Liv Koh
false feeling

The Swimmer and a woman stand together by the side of a road (rural setting)
The Swimmer turns to the woman and tells her that the landscape is God
He says the it is God only God, and nothing else but God

-Erin Crouch, Clean Up Efforts Underway, 2019
Images courtesy the artist.

‘…pure ideas, find themselves usurped by mere sense-images.’

‘…Can we find a way for the two to co-exist?’

-J.M. Cotzee, Disgrace

The temperament which admits the pathetic fallacy, is, as I said above, that of a mind and body in some sort too weak to deal fully with what is before them or upon them; borne away, or over-clouded, or over-dazzled by emotion;

-John Ruskin, Modern Painters

The term “pathetic fallacy” was coined in art and literature by Victorian literary critic John Ruskin (b.1819). The term defined an writer’s overly sentimental attribution of human feeling to the surrounding environment, inanimate objects and animals, translating from Latin to English as ‘false emotions’. In Modern Painters (1843–60), Ruskin gives examples of ‘inferior poets’, including Wordsworth (in Grace’s selected passage, this is the focus of Coetzee’s Lecturer), who projected their emotions onto the workings of the natural world, revelling in what Ruskin defined as kinds of false visions. I learnt the term studying personification in literature in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (1847) (Brontë was a contemporary of Ruskin and a fan of his criticism). My summary of the book’s ending:

At the end of her story Jane is happy. Mr. Rochester loses his sight while escaping a fire at Thornfield Hall (set by his first, secret and mentally unwell wife, Bertha). Jane returns, now an heiress, but continues working forever as Mr. Rochester’s guide (and also partner) in life.

Literally I was (what he often called me) the apple of his eye. He saw nature – he saw books through me; and never did I weary of gazing for his behalf, and of putting into words the effect of field, tree, town, river, cloud, sunbeam – of the landscape before us; of the weather round us – and impressing by sound on his ear what light could no longer stamp on his eye.
-Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre

Jane becomes Rochester’s seer (his eyes) as a direct impact from his past’s haunting. Specifically the mistreatment of his first wife comes back to bite him (for more on this read Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys). He now relies on Jane as his guide; an embodied filter for his worldly sense-images. Jane is happy with this service and it is hard to decide who is the usurper.

In 2017-18 I shared a studio in an old house up for demolition in North Fitzroy (Victoria); a structurally unsound, slanted building with a heritage listed facade. The previous tenant of many years was an old woman, who going senile, had left photograms on the wall by default of (what we perceived to be) several cooking incidents or small fires in the house. A series of rectangle and square outlines marked in soot and ash on the previously white walls demarcated the old hanging places of the woman’s paintings and memorabilia, a kind of haunting.

What are my ideas and what are my sense-images under COVID-19? So far I have been unable to write much or make images or film. Watching the news, I think of my false emotions.