The marvellous as impressionism

By Gianluca Cinelli

There are places, where we happen to feel as though we were one step away from grasping the absolute spirit of the land, or genius loci. Those places are to remain impressed in our brains even if we will not see them ever again; and if we return there in our memory, those places assume an almost supernatural aura, as though they were capable of disclosing some ungraspable secret. Why is the land so deeply connected with our ability to experience the marvellous and the uncanny? The beauty of land often reveals itself more easily to foreigners than to dwellers, perhaps because of the intimate but somewhat distracted relation that the latter have with their land, like the bond that keeps together an old married couple.

However, to the sensitive soul any encounter with the land will appear romantic, as far as such souls usually live split between expectation and astonishment. Expectation makes the mind susceptible of capturing the finest hues of the world, while astonishment baffles our mind and leaves us exposed, so to speak, to a vague but powerful sense of uneasiness and loss of balance. The blend of expectation and astonishment causes us to enjoy the rare experience of the extraordinary, consisting in suddenly realizing that in life there is always much more than meets the eye.

The experience of the extraordinary turns every dweller into a foreigner. The world, which we thought we knew, suddenly appears odd and unfamiliar as though its physical existence had mysteriously become thin and we could look through it into the metaphysical sphere.  We thus begin to understand that upon the stage of landscape a marvel is unfolding: we are beginning to sense the earth.

Earth is the concrete body of the world as the sky is its soul. Whatever its form and state, earth can change itself into infinite shapes. Earth is totally impersonal identity, it has no name or thoughts. Earth simply exists and despite its absolute reality and concreteness, it is the most mysterious thing we can imagine. With earth we share our mineral essence. The rock lies, heavy and steady, and we know that something of the stone lingers on in our nature. This is precisely the mystery of our existence which we cannot penetrate. Earth is the symbol of what we will never be able to understand by means of mere reason.

Why does the idea of descending into a dark tunnel underground appal us more than the idea of standing above the ground albeit in thick darkness? Why does the view of a deep crevice fill our mind with uneasiness? And why does the idea of large caves under the mountains, so vast that they could contain a cathedral, inspire awe and terror in our hearts? It is mostly due to the fact that we find in the earth the real essence of mystery.

A gust of gale might be scary, but the deep rumble of a quake is terrifying. To catch an odd shadow or a glimpse of eerie light with the corner of the eye may be unnerving, but to see a deep, dark crack open in the ground is maddening. Thus, the experience of the marvellous begins with our getting to grips with our earthy side. Like all forms of human knowledge, also the highest abstractions of imagination are built bottom-up. The dark side of the world, which is also the dark side of ourselves, is not to be found above us but rather beneath. The earth we pace upon is the metaphor of the secret inner nature of ourselves which we will never discover, but which we will never stop delving into, to fathom its depths and mystery.



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