The experience may go back a long way but it has never faded from my mind. And sometimes, just like Aladdin rubbing the lamp to release the captive genie, I conjure up its memory.

I am sitting in a field of olive trees, where I have come to picnic and probably seek some warmth beyond the thick walls of the house. The light is white, that resurgent light which signifies winter’s epilogue. The olive trees are very old. They emerge from the ground as though the earth were all bark, ligneous swellings and infinitely slow, sinuous upthrusts. Their foliage is a vestige from last year, the grass at the base of their trunks is sparse and the large clods of winter-hardened earth are not yet splitting with new sprouts or the tips of their branches with an exudation of sap, but the March light washes over them like the ocean on an archipelago.

I took in all this when I arrived. Now I’m sitting on the ground, a fruit in one hand and a piece of bread in the other. It is midday and there is not a breath of wind, nor the slightest birdsong or chirping insect, just this powdery warm light. My mind is a blank.  I bite into the juicy flesh of a pear which melts on my tongue, combined with the deliciously light crumb of the bread and its perfectly baked, perfumed crust. Were I to think anything, it would be this: that particular varieties of fruit should always be served with bread. Then, suddenly, I raise my head because I have the feeling that someone is looking at me. Yet no one is there, or should I say, only the olive trees. And it is not simply because I now realise they are forming a circle around me, it is also and above all because they suddenly appear to be quashing me with their daunting presence and the infinite density of their being. And unexpectedly my twenty-year-old self dissolves into tears, as the veil so fleetingly raised on this mysterious, sovereign stranger descends once more.

Could the marvellous therefore be this surprise, triggered by a familiar figure suddenly taking on a dimension normally precluded by habit? The chimera also stems from the familiar, if one considers its blend of scales and feathers. But this monstrous creature and its plethora of derivations is no more than a game of building bricks, gagging the familiar on the pretext (or pretention) of blowing it up. And from the ruins left by the explosion rise the blindness of habit and a familiar figure who slips away once more, as though retiring into itself, behind the inscrutable underside of its outward appearance.

The olive trees of this faraway March day were not “simply” trees, they were so utterly present that they broke into my perception and caught it off guard,  overwhelmed, almost afraid that the earth should rise with and through them – that earth to which they belonged, those centuries they had witnessed, those men who had tended them - but also the mountain behind them and the sky above them, so that they became the suddenly glimpsed face, not of what is now termed a “landscape”  but of a living wholeness. And maybe in this increasingly fragmented society, the marvellous is also rooted in the fact that these “things” –mineral, vegetable and animal – still form, as they have always done, a link, a continuity, a history shared between them, us and the greater than us that we fail to see, because we are too busy dissecting them, as one does a corpse.

The vision of those trees bearing the earth, sky, time and man could well have belonged to the world of dreams. Dreams also enter without knocking, drawing on the familiar world to subvert what we think we know of it and the self-confidence such knowledge lends us in controlling it. Are the butterflies which drink the tears of slumbering birds the stuff of dreams – and as such dismissed by our conscious mind, on immediate alert – or of reality – from which this same consciousness would probably attempt to glean some kind of benefit – or a dreamt reality, a dream given substance, releasing in both cases a host of echoes, images and intuitions that abruptly wrench us from our apathy? Perhaps then it is at the crossroads of those two worlds, become one, that the marvellous resides, in a society in which the unfamiliar is reduced to the categorised, the different to the same, the familiar to the domesticated, thus locking the expansion of the imaginary within each one of us, thanks to what advertising agencies now also term concepts.

A world-weary twentieth century observer commented that “Nature, were it self-aware and able to rise to the formula, would weave an interminable web of judgments on existence. Only the spirit possesses the faculty of refusing what is and enjoying what is not […].”* In the course of that century, modernity, built upon the foundations of doubt, spiralled into such an abyss of horror and nothingness that the beauty of a fountain’s clear waters became inseparable from the shadow of its vulnerability and death. Perhaps, however, the marvellous might now agree to seep out once more, not from what “is not” but from that something that might indeed not be, and yet is, despite everything, or more accurately, despite us.

Is it possible that we got it wrong to the extent of including that theoretically reasonable injunction to return and stick to “the facts”? It is a curious anomaly that the factual, which lays down so many impossibilities in the name of reality, has acceded to a throne formerly occupied by a divine power no less lavish in its prohibitions. But what is even more curious is that this submission before facts, which serves the cupidity of some while crushing others within the straitjacket of an everyday life of increasing poverty – in every sense of the term – pillages and poisons the earth itself and everything that inhabits it, including ourselves.

In the end, perhaps the marvellous is the impossible disintegrating in the face of that love affair one no longer expected, that inconceivable handshake between two enemies, the uprising of a people following centuries of oppression or the collapse of a wall that had split a city in two – and in the freedom and beauty of a world which is still allowed to encapsulate its innumerable dreams, enabling us in return to sing its praises, not for its own pleasure but for ours.

Anne Guglielmetti

*Despite his scepticism, Cioran was fascinated by the mystery of life (The Fall into Time, translated by Richard Howard, Chicago, Quadrangle Books, 1970).