Reenchanting the world, one green hand at a timeBy
See the green hand? It’s there in the foreground of the photo, in the middle of an intersection in my little town.
It stopped me in my tracks this morning. It reminded me of discussions I had this summer with Peter Spear and Rainer Judd.
We were working on a project designed to stage dramatic and the counter-expectational outbreaks in a couple of towns on the eastern seaboard. (It does sound a little pretentious phrased this way, I know. Believe me when I say we were serious, sincere and not in any way carrying on or showing off.)
Our working idea: that all the creativity nurtured by and staged in the digital world in the last couple of decades is now prepared to bust out into the world. This meant specifically, that outbreaks of reckless creativity should now be able to happen anywhere, even in a small town on the eastern seaboard.
We had a measure of success. If we succeeded, we would have increased the possibility that any time a town member subsequently encountered something lingering at the edge of consciousness, something “odd, accidental, and ‘nothing, probably,’” they would be more inclined to treat it as “something, possibly,” and to attend to it.
If our project succeeded, we would have expanded the realm of the possible in this little town. This is in and off itself a good thing but we also believed that making the odd and accidental more interesting, we would also have struck a blow for what Max Weber called the “reenchantment of the world.”
It is our belief that a lot of creativity starts as a stray signal on the edge of work-a-day reality and ordinary thought. It is when we credit these stray signals and declare them worthy objects of our curiosity, that good things happen. Creativity becomes more possible. Innovation easier.
Indeed, that “box” everyone is always talking about gets easier “to get out of.” This might indeed be the very thing a small town on the eastern seaboard, especially if it finds itself captive of the rust belt and in need of recuperation.
Anyhow, you can’t work on a project like this and not remark upon a green hand when it appears in the middle of an intersection in your home town. If it was a green hand.
- a term for an inexperienced crew member of a 19th-century whaler on his first voyage, and who would typically have the smallest “lay”, or share, in the profits.
- In J. R. R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth books, a family of hobbits.
- a first-year Future Farmers of America (FFA) member.
All of these are appealing, but being an anthropologist I am obliged to put my money on the middle one, the family of hobbits. And this would tell us, I guess, that the hand in the intersection marks the spot where, were one to dig, there would be revealed a place containing hobbits. And that would be great. Because our town doesn’t have enough hobbits. Actually, I don’t believe we have any hobbits.
I will close with another stray signal that appeared some months ago in Rowayton. It appears to be a panda. It is tiny, obscurely located, and repeated no where else in town. I puzzle over it every time I pass it on Sammis Street. Now of course I know there’s a pretty good chance it’s the work of hobbits. But if anyone else has another explanation, please sing out. It’s a very fine piece of work, not just a panda, but a panda descending as if from on high, luminous, with a choir singing richly. (You know, one of those revelation chords!)