The Art of Re-Seeing through Michael A. Amundson's Passage to Wonderland: Rephotographing Joseph Stimson's Views of the Cody Road to Yellowstone National Park 1903 & 2008
Originally published 2 December 2014
In a liminal state the rules change. What was firmly believed able to be relied on is destabilized. Everything shifts and takes on unknown and unexpected qualities. It is the state wherein change not only happens, but also wherein everything changes and becomes something that it wasn't. One aspect of a liminal space and time that is remarkably recurrent is that the hero has no social status. Since it is a threshold--a doorway--it requires change—or a regression. Travel to the American West has always been an entering into a liminal space and time. It has actually offered a wonderland wherein the American imagination is expanded. The in-between space, the road to the West, functions as a transitional space between the predictability and security of the world left behind and a dream world whose qualities and behavior are incalculable. To judge it as a normal time wherein the rules are going to stay the same is to assume that the attributes of one's old world translates to the new environment. It is to believe they still hold the values one believed they always would. A sheriff's badge, for example, is a useless commodity in a Grizzly bear encounter. The basis of heroics, the very definition of it, changes. Now, the hero, instead of being able to rely on the old norm, is "fueled . . . by isolation" (Edwards 7). To rely on the previous norm is to get eaten alive.
Heroes are not out to protect the norm. Heroes are born to a different heartbeat of necessity having come to know the fault line in the ground beneath the norm by living with it and of the fissure it has caused in the surrounding walls that leads further. Required to leave the security of the measured life and step into the "dangerous uncertainties of action" the hero goes, not for want of adventure or to seek power, but because there is no other way. For someone who actually intends to cause a change, a liminal space outside of the norm is where to learn the new rules. It is where one learns to re-see. It is the place and time both to be forced out of the old and become acquainted with the disorienting unknown.
The first requirements are that the adjustments are figured out and made. This can be seen at the beginning of Alice's experience down the rabbit hole in Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland when she is following the directions of making the adjustments of becoming way too little and way too big to get through the doorway. Feminist and literary scholar Lee R. Edwards writes of these new requirements:
Regardless of sex or previous social status, their behavior is 'normally passive or humble; they must obey their instructors implicitly, and accept arbitrary punishment without complaint. It is as though they are being reduced or ground down . . . to be fashioned anew and endowed with additional powers to enable them to cope with their new station in life' (Robert Scholes quoted in Edwards). The status and social privilege that such a character might have by right of birth is stripped away (8).
Scholar Robert Scholes points out that "the hero is normally not an agent but a patient . . . There is only that strangely passive creature, the subject/hero, and the functions that shape his or her existence" (quoted in Edwards 286). The effects of the liminal space are on the hero, not vice versa.
When discussing the American West, the road there is a transitional threshold, but arriving to the wonderland itself is in a marginal space that has been set off to the side of an operating world. Yellowstone, for example, was America's, even the world's first designation as a national park set aside in 1872 to be protected for its immense wonder and intrinsic values and not to be altered by human hands. What is more, however, is that this space is not only "in the margin" of what happens in a busy functioning system of humans across the planet, it has also been a reserved destination in the imagination.
To take this new playing field one step further, passed even liminality and into the margins of destination, if the destination is a dream world, already reserved because its wonders are not understood but its value somehow reserved in the imagination, and additionally the hero in such a space is female, there will be no returning after the heroics are done to a slightly altered world. The female hero is not going to come back and assume the powers of the male in a hierarchy, for example. The old structures won't be there. Those structures are what sit on the fault line.
