Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Little World

"My dear friends, for 22 years, in the capacity of theater manager, I've stood here and made a speech without really having any talent for that sort of thing.  Especially if you think of my father who was brilliant at speeches.  My only talent, if you can call it that in my case, is that I love this little world inside the thick walls of this playhouse, and I'm fond of the people who work in this little world.  Outside is the big world, and sometimes the little world succeeds in reflecting the big one so that we understand it better.  Or, perhaps, we give the people who come here a chance to forget for a while, for a few short moments, the harsh world outside.  Our theater is a little room of orderliness, routine, care, and love.  I don't know why I feel so comically solemn this evening.  I can't explain how I feel, so I'd best be brief.  My wife and I, and the rest of the Ekdahl family, my brother Carl--I think Carl is here--we wish you all a happy and joyous Christmas." --from Fanny and Alexander, dir. Ingmar Bergman, 1982.

Today has been interesting.  Today I got word from my friend Ann that her father died on Tuesday, after a long and messy illness; his funeral is tomorrow.  Today I read an article, posted on Tuesday, that claims that modern physics may prove that death does not exist.  Then earlier this evening, in the tradition of watching my favorite Christmas-themed movies in December, I watched Fanny and Alexander, one of Ann's favorite movies, too, which, alluding to August Strindberg's Dream Play, questions the reality of space and time, as well, suggesting that reality and life and death, the essential stuff of philosophy, poetry, and religion, are compositions of the human imagination, created out of our body chemicals and firing synapses, much as a painting is created out of oils and brushwork.

So imagination and coincidence may be the bases of reality, after all, an idea that Bergman's movie suggested 27 years ago, through constant allusions to the theater (the "little world" that resides within the big world), magic, puppetry, lies (that seem closer to truth than exactitude), pranks, laughter, magic lanterns, gifts, small acts of generosity, chance, and childhood, that time of life when everything is equally possible and probable.

And that being so, or so assumes a speech delivered at the movie's conclusion by an admitted sentimentalist, we must take note of the small world of our illusions, senses, affections, emotions, and memories, for they are the colors with which we paint the real world (or perhaps only reflect it reduced to our paltry human scale).

They are what we have before our energies pack up and head to other possible worlds.

I am certainly more comfortable with the small world of art, literature, theater, and film--simple pleasures, birthdays, friends, and moments--than with the big world of politics, metaphysics, history, and physics, and it's a pleasing (even if delusional) thought that, as some Renaissance thinkers thought, human scale is the true scale of things.

Whatever else can be said for it, though, it is the scale that fits us humans best.

Lately I have felt the big world weighing down on me, overwhelmingly, and have beat a retreat to my own small world, to whatever extent that modern life and present circumstances permit.

I do not stick my head in the ground to avoid the big world, but I do try to take things in slowly and in manageable bits, sweetened somewhat, so they can be processed and mulled over and savored.

People with the "big picture" and long-range goals still impress me, they are heroes, perhaps, but, like the theater manager of limited talents, I am not one of them.

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