A while back I read Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. It was one of those books I had always meant to read, but it took me forever to get around to doing so.
Although her presence in the book is but brief, I loved the way that Clarisse McClellan viewed the world. In a society stripped of imagination and wonder, her joy for life filled the pages in which she featured, showing an interest and love for nature rather than technology. The way she smelt old leaves, tasted the rain, left flowers on the porch for the main character, Guy Montag. In a sterile life devoid of books, creative thinking, imagination and poetry, Clarisse stood out.
Is this what sets us apart? The appreciation of art, and of beauty? And how, above all other species, our imagination can envisage something different, something better, and so we keep on striving, never settling for what we have. Living a life of aesthetic vision.
The burning of the books reminded me of course of the nazi book burning rallies, but on a greater, all encompassing scale. As writers, and readers, just what would we do in a world without books? How would we, could we, express ourselves?
From this destructive, censoring burning, my thoughts turned towards another type of burning. In the thinking of the Celts, the act of being inspired, of attaining that spark of inspiration, of connection, was known as the fire in the head.
The former refers to flames that destroy, the latter to flames that create. The way that our inner workings, thoughts and dreams are creatively given form, substance. How they are brought from the darkness into the light. How they are realised in a world that is dependent on sensory affirmations.
Our interior lives, our interior presence, dwarfs our outer expressions. Each of us carries whole worlds within us that barely escape into the light.
In Bradbury’s story, although the world has been expunged of physical books, they still existed within the minds and memories of those drifters, those dreamers in exile, who were keeping them safe in the silent sanctuary of their being until the time comes for them to bring them forth once more to plant in a more receptive, welcoming and fertile ground.
As one of those characters says towards the end of the novel, they, we, are but the dust jackets of whole created worlds, worlds that turn to the rhythm of words and of metre, that inform and inspire and move us.
Again, I ask that question:
Is it the appreciation of art, and of beauty, that sets us apart?