“What will survive of us is Love”
In an audio file on his website, Rouse explains some of the thought process behind this image.
“‘What will survive of us is love’ is the final line of a Philip Larkin poem entitled an aranbole tomb (?), a poem inspired by a medieval tomb found by Larkin in an English church, on which was a life-sized carving of a knight and his lady lying side by side and hand in hand. And the final verse reads thus:
‘Time has transfigured them into untruth/ The stone fidelity they hardly meant has come to be their final blazon. And to prove our almost instinct, almost true: What will survive of us is love.’
“It is true, is it not, that for which we will be best remembered are our acts of passion, of love? And yet, there is no earthly reason why we should love at all. Because to love is to be vulnerable. And the only place outside of Heaven where we can be safe from the dangers of love is Hell. Without love, this planet would indeed be Hell. And I would rather live in a one-roomed hovel on the outskirts of Paradise than in a luxury penthouse apartment in downtown hell....
Love is no preparation for life at all. Love is the culmination of it.”
Here, the (innocent?) girl faces the task of crossing what could simply be a parlor, but what might be, in fact, a dangerous moat, a patch of quicksand guarded at one end by a hungry, heartless alligator--jaws open and waiting. She does not know, as she is blindfolded. Perhaps this is her house, and should seem familiar. Perhaps the alligator is simply a her father having a bad day. But are you aware that alligators eat their own children? One of the aspects of surrealism is the placement of familiar things in unfamiliar settings, or the juxtaposition of familiar things in an unfamiliar way. And what that juxtaposition or placement tells us, in the end, is said to be some truth we did not previously realize or were not previously conscious of--a surprise that was always there. Here, the small child, dressed to be precious and cared-for, stands on the brink of nothing more frightening than the next room in a very large house. The placement of the alligator and the blindfold, however, bring out something else. The familiarity of one’s own home is not actually a guarantee of safety, for, as Helen Keller told us, “there is no such thing as safety.” And, there are things that are completely natural to this world which act with unbelievable viciousness and speed (an alligator, as Jaba-the-Hut-like as it might seem, can move up to 30 miles per hour over a short, straight distance such as this one), intent on ending us. But the title of this piece keeps us on track: “What will survive of us is Love.”
The blindfold is a fascinating symbol which can remind us of so many things. There is the childhood freedom of a game: spinning round and round blindly, then swinging the bat to get the candy or pin the tail of the donkey. There is no fear in that blindness, only the giddiness of guessing. Keeping that sensation seems key to all the most amazing discoveries in history--that wild, fearless, excited stabbing motion, that sense that what I want will be there, because I’m grasping for it. The lack of seriousness. I’ve written here before about how blind we are to most of reality, as we have been trained all our lives to see only certain aspects of it--how many gorillas wander by us each day, unnoticed because our focus was elsewhere?
“To be a surrealist means barring from your mind all remembrance of what you have seen,and being always on the look-out for what has never been. Rene Magritte (1898-1967)
The blindfold here reminds me of a story I stumbled onto when reading about the life of St. Lucy, who gouged out her own eyes because they attracted the unwanted interest of a man. In the tales of her life, she is able to see even without her eyes, because of the very faith exhibited in that act. More recent science has uncovered cases just as miraculous, for example that of an autistic girl, blind from birth, who walks around unaided, making a little chirping noise as she goes, which she somehow uses as a sonar, as in the case of bats. The phrase “blind faith” seems apt, here. You move forward not because you know it’s safe (note the meaning-ladened snake and the vulture), not because you know what’s ahead, but because you want to move forward. The act itself ends up being somehow larger than the result.
“Tree of Knowledge”
Lenswork Magazine, an unbelievably high-quality photography magazine, has made available a folio of 15 of Rouse’s works, which you can purchase here. On the site, you can see the photos at a much better size (recommended).
“Dance for No One”