238: “Prepared To See” Differently (Emerson)

                “Elliot Cabot’s paper on “Art” has given emphasis to one point among others, that people only see what they are prepared to see.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson (Journals)

                Last week’s entry wasn’t a meditation on references to references as references, but maybe it should have been. Isn’t that one way we muddle along, trying to make meaning?
                I can’t write anything funny unless there’s more than one character on stage. For humor to get up and play around, I need different perspectives, different minds creating different interpretations of what’s in front of them. If I were to try humor with only one character—with a monologue, like this—I think I would try to play with the reader as a character, play with my guess at the reader’s experience and expectations. Now I’ve gotten myself into a trap, because I don’t know what different things make writing funny. Inside my head I’m trying to get out of the trap: I’m reaching for references. Jim Carrey in Man on the Moon. The opening of Confederacy of Dunces. I ask myself, how are those things funny. I try to make meaning by understanding these other sources and bringing their lessons over here. Then they could be references: “In Man on the Moon…” I do that a lot.
                I have an image of a man waddling along, a gigantic sack of polaroids balanced on his back. When he finds something, he opens the sack and starts making comparisons. That’s what I do when I try to describe to someone a food they’ve never eaten, a place they’ve never been. “It’s like an apple.” “It’s like the Sierra mountains, but the granite feels older.” In some ways, I suppose, you could say that’s what Uproar does: it attempts to make polaroids, and then make them useful. And it doesn’t work. What happens when the man finds something he’s never seen before? What happens when he tries to twist what’s it front of him, to make it match this and that, even though each reference only gives him one (flawed, incomplete) viewpoint? I think I want to see the selfness of things. So it doesn’t work, but it works, too. I don’t think I’ve ever met something that doesn’t remind me of something else. I sit with an eraser, I sit with a leaf: they feel like something in my hand, and they pull toward something. Towards other things. I don’t know how to balance the tension. I don’t know how to learn from what I’ve seen, and still see new things I don’t know how to use yesterday’s lessons while remembering that tomorrow need not only be today. Besides, Uproar isn’t only making polaroids: it’s also sitting with something, and wondering what it is.
                Azlan says Emerson says Cabot says “that people only see what they are prepared to see.” With polaroids and comparisons, with stillnesses and curiosities, with not quite knowing, can we prepare ourselves to see past our expectations?

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