a) how to think - rest peacefully DFW b) Jitka Hanzlova's perception of time-scale in forest photography as seen by John (non-ham) Berger

The adult content and language of David Foster Wallace:

1995 commencement speech at Kenyon College... this is completely worth reading! Thanks to Michael and Laura for telling me about this.


'I went to the forest-hills early in the morning when the forest awakes. Standing there I breathed in the wind. the unruffled voices of the birds and the silence which I love. And then when I was concentrating on a picture, I stopped hearing the silence around me. It was as if I was somewhere else, like in a film. The forest started to move and, as I looked through the camera, I experienced fear. Maybe it was just the framing and the stillness of the evening. As if the birds and the crickets had stopped their singing, as if the wind had come to a stop in the valley. Nothing but nothing to hear. No birds, no wind, no people, no crickets. The darkness of the light and this other silence made my hair stand on end... I could not exactly place the fear, but it was coming from the inside. It was the first time I felt this so intensely, but not the last. I escaped! What's the basis of this fear of mine? Why? I'm not afraid of animals or of the forest. The place is safe.

Throughout history and prehistory forests have offered shelter, a hiding-place, whilst also being places in which a wanderer can be ultimately lost. They oblige us to recognize how much is hidden.


What is intangible and within touching distance in a forest may be the presence of a kind of timelessness. Not the abstract timelessness of metaphysical speculation, nor the metaphysical timelessness of cyclic, seasonal repetition. Forests exist in time, they are, God knows, subjects of history; and today many are catastrophically being obliterated for the quick pursuit of profit.

Yet in a forest there are 'events' which have not found their place in any of the forest's numberless time-scales, and which exist between those scales. What events? you ask. They are what remains in photographs after we have made an inventory of everything this is recognizable. The ancient Greeks named events like these dryads.


To make sense of what I'm suggesting it is necessary to reject the notion of time that began in Europe during the eighteenth century and is closely linked with the positivism and linear accountability of modern capitalism: the notion that a single time, which is unilinear, regular, abstract and irreversible, carries everything. All other cultures have proposed a coexistence of various times surrounded in some way by the timeless.

Return to the forest that belongs to history. There is often a sense of waiting, yet what is it that is waiting? And is waiting the right word? A patience. A patience practiced by what? A forest incident. An incident we can neither name, describe, nor place. And yet is there.

The intricacy of the crossing paths and crossing energies in a forest - the paths of birds, insects, mammals, spores, seeds, reptiles, ferns, lichens, worms, trees, etc - is unique; perhaps in certain areas on the seabed there exists a comparable intricacy. but there man is a recent intruder, whereas, with all his sense perceptions, he came from the forest. Man is the only creature who lives within at least two time-scales: the biological one of his body and the one of his consciousness. Every one of the crossing energies operating in a forest has its own time-scale. From the ant to the oak tree. From the process of photosynthesis to the process of fermentation. In this intricate conglomeration of times, energies and exchanges there occur 'incidents' that are recalcitrant incidents, unaccommodated in any time-scale and therefore (temporarily?) waiting between. These are what Jitka photographs.

The longer one looks at Jitka Hanzlova's pictures of a forest, the clearer it becomes that a break-out from the prison of modern time is possible.

The dryads beckon. You may slip in between - but unaccompanied.

-John Berger in Hold Everything Dear


daniel aaron sprague said...

That guy has some pretty hilarious story telling techniques.... good find.


Anonymous said...


I sat at midnight in the woods
When the darks were far and deep,
When all my kin had housed their goods
And had fallen dead asleep.

A whisper moved above my ears
As if slender rain-drops fell, –
A feeling of a thousand years
From the whence I could not tell.

A something stirs within those woods
A spirit remote and fine, –
And all my kin may have their goods
For the deep old glooms are mine.

(from Liberty Hyde Bailey, Wind and Weather, originally published 1916, reprint forthcoming Oct. 2008 from Doulos Christou Press).