Wednesday, 16 May 2007


What is the essence of something?

What, for example, is the essence of a rabbit?

Imagine that a rabbit has lost its powderpuff scut in a fight. Is it still a rabbit?

How about if it gets into another fight and loses its ears. Is it still a rabbit?

And then it goes to the rabbit surgeon and has artichokes sewn onto its head to replace its ears. Still a rabbit? And a fox's brush stapled to its behind to replace the scut. Still?

What is the essence of a thing?

What is the very foundation that defines a thing - what is that essence that we can use in our writing to succinctly, powerfully, precisely convey the very core of a thing?

Plato imagined a world of ideas. In this world, the template for everything exists - the original form from which everything else is made. Naturally, nothing made from its template is an exact copy; it is a mutation. If we could see this world of ideas, we would be able to see the essence of everything.

My son has drawn me a picture of the Dalek Emperor. He did this from memory.

I have placed it beside the template.

It's fascinating to observe the parts that my son has recreated; the parts he has emphasised; the parts he has omitted either by choice or by swiss cheese memory.


esruel said...

Hey solvey
To me, your son's pic and the original one, are both the same. Different in appearance, but meant to be the same thing. Your son's pic maybe isn't a copy, because it's not meant to be. To his mind, it is what it is supposed to be.
Did Plato say that he thought that this 'original idea' place actually exists? I believe it does: the world.
Hmmm. Perhaps...

R1X said...

On a side note, I was holidaying in Cornwall, driving down some windy lanes, when I came across the remains of a bunny - it was completely flat, except for its ears, both of which were still flapping in the wind.

solv said...

My son picks out key elements of things. Yesterday we were watching a Slitheen episode and he noticed for the first time that Slitheen have tails. He's planning a Slitheen picture now and you can be sure that he will add the tail. Similarly, he has rewritten his story to incorporate some of the elements that he previously missed out, or that he misinterpreted. So it does seem to me that he is endeavouring to get as close to the original template as possible. It's fascinating, too, looking at the drawings sent in to Doctor Who magazines. The older children tend not to exaggerate elements, and they tend to add more detail. Curiously, when I began art college, I learnt to suggest detail in broad strokes - to create a feel of the whole, of the essence. I went from absurd amounts of detail (which rarely captured the essence) to loose representations (which more effectively captured the essence). The Impressionists are great exponents of this: they would not paint every leaf on a tree, but they did endeavour to excavate the feelings that they experienced from the dappled sunlight. Moving a step further, the Expressionists began to abandon the representational form in favour of a purer essence unencumbered by the physical appearance. I'll try and unearth Mondrian's evolution of the tree which began as a detailed representation, then became a linear structure, and ultimately transformed into abstracted forms and colours.
If we think in terms of abstractions, what is it to be in love? How can we convey this as writers? Or as artists?

esruel said...

When I got Bowie's Black Tie, White Noise, he hadn't long been married to Iman. I got a sense of happiness throughout the whole album. When I got the dvd, it was even more apparent how happy he was. He interviewed brilliantly, too, where he used to do a very bad interview. Since then his interviews got better and better through the 90s and into the 2000s - you can see them on youtube. Guess being in love helped and influenced this change. Part of the essence, maybe; intangible, yet perceived, no doubt.

esruel said...

Talking of flat bunnies, I also remember the great Royal Doulton scandal, where someone had painted onto the crockery two rabbits in a rather compromising postion. A newspaper ran a caption competition. I think the winner went something like: 'She's been run over by a car, so I'm just pumping air back into her.'