CRAIG CONLEY (Prof. Oddfellow) is recognized by Encarta as “America’s most creative and diligent scholar of letters, words and punctuation.” He has been called a “language fanatic” by Page Six gossip columnist Cindy Adams, a “cult hero” by Publisher’s Weekly, and “a true Renaissance man of the modern era, diving headfirst into comprehensive, open-minded study of realms obscured or merely obscure” by Clint Marsh. An eccentric scholar, Conley’s ideas are often decades ahead of their time. He invented the concept of the “virtual pet” in 1980, fifteen years before the debut of the popular “Tamagotchi” in Japan. His virtual pet, actually a rare flower, still thrives and has reached an incomprehensible size. Conley’s website is
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May 8, 2006

Staring at the Sun (permalink)

Artwork by Jason 'Sunshine' Carswell,
Staring At the Sun

I shake
And stare the sun
Till my eyes burn
— David Bowie, "The Voyeur of Utter Destruction"

Light is sweet, and it is pleasant for the eyes to behold the sun.  — Ecclesiastes

The dawn ventures to confont the sky decorated with multiple colors ... My eyes have an entirely different brilliance.  I am afraid they will make holes in the sky.  —Nietzsche

The biggest drawback to mirrorshades is that they simulate a state of permanent solar eclipse, a twilight world in which colors are distorted and shadows are deeper.  The sun has been both feared and revered throughout human history, but only a handful of people have actually had the courage to look it in the face.  Granted, the naked eye will sustain impairment if exposed to direct sunlight for too long.  Therefore, cyberpunk author Paul Di Filippo recommends optical implants as a solution.  “By stepping down the ratio of photons to electrons,” he suggests, “you can do such things as stare directly at the sun or at a welder’s flame without damage.”

But why stare into the sun in the first place?  Because it's dangerous.  Because it's deviant.  Because so few are man enough to try it.  Because radiation is natural.  Because it looked at you first.  Perhaps the best reason of all is that the sun frees us from the simplistic dogma of dualism.  Photons of light have no antiparticle.  That means that in the world of light there is no division between body and soul, good and evil, seer and scenery, past and future, man and fellow man.  In the world of light, 1 + 1 = 1.

Photographs of the sun are typically taken through telescopes.  Such photographs are pale substitutes for actually looking at the sun.  As naturalist Annie Dillard notes in an essay about witnessing a total eclipse, "The lenses of telescopes and cameras can no more cover the breadth and scale of the visual array than language can cover the breadth and simultaneity of internal experience.  Lenses enlarge the sight, omit its context, and make of it a pretty and sensible picture, like something on a Christmas card."  Scientific instruments, then, limit our perception even as they extend the range of our vision.  No matter what apparatus we use to view the sun, at some point we will encounter a "blind spot."  Clearly, the naked eye (capable of detecting a single photon of light) or naked implant is the only way to go.

There are two steps to proper sun-staring.  First, stare at the sun with the eyes open.  This is not an easy thing to do.  Rochefoucauld, the Benjamin Franklin of France, once said that "Neither the sun nor death can be looked at with a steady eye."  He was correct.  In his novel Staring at the Sun, Julian Barnes warns that "You can't stare at the sun for too long--not even the setting, quiet sun.  You would have to put your fingers in front of your face to do that."  So don't have any preconceptions that it's going to be simple or pleasant.  Try not to blink.  Try not to look away.  Shield your eyes with your fingers at first if you must, but then slowly spread your fingers to reveal the awesome light of the sun.  If you must look away then do so, but slowly bring your eyes back to the sun.  If you find yourself involuntarily blinking rapidly, hold your eyelids open with your fingers.

Second, stare at the sun with the eyes closed.  The sun's afterimage will remain under your eyelids, indelibly etched into your cornea.  James Patrick Kelley describes this phenomenon in his cyberpunk story "Solstice":  "Cage shut his eyes and still he could see it: blood red, flashing blue, veins pulsing across its surface."

What is the significance of this afterimage?  No doubt each person must find his omn answer to this question.  In her novel Century 21, Ewa Kuryluk attempts a philosophical answer.  She says that "We must preserve the sun's afterimage under our lids" because it forces us to confront "ideals, abstract beings which are neither bodies nor forces dwelling in bodies."  Perhaps she means that we can harness the sun's forces, snatch them from the physical body of the star, and carry them with us--literally within our eyelids.  In any case, Kuryluk seems to be touching upon a deeper truth about the perception of reality.  

The French poet Paul Claudel agrees with Kuryluk that we can carry the body of a star within our eyelids, making us the center of our own private solar system.  "We can see in the eye a sort of scaled down, portable sun," he says, "and therefore, a prototype of the ability to establish a radius from it to any point on the circumference."  The German poet Yvan Goll describes such a private solar system:

The universe revolves around you
Eye with facets which chase away the eyes of the stars
And implies them in your gyratory system
Carrying away nebulas of eyes in your madness.

The Maja-Ratri, a Sanskrit text, says that light is the source of all thought, since light is a combustion of star evolution.  That star evolution exists in the inner dimensions of your mind as a phosphene explosion.  Psychologist Carl Jung once wrote that "when our senses react to real phenomena, sights, and sounds, they are somehow translated from the realm of reality into that of the mind.  Within the mind they become psychic events, whose ultimate nature is unknowable."

If you're eventually going to have your eyes replaced anyway, why not burn them out in a single blaze of glory?  Besides, the combination of sunglasses and a walking stick is a timeless fashion statement.
> read more from Staring at the Sun . . .
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