This was my accidental foray into a genre known as magical realism. I say accidental because I did not even know that magical realism was a genre until my friend Billy enthusiastically informed me. Gabriel García Márquez (of 100 Years of Solitude) is apparently a recent famous author who is known for this genre, although I have yet to read any of his novels. According to Wikipedia, magical realism is “an artistic genre in which magical elements or illogical scenarios appear in an otherwise realistic or even “normal” setting.”
This is my exploration of the tension between reality and idealism, specifically rooted in Western cultural assumptions of romantic love.
I went to the Gallery today.
I had long anticipated this moment. Though it had been months since I had last been to the Gallery, the image of the sculpture burned unmistakably clear in my memory. In my time apart from the sculpture, I often took pleasure in re-creating the memory in my mind.
The statue stood in the center of the enormous circular rotunda, set with windows which poured a steady waterfall of light to its central figure. Grand and majestic, he rose from the dais like a mythical god. His marble form was poised and alert, and every stone muscle, taut with discipline and strength and resolve. His flawless proportions elicited a sense of order and grace. His face, perfect and glorious, turned slightly upward. His impossibly blueish eyes, though marble, seemed to radiate a natural source of light from within. He gazed enigmatically, piercing the souls of all who looked up on him.
Years ago, the statue had been carefully restored and transported to the gallery from its former dominion, from the ruins of a temple, somewhere in the Mediterranean. For centuries, throngs of adoring patrons flocked to the statue, eager at the prospect of catching even a glimpse of his famed beauty. Lines formed and wrapped out the Gallery door and down the street, nearly for miles. Frenzied tourists descended upon the gallery in gaggles of haphazard lines, elbowing impatiently for a chance to have their photo taken with him, though no photograph could do the sculpture justice.
Scholars, historians and even philosophers endlessly debated over its creation and the wonder of its meaning, though none could pinpoint or unravel its mystery. Capturing the wonder and imagination of even the most famous and skilled artists, the renowned statue had inspired poetry, symphonies, and even an opera by one particularly enraptured soul. Curiosity piqued at what music this sculpture would inspire, I went to hear it for myself last autumn.
I remember sitting in the velvety opera hall, allowing the beautiful tones of the arias to envelop me and cause my spirit so soar, even for a brief moment. Yet even as the applause and excitement of the evening receded, I left the opera hall disconcerted, for I had realized the terrible, beautiful truth: All such attempts to capture the immortal were flawed and hollow at best.
And it was if this sculpture encapsulated the very Ideal locked away in every human heart.
I remembered my own early mornings of stolen moments and lazy afternoons I would spend in the gallery. I came as often as I could spare these moments. After all, the ever-changing sunlight altered each attribute, highlighting the subtleties and inspiring contemplation and an infinite myriad of emotions. Mesmerized, I would spend hours in front of the sculpture, studying it from every angle. The contours of the marble sculpted perfectly resonated with something stored up in my own heart, though I could not quite define it.
His beauty unsettled me.
Sometimes I brought my guitar, strumming softly, allowing the sculpture’s beauty to wash over me and motivate my soul as I plucked the strings, singing and humming almost unconsciously. Occasionally (though I am certainly no artist) I brought my sketchpad, merely allowing the infinite lines and shapes that I saw reflected in him to impress themselves upon the blank sheets of paper. Still other times, I brought my diary, scribbling imperfect scrawls of poetry and impressions upon crinkled pages. I could never re-create anything remotely worthy, but I could immerse myself in this. In him.
I felt I knew this sculpture as intimately as I knew my own heart.
This is how my feet carried me toward him today.
Breathless with anticipation, I pushed through the glass double doors of the Gallery that I knew and loved so well.
The clean, white corners of the display hall created a light, airy sense of space. A blank canvas, no doubt, upon which each visitor projected her deepest, most sacred dreams.
Today, the moment of reunion was even more glorious and intimate than I imagined. The gallery was deserted, save for a lone soul sitting on a bench, though I barely noticed him at first. Dust motes swirled and floated around the immense statue like delicate snowflakes, shimmering as the multicolored sunlight streamed in through the upper windows.
I slowly circled the stone statue, marveling and reveling in the moment of being reunited with my treasured sculpture. In a rush of emotion, all the memories of the hours I had spent in that room came flooding back, overwhelming me.
