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Roots in Life Itself

Congratulations on a very aesthetic cover on the April Bulletin. I liked the clouds, the softness, the warmth, and slight yellowish-green tinge, and of course, the tree imagery. It is clearly symbolic, as the note on p. 2 explains. I liked it so much that I left the issue lying on my kitchen table for a few days. This gave me the time to go beyond the aesthetic effects and wonder about what was symbolized.

Although symbolic, the pictorial language used in the image is “realistic.” All the more strange, therefore, is the fact that I am seeing a tree stump in mid-air with roots and a seedling growing out of it. Yes, the idea of new growth stemming from the old immediately comes across. But how is it to keep growing if the roots are not in the ground, where they belong? Is this arborescent UFO really a good symbol for sustainability in our use of natural resources, or might it not suggest the opposite?

Of course, it could be argued that this is a work of art and that art long ago freed itself from accountability to meaning for the sake of superior values, such as freedom. In that case, this is a surrealistic image that has very little to do with symbolizing any particular state of affairs. It is a more or less free play on images and their meanings that leaves all the responsibility for—and freedom of—interpretation up to the beholder. A free-floating tree stump with roots and a seedling is a visible manifestation of things invisible: are we not closer to the crux of the matter in this way? Must art slavishly illustrate meanings?

A dead tree gives birth to a disembodied one—a paradoxical image of connectedness and disconnectedness, continuity and discontinuity. This is surely a fitting image of the state of affairs in our world. The discontinuity begins when we use concepts that separate us from our invisible roots and ground: “Nature” is the most insidious of these, followed by its bureaucratic avatar “the environment.” No word does justice to the continuity, and every attempt at naming it is doomed to lapse into banality or clash with rival terms. Simply calling it “life” would be worth a try, since that’s what is at stake.

The tree that I imagine seeing in various stages of its life cycle contains and conceals the actual state of the tree as the paper that I am looking at. My perception roots in blindness. Dare I say, “the medium is the message?”

Jean-Marie Clarke ’74
Staufen im Breisgau, Germany

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