we have deadened her existence-she is mere information. But when we allow Jane Eyre to speak for her existence, we re-create her as the woman she once was. And perhaps this gives signatures more power than anonymous statements, for now we see the feeble voice of a woman speaking with the authority and the language of the collected wisdom of the universe.


In Media Res

In the face of the world's insistence that we stop, that we harden and congeal, we must refuse to obey.

Works Cited

Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Self-Reliance and Other Essays. New York: Dover, 1993.

Forster, Edward Morgan. Aspects of The Novel. New York: Harcourt, 1955.

--. Two Cheers For Democracy. New York: Harcourt, 1979.

Hillman, James. "The Poetic Basis of Mind." Blue Fire. Ed. Thomas Moore. New York: Harper, 1989.

Woolf, Virginia. "Craftsmanship." Encounters: Essays for Exploration and Inquiry. Ed. Pat C. Hoy II and Robert DiYanni. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2000. 632-638.