This must be the soft, bright end of obsession—or, not obsession
at all, really, just pure engagement, a low, running delight that
for a time takes one out of oneself and the quotidian world. And
that’s the best part, for some moments (longer?) that engagement
vanquishes the noisy external world, the blowing traffic, and
silences the inner monologue. Because now there’s this—something.
And it’s beautiful. Or maybe it just makes a new kind of sense.
I’ve lifted and reprinted “The Blue Gentians,” a vintage D.H.
Lawrence poem. I can find no better poem of fascination. Not only is
the focus on the object so pure all else vanishes, but the observer,
the enchanted one, does not stop there, at the surface. He persists,
bears down, travels deeper until this point of focus opens to
another realm, a more mysterious world, and a darker, richer love.
Fascination. We don’t hear the word often these days, not
in SocialNetworkYouthCultureSpeak—we hear about the hot and
the cool. Attractive, well-toned people can be hot, certain
experiences, sensations and unexpected good news are cool. The other
night, however, the subject popped up on Piers Morgan, CNN—the power
to fascinate. The panel of guests cited this as one of the most
compelling and persuasive qualities in a person. But then consider
his guests: women. Women who were not babies, or teeny-weeny
boppers, or twenty-somethingers. Women who’d lived. Women who could
read and actually did, who could speak without clocking two or more
clichés per minute: Linda Evans, Nichelle Nichols, Stephanie Powers
and Angie Dickinson. It’s true, these noted TV actresses from the
60s and 70s don’t exactly represent the great minds of their
generation, but compared to certain younger celebrities one sees on
TV—the ones who seem to have a vocabulary of 949 words but use only
761—they sounded like seasoned philosophers.
I chanced upon this roundtable discussion just as I’d begun to
work out this Intro to Speechless Fascination. Therefore it struck
home somehow when Piers asked each of the women to name their choice
of companion in the time honored ‘abandoned on a tropical island’
scenario, and nearly every one chose the man they found most
“fascinating”. Yes, for those long sand- and sea-swept hours with
nothing about but the unsettled palms, the cries of toucans, perhaps
an indigenous person or two, it was the fascination factor that they
valued, not the hotness quotient. (The men chosen? Sean Connery,
Johnny Depp, Frank Sinatra, Bill Holden). And it does seem a more
substantive quality—to be fascinating; it speaks to richness of
character, world experience, story telling ability, humor, variety,
and the compound of attributes that makes up charisma.
In ways subtle or direct, whether enthralled or simply absorbed,
these writers and poets explore states of fascination. This must be what that old-fashioned fellow Arnold Bennett meant
in his massively influential 1909 guide, Literary Taste and How
to Form It (old- fashioned in some ways, timeless in others):
“The Makers of Literature are those who have seen and felt the
miraculous interestingness of the universe. . . . Their lives are
one long ecstasy of denying the world is a dull place”.