The Auto-Pygmalion and the hollow landscape
A comment was left on my blog since my last post, about the perceived hollowness – the dead, spiritless existence – of life as an atheist. A lot of religious people seem to feel that – but it’s not that way to me.
When I think of atheism, my atheism, what I see is a vast plain spreading before me. Somewhere cold, somewhere polar. Somewhere with space, and mountains ringed round with snow on them. I think of myself standing on the tundra, and while it is the most beautiful thing in the world there is bleakness to it. It’s stark, and the deeply quiet. Frightening, too, if you cannot see the small intimations of life: the lichen, the birds that scatter over the bowl of the sky. But hollow?
It’s not hollow, not ever. It’s intoxicating, with air is so crisp it burns in my lungs, and overhead the sky is wheeling and there’s no-one there but me, a tiny intelligence against the vastness of the cosmos.
That’s what I carry around in my head, the home that I go to, the fount of my creation. It permeates everything I am, everything I do. I wonder if that is what Greg feels when he lies next to me at night: a great cool landscape in his arms, the bare, barren plain of my belly, the hard snowy ridge of hipbone. It’s not what I feel when I lie next to him – a spongy flesh, like blancmange, that spurts blood like molten iron when its integrity is threatened. My blood may be the same substance and colour as his, but there is ice water in it. The price of knowing where you come from…
It’s that mental landscape I want to pass on – in my art, though I am only learning, if in nothing else. Greg has a hard time understanding this – we are artists, after all. Creation is our thing. And wouldn’t this be the ultimate? But creating what? I love Greg’s art and his hands and to have a child with those things would be wonderful. But a child with Greg’s mental landscape? I don’t think I want to reproduce that – a very pretty garden, but there is a persistent, subtle reek of sulphur and a fountain of tranquilisers where the apple tree used to be.
This perception annoys him. We’ve been having some fights lately. He’s not fundamentally religious, but he doesn’t think that baptism or Sunday school or prayers before bedtime are a big issue. I do – they’re what reproduced his landscape, irrespective of his will. This is how he was taught as a child, and the foundations are there today – he didn’t choose them, but he’ll never be rid of them. And he wants to pass them on.
If I support the idea of the Auto-Pygmalion when I’m in the studio, how can I not do it in the womb? I’m not art school trained like Greg is, but I’ve worked hard to be able to develop my own skills, the skills that he taught me. I’m not religious like Greg is, and I’ve worked to understand how life without religion feels, and to find meaning in it. So for a child, to substitute that care of creation, to willingly produce a mental landscape that is stifling rather than liberating… how can I do that, let his sleepy water into my beautiful, wondrous world?
Greg doesn’t understand. He thinks I’ll come round soon, and if I’m to create a child, it has to be soon. It’s true that my biological clock has begun to tick, overwhelming the part of my brain that knows quite well that I don’t even like children. I certainly don’t want to raise them, have them interrupting my work. And yet, I begin to feel an obligation to carry on the genes. It just seems so marvellous that each of my ancestors, for billions of years, has managed to survive and reproduce. If only one had failed, I wouldn’t be here. Isn’t it a little arrogant to stop that chain?
What is arrogant is the other reason: people who drink the sleepy water have lots of children already. Greg wants five. Five. In a world of conspicuously declining resources. How can this be responsible, ethical? How can it not be stupid? It sounds horrible, I know, but we really only admire each other for what we can create – his brain puts me off, and he’s not that fond of my body. It’s too cool for him, I think, he can feel that beneath the outer covering of my skin there is marble that never really went away, because my creation is so much my own that even another artist cannot change more than a little.
He tries to chip at it, but there’s no hammer and chisel he can use that can touch me, simply because we both know, deep down, I don’t believe he has the skill to use it. If either of us lost our hands this relationship would be over before the blood was even mopped up.
He doesn’t like my mind either, you see. He just says he does, because when we use our minds we fight, and artists are meant to be temperamental. He says that he likes that I think differently to him, but I know that he doesn’t, not really. There are times I see him watching me, and just before he smiles, or reaches out, there is the tiniest moment in his eyes, and he is Pygmalion with a statue he never meant, never wanted. When he sees me sculpt, he knows that he taught me how, uncovered the talent in me layer by layer. He feels it should bind him to me, and it discomforts him to feel bound to something that is, by his own beliefs, flawed. Galatea was never flawed, never had a stain that could not be washed away. Never saw a stain where Pygmalion did not, even when it was in front of her face. Poor girl. But he can’t admit the flaw – his better angels prevent him, ha! – so that discomfort is channelled from my mind to my body.
He doesn’t admit this either, but when he sleeps and I touch him he moves away. He thinks my mind too hard, my view of life too hollow. I think his is too soft, too stupid.
The sleepy-water people reproduce enough already. Why facilitate more, if I truly feel it’s so pernicious? Leaving aside the fact whether or not it is right or wrong for me to believe Greg is sleepy, the fact is that I do. He knows and resents it, as I know and resent his true opinion of me, the one he doesn’t even admit to each other: that he thinks my life is hollow without his faith. Hollow! Hollow without any faith to funnel and support the creation within me.
Hollow, all my shining sky and endless wonder, when I know the landscape of his own mind. How can he bear it?
How can he? And how can I possibly justify a creation that inflicted that landscape, even a shadow of it, on somebody else?
Read more of Eva’s posts at her blog.