They are wholly responsive, so, ghettoed like this, they are motionless and silent. Lack of motivation makes them dependent on the ground and its sullen, slow personality. It can do what it wants with them, which seems little, though its slight shiftings make them change the angle of their stance. Why they stand they don’t know, nor what they’re made of. It’s not in their nature to name anything, having no language and no desire. They are fixed, though not exactly in themselves, being before and behind themselves always, one identity in many separate forms. Are they happy or sad? Neither. Beautiful, ugly? The epithets don’t apply. They reflect each other’s stillness to the last remove. The wind seems to amuse them when it casts its evanescent shimmies on their inscrutable panes, but they are being played upon, not with. They are the state before thought, though they do, in a sense, have questions, because everything that consists asks.
I need a virgin mirror
no one’s ever looked at,
that’s never looked back at anyone,
to flash up the spirits’ eyes
and help me recognize them.
-- Elizabeth Bishop, ‘The Riverman’ (1)
The self is a relation that relates itself to itself or is the relation’s relating itself to itself in the relation; the self is not the relation but is the relation’s relating to itself.
-- Søren Kierkegaard, ‘The Sickness unto Death’ (2)
Do they have lives? Here, though without aim, I suppose you could call them a manifestation of life, parties to a larger process of being. There are many ways to live, but to ‘have’ a life is to be aware of your existence. It is also to perceive yourself as an agent with some purpose. That is not the case here. These are manufactured objects with no awareness or self-determination. Without propulsion or intervention from outside, they have nothing to do. But they have form, mass and chemical constitution, so they have some physical effect on what surrounds them. And then, at any moment, a mobile, self-aware organism could pass by and be altered simply by their presence and whatever meaning it ascribed to them. One look and they would be in relationship, causing thoughts which lead to action. The fact that they have neither views nor feelings in the organic sense is irrelevant to their affective potential. The least self-conscious are often those with the most influence. We could at least say that they subsist.
Weather has no memory.
From height of hurricane to depth of snow,
landscapes and moods merge
into one unreflective moment.
-- Máighréad Medbh, ‘Weather’ (3)
Nothing is separate from weather, and certainly not these, congregated as I envision them, on a hilltop. Everything dwells in the supple body of the atmosphere and is subject to its unstable regime. It seems at times that rain is pummelling them with intent to destroy, that frost wants to break their enduring, expressionless faces, that wind wants to clear them from its way. But weather is as guileless as they, and performs without strategy, so everything is accident. However, all bodies, once formed, cling to their integrity as if it were a law. Planned or not, they do resist.
You might think it sad that they have no knowledge of themselves or how they were made. Thinking, you forget how little you too know about either your own making or theirs. So much information collects in the seams and hems of space and never informs the fabric’s pleasure in itself. How much more we enjoy ourselves, how much more we rule our lives, when placed on the grid of some paradigm. Without information, imagination leads us a convoluted route. The traveller who finds these atop the hillside and walks among them, knowing only their presence, will be sucked into their inward world and imagination will rearrange her. She will give them authority, will suppose, because they are separate from her, that they have personality and intent. She will be pulled out of herself, her perception distorted, until she surrenders to their majority without a weapon having been raised, without a single suggestive murmur except what she presumes. She will probably enjoy her imaginings and also any tested information she gains if she decides to experiment.
The mirrors, self-knowing or not, will reproduce this joy as long as they stand.
Mirrors, shout the gossips, are never still,
glass tending to flop.
The girl, dysmorphic, stares.
-- Máighréad Medbh, ‘Ugly on the Inside’ (4)
(1) Elizabeth Bishop, Complete Poems, Chatto & Windus, 2004
(2) Søren Kierkegaard, The Sickness Unto Death: A Christian Psychological Exposition of Edification and Awakening, Penguin, 1989
(3) Máighréad Medbh, unpublished poem
(4) ——, unpublished poem