The dilemma of the marginal is more profound because it must directly negate the assumption at the culture's heart." Lee R. Edwards
Liminality is indeed a temporary state. Marginality, on the other hand, is pushed into a further state by the very nature of being in the reserve of the imagination and of already being on the sidelines by being female. From these new limits already reached by living in the margins, already past the edge, there is no possibility for regression. There was already no place for these within the margins. The center has to come to her. Now the adventure "requires fundamental and permanent changes in the definitions of society or self" (Edwards 8). The threshold must be stepped through. She and the dream world, the reaches of the imagination have no home in the previous state. There is no going back to the old world and the way things were. The rules don't change temporarily or on the periphery. They are tectonic and permanent. This is true due to the fact that in her quest fundamental beliefs are wiped away and an entire perception of the ways things worked is replaced with not just an expanded view, but a different foundational perception in a different kind of world. It is only fitting that when we discuss an entering into the natural world, such as Yellowstone National Park, we also look at the feminine connection to both the natural world and a dream reality to which she is continually identified with throughout history, art and literature. She and the natural and dream worlds have strikingly been not only liminal—leading somewhere unknown and new—but also further, marginal—heroically arriving and living there.
When Joseph Stimson photographed the Cody Road, the newly opened road to the East Entrance of Yellowstone National Park opened to the public on July 10, 1903, he was essentially bringing new independent access of the new wonders to the old world and they get interpreted this way. In other words, his world view and that of his audience was added to, but not fundamentally changed, as the old world view is applied to the new, albeit now there is adventure and freedom and wonder to be explored. These are his heroics. A different kind of door is opened. This is what is expected of the male hero/conquerer: "I'll add to my knowledge, my world, my acquisitions, my experiences." He brings back the spoils of war, the knowledge gained and expands his world. That the road West is a liminal space did and does alter America. This new sense of freedom and adventure brought new hope, released confinement, and answered to the human spirit's need for natural fulfillment. Stimson was being paid to photograph the new road for the state of Wyoming's contribution to the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair. As artists and photographers had been shaping the vision of the West as pleasure and exotic adventure for the railroads since the 1860s, Stimson was on the new cusp of opening personal travel even more independent and free and therefore more adventuresome than railroad travel—this time by horse and buggy—where one can decide one's own adventure on this new road into the wilds. This is the forerunner of what the West and the automobile would open up in the American imagination soon after and radically alter what was perceived as the limits of what one's life could be. This new "seeing" of the astounding natural phenomenon and the freedom to explore it on one's own changed the limits of American consciousness, especially after Jack Kerouac's novel On the Road took that freedom further to even forever deny the limitations set in the old world. This liminal space changed perceptions and boundaries.
In his book Passage to Wonderland: Rephotographing Joseph Stimson's Views of the Cody Road to Yellowstone National Park 1903 & 2008, Professor of History at Northern Arizona University Michael A. Amundson questions the value of this same experience now as what was once extraordinary, in his words, perhaps has become the ordinary. A "re-seeing" then cannot simply be from a repeat liminal perspective, such as another road trip to Yellowstone, although that does still alter one's life experience. Now American travelers speed by the wonders in cars looking for the next rush, the next conquest, the next acquisition. The liminal space is now a respite from an unchanged world, the perceptions of the outside world still applied to the new space of "owning" the freedom. In this view, Yellowstone, which was once America's astounding Wonderland, is "just" a national park of mountains, trees and wild animals and a lot of tax dollars spent to keep it open for American nostalgic outdoor get-a-ways and pleasure-seekers. In this cultural mindset everything is just what one believed it always was. There is seemingly no way that this "understood" Wonderland could come to offer a liminal environment again until one discovers that we have already entered that new liminal state and are already on that passageway to knowing a new wonderland.
In a book of rephotographing it is possible to see that while it seems what we have sought to relive feels like a shadow of what was experienced and created in the past, a new instability, as always, calls for a new heroics and makes the path for it. It is already here, the fall already taken, the rabbit's hole already unexpectedly opened by an unsuspected shift in the imagination that was destabilized in the cultural perception without even noticing that it had happened because the environment appeared the exact same as it had before. In retracing Stimson's footsteps and photography Amundson finds that one hundred and five years later the landscape is remarkably the same, even some of the same trees and rocks in his almost identical re-photographs. These features, it turns out, can be the orienting facets in the new liminal experience because something of their qualities is recognized, although it will have to be rethought.
