By Stephanie Couey
In thirteenth century France, Marguerite Porete, a beguine, wrote The Mirror of Simple Souls, stating that she herself did not write the book, but that God came through her and willed the book into existence. Mirror is a perplexing piece of hybrid writing to say the least – comprised of poetry, prose, dramatic dialogue (between allegoric characters such as Love and Reason, Justice and Mercy), prayer, and even contains what can only be called a self-help guide. In it, Porete, (arguably operating under her own form of Gertrude Stein’s “automatic writing,” in which the writing is coming from God) advocates for “annihilating” the self, or essentially stripping all of the components of the self — ego, possessions, earthly pleasures and ties, even name and identity — bare, in order to arrive at, and finally make room for, God. She argues that the self is precisely what is stopping one from being able to truly know God.
The experience of encountering the Sublime requires a similar humility or abandonment of self. The Sublime experience precedes comprehension, which makes it separate from the knowing that the I-Self possesses. The Sublime is encountered and known by the me-self, and may only later be compartmentalized by the I-self. Porete is calling for constantly existing as the me-self so that the I-self never inhibits one’s perception of God with its earthly knowings and ties. The Sublime, like God, is unknowable by the I-Self, but may be encountered by the me- self, or by the base self.
Buck has me lean against a wall which he has covered in paper. A water fountain trickles in the darkened room, and zen-like wind instruments play from a hidden CD player.
He positions my feet shoulder-width apart, my arms straight, my fingers splayed. His wire-framed glasses slip down his nose as he traces my frame against the paper with a red Sharpie. Before this, I am told to draw an outline of myself on the same paper with a blue Sharpie.