Tuesday, March 25, 2008

A Humument Explication

On page 210 of Tom Phillips’ A Humument, Phillips suggests that humans are often torn between what they perceive to be reality and what literally is reality, namely between sanity and insanity. Phillips uses streaks of bold, clashing colors and contrasts dark and light imagery within his text to emphasize the different perceptions of reality within the human mind. Darkness represents the craziness, or inability to see the true reality, whereas light symbolizes the true, sane reality.

To begin the page, Phillips first describes his character’s realization that something is not as it seems. He writes that “at the time arranged” he “abandon[s] all.” Though the time was arranged, which indicates some sort of methodical thinking, he still must abandon everything he knows, in this case, his reason. Then, “he at once…drove off to…the dim regions of Bloon,” which is the area where sanity and insanity meet. Dimness implies that this location is the convergence of these two realities because when something is dim, it is neither light nor dark, but an area in between. Thus, Phillips’ character approaches the brink of his sanity. The pathways of pale yellow that highlight the text and connect the words to each other are also indicative of this route because they look like winding roads that connect one end of the image to the other, just as the characters’ road is connecting sanity and insanity.

Phillips’ character continues his path to realization a bit further down the page. He “had found…the loss of all events,” which suggests that he no longer remembers what occurred in his past or his past thoughts, which are both a part of his sanity. The only thing he knows, however is that, “he was…he knew…heavy for ever.” This heavy feeling symbolizes the weight that his torn feelings are pressing down upon him and the fact that these feelings are with him for eternity. The solid black border of the image further exemplifies this feeling because it is the darkest color in the image and because it surrounds all the other colors, it suppresses and entraps the rest of the image, just as the heaviness does to Phillips’ character.

Phillips’ character reaches his final destination toward the middle of the image. As he continues on, he “entered the dirty passage leading to his…condemned cell.” The words used in the imagery of the ‘dirty passage’ create a dank, dark impression of his location, making it seem to be very undesirable and unpleasant. The ‘condemned cell’ is his insanity because he is on the cusp of falling into a different type of reality and he has no power to control what is happening. The black border also represents this cell because it encages the rest of the image and is shaped like a cell, with no curves or bends, just straight lines. The pale yellow pathways could also represent this path. Though they are not dark, the yellow represents hope and a path toward the light, or truth. Therefore, this represents the characters’ path to insanity because it is something he cannot control and is what he is destined to do. Thus, he is continuing on to the truth.

To end the page, Phillips’ character comes to terms with the two realities he faces. He “thought of the lake, the starlight.” These are familiar sights to him, as they are the only things he can remember as he transitions between reality and his insanity. They are both relaxing images in comparison to the dark, dirty pathways. The starlight is similar to the pale yellow color in the image because the light is illuminating his path toward the reality he is about to enter.

Lastly, at the end of the page, Phillips’ character sees “both realities…once.” The ‘once’ may really mean ‘at once’ because of all of the dualities presented in the image. The word ‘once’ is separated from the rest of the text by a long pathway which represents the final step of the path the character takes between his two realities. This final moment of contrast can also be seen in the primary colors in the image. They consist of long stripes of tomato red and grape purple that run the length of the page. The red and purple are indications of a contrast in the image between the different realities because they are both extremes in different types of color; red is part of the ‘warm color’ family, while purple is part of the ‘cool colors.’ Upon first glance, they immediately clash, as they are not typically seen together in nature. This is also indicative of the craziness because it varies from what is natural or normal. Also, red has certain connotations of anger, while purple is more relaxing and tranquil, consequently reflecting this contrast.

Overall, Phillips creates an image of contrast to reflect the convergence of two different realities: sanity and insanity. To a sane person, life is reality. However, an insane person also believes that the way he lives is reality too. Therefore, reality has a different meaning for different people. Phillips’ character’s reality in A Humument is the path toward his pending insanity, as exemplified by contrasting colors and imagery, a fate he cannot alter.

1 comment:

Meaghan S6 said...

This was by far the most creative explications we did throughout the year. I really liked my thesis for this paper, as the image is really interesting in itself, let alone the words as poems. It was the first exposure we had to writing about images this year, and I think it helped me on the road to my research paper as well. Therefore, it warrants a place in my portfolio.