Seeing Clearly by Nicolas Bommarito

Seeing Clearly by Nicolas Bommarito

Author:Nicolas Bommarito
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Published: 2020-05-15T00:00:00+00:00

The Purpose

This stuff can seem spooky to some people. The idea that objects and places have a special power can seem too supernatural or magical. For many people who do them, these practices have just this kind of power, and that’s a large part of their importance. Certain places and things are worthy of veneration precisely because they have an otherworldly power. As common as this view is, it isn’t the only way to understand these practices.

It’s not so easy to maintain a sharp division between what is spooky or magical on one hand and what’s mundane and worldly on the other. Imagine you have to leave your home suddenly and can only take a few things with you. What would you take? You’d probably want to take at least some things that have sentimental value: a watch that belonged to your grandfather or the cork from the champagne bottle opened at a close friend’s wedding. These objects have a special kind of value that is more than their material worth or their price on the open market. They have the power to connect you to past events, to trigger vivid memories and intense emotion. They’re not exactly magical, but they do hold a special psychological power.

Often that particular object’s history, where it’s been and who’s touched it, are critical parts of this kind of value. After all, why lug that souvenir for your friend all the way back from a distant vacation when you could buy the same thing online and have it shipped right to their house? Part of why you want to bring the object with you is because it’s important that you bought that particular thing at that particular place and time and brought it all the way home, just for them. The history of the object and the effort you put in to bringing it back become part of its value, its special meaning.

Places themselves can also have this function. When an Elvis fan visits Graceland, the very place has a special meaning and triggers a flood of emotions. This is where Elvis, the real person, lived and made music. This can also happen on a more personal level. Think of someone visiting their hometown after having moved away long ago. When they visit one of their old hangouts they’re confronted with the past because of that particular place and their personal history with it.

It’s possible to have these kinds of experiences with objects and places even if you don’t believe in supernatural or magical stuff. You can understand Buddhist relics and pilgrimage in a similar way: The Buddha’s jawbone, an important teacher’s robe and bowl, or a famous statue are all meaningful and important in the same way as the objects you’d save from your house. The places are important in the same way that Graceland is for the Elvis fan, and the objects are meaningful in the same way as the souvenir from an important trip. They serve as a bridge from the material world to the world of values and relationships.


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