by Keith Miller
“In a few minutes he returned with a bowl of oatmeal porridge sprinkled with brown sugar and cinnamon, swimming in cream” (Miller, 71).
So, Pico continues on his way across the bridge and deeper into the forest. A ferocious storm is unleashed over his head and he finds sanctuary out of the storm in a small, strange abode that, according to it’s sign, belongs to one Master Rabbit.
On the heels of the last chapter, “Master Rabbit’s Tale” felt familiar, too. Once Pico stumbles into the house, the description and atmosphere felt remarkably reminiscent of something I’d already read, especially when it came to the description of the interior of the house:
“He stumbled into the color a traveler cherishes above all others, the yellow of lamplight, of indoor firelight. In the abrupt stillness he took off his hat and with his sleeve dashed the rain from his eyes and looked up to find himself in a round room with a fire snapping in a hearth at the far end, a whistling teakettle hooked above the flames. On a braided rug beside the fire stood two rocking chairs with quilted cushions tied to their seats. Around the walls cases and shelves contained heaps and rows of objects, birds’ nests and blown eggs, pressed leaves, pinned beetles and butterflies, the fluted houses of wasps, sheaves of dried grasses, jars filled with colored earths, rocks on kapok in chambered boxes, each object tagged with a strip of paper on which was scribbled a name and number” (70).
Almost instantly when I read this, I had a strong palatable sense that I — a a reader — had been here, in this place, before. So I was curious to see where this chapter went.
After Pico has been settled in one of the rocking chairs and bundled up after the chill of the rainstorm, he learns that his host, Master Rabbit, has written books about everything he has studied. Pico browses through a few and is disappointed, as the following makes clear.
“‘Are there no stories?’ Pico asked.
‘Stories?’ The rabbit looked baffled.
‘Is there nothing one would read for pleasure, for the joy of reading?’
‘My books are not written for entertainment, young traveler, but for edification,’ the rabbit said in an admonitory tone. ‘Did you think I spent my time scribbling amorous adventures when there was work to be done?’
‘Why, the task of detailing the known world, the habits of flora and fauna, the intricacies of geology.’
‘But to what end?’
‘Knowledge, dear boy, knowledge. How can we live in a world we do not comprehend?'” (74).
So, yes, the main focus of this chapter is research vs art.
The rabbit wants to understand the world by categorizing, analyzing, and dissecting every aspect of the natural world. To him, knowing what something is, how it functions, what it functions for, and what all that means within the process of nature is a better use of time than composing stories that don’t reveal the cause and effect of the world in a literal way. (Because fiction can reveal the world realistically, it just isn’t written in a scientific style. Usually. Although that’d be fun (for me). Especially if the scientific facts are about a fantasy world.)
Pico instead wants to understand the world on an emotional level, by creating poetry inspired by nature and his experiences. He seeks to create something new, something that may be felt and experienced by others. His goal is not to reveal life as it functions, but life as it feels.
The rabbit and Pico discuss these differences, although Pico still doesn’t seem to grasp what the rabbit’s aim in his work is.
“‘I work with names as well,’ Pico said . ‘I am not a namer but a renamer. In my art I arrive at the nature of a thing by calling it something else. The sky is the sea glittering with minnows caught in the nets of the rain, a flute at dusk is a lover’s tongue in the ear, an eye is a talon, a cinder, a star.’
‘But then you have failed to clarify, failed to illumine the marvelous workings of the eye, the focusing lens of the retina, the rods of cones, the cords that carry color to the brain.’
‘Yes, the mystery stays intact but the spirit is sensed'” (75).
After this exchange, the rabbit is puzzled because by saying that the “mystery” of the eye remains “intact”, even after one would explain how the different parts of the eye work is antithetical to the rabbit’s work. His goal is to inform and educate. Pico statement gives off the impression that scientific explanations are actually senseless; the jargon for explaining how an eye functions is just as mysterious to people as a metaphor.
And that seems based on the premise that science (and also technology) have their own language. One which it’s assumed, unless you’re a specialist, you won’t understand it. I’m not sure I entirely believe that, but it does speak to the socialized, taken-for-granted mysticism of technology and science.
Personally, I appreciate the study and investigation of life (how else could one write if one didn’t have a desire to understand and, in my case, wonder to investigate nature and culture/history). I understand that too much research can be bad, to the extent that one starts to see nature (and life) as things rather than a living network. But Pico seems a little too “I must feel the flow of art and the story or else everything is dead and empty”. Like he can’t seem to see that knowledge on a basic level could actually be useful, inspirational, and fulfilling.
So the question is, where do the two coincide? To me, the study of nature can be wondrous but don’t be clinical. Of course, a precise categorizing of nature shouldn’t be wrong unless you see it as a commodity to use, which is a problem with modernity and corporations.
Lastly, I noticed an Andersen’s “The Nightingale” reference.
The rabbit tells Pico how he heard a nightingale sing and so set a snare to catch her. In it, he found a small girl instead. He took her home and tried to coax her to eat honey and drink water, but she only wasted away and died when he put her in a cage. This boils down to: don’t cage beauty, and more specifically, one cannot cage art.
I think this makes Master Rabbit interesting and more complex as a scientist, since it shows he can feel the artistic sentiment that Pico talks about but he’s still a researcher. Furthermore, I feel like it shows the rabbit’s learned something, which isn’t something I can say about Pico.
next week Pico is (maybe) getting better with women.
source edited for better definitions
- kapok: n. (
- edification: n. 1. an act of ;
- admonitory: adj. admonish;
- stymied: v..
“‘Stories are life,’ protested Pico. ‘Without them, books would be only paper and ink, with them they breathe, the reader is drawn in, the stories become him'” (78).
gotta agree with him here; stories have to have life to work (but research is vital to a writer, too)
Miller, Keith. The Book of Flying: A Novel. New York, NY: Riverhead Books, 2004. Print.