Our too familiar eyes. Turn the binoculars the right way round and… Wow! It is overwhelming! Marvellous! Ouch! Hitting our nose on the strange we see stars. What? Yes! We have entered a cartoon and become a caricature. Retreating into a pompous naivety we transform the new into the odd, the weird, the bizarre; seeing the new in its proper size the new becoming the exotic becomes a fabulous beast, a giant; and we…we are now pigmies to our own familiarity; we think of an ordinary bush next to a luxuriant palm tree; a hedgehog under a parasol… New images flooding the mind, this picture sinks from sight and we sail over the sun bled waters with centaurs for company. Though even now, in this imaginary jungle, we wear them still: our eyes, our workday spectacles. It is why on this spit of land, a pike in the middle of an African river, the natives shrink to such meagre scale, smaller with every passing glance; too commonplace to be noticed much.
Saturday, 13 May 2017
Ostranenie. Definitions are for dictionaries. To understand this term properly we must experience it for ourselves, read it in novels. Here, Ostranenie is both fact and symbol.
The coffin factory proved to be an area cleared of undergrowth, though shadowed by great trees; it was bounded on one side by a stream, a small river almost, some fifteen feet wide, running fast with troubled, muddy, yellowish water. Felled trunks were stacked here and there, and at the water’s edge was a row of vast cumbrous Chinese coffins in various stages of completion. A few sepoys squatted on the ground, most of them asleep. There was a pile of ammunition boxes, and in one of the coffins lay Sam Holl, with his unwound turban draped across him to protect his face from mosquitoes. In the coffin he looked very dead, except for the khaki cloth over his mouth which rose and fell evenly with his breathing. Alan looked down on him, numbed by a sudden quietness. Holl lay awkwardly with both hands resting on his left hip as if on a sword hilt, his crossed legs covered by folds of his turban cloth. He looked like a thirteenth-century crusader, militant, potent still in the sleep of death. But not dead; and in Alan’s body there surged a sober but fierce acknowledgment. He stood looking for a little while, almost feeding on Holl’s presence; then he sat quietly down at the foot of the coffin to wait; almost at once he was himself asleep.