Letter from the editor: August

He knew that the very memory of the piano falsified still further the perspective in which he saw the elements of music, that the field open to the musician is not a miserable stave of seven notes, but an immeasurable keyboard (still almost entirely unknown) on which, here and there only, separated by the thick darkness of its unexplored tracts, some few among the millions of keys of tenderness, of passion, of courage, of serenity, which compose it, each one differing from all the rest as one universe differs from another, have been discovered by a few great artists who do us the service, when they awaken in us the emotion corresponding to the theme they have discovered, of showing us what richness, what variety lies hidden, unknown to us, in that vast, unfathomed and forbidding night of our soul which we take to be an impenetrable void.

Proust, Swann’s Way

I had a strange moment last week, maybe caused by the heat, maybe by too much worried sleep. I read or saw something sad. We read and see sad things every day, every time we watch the news or read a newspaper. But this time it seemed to open some chasm, and it didn’t seem odd or unaccountable that I felt a deep sadness, it felt impossible to ever not feel that way. I had a vision of everyone going through life with a light beaming in front of us, to protect us from the darkness. If there’s a dimming of the light we have to work quickly to make it glow again so that we can continue to fight the forces that cause the darkness. But how do we do that? It’s a constant mystery.

It’s a comfort to me that it’s a mystery that we all work together to solve, that we can help each other understand. I happened to be reading some passages from Proust as I wrote about linden tea madeleines, and I came across this one, and it seems that nobody thinks as much or as strangely about solving the mystery, or writes about it so beautifully, as Proust. For Proust, creativity is part of unfathomed night of the soul, and it can help us to understand that within the darkness lives richness and variety. Each act of creativity is a universe unto itself, which emerges from the darkness waiting to be discovered, and these worlds can help to guide us through, from one to the next, forming connections. He speaks about great artists, but I believe that any act of creativity, any act of making or sharing something, helps to feed the blaze that helps us to make sense of the darkness.

And, of course, for Proust, remembering serves the same function. Remembering is not a passive act, for him. It’s an act of creation, something you have to work at, it takes a great effort, but the reward is a living recollection of happiness, a bringing-to-life of people and places and eras that have made you joyful, in defiance of the darkness, perhaps, or in conjunction with the mystery of it all.

Creation as an act of remembering and remembering as an act of creation is the unofficial theme of our August issue. Photographer Federica Armstrong conjures her ancestors with beautiful cyanotypes printed on vintage linen in The Dowry, “a cathartic process of mourning, remembrance and consolation.” Lauren Mary Barnett captures the fleeting moments of beauty that often pass unnoticed in the course of a day, harnessing their light and comfort. In the thoughtful photo essay, Auto Anthropology, Patrick Joust seems to capture the memories of the cars themselves, the roads they’ve traveled and the ghosts of the people who have driven them. In La noire de... the moving film by Ousmane Sembène, the jarring space between Diouna’s hopeful memories and her present situation, between her articulate imagination and her silent life is so great and dark that she falls into it and can’t find her way back out.

It feels important, this work that we do to find the words, the images, the sounds, that explore the rich worlds of light and emotion in the thick darkness around us. When we strike keys of tenderness, of passion, of courage, of serenity–or even of doubt and confusion, as we question the shapes we see in the darkness–we spark small fires. As we try to solve the mystery that gives us the balance we need to live with and within the darkness, we form a connection with each other, and with our past and our future, or memories and our hopes. This network of connection joins the light of our fires together, and makes them blaze more strongly, helping us to build bright worlds to inhabit.

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