Amundson's book, published in 2013, places side-by-side Joseph Stimson's photographs from July 1903 next to a recreation of the photograph taken in 2008. It is intended to be an exact replica one hundred and five years later. There seems to be no huge advantage or revelation to this, just a retracing of historic steps and pictures. What once was a liminal space appears now to be old hat, a mimicking of what once was wild and ground-breaking. The almost imperceptible rabbit hole of seeing this space anew is in the perception that something isn't quite right in a world that is replicas without insight. It sets off a quiet, invisible signal that a boundary has been reached, an arbitrary wall of confinement has been found. When there is tyranny inside, by the replica as hero, for example—when the heroes of that world are merely repeats mimicking the words and deeds and taking credit of those who gave their lives' blood to trek that liminal space, the necessity is reached and the instability already in place. The hole in the boundary, the crack in the walls of perception is found. Amundson takes his trip in a questioning manner, not in assuming the awards and identity of someone who came before. In his book of simple, humble comparisons of then and now he unsuspectingly opens a doorway to a new perception that did not seem possible. He demonstrates that a replica doesn't change the world. It marks the spot where change must happen.
It is the ordinary perception in an extraordinary environment that proved the hole. That almost imperceptible destabilization that this extraordinary life cannot be seen by or as the ordinary sets the stage for a new kind of quest that leaves the old behind. The unexpected fall into the liminal space is therefore inevitable. Having lived on the margins knowing that the ordinary was not the limit, once the hole is seen the heroine or artist has to take it. It is made for her. A refusal is to stay locked in the old world where she cannot be known and the replicas are mediocre at best and the ordinary is the limit. One can't pack up the old identity and rules and take it in a suitcase for the trip. Not being what she sees, and the new world not known, she has to leave a world of copycats where she cannot be seen or defined. Looking back at the ordinary and at the mediocrity as limits keeps her from backing up and regressing. The need is real, dire and present. If she is to find home, she will have to go into the liminal, into the dream world that matches her imagination and her natural existence. The hero, artist, or visionary is pressed into the new liminal space because it must be taken. Amundson stands on the boundary and questions. His question mark is the rabbit hole. Going back would be to face a world that mimics as heroics, an old system now for empty heroes who cannot actually offer further social change, only impersonate what was done before them, borrow, steal or exploit for personal glory and gain. It is to be caged by creating empty reproductions. It is comfortable and easy and anybody can fill that role. The new heroics finds the hole, the liminal space, and takes it. Now there will be a new world learned with new rules and new requirements where the natural, dream and imaginative reaches not only take away the limits from the old world but also completely restructure the foundations of belief. The great children's stories that tell of such things have come of age.
Amundson's book is about the passage to Yellowstone's wonderland in retracing the steps of the photographer who opened the new freedom and mindset to the world's view while also through the photography opening a literal natural land of unfathomable wonders—even stating that this passageway, the Cody Road, was at the time as much or more beautiful than the park's views. As Stimson was shaping a world view with his photography what stands out is that Amundson realizes that his photography is small in comparison and yet he is drawn repeatedly to know the historic road over the years. The questions he raises himself are of what at the turn of the twentieth century was an experience of the sublime and were "picturesque" photographs and not only the change in the intensity of experience and expression, but additionally what is lost in the current day velocity and distance traveled in that speed. In the passage of time from the first photographs to Amundson's, the wonderland has lost stature in the imagination instead of gained. It is now a vacation spot for nostalgia and sport.
To re-see it, to enter it again as a liminal space that can once again act upon our imaginations and alter us, a reshaping of the heroine is necessary. A displacement of the human is a requirement. That the environment looks the exact same in the photographs is important. The environment and landscape of the former understood state looks the same because what will be accomplished will not be the same as before nor could it be recognized in the old state of mind. It is a redefining of perception that is necessary. This points to one thing: It is the outsider who must change. Because the change will not be a conquest or an acquisition—as a true liminal space cannot be—but a redefining of "heroics as war and conquest" (Edwards 9) and will be caused by the environment itself, caused by what is already marginal—the change will be internal in the heroine or artist and will become visible in this manner, distinctly identifiable in a new way. This will be the defining difference. It is a complete re-seeing. And because she is not returning with the "boon" as the male hero did but expanding the boundaries into the margins where she has always been, she has to come to know her new environment in order to now know herself. Her reshaping is inescapable.
