Sunday, January 23, 2011

How soon, unaccountable, I became sick and tired

I haven't been posting much lately. In fact, I haven't been writing much lately at all - no poetry, no ideas for poetry. I've been feeling lazy, tired, sick.

Part of it is school. I just don't really like my classes, other than Fantasy&Horror and Poetry. Apart from those two courses, this term I have Practical Physics, Classical Mechanics, and Basic Statistical Mechanics. In fact I added Classical Mechanics after dropping two classes - Introduction to Real Analysis, and Theories of Sexuality: Contemporary Perspectives. The former I dropped because I did not have enough energy to sit through another math class for a semester; the latter I felt was too philosophical. I'd bought the textbook--non-refundable--and I was sitting through the second class and halfway through I realized I had no idea what the professor was talking about, and moreover that I felt sick discussing sex through a lens so philosophical. I preferred the approach we took in UNI255, investigating studies of actual human sexual behaviour, not examining vague declarations how sexuality is "liminal" or how it simultaneously "permeates, fuels, and yet subtracts itself from the predominant economy of exchange in capitalist societies" -- which is basically saying nothing, nothing, nothing at all.

Subsequently I swallowed my pride and emailed the whole class to resell my non-refundable textbook for a slightly lower price, then dropped the course, and math. I needed a 5th course, and I'd sat through the first class of Classical Mechanics and it's the only core third-year physics course I lack, so it was the logical choice. As well, Adrienne, Desmond and Cassie are in the class.

Recently, though, I've been overwhelmed by the despair that I get from studying science. I had a long chat with Adrienne tonight about this and I recalled this poem by Walt Whitman, entitled "When I heard the learn'd astronomer".
When I heard the learn'd astronomer;
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me;
When I was shown the charts and the diagrams, to add, divide, and measure
When I, sitting, heard the astronomer, where he lectured with much applause in
the lecture-room,
How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick;
Till rising and gliding out, I wander'd off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look'd up in perfect silence at the stars.
I used to dislike this poem, used to think, "What does Whitman know about astronomy and physics?" But perhaps he knew more, because right now science makes me feel just sick to the core. In my childhood I remember being entranced by the planets, the cratered face of Mercury, the smooth icy crust of Europa under which lay a vast subterranean ocean. This fascination with space is what drew me to physics in the first place. But this fascination is gone and in its place only a deep sense of loss.

In my Fantasy&Horror class, we read Tolkien's "On Fairy Stories" -- his treatise on the genre of fantasy literature. In it he talked about "recovery", the regaining of a clear view of our universe. And he says, "We should look at green again, and be startled anew (but not blinded) by blue and yellow and red. We should meet the centaur and the dragon, and then perhaps suddenly behold, like the ancient shepherds, sheep, and dogs, and horses— and wolves. This recovery fairy-stories help us to make."

This is what I need. Recovery. The power to behold even the planets and stars anew. This light only literature ignites, only language calls forth.

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