I recently found this quote by Albert Camus, author of the literary classic The Stranger: “A man’s work is nothing but this slow trek to rediscover, through the detours of art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened.”
Camus’ sentiment is lovely, describing the creative process as a journey back to the feeling of aesthetic awakening. The idea reminds me of one of my favorite passages written by Jewish mystic Abraham Joshua Heschel, redefining faith:
In every man’s life there are moments when there is a lifting of the veil at the horizon of the known, opening a sight of the eternal… The remembrance of that experience and the loyalty to the response of that moment are the forces that sustain our faith. In this sense, faith is faithfulness, loyalty to an event, loyalty to our response.
Every world religion describes a state of original bliss from which we’ve fallen, and each promises a path to reclaim that feeling. It seems to me that Camus and Heschel are both riffing on this theme. Camus’ trek is the pursuit of art; Heschel’s path is the practice of memory.
Science offers its own variation on this theme. The Large Hadron Collider at CERN was built to crash beams of subatomic particles together at near light speeds, attempting to recreate the energy levels exhibited by our universe just after the Big Bang. At these energy levels, the four fundamental forces—gravity, electromagnetism, and the strong and weak nuclear forces—may have been fused into a single, symmetric “superforce.” Physicists think it was only as our universe cooled that this force’s symmetry broke, allowing the distinct forces we’ve since discovered to separate and clarify.
The symmetric state in which our universe’s forces were unified is an interesting analogue to Camus’ heart-opening images and Heschel’s “lifting of the veil”. Our cosmos was newborn, energetic, and rich with potential. It’s no wonder physicists are driven to recreate the situation; the possibilities for discovery are thrilling!
We all have perennial experiences that shake us awake, stir us with grandeur, and change us forever. We become seekers the rest of our lives, always trying to get back to the perfection of those first revelations.
Mine was musical: “The Warmth of the Sun” by The Beach Boys. Brian Wilson’s falsetto floating above his family’s rich harmonies has influenced everything I’ve created since. I’m always trying to reproduce the lush beauty of that recording and how it made me feel, whether I’m recording music, writing prose, or designing visual art.
What was your first revelation?