The revolutionary function of art is to work to smash the cultural conformity that contains consciousness within social rituals of domination." Stanley Aronowitz
There is a recurrent pattern in literature that also points to this difference in path and outcome of the male and female heroes—both halves still required for a different world that will soon be seen. For most of history and literature, while the hero's journey has taken civilization, accomplishment and thought to its heights, the time now comes when the female role cannot simply step into the male path and assume that as her own or as heroic. That is indicative of the world of mimicry and keeps her in a place where her definition is limited to what he has already accomplished. That would make her a simple copycat where only slight alterations can occur but not fundamental new creation. Her confining definition has indeed come from this old world perspective, which is ordinary, much like the vision now experienced in the phenomenon of nature, as pointed out by Amundson. In viewing the feminine in literature, her awakening has been interpreted as a "rescue" from the old world perspective looking into the new. The marginal space continually operates outside those bounds and therefore, misunderstood, has been deemed as simply "dreaming" or "asleep"—waiting hundreds, and if one is counting in western civilization, thousands of years. Within the marginal space however, the new rules and requirements become apparent. For one, she can never bring back the dream. It simply won't work in the old world. No one will believe her. It is an internal change that she carries with her, that is her. Having changed to fit her own non-boundaries, she can't simply go back and explain that reality doesn't have the limits the old world thinks it does or that nature is a different entity that one believed it was. She has to live it. In this way, she does not return with the marginal space as an acquisition. Its very nature defies any attempts at regression. She cannot wake in the old world. It takes the old world recognizing her.
For the male, his trek into the wilds has been the hero's journey ("the soul's journey towards enlightenment") that changes him so that he brings that change back.
The liminal environment has acted upon him in such a way that the sublime and tests and trials have given him a sense of the eternal, as it does with Admundson in his photographs where he rightly questions its value to the old world view, knowing that something, whatever it may be, has been missed.
The path to her is marked in the almost identical photographs, not by what has changed, the cars speeding by for example, but by what has stayed the same: a tree in the distance one hundred and five years later signaling to him a constant eternity—not a conquest. A conquest would turn out to be physical only, the eternal untouched and unrecognized.
For the kiss of awakening to come—another rule of this liminal space—it cannot be just anybody. The very key is recognition—a re-seeing of what was seen before, but now reshaped by the environment, a changed being, forever altered by the actions of the liminal space upon him. When he returns he is not the same kind of being he was before and the change upon his own environment cannot be a slight alteration. The step into the liminal space was not as conqueror, but a coming to know. He did not just see what was seen before, but in a complete "re-seeing," knows that the liminal space is a different world. His old world without the new now seems inanimate, mundane and fruitless. His kiss marks not a return but a broadening, a moving forward, a betrothal to the new way of being, the joining of the two worlds into one.
Never having been accepted because of her marginality, her "dreaming," his kiss is not only a recognition from him, but also, because of his stature in the old world, a recognition by the former world. It is a joining with her in an unbounded reality where the wonders of the marginal space are the new rules.
Mythologist Joseph Campbell describes the story in retrospect of the marked change of the hero of being in the liminal space:
The larger portion of the bard's song is devoted to the Imperishable, which lives in him, only a brief stanza to the details of his personal biography. Those listening are oriented to the Imperishable in themselves, and then supplied incidentally with an item of information. Though he had feared the terrible hag, he had been swallowed and reborn. Having died to his personal ego, he rose again established in the Self.
The hero is the champion of things becoming, not of things become, because he is. "Before Abraham was, I AM." He does not mistake apparent changelessness in time for the permanence of Being, nor is he fearful of the next moment (or of the 'other thing'), as destroying the permanent with its change. 'Nothing retains its own form; but Nature, the greater renewer, ever makes up forms from forms. Be sure there's nothing perishes in the whole universe; it does but vary and renew its form.'
