Monday, March 10, 2008

Thought on a Wing...

We were born before the wind, also younger than the sun, ere the bonnie boat was won, as we sailed into the mystic...

Van Morrison

I found myself taken by the wing of a gull today. The bird flew by, above me, resolute toward some destination of which I knew nothing. But gulls are always flying by. They are, as they say, a dime-a-dozen -- nothing special. This was not a rare bird, nothing unusual in its flight. The same silver-gray wing, the same bend in the wrist, the same lines and movements as I can see every day. Yet, I was stopped by its elegance. In some way, for just a moment, I was carried by the wing of a bird to a location not that far from immanence.

In response, I thought of two economies.

Yes... two economies!

One, an economy of restriction. Value rising with rarity, with inaccessibility. Value in Vancouver real estate, in gold, in barrels of oil. Value which arrives when something is seen to be uncommon, hard to find, dramatic, extraordinary. Value which emerges through an exception-to, a break in the the ordinary movements of time. It is not just an economy of restriction, it is an economy bent on transcendence.

Much of that which we consider economy, most of the institutional worlds we encounter are built upon such assumptions. Empires are built upon such assumptions. And, we are all inescapably tied to the exchanges of these restricted economies, whether we like it or not.

The wing of a gull is lost -- transcended -- in such economy.

Yet there is another form of exchange -- often called the economy of gift. In this economy value rises with plenty and regularity. In an economy of gift, an over-abundance doesn't drive values down -- rather values escalate as goods multiply in a repetition of exchanges. Values increase in expanding circles, and lines shooting-off toward untraveled realms. Yet these values have almost nothing in common with the numerical valuations of the restricted economy. Rather there is what we could call rhizome valuations, those built upon the continuous multiplication and movement of real goods flowing, from point to point, as gifts-exchanged. Such valuations are produced by means of calculations beyond numbers, computations emerging from and entering into something more akin to the mystical and spiritual. Such movements into the mystic do nothing to minimize the sensual-reality of such exchanges.

In the part of the world in which I live, the value at one time resided with the salmon, with the cedar, with the endless rain replenishing the mountains, with the expanses of the sea itself, with the sheer volume and power surging through the river. These very things which for thousands of years were identified as images of profusion, health and prosperity, now seem cheapened through the mechanisms of a restricted economy. The value of these goods is lessened precisely because of their very abundance, and, what is perhaps more disturbing, the value only increases as the abundance itself is diminished. It seems the limiting of abundance is built right into the requisite processes of the restricted economy.

Back to the wing of the gull. This simple event, a repeated and even mundane event, became a moment of splendor, perhaps even a point in time where something of the mystic brushed against soul and body. For in this wing, so easy to ignore, so easily obscured in its very commonality, beauty emerged, and, for a sliver in time, this beauty arrested me. In the flow of its flight the ticking clock stopped and an instance of something close to pure immanence was created. A bend in a feather, a bend in the wing -- as occurs endless times each hour -- turn the eyes to a world of gifts cascading through the everyday and the ordinary.

We show that we have attained maturity of understanding when we no longer go where rare flowers lurk under the thorniest hedges of knowledge, but are satisfied with gardens, forests, meadows, and ploughlands, remembering that life is too short for the rare and the uncommon.


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