- 2020 Volume 15
On top shelf of the dresser in my bedroom there’s a plant. To be honest, I’m not even sure what type of plant it is. It’s stems germinate directly from the soil, spill out over the brim of their pot, and cascade down over the sides of the dresser, not even close to touching the beige micro-sand soft carpet below. Yet the plant looks oddly large in comparison to the other things on the dresser.
There’s a glass mason jar to the left of my plant that’s half full with seashells I’ve collected off the beaches of Antigua and Barbuda. The other half of the mason jar is filled with glass, or “sea-glass,” that has been eroded by the long-lasting lap of the ocean, so that the edges are smooth and the surface of the glass is worn and no longer opaque. The mason jar itself reaches up to the waist of the pot, not even peeking over the rim of the white fettling knife-carved clay.
There's a small cabinet directly below my plant and on the handle of the cabinet there’s some sort of attempt at wire-art. Originally, I had aimed to make a bracelet, but when the small piece of amethyst I had wanted to put in the bracelet kept falling out, I decided instead to twist the thin brass wire around my finger and then to hang it on the cabinet handle as a reminder that I’m not an artist.
On the shelf next to the cabinet and slightly to the left and below the plant, there is a line of three small glass objects. The first object is a seahorse stained with streaks of subalpine fir green down its back and deep grey-blue along its breast. The second object is a glass owl from the small island Murano off the coast of Venice. The owl fits in the palm of a small-child’s hand and its head is painted orange while the rest is left untouched. The third object is a house that’s built out of the most basic of geometric shapes. The house is not made up of the shiny, pretty looking class the objects beside it are made up of. Rather, it’s made up of the “mug-glass” and looks like it would be very satisfying to throw against a wall. On a flight from Utah to Amsterdam, the flight attendant came around and passed one out to each person. Apparently, there’s 160 of them that people collect. I think the collection of random ornaments I have scattered on my shelves adds a rather complete look to my dresser and make it look beautiful.
There’s some debate between the meaning of the word “sublime” versus the word “beautiful.” In his “On the Sublime and Beautiful,” Edmund Burke says that the sublime evokes a sense of astonishment while beauty is comparatively small and should be “smooth and polished.” I do not think that my plant and its surrounding are sublime, insofar as I am not awe-struck or dramatically moved when I see my plant. At first glance, I see more of a simple beauty that is light, delicate, and soft. However, I find it sublime that my plant can recover from the brink of death after I’ve starved it of water for over two weeks (I don’t exactly have a green thumb).
One of Edmunde Burke’s most substantial arguments for what sublime is is that the sublime is “founded on pain.” While it may seem like a stretch to say that my plant was founded on pain, I am willing to make that leap.
Dirt has been around since almost the beginning of time, meaning that it has seen and been the foundation of anything that anyone has ever built. It has been the host to the formation of empires, dictatorships, and republics - the groundwork for armies driven to war by imperialist regimes over the stretches Mongolian Plateau. Blood has spilled onto the soil of the New World by settler-colonialists, evicting those who are native to the land. Cancer, fear, sorrow; ravaging the land and the dirt, until death has been soaked into the veins of the minerals that course through the earth and all of nature is resting on the ruins of a broken world.
So my plant rests on dirt and soil which inherently means it rests on pain. It is sublime.
But everything in the world relies on dirt’s foundation, even those things we call “non-natural.” And if dirt is pain, that makes everything sublime.
And if everything is sublime, what becomes of beauty?
Photo by Garrett Glasgow