There is no fear of change, nor an identifying with the old and the eternal in him is awakened. Because of this,
Thus the next moment is permitted to come to pass. —When the Prince of Eternity kissed the Princess of the World . . .
Her "dream state" from the old perspective has been seen as a nightmare, a curse, but without the changes of this liminal state, a reshaping, she could never have adapted to her new world where she has always belonged. The transition is actually one from constructed reality to unbounded truths. Her frustration has come from being locked in a world that does not know or understand her or nature or the destructive confines of thought and action of the old world. Her transition through the liminal state of dreaming is a taking of the path of coming to know the state of being as it is naturally without constructs and confines that reduce it and make it untrue. Her awaking and recognition is symbolically the cultural awakening. Campbell continues:
her resistance was allayed. 'She opened her eyes, awoke, and looked at him in friendship. Together they came down the stairs, and the king awoke and the queen and the entire courtly estate, and all looked at each other with big eyes. And the horses in the court stood up and shook themselves: the hunting dogs jumped and wagged their tales: the pigeons on the roof drew their little heads out from under their wings, looked around, and flew across the field: the flies on the wall walked again: the fire in the kitchen brightened, flickered, and cooked the dinner: the roast began again to sizzle: and the cook gave the scullery boy a box in the ear that made him yell: and the maid finished plucking the chicken' (Campbell 243).
The awakening is symbolic of coming back to life in a joined world that is now fundamentally different. There is no fracture between the worlds. Notably, here there is no applause for a returning hero of a repeated deed but a deep psychological shift. The changes are internal both personally and socially where one would have to look again to know the difference. The call to look again in this story is that the story has remained over the centuries, holding truths "asleep" to our imaginations. In it the combined world looks the same but is structural, fundamentally in its internal reality altered forever. The awakening has not only occurred with both him and her in different kinds of heroic feats, but also with the entirety—the natural and civilized worlds. The difference is both internal and eternal.
That Yellowstone National Park also marks the Continental Divide (and alive, underlying erupting geothermal features) makes this physical wonderland an even more serendipitous study of the approaches to the marginal space of nature. Its environment offers the prime opportunity to see the transformative "green world" in a new light while also examining the different human role that takes place in the American West, especially in the paradises there and even further into the Southwest into the "dream" worlds along the coast. Yellowstone was purposely reserved for "pleasure" and even this term changes with the new experience. The "thrill" is a new one and is far deeper than what has been known before.
The old world rests on a collective imagination as does its limitations or lack thereof and so the new experience informs the whole. The Cody Road was named after William Cody or "Buffalo Bill" because of what he ignited in the world's imagination from what he found in the American West. This is an example of how the two worlds are different: a dream world of wildness and lawlessness brought to civilization as a phenomenon of what the West offered. It was an exotic, mysterious curiosity. Much rested then upon his interpretation. When Joseph Campbell was a child he was taken to see Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show at Madison Square Gardens in New York City. Through this and a deep impression from a visit to the Museum of Natural History, his imagination was ignited in a different way, as his life attested. William Cody brought the West to America and to the world and was honored and benefitted from it and continues to be a cultural image of that frontier. Joseph Campbell entered a lifelong quest of incredible discovery from which he never tired. It excited him and continually excited those around him. It spawned the Star Wars franchise. Both men brought the wonders to the collective imagination with a difference in perception. Joseph Campbell learned how to touch the eternal. That William Cody remains a cultural figure still attests to the continuing strength of the American West in the imagination. Both worlds are represented in this manner to the old world. What remains unexpressed is the perspective of what it means to be reshaped in that liminal space and what wildly different experience the marginal space would then offer after that reshaping. From the old world perspective this is non-sense. It is what it is. Even Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland is categorized as "literary non-sense genre."
