|Elfin Saddle mushroom on Munger Trail. I like the|
freckles on this one.
Why do these mushrooms make me think of a bunch of ancient Greek sculpture fragments? Well, they look semi-human, like little ears sprouting up from the ground, or like little limbless torsos. --And if you change the "f" in Elfin to a "g," you're there!
Chris Devers / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND
When I think of the Elgin Marbles, I think not so much of Keats' famous sonnet, not so much of the on-going debate about whether they should be returned to Greece, but rather about the painter Benjamin Robert Haydon's first response to seeing them.
"The first thing I fixed my eyes on was the wrist of a figure in one of the female groups, in which were visible, though in a feminine form, the radius and ulna. I was astonished, for I had never seen them hinted at in any female wrist in the antique. I darted my eye to the elbow, and saw the outer condyle visibly affecting the shape as in nature. [...] My heart beat! [...] and here was I [...] perfectly comprehending the hint at the skin by knowing well what was underneath it!" (qtd in Jennings, 129)
|"Like little limbless torsos."|
This passage got lodged in my memory back in grad school, perhaps because I was impressed with the passion of Haydon's excitement. He believed the ancient Greeks had studied anatomy and their careful observation of the human body made them great sculptors. Seeing the Marbles confirmed his suspicions. He felt that the artists of his day needed a better knowledge of musculoskeletal reality, that they needed to observe more closely the actual human form; otherwise, their work would be idealized and unrealistic. I think the intensity of his response also comes from his pleasure at being able to connect what he knew with what he saw. Even a little knowledge can mitigate the strangeness of the unfamiliar...
|"Like little ears, sprouting up from the ground."|
We readers react in a similar way to Frankenstein's Creature, himself a collection of human fragments. Is the Creature truly ugly, or is he merely a larger, and therefore shockingly real, human? Is he just one being, or is he an angry mob, moving and acting with one vengeful purpose? Does Victor find him repulsive because he knows too well what's under the Creature's skin? Victor claims that the Creature's parts, viewed separately, were beautiful, but once assembled and animated, became horrific. Perhaps some folks prefer their art broken into harmless bits, into ancient, ruined fragments, never to be reconstituted...
Photo credit: 5telios / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA
Certainly, the Romantics were fascinated by ruins, but perhaps mainly by the idea of ruins, the idea of once-great works subject to the ravages of time. It may well be that the sight of real ruins, like the Elgin Marbles, exposed too well the shocking effects of time and of man's mishandling of the past.
In any case, my Elgin Mushrooms are, for the most part, harmless (folks argue about whether they are edible or not) and charming, a pleasure to see and to photograph, not frightening at all, though admittedly a little strange. I hope to see a few more before winter comes.
|I didn't notice the tiny snail on this one until I was editing the photo!|
Jennings, Humphrey, Mary-Lou Jennings and Charles Madge (eds). Pandaemonium: The Coming of
the Machine as Seen by Contemporary Observers, 1660-1886. New York: Free, 1985. Print.
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