Zen and the Art of Jigsaws

Submitted by Chris Webster on Mon, 2006/12/18 - 05:19
Life A User's Manual

Fortunately, it was more usual for Bartlebooth, at the end of such hours of waiting, having gone through every stage of controlled anxiety and exasperation, to reach a kind of ecstasy, a stasis, a sort of utterly oriental stupor, akin, perhaps, to the state archers strive to reach: profound oblivion of the body and the target, a mental void, a completely blank, receptive, and flexible mind, an attentiveness that remained total, but which was disengaged from the vicissitudes of being, from the contingent details of the puzzle and its maker’s snares. In moments like that Bartlebooth could see without looking how the delicate outlines of the jigsawed wood slotted very precisely into each other, and taking to pieces he had ignored until then or which perhaps he had sworn could not possibly join, he was able to fit them together in one go.

This intimation of grace would sometimes last for several minutes, which made Bartlebooth feel as if he had second sight: he could perceive everything, understand everything, he could have seen grass grow, lightning strike a tree, erosion grind down a mountain like a pyramid very gradually worn away by the very gentle brushing of a bird’s wing: he would juxtapose the pieces at full speed, without error, espying, beneath all the details and subterfuges intended to obscure them, this minute claw or that imperceptible red thread or a black-edged notch, which all ought to have indicated the solution from the start, had he but had eyes to see: in a few instants, borne along by such exalted and heady self-assurance, a situation that he could no longer even imagine untying, would be altered beyond recognition: whole areas would join up, sky and sea would recover their correct locations, tree trunks would turn back into branches, vague birds back into the shadows of seaweed.

These privileged instants were as rare as they were intoxicating, as fleeting as they were seemingly effective.


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