Strike Through that Mask!

Progress on a Large Watercolor of Fort Worth's Jazz Scat Lounge

Progress on a Large Watercolor of Fort Worth’s Scat Jazz Lounge

All visible objects, man, are but as pasteboard masks.  But in each event–in the living act, the undoubted deed–there, some unknown but still reasoning thing puts forth the mouldings of its features from behind the unreasoning mask.  If man will strike, strike through the mask!

Moby Dick, Captain Ahab’s speech

Nothing auspicious loomed on my radar this morning when I sat down to breakfast around 6:40.  It was Monday, the beginning of another week of summer school was waiting, fifty minutes around the corner.  I had Moby Dick lying open beside my plate and was reading while slowly chewing bites of breakfast.  I had to stop and close the book when I read this passage, ideas swarmed so thickly I could scarcely begin to process them.  I wished for an hour at my writing desk, but had to dash to school to be on time for a 7:30 class.

For nearly thirty years, I have patiently pointed out to anyone who would listen, in the lecture rooms or in the lounges, the scaffolding of Platonist thought in literature.  Plato’s split-world view was divided between Ideas and Appearances, the former permanent and spiritual, the latter ephemeral and physical.  And the transcendent ideas provide the scaffolding for the physical appearances.  In this dramatic confrontation in Moby Dick, Captain Ahab publicly confronts a reluctant Starbuck who protests that selfishly seeking revenge on a white whale is impractical business.  Ahab twice retorts that Starbuck inhabits a “little lower layer”–the realm of money, measurement, accounting and computing.  This layer is only a portion of the pasteboard mask that hides the real intelligence lurking behind it.  I heard Ahab shouting at me when he cried out: “If man will strike, strike through the mask!”  

All dissatisfaction that arises from life today springs from our efforts to “strike through that mask.”  What is the mask, the wall, the barrier, standing between us and what we seek?  I shudder every semester when my philosophy class reads and discusses Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave.”  The one prisoner breaks his chains, and rises to the world of truth.  The class discussion can turn lively when students begin to discuss the chains that bind us, the masks that fool us.  The human predicament is the quest for something more, only to find out that that “something more” was a mask, and not what we really thought we were seeking.  There is so much to ponder here.  What is the nature of the mask through which we are challenged to strike?

Tonight I am posting a watercolor that I began a month or two ago and revived this afternoon.  Large works do tend to intimidate me, but it doesn’t take long to feel that I have gotten up to my elbows comfortably, wading around inside this composition.  All of my work this afternoon has been on the sign, and it’s not going fast, but I’m enjoying the process so far.  As I work, I listen gladly to PBS documentaries of various poets (the Voices and Visions series), and feel such a connection with Wallace Stevens, working in an insurance firm, but working on poems in his mind his entire life, while most of his surrounding colleagues remained unaware of the reality that was driving him.  He was constantly striking through the mask.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

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