Seagrasses of Desire

I’ve been an open water swimmer for more than twenty-five years now. Every year we visit family in Southern California and every year I do a daily open-water swim; lately my eldest daughter and nephew have been joining me. Everyone has a different reaction to the seagrass that sways in the surf only feet below the surface. It used to scare me a little, especially when the visibility was poor and I swam over it without seeing it first. It freaks my daughter out to the point that she nearly climbs on top of my back like a cat on a sofa. For reasons too weird and personal to explain, two years ago I lost my irrational fear of the seaweed, the seagrass and even sharks (I used to practically swim in the surf zone I was so afraid of sharks.) People will tell you that there are no sharks around this part of the coast, but no one is telling the sharks that. I say irrational fear because rational fears can be useful at the right time.

Anyway, Prof. Timothy Morton of the UC Davis English Dept. (Ecology Without Nature)  wrote a paper on the Tarkovsky adaptation of Stanislaw Lem’s book Solaris – this was one of those rare academic articles that profoundly changed the way I see almost everything, especially things like trees and flowers and even seagrass beds. I think he called the reeds in the pond of Chris Kelvin’s family home “fronds of desire,” which is both beautiful and cool. Anyway, once I actually went down into the beds with my goggles on and watched the graceful, lilting movements of the grasses as they reached towards the sun for energy, everything changed. In the new translation of Lem’s novel (the only official English trans.), the “mimoids” that coalesce on the planet’s volatile surface are sort of an objective correlative for the hidden and ever-shifting subconscious of each of the Solaris scientists. Since the translation is brand new, I look forward to hearing and reading about what scholars like Prof. Morton have to say.

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