Mission: to see the Chu Silk Manuscript in the Smithsonian’s Sackler collection.
First call, discovered that I would need an accession number, which I might find at the research library.
Librarian was nice but nervous, self-conscious in that way of high-end librarians.
Found beautiful images of the manuscript in their catalogue:
Three-headed man, twined serpents, the script all vines and flowers
Chris asked me: what is it about?
About the mythical significance of the turning of the year
About the meaning of time and the natural world
About dreams, visions, monsters
About the pleasure we take in our own minds and in silk, writing, painting
About a story we tell ourselves.
In Senator Inouye’s waiting room in the Capital: animals of the zodiac painted all around the lower edge of the vaulted ceiling.
Animals and spirits are the same thing: Anima, soul, animism.
The twelve gods of Chu dance through my dreams.
I proffer my doctorate to propitiate the guardians & on my last day in Washington DC am granted access.
Seeing the manuscript is like meeting the finest edge of a forgotten world. In the warp and weft of the silk is the wear of its two thousand years of waiting in the dark. Pigments have migrated, edges have frayed, dissipated, been lost into nothingness. I am stunned by the beauty and precision of the calligraphy, how the ink has not faded but must be nearly as clear as the day it was written. Also by the geography of each character, how much closer these characters seem to speaking of a numinous world. They are graphs of concepts, not so much linguistic representation, but closer to the grail - to a drawing of cosmos in time, space, imagination, intellectual structure. Each graph is a talisman and a knowing, a recognition of the possible structure of the world. Each one has been won by a great effort of thought. Each one is a theory.
Flight to Albuquerque. Beneath the airplane the vast landscape of the Mid West slides by. Endless fields. It is stunning to think that less than 2% of the population of the US farms these uncountable fields.