Gigantism in the Atomic: When Electrons Dance
Every convincing painting makes a spatial system of its own…each of these things is, academically speaking, a mistake.
— John Berger
Suppose the sun were reduced to a gas lamp while an electron danced on the atomic emptiness, both sharing the same space. Just as atomic particles are so small that smallness ceases to matter, so the reduction of the sun to a lamp — a sun only existing to illuminate the paradoxical dance of the electron — is of a reduction so extreme that transgression no longer matters. Words can thrust the infinitesimal out of obscurity, make the sun a bright parlor trick, all while attempting to justify such absurdities. A few stray words can howl at the moon of this justification, but the real trick is, finding a way for words in and around the much-changed sun and electron to make it somehow believable, to swallow that moon.
The way up is the way back.
Perspective is critical for writers as much as painters, since nothing matters when there is no near and far, hidden or profane. While a well-executed painting will present the mountains in the background and intersperse them with trees and valleys to provide a middle-ground, a masterful painting might make those mountain peaks lean towards the foreground, simultaneously reaching out and drawing the eye closer, a strangeness that invites the witness to look deeper. What was far is now in the forefront of thought and the foreground is banished into the fickle horizon, a foreground that often features the human face. ‘I’ is no longer the detailed oil paint that captures the depth and reflection of the eye, but an ‘I’ in the midst of the pointed pines in the distant woods, a thing amongst things, no more, no less. A jagged peak is now the weathered face telling the story, the wisdom that speaks in a seismic silence.
Thought approaches the distant, but the distant also approaches thought.
— John Berger
When my dog digs up a clam on the gray sand of the bay, she bounds and spins in the ‘dance of the electron’, absolute in her unpredictability, appearing to teleport from one place to the next. She’s no electron, but neither is an electron, not in the way we think, since our minds can’t think on the atomic level, as surely as we can’t comprehend infinite. Conjuring the spirit of the electron is no different than drawing the mountain peak into the foreground, a thought-experiment that tricks the eye and the mind into ‘seeing’ what was formerly just another pretty picture. Magritte was masterful at making the mundane uncanny, Francis Bacon, turning the horror of existence into instances of beauty. Beckett turned an apocalyptic waiting into a world-sized question mark that skewered the earth from pole to pole. There is no standard trick or equation for such things, only the truth in itself. But it’s a truth without a place in any textbook, only the truth as silent as the ‘face’ of the mind-bending mountain peak, forever patient in impasto. Things keep their secrets but, now and again, through some kind of art, be it through the medium of air or palette, the breath of that truth might find our own faces, the faces that might have forgotten to look beyond perspective and into the woods of a thousand and one I’s.