[pullquote width="300" float="left"]I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived." Henry David Thoreau[/pullquote]
Occasionally in Passage to Wonderland Amundson mentions Stimson being disoriented by being in the liminal state of the mountainous fifty-mile Cody Road from Cody, Wyoming, to the East Entrance of Yellowstone National Park which Stimson was traveling in a buggy pulled by two white horses and with a guide. In several instances of Stimson mis-identitfying mountains or lakes, Amundson finds Stimson's mistake and attributes it to this disorienting state. It is Amundson who maintains his equilibrium (now traveling by car on paved roads) and his hold on to the outside arbitrary naming system. One creek on this road actually even has the name "Nameit" because of a blank filled in on a government form and, Anglos not knowing what to name it, left it to the government official who quickly filed the necessary documents and it became official. What Native Americans know that Anglos seem to be mostly unaware of is the power of language and naming that give acknowledgement to attributes that are powerfully at play with that entity, whether it be person or mountain. To Anglo Americans, generally speaking, a name is a name and a mountain is just a mountain. By taking away an arbitrary name within this state, the actual experience changes. Take for example Eleanor Lake which Stimson mis-identifies as Fern Lake. Admundson writes that Hiram Martin Chittenden had named the lake in 1901 or 1902 for his daughter Eleanor as he was constructing the East Entrance. Now the lake is identified by the outside world with no recognition of any qualities it might have of its own. The perception of the name is tied to the man who oversaw construction on the entrance and the history of it being built. It is to know nothing yet about the lake itself, of the 11,000 years of Native American history in these parts nor of the millions of years it took to form the actually unfathomable wonders of an ecosystem that cannot be tamed. Additionally, to Native Americans the natural world is an expression, a manifestation of, the spiritual world. In the Anglo view, it's a lake, scientifically identifiable, but not alive or able to speak and not a wild part of a working universe. All of this is then blocked out in a simple act of naming a lake where the hero can be honored into perpetuity. A wonder does jump to life, however, in the fortuitous naming it Eleanor which happens to mean "shining light."
Yet fiction has, ironically, the rock-hard permanence that fact must lack." Stephen Jay Gould
In Alice in Wonderland the way things operate are unexpected. Alice has to play croquet using a pink flamingo for a mallet and hedgehogs for balls. Frustration ensues. In this upside-down world, the heroine is a dreamer and obviously lacks the required understanding and skills with which to be successful in this new space. She has to let go of the firm grip on what she knew before. She has to seek out advice and instructions from the unpredictable natural setting. It is a force at work to get her to let go of her preconceived notions, even about her stature, and to succumb to a grander scheme.
Ironically, it is in the outside world where one must "play along" with an assumed knowing. In the "real" civilized world, one learns the human constructs and plays the game according to those perceptions and rules. The high speed at which the game is played and acceptance of the qualities erased is required in order to play.
In a reversal, what comes from the imagination and deep dreaming states are powerful forces at work that shape life and culture. Joseph Campbell writes:
Throughout the inhabited world, in all times and under every circumstance, the myths of [humans] have flourished; and they have been the living inspiration of whatever else may have appeared out of the activities of the human body and mind. It would not be too much to say that myth is the secret opening through which the inexhaustible energies of the cosmos pour into human cultural manifestation. Religions, philosophies, arts, the social forms of primitive and historic man, prime discoveries in science and technology, the very dreams that blister sleep, boil up from the basic, magic ring of myth (3).
Even lacking functional qualities in her new state and a having to figure out how it operates, being a dreamer proves to be more of a given than a hero in waking life because that would be an invention. She is naturally heroic. According to Lee Edwards:
Dreaming, we are heroes. Waking, we invent them. Conscious, unable to recreate the universe according to the patterns of desire, we require heroes to redeem a fallen world. Seductive figures, bold and daring, heroes promise power to the weak, glamour to the dull, and liberty to the oppressed. Their thoughts and actions cut channels into custom's rock. They cross borders, advance into new territory, inspire revolt. Dreamers' agents, necessary fictions, heroes enact our sleeping visions in the world, in daylight. We dream our heroes. In exchange, our heroes alter us.
A hero is required in action when the reality known and accepted does not match or allow for the exuberant, natural harmony of nature and blocks out eternal truths of the naturally heroic human who finally knows herself when confronted with the sublime.