So absorbed was I in admiring the statue, I almost didn’t notice the young man sitting on the bench. He was sitting thoughtfully, his posture both relaxed, clearly enjoying the peace and tranquility of the room. Only briefly distracted by him, I returned my gaze to the statue.
The boy spoke, suddenly interrupting my thoughts. “Do you like it?” he asked.
Irritated to be disturbed in my thoughts, I hesitated. Though unruly locks of hair partially hid the boy’s face from me, I realized the sincerity of his tone, that he sought a genuine answer. I thought of how to answer his question honestly. For truthfully, the thousand emotions and impressions betrayed my utter fascination and ardent obsession with statue, rising and burning within my chest, I thought I might burst. “I do. Very much,” I said simply.
The boy seemed to read the complexity of my expression. He nodded. I felt inexplicably understood.
“Do you know the artist?” he asked.
“The artist? Of course, I do. The artist is…” Suddenly, I was shocked to realize and remember that for all of my hours in the gallery, I did not know the artist’s name.
And nor did anyone else. For though archaeologists and scholars had relentlessly tried to discover the identity of the sculptor, all efforts had come to nothing.
The mastermind, the beautiful, sensitive soul behind this work of art remained a complete, utter mystery.
“I do not know,” I sheepishly confessed.
“I know the sculptor.” He leaned forward. “I can tell you the secret. Do you want to know?”
Intrigued, I stepped closer to him. Forgetting myself and all sense of etiquette, I suddenly realized that, more than anything in the world, I yearned to know the artist’s name. “Tell me.”
Delighted, a slow, mysterious smile played upon his lips. He leaned toward me, inches from my face and whispered, “No one. And everyone”
Incredulous, I laughed, amused at the absurdity of his claim. “That is impossible.”
Still, he insisted, “No one. And everyone. I should know. I was there.”
Illogical paradox, I fumed. “This statue is thousands of years old! It is ancient, and you are so young. You are only a boy!” Disgusted, I pulled my face away from his and nearly walked away.
Suddenly, he turned to face me fully, and I was shocked at what I found, staring into the infinite blue of his tender expression.
Looking into those beautiful, ancient, all-seeing eyes, I suddenly understood. For his glorious, piercing gaze was an incandescent window into another universe that held all the mysteries of this world. Of my heart, of every heart.
At once, I knew his words to be true. This was indeed the soul that had witnessed the creation of my beloved sculpture.
Suddenly I felt quite small. “Why are you here?” I asked, both intrigued and intimidated by his presence.
“Vandalism,” he replied merrily.
“Vandalism?” His words did not quite register.
“Truthfully. I came to destroy the sculpture.” He gestured to a sledgehammer at his side, which I had not noticed until then.
My heart cried out in protest. “Destroy it?”
His eyes danced and sparkled, but not unkindly. “Why, yes.”
A indignant fire rose up within my chest. I momentarily thought about grabbing the sledgehammer from him to defend the sculpture I loved so dearly. “But why?” I nearly shouted.
He sighed softly, a beautiful, ancient sound. “Its essence is Real. The most Real there is. Is that not what drew you here day after day?”
I trembled slightly, feeling utterly exposed at his words.
“Oh, the essence is certainly very Real. But the statue itself is not. This Sculpture is a mere refracted reflection of reality. The partial refraction is swallowed up in the beauty of Reality.”
I uttered a quick, derisive laugh. “Not likely.” But I stood motionless.
“Consider how many hours you’ve spent here, lost and mesmerized in the beauty of this trinket, this trifle. Despite its utter perfection and the obsession it creates, you remain unsettled. You know you do. For it is the false perfection that disconnects you from the true Reality.”
He handed me the sledgehammer. “Go on. Do it.”
I stood frozen, sledgehammer in hand. How could I destroy it? The sculpture that I adored and lived and breathed for? Turning toward the boy, I reared back, feeling the gravity of the moment. I thought about crushing him.
No one. And everyone.
I turned slightly, closing my eyes, allowing the momentum of the moment to propel the hammer forward.
I heard nothing but the sound of shattered glass falling around me like drops of rain.
I saw nothing but soft, blueish hues and tones of the boy’s eyes explode in brilliance, flooding the Gallery at the sound of the breaking.
I felt nothing but the marvelous surge of joyous intuition as the other universe descended in the Essence unleashed.
And I was stunned to discover at last, how fragile the sculpture really was.