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  Butterfly Dreams, Mirrors and Mountains / Notes for Duck Hyun Cho: re-collection _ Pontus Kyander 2008/09/02
Butterfly Dreams, Mirrors and Mountains

Notes for Duck Hyun Cho: re-collection



By Pontus Kyander



Why mirrors?

Mirrors are storytellers. They claim on the one hand to be truthful, on the other they are deceivers of great magnitude. A bad mirror distorts, all mirrors reverse. As a double of one reality, it indicates another. Whatever way we look at it, illusion is at hand, and delusion is a possibility. As mirror images multiply, the touch with reality is ultimately lost. Nothing is finally true, there is just reflections of reflections, a giant distortion, surreal and dreamlike. As in the famous closing scene of Orson Welles’ film The Lady from Shanghai (1947) none of the reflections is to be trusted, trusting them might prove fatal.

A mirror is seemingly a thin sheet of glass between two realities. Reach out your hand, and another hand is reaching for yours. The symmetry is perfect, and obviously the opposite of this reality. What if we could enter the world in the mirror? That is a literary trope, familiar from for instance Lewis Carroll’s second book about Alice, Through the Looking Glass. If there is a world where everything is reversed, then also everything else must be reversed: manners, writing, mores…

Mirrors are seducers, and the prime instrument of the seductress. Mirrors have been connected to vanity and to femininity, but the one who was ultimately seduced by the mirror image was a man, Narcissus from the Greco-Roman mythology, who was so absorbed by his own reflection on the surface of a spring, that he fell in love with it. Some versions claim Narcissus had a twin sister and lover, but whatever the case, his self-infatuation brought death on him, and from where he died the Narcissus flower sprung up.

Maybe there still is truth in mirrors. Some say most people are conceived as twins, with the double absorbed already in the womb. This might not be a biological rule, but it actually does happen. There might be a twin sibling we have already lost from the start, that we continue missing and longing for. According to Plato, when discussing the nature of love in Symposium, man was from the beginning a double. Then Zeus split the two halves, leaving them yearning for each other. That is the origin of love, and of loneliness. And there we touch Narcissus again, as he is pressing his face close to the surface of the water.

Once upon a time, we were all surprised about seeing our own mirror image. And once in history, few people knew their own face very well. Mirrors were rare, they were objects of extreme luxury, and still their image might be dark and dull. With the glass mirror, the predecessor of photography and mass duplication was created. It could even be seen as a forerunner of virtual realities, as its role in for instance architecture has been primarily of creating illusions.

The mirrored world is a perfect world, and a world of delusion.

• • •

We move along the river bed, the artist and I, jumping from stone to stone like two young boys, defying facts of age and physics. This is the time of the cherry blossoms, and bloom they do! As the spring finally comes to the mountains, the trees explode in flowers.
The water is clear and cool. Following the creek upward, we could jump between stones all the way to the famous White Lotus Temple, Baek-Ryun-Sa in the Deokyusan Mountains.
Further down the valley, we had sashimi made fresh from river trout, nourished from the same water. Paradise might come in many forms. This is one.


• • •




Of Dreams, White Lotus and Butterflies

This was a long time ago. Baek-Ryun-Sun-Sa, a Korean monk living in the reign of King Shinmoon, was dreaming. He dreamt of White Lotus flowers and the wisdom of Buddha. In his dream, he found the rare plant at a remote location in the mountains. Of course he found the place, once he had woken. He had to dig out the plant with his bare hands, and at the site he founded a temple. So it is said, and the temple still stands there.

In Buddhist tradition, the White Lotus stands for purity, elegance and wisdom. Its popularity though in royal palace ponds in Korea comes from the assumption that its scent works as an aphrodisiac on men. It is obviously a plant with a complex character. As its roots grow from the mud, the stem is in the water, while the leaves float on the surface and the blossom rises above the water, it is commonly associated with the right development of the human spirit.

But if the Lotus in Asia is mainly connected to Buddha and to wisdom, another tradition ties it to oblivion, delusion and death. In the Ninth Book of the Odyssey we encounter the Lotus eaters, Lotophagi. They live from Lotus flowers and plants, causing them a narcotic intoxication, addiction and a lethargic sleep. They forget about home and family, nothing is of any importance than to continue their never-ending feast. Of course, there is scientific dispute about what actual plant they were indulging in. Recently the Blue Lotus of the Nile has been suggested. If eaten it has a narcotic effect, and as such it played a role in Egyptian religious rites. Let us rest by that.

If the Lotus has been likened to the human Spirit, so has the butterfly. It also represents (in Christian tradition) resurrection, as it is in fact reborn from the larvae into the winged insect. Also its life span as a grown insect is short, reminding of the transitory nature of all life. This is why it so easily connects to life as well as to death. That brings us to another vision.

As the Lady lied down mourning in her bed, the ashes of his Lordship sitting on a table nearby, she saw a butterfly fluttering into the room. It quietly came to rest on top of the urn with the ashes. There it died. This was already late in the autumn.

The Danish poet Inger Christensen has devoted a cycle of sonnets entirely to butterflies. “Up soar the Morpheus, the death-head, all” she writes, “that turns their night-moth aspect outermost”:

showing me how soft it is to fall
into ash-greyness and resemble god.



And a winter moth gives her reasons for further reflections on death, and on the mirror-like aspect of its wings, adorned with the likeness of a skull:


I am reflected in their pupal slumber,
their ruthless liberation when the need
is greatest in the mirrored rooms of cold,

and what I see for myself, the bereft,
bare mirror-gaze, is not just death—
this is a death that looks through its own eyes.


(Inger Christensen: Butterfly Valley. A Requiem. Translation Susanna Neid)


• • •

From the creek, the mountains rise steeply. Mountains are holy, they connect in most ancient beliefs humans with their gods. Thus climbing a mountain has a spiritual aspect. We cleanse ourselves, and here the air is for sure clean, and much needed as we breathe heavily. We are a kind of pilgrims of no particular belief, still in need of spiritual consolation. Old habits die hard.

• • •

In Werner Herzog’s film Fitzcarraldo (1982), a dream of creating an opera house in the Amazonas jungle sparks a wild plan with the protagonist. To connect one river bend with another, divided by a mountain ridge, the whole ship has to be pulled over the mountain. Only a dreamer can come up with such a plan, but it actually succeeds. The ultimate failure is another story. The struggle with the boat is a strangely visionary sequence in a great film.

Artists pull boats across mountains. At least when their art gives resistance and the projects are complicated. There is an obsessive aspect in creation, difficult to deal with in a rational age. There are millions of reasons not to do it, not even to try. Also in the Deokyusan Mountains I saw something of this struggle, and something of the triumph.


     


24   homepage renewal  
23   From History to Memory_ Jiyoon Lee  
  Butterfly Dreams, Mirrors and Mountains / Notes for Duck Hyun Cho: re-collection _ Pontus Kyander  
21   나비 꿈, 거울과 산 / 조 덕현을 위한 기록 : 리-컬렉션 _ 폰투스 키안더  
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16   Re-collection : Walking down two women's paths _ Jiyoung Shin  
15   Cho Duck–Hyun _ Ann Landi  
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