Befitting Reverie, again

There is a cramped view of reality that separates it from value, from non-fact, from reverie, from dream, from art. To our great loss.

Today I return to a review of an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art of artifacts of all sorts from Jerusalem, 10,000-14,000.

The writer has this to say:

The ambience is conducive less to learning than to dreaming. This feels right for a history that is incomprehensible without reference to religious passions. I am reminded of Marianne Moore’s description of poems as “imaginary gardens with real toads in them.”Jerusalem was then, as it remains for many, as much an idea as a locale.

Of course, if I were to quibble I’d say dreams — especially reveries before art and special landscape and gardens, imaginary or not — can be sites of learning as well as transport.

And I’d say religious passion is not the last word about religious landscape. And idea and locale needn’t be divorced. But these are quibbles for the point is well taken. A mood and movement of reverie attends the best of encounters and immersions in art or place or poems. As readers will know, Thoreau put much stock in befitting reverie, as did Rousseau.

No doubt there are dangers. Perhaps wanting to return us quickly to sober awakening, the author of this review reports a truth that nevertheless is full of its own dream-like atmosphere:

In 2000, the British Journal of Psychiatry reported on about twelve hundred cases, during the previous decade, of “Jerusalem syndrome,” in which ordinary tourists were seized by convictions of a sacred mission and made public nuisances of themselves, often by sermonizing at holy sites while clad in hotel sheets.

Luckily we have no reports of Thoreau running through the streets of Concord naked. Though if the analogy worked we’d be looking for new age disciples running naked.

I think there’s a “Thoreau syndrome” evidenced in the regular bashing and ridicule he receives (“fraud, hypocrite, misanthrope”) not unlike a Superbowl fan jeering at a rabbi in yarmulka and tefflin.

** Peter Schjeldahl,, October 3rd, 2016



2 comments on “Befitting Reverie, again

  1. dmf says:

    The Poetics of Wisdom Divination: Renewing the Moral Imagination

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