The World Before Our Eyes

Milford Sound in New Zealand’s Fiordland National Park

The sum of our own positions on things we value determines the shape and texture of our social lives. This is why contemporary Americans acknowledge the things they find beautiful and talk about them all the time. Our commonality as citizens resides almost exclusively in the world before our eyes. Those little explosions of harmony with the world beyond us constitute landmarks in our inner lives. The landmarks we share with other have personal importance to us as opportunities to experience the confluence of our community.

–Dave Hickey, The Invisible Dragon

I am back home from three weeks of hiking and tramping (yes, that is what they call it there) through New Zealand. Everyone told me it was an extraordinary place, and since I did see all three of Peter Jackson’s Ring movies I had some idea of what to expect. But you can’t get the full expanse of the place until your body is actually there and in that landscape for real. Even so it still feels a bit otherworldly in its pristine beauty: Is there another place in the world where you can hike for 35 miles and the water is drinkable for the entire length of the trek? (If you know of one, you probably want to keep it a secret.)

The only book I had with me while I was on the trail was the reissued version of Dave Hickey‘s now legendary set of essays on art and beauty, The Invisible Dragon. Originally published in 1993 when the “fluid cultural weather system” (Hickey’s phrase) of the art world was in very different place than today, it speaks to issues that have shifted over the ensuing 20 years. But framed with a new introduction and an additional essay, this is still a book that delights and provokes. As Hickey says himself, “The Dragon was a successful book. It appealed to children and other adepts of ecstasy.”

And the Dragon actually proved to be a formidable companion while I was immersed in a landscape that is so lush and well, beautiful. Of course that word has so many meanings, inside the world of art and out. As Hickey points out, “Beauty is not a thing. The Beautiful is a thing.”

I read the book twice while I was there and I marked up every page. Even so I still feel hungry for another dip into Hickey’s irreverent dismantling of gatekeepers and tastemasters. Maybe this will have to wait since at this moment the rapture from being in such an extraordinary world still has my head spinning. And apropos of that feeling, the final line in Hickey’s book is a good one: “Beauty is and always will be blue skies and open highway.”

Water becomes silk in the cascade of the Stirling Falls, Millford Sound

Cook’s Beach, Coromandel Peninsula

Clinton River valley, Fiordland

Mackinnon Pass

The sea colors at Abel Tasmin

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing near Taupo

Blue ice of the Fox Glacier

11 Replies to “The World Before Our Eyes”

  1. Linda Jones Gibbs says:

    These images leave me speechless. Other-worldly is right – one needs another language but as always, Deborah, you seemed to have found the right words

    1. deborahbarlow says:

      Linda, I struggle constantly with the barrier between the visual and languaging. Thank you for your words of encouragement. It is a hard thing to capture, that landscape.

  2. I agree with Linda. The photo of Stirling Falls is otherworldly (it reminded me of a Bill Viola film)! Gorgeous all! May I say I’m jealous?

    I will have to look up Hickey’s book. Sounds like one I’d enjoy.

    1. deborahbarlow says:

      I’ve never seen water do what it does coming down the Stirling Falls. You are right–it is very Bill Viola-esque. That’s the perfect analogy. And yes, I think you would really be delighted by Invisible Dragon. We usually agree on so much I feel confident recommending it.

  3. Elana Jan Bodine says:

    Thank you, Deborah, for sharing your trip and the beauty of the land. I will probably never be able to make the trip, but seeing it through your eyes and reading your words, is the next best thing. It is paradise….

    1. deborahbarlow says:

      Thanks Jan, it is paradisiacal for sure. Thanks for taking a look.

  4. I’m so glad to hear you had a trip full of marvels; it’s a pleasure to hear of it and to see your beautiful photos.

    1. deborahbarlow says:

      Thanks Altoon. From your earlier visit you know it is a landscape that is hard to describe. So varied, so lush, so empty. Quite unforgettable.

  5. Deborah, Welcome back. The place looks “re-dong-culous” ly beautiful (to coin Jon Stewart). The beauty of the country along with the availability of nature to provide.How wonderful to drink the water. How sad that we now see that as unusual. Stirring Falls, aptly named. You have given us a glimpse of heaven. Thank you. I must read Dave Hickey’s book.

  6. Deb, what majestic and stunning images! What a magical world this New Zealand is!

  7. Very glad I had a chance to see this, and share your thoughts. Lovely post, Deborah. And a very interesting echo of Bill Viola that Maureen picked up on!

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