Strangely, in this liminal environment this different sense of self is experienced and it is discovered that the heroic is innate and it comes to be that external goals are not the primary consideration. The experience of the sublime reawakens the natural state of the heroic as expressed in Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass when he writes: "All forces have been steadily employed to complete and delight me,/ Now on this spot I stand with my robust soul." It is a different kind of undefined and boundless heroic and a completely different experience of being outside the confines of the former rules and regulations of belief systems. Not only this, but it is now an opening to not defining what can and will be discovered. Letting go of what was known before and the propensity to control and dictate, the experience and awareness opens to a natural explosion of the celebration of life already operating in great wonder. The rational human mind has been an inferior mechanism to the workings of a grand universe. Losing this "centering in the principle of eternity" (239) actions come from anxiety, fighting and selfishness and the freedom to actually live is lost. The powerful, then, is inside where Campbell states, " . . . the metaphysical realm = the unconscious" (259).
In being pliable in the natural world, in coming into its unrecognized workings, one aligns oneself with what is already extraordinary, transportive, mesmerizing, and therefore thrilling. One finds that the tremendous wonder opens oneself. To block that out is to not participate and to miss out on being.
For Amundson writing of the old way of being he points out the perceptions of first discovering this liminal space where labels and rules are immediately arbitrarily applied. There is no "coming to know." He describes the experience of the road in 1903 as a victory of "man's ingenuity of overcoming nature" but goes on to describe how inside the park visitors were "awed into humility at [the] sight of something so sublime' of God's handiwork" (43). Carrying their own definitions closed the experience, even though the sublime could powerfully act upon them. The transformative power of the liminal space is lost and they return to only a slightly altered world.
Instead of a sense of domination and control and looking for acquisition, the pliable hero finds him or herself powerless against the active and alive environment. For the prince in Robert Coover's Briar Rose, the rose bushes and branches start to open to him (quite sexually) and he finds it shockingly easy to get through them even though there are bodies all around of men who tried before.
What is to be found for the heroine is an understanding of the reflection of herself to which she must bring her power of language and expression. Without it is to be mute, unable to give life to it. She is being reshaped but for existence she will have to struggle to not only come to know but to give it articulation in her words and in her being. Finding her world now one in which the unexpected knowingly shapes her, her tools are the boundaries of language which she must also go beyond into the poetic. The shaping force of this liminal space is internally shaping her. The whole while to the outside world it looks like she is asleep because it is an internal shaping. It is a "deep dreamless state." Robert Scholes describes what is literally happening: "something in the external scene correlates with an inner condition, mood, or feeling" (246) and she knows it to be more true than an applied construct. The greatest writers have given words to this extraordinary inner recognition:
The list of devices by which this extimacy has been recorded include Keat's 'negative capability,' Baudelaire's 'correspondence,' Rimbaud's 'illumination,' Rilke's "Weltinnenraum,' T.S. Eliot's 'objective correlative,' James Joyce's 'epiphany,' or even Freud's 'uncanny.'
Instead of being a peripheral experience, it is now the way to come to know herself and the natural state of being and an animated universe at work. In the outside world it has been formerly rejected as a way of knowing, deemed "problematic" and "alienating" because it doesn't become understood in trying to directly experience it. It is to be shaped instead of getting to do the shaping. Strangely, however, illumination IS visible through writing. The wonders at work in the natural universe also come to work through the act of and product of writing. The wonders, as hinted at in Alice in Wonderland, are a literary opening and whose truths do actually abound once known and it is through the literary that their realizations become known. It is a thing that comes to life through writing, and as John Keats discovered in his own poetry, it was how he was able to comprehend in the imagination the unforetold love of a goddess who had not previously been recognized. There are few works of art that compare to Keats' Ode to Psyche and its ability to newly express what can be known. Western civilization's art in this way has been a heroic path to come to know. For the female, the power of writing is the long-awaited answer—both inside and outside of her environment. As Scholes states, "It is still possible to write an illumination, and this experience constitutes the kind of 'responsibility' that defines the middle voice [between experience, writer and reader]: the writer claims the image as a 'portrait' and signs it, adopts it as his or her own." In other words, in coming to know this vast universe, she comes to know herself and must write it. While she remains "transparent to the transcendent" (Campbell) it is in this way she opens to the knowledge of what she is and in the act of writing is both able to give it and herself life and expression of its own. Wildly, it has been possible in the power of writing all along. Scholes points out that "recognition . . . is a rhetorical effect of writing" (246). Therefore, the requirement of the female and her natural universe is to write herself and her world into existence so that her inner being can be recognized.
