Thursday, November 4

Some time ago, in my roommate's English class, the prof was talking about the idea of the sublime, and said that some things, such as elephants running off a cliff into the sea in a rainstorm, could not be sublime. Liz, of course, took this as a challenge, and had our writing group write scenes in which that experience is sublime. Here is mine:

The problem with being granted a sign is that quite often, you need another sign to explain the first one.

So it is with the sign I have been given. I have no doubt that it is, in fact, a sign: it has unmade my thoughts and my heart is aflame. But what the sign signifies is beyond my ability to grasp.
It was a day ripe for signs, an apocalpyse contained in a rainstorm. The air was heavy and pregnant with moisture, yearning for release. The wind was cold and damp, heavily scented with the smell of the sea and rains from distant lands. The clouds hung heavy, barely clearing the ground, and lightning flashed in the distance.

I stood, with the ocean on my right and the trees to my left, looking out along the coast, and admiring the brief reflections that the lightning cast on the water. The waves rippled in the wind, as restless as the air itself. Suddenly, as the storm drew closer, an arc of lightning dashed out from the stormfront and cast itself into the water. The air was full of steam, and my nose prickled with a scent unlike any I had ever smelled. If anyone had been around to see, they would have seen my hair standing around my head like a halo, practically shimmering with electrons. It was then I knew that I must wait, for a sign would be granted.

I'm not sure how long I stood there, the incense of fire and water wafting around me, but it could not have been long, for the steam was still rising from the water when I began to hear it. At first, it was indistinguishable from the thunder. Then it was part of the thunder, a deep rumble in the land. Finally, it become the source from which the thunder rolled, crashing about my head.

As I turned to the trees, I saw them. They moved out of the trees as if they did not see them, and I am not at all sure that they did. I would say that they moved through the trees like ghosts, but it would be more truthful to say that the land and all that was in it were like ghosts in their presence. As they moved across my line of sight, I could see the water in their eyes. It called to them, as it had to me, but they alone knew how to answer the call.

To this day, I do not know whether they were called by the water, or the lightning, or by some force of which both were merely a symptom. But on they came, the lightning reflected in their tusks, ears blowing in the gusting wind. They were silent giants, except for the thunder of their stampeding feet. They did not trumpet to herald the lightning, nor to mourn their passing, but accepted it in a way that I cannot. For as they reached the cliffs that overlooked the sea, they did not slow, nor did they turn to the left or the right, but simply went over the edge of the cliff, into the water. Perhaps my hearing was damaged that day, or perhaps I simply was not listening, but I did not hear a single splash as they entered the water. The size of their bodies should have made a terriffic impact, but I heard nothing. Nothing, except the thunder of their feet, thunder beneath the waves.

I do not expect you to believe that this was a sign. After all, what could be significant about a herd of elephants running off a cliff into the ocean, in the rain? But this was my sign, my grail, and I do not know what it means. But to this day, when I hold a seashell to my ear, I hear a dim thunder beyond the rushing sound of the sea.


Annina said...

What a wonderful challenge! I would love to have friends asking me to write about the sublime. I have been working with the sublime in several texts and exams. Such a dramatic almost hysterical subject.
I think your text solves the problem of the elephants off the cliff beautifully. And by the way - why should elephants stampeding off a cliff not be sublime???

Joi said...

Hi! How in the world did you find my blog?? I was looking at your profile, and noticed that you say you are into bill Viola?? Isn't he an incrredible artist? He really knows the sublime. :)