In his essay “Nature,” Ralph Waldo Emerson famously said:
“I become a transparent eyeball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part of God.”
I know of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “transparent eyeball” and his essay “Nature,” but it is not my area of expertise. (Although I confess, it is the illustration that accompanied the “transparent eyeball” passage in Emerson’s essay “Nature” that I recall most readily. It is a wonderful illustration.)
If I remember correctly, in “Nature,” Emerson is propounding a way of looking at the Universe in general and Nature in particular. It is Emerson’s “transcendental” way of finding communion with a divine being through observing the “scripture” that is Nature.
But lately I have been thinking of the “transparent eyeball” in a different way.
On a Monday in mid-April, I was reading a piece by a woman named Yoon Soo Lim. In it, she mentioned that she had taken up a challenge of keeping a photo journal , in which one photograph was uploaded each day of the year. The site was called blipfoto.
I didn’t think much of it, until my walk home through the city. I started seeing possible “photo ops” everywhere: a funky display in an art gallery, a shadowy alley with a latticework of fire-escapes, a graphic advertisement for a boxing studio. I had become an “eye” and had begun seeing things that I passed every single day and had never seen, or at least never paid much attention to.
I took up the photo challenge myself. And it has changed the way I look at things.
No longer do I walk aimlessly from the bus to my door, from the street to the train station, from my desk to the cafeteria. I walk now with a purpose…the purpose of seeing.
I am not sure why, but this leaves me feeling very alive. I feel that I am “seeing deliberately”—a term that echoes Emerson’s disciple Thoreau who advised us all to “live deliberately.” I am excited to see things, to find things, to re-discover things that had been invisible for so long, behind the cloak of daily routine.
And I am having fun with it.