In the old world there was only a body to find, a mind asleep. The flagrantly visible travesty (defined as "a literary or artistic composition [and in this case also personhood] so inferior in quality as to be merely a grotesque imitation of its model") is now left behind and the passageway wide open. This is the way the heroine comes to Be. This is how there will be something extraordinary in her to find. It is strange that the open display of inferiority was a necessary marking point, the pointing the way to the liminal space where wonder is the new order of the day. For the feminine, who was unidentifiable, to take away what was formerly applied and now understand that she has to be open and also come to redefine it begins with that mis-recognition, the point marking the inadequacy. It is a going beyond those boundaries with truths to be found in her connection to both awareness and openness. It isn't that a mountain speaks an understood language, but that the experience of the mountain offers a different radiance with different forces that does act upon one's sense of self and reality and time and experience and does open one to a new way of being not definable in the old terms or structures or hierarchies or regulations and that there are forces at work that allow and cause it to happen which is unidentifiable and unknowable in the old boundaries and terms. It is the "opening through which the inexhaustible energies of the cosmos pour into human cultural manifestation." Remarkably the path always begins with this mis-recognition because that is the marking point of the standard to go beyond. Robert Scholes explains:
One must be 'subjected' to a specific ideology (culture) to later be 'liberated' into understanding reality. Mis-recognition, that is, is the foundation of a series of subsequent experiences of 'recognition' that are crucial to the mode of knowledge associated not with critique but with discovery and invention (245).
While she has to start from the point of the world she left behind, she starts there for a reason. What is eternal needs a marking point to see it—and preferably a visible repetition and a mis-recognition that marks the departure and the boundary she is going beyond. It is the call to the ordeal for her to find herself and also to come and find her in an unbounded new way of being. The heroine has to come from the old world into the new to have the necessary insight and to give evidence that there is more. Entering the liminal space where she is stripped of identity and social privilege and understanding is a requirement. The marginal space and her reflection in it is her new place in the universe.
Since "popular works are guides to etiquette" (Scholes 199) they establish the known boundaries. They can be the visible repeat that keeps walls in place and females and nature defined as objects and acquisitions, or they can go beyond those boundaries and begin to create the new, establishing new modes of being in a wildly expressive environment. To write the illumination is to give it and her existence. This is what she was dreaming. It has been dreams from deep within herself, dreams from the universe, dreams from the spiritual worlds, dreams from the natural worlds, dreams for new reaches of life.
This is the passage to the wonderland.
Writing this comes from a deep desire to be and to know and to create things of unfathomable beauty. It takes being reshaped and finding courage, strength and beauty in the unknown. According to Scholes, reading this also comes from more than seeking information (a boundary or just a body): it comes from a deeper desire to recognize ourselves. Reading this is actually self-knowledge (247). He states, "It is a pleasure to play with language—to relate stories and construct figures of thought that address sensory experience." It is the way to take down the former boundaries. It is also the beckoning. There is an intense pleasure and finally a bliss to be known in the very act of letting go, discovering and creating in the hands of an incredible universe that far exceeds in many untold depths and directions the short-lived rush of speeding by. Finding the repeated element is a boon. It signals a broader world more immeasurable than ever. Seeing again is the opening to the passageway. Coming to know and writing it is a deep harmony. It begins with recognition, strangely a component of writing itself. The story, in turn, allows us to touch the eternal. Who, then, would want the kiss to be a fast one?