“That feeling of nearness to the shapeless ghost, Ambiguity, is what I want most, what I want to put inside a book, what I want the reader to sense. And because it is at once a thing and a nothing, the reader will have to find it, not only in what I have written, but also in what I have not written.”
Siri Hustvedt, Living, Thinking, Looking.
The tenuous link between one thing and another, one thought and that which follows, one sensation and the next. These spaces hold a quality that is indescribable, possibly because they are experienced so briefly. For the human mind that loves nothing better than to make sense of the world, the ambiguous is perhaps avoided and ignored. Like an eccentric great Aunt that most of the family tolerate with humour but cannot really connect with.
To me ambiguity holds the essence of something transcendent, something beyond reason and rationality. It is pure abstraction and it defies categorization. For this reason, I love it and it is also one of the reasons that I love abstraction. I like not knowing what the story is, or the possibility that there is, in fact, no story at all, or a million stories captured in a micro second. I like to be left with questions rather than definitive answers, because questions are the stepping stones to learning and more questions. Abstraction allows me to feel before thinking. It allows me to experience something with my senses before my mind kicks in.
Recently, I have been experiencing a sensation that does not have an adequate adjective to call it’s own. It is the feeling of happy sadness. It is perhaps one of the most beautiful feelings that I know. I like the fact that it is nameless. It sits wafting between two emotions that are essentially in opposition to each other. It defies definition because really, it does not make any sense and yet it certainly does exist. It is a feeling of joy that is delicately stained with a past grief or melancholia or an uncertainty. It reminds me of the twin genres of painting: the still life or Vanitas and the Memento Mori. Flip sides of the coin of life and death. One side depicting the glorious pleasures that are possible for the living and the other a reminder of the fleeting nature of such pleasure, the ever present imminence and possibility of death.
The inherent quality of happy sadness seems to invoke the spectrum of human emotion. Like the memento Mori, it reminds us that one cannot hold on to emotional states. Happy sadness and other states of ambiguity are warm incubators of beautiful ideas, of metaphor, poetry, music and art. Happy sadness is the freest of birds, never meant to exist within the confines of a cage or a definition.