Sink Eye, Space Eye, and The Empty One

“Lia-Triple M” (a . k. a. liammm) got a curious result from taking a photo of her sink draining:




It’s not just that we’re primed for recognizing faces and eyes; it’s the bottomlessness of the above image that unsettles: the blackness at its core; even its emptiness. We are primed for finding the other bottomless souls around us; those that are also in possession of an inner depth; an imagination; an infinity within. But we fear that–at very, very bottom–there may be nothing there at all.

It’s hard to tell.


I also think of eclipses, the darkness of the womb, and Sufi dancers. And of NASA galaxy photos that resemble eyes:




In Alan Ginsberg’s poem, “Wales Visitation,” he speaks of sheep that “speckle the mountainside, revolving their jaws with empty eyes.” And T . S. Eliot, in his The Four Quartets, writes these lines:

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;

Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,

But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,

Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,

Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,

There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.

Likewise, the poet Wallace Stevens speaks of the “palm at the end of the mind.” But what’s behind Stevens’s palm? Is it an eye, a pupil–the Empty One?

And where and who (or what) is the Empty One, exactly? Who are you?

Are you the Empty One?

I’m beguiled of late by something that Immanuel Kant wrote about the mind’s infinity and its orientation to the infinite. According to Kant, the “absolutely great,” and instances of great outward magnitude, remind us of who we ultimately are, even if we do not have the capacity to wholly visualize it. Our “faculty of reason,” though blind to infinity, gropes in its direction imaginatively, possessing an “independent” and monstrous sublime power, a “nonsensible standard which has that very infinity under itself as a unit against which everything in nature is small, […]”

Kant likens our experience of the monstrous sublime, in its shifting back and forth between nature’s magnitude and the mind’s infinitude as akin to an agitation or “vibration, i.e., to a rapidly alternating repulsion from and attraction to one and the same object.”

There is an Emily Dickinson’s poem that seems to rather nicely approximate Kant’s notion of the sublime as a squaring off of mind and nature in a gargantuan and sublime struggle for supremacy. The disturbing calm of Dickinson’s narrative voice adds a curious and ironic twist to the poem’s sublime subject. In the poem, Dickinson imagines herself, in one hand, hefting “the brain like a shopper picking through cabbages at the market” (Paglia 625) and, in the other hand, hefting three sublime things—the sky, the sea, and God:

The Brain—is wider than the Sky—

For—put them side by side—

The one the other will contain

With ease—and You—beside—


The Brain is deeper than the sea—

For—hold them—Blue to Blue—

The one the other will absorb—

As Sponges—Buckets—do—


The Brain is just the weight of God—

For—Heft them—Pound for Pound—

And they will differ—if they do—

As Syllable from Sound—

My question: how do we live a life equal to our sublime mystery and capacities? One thing that comes to mind: slow down and notice things. That is, really try to see; to linger; to ask questions; to stop being Oedipus, plucking out one’s eyes.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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2 Responses to Sink Eye, Space Eye, and The Empty One

  1. JB says:

    “One might almost say that truth itself depends on the tempo, the patience and perseverance of lingering with the particular.” – Adorno

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