Chance Design: Frost Reframed

This morning I found this deceased dragonfly tucked away in this clivia, and I’m reminded of the poem “Design” by Robert Frost.

I found a dimpled spider, fat and white,
On a white heal-all, holding up a moth
Like a white piece of rigid satin cloth--
Assorted characters of death and blight
Mixed ready to begin the morning right,
Like the ingredients of a witches' broth--
A snow-drop spider, a flower like a froth,
And dead wings carried like a paper kite.

What had that flower to do with being white,
The wayside blue and innocent heal-all?
What brought the kindred spider to that height,
Then steered the white moth thither in the night?
What but design of darkness to appall?--
If design govern in a thing so small.

As I reread the second to last line of the Frost poem, I wonder why he thinks that the possibility of design that governs things so small is “dark” and “appalling”? I would think in his time, he’d think it was divine.

However, I’m not a proponent of the religious concept of intelligent design. Rather, I think that the earth’s stunning atmosphere and life forms came about by cells mindlessly dividing and multiplying over and over and over, failing constantly, until different things succeed. I think all this beauty and design is the result of infinite attempts at life– the result of chance– which eventually develops patterns that create life. Therefore, I don’t see chance and chaos as the enemy of order (as many seem to think — and as is often proposed in wonderful works of fiction like Gaiman’s The Sandman, as I discuss in my post, The Sandman: Allegory and Anthropocentrism. Rather, it’s chance and chaos are the zing of life– the thing that causes new life, new orders.

So, I’d like to substitute the words:

What brought the kindred dragonfly to this scene
then steered it into matching wings of green?
What but chance sublime,
If chance result in a thing so designed?

The Sandman, Allegory and Anthropocentrism

Just gotta dork out on how much I love the allegorical underpinnings of Gaiman’s The Sandman on Netflix. I didn’t read the comic books, because I don’t like the art and find the need to constantly choose between image and words distracting (perhaps it just takes practice).

Is Fiction the Center of the Universe?

I’m seeing The Sandman as a debate over the place of fiction (or dreams) in the scheme of things, an argument that dreams (fiction) are central to our life. In the horrifying episode 5 “24/7”, when people lose the ability to lie, they also lose the ability to hope or dream, and in they end up mutilating themselves and each other. It was a disturbing episode, but I find the idea that writing fiction REALLY MATTERS gratifying. Being a fiction writer, though, I’m wary of the potential narcism in that assertion-particularly coming from a writer. In later episodes, it’s basically implied that if humans stop dreaming, the universe will end.

Are Humans the Center of the Universe?

There’s a definite hierarchy in this series, and a message about the relationship between the entities that form the center of the narrative. They aren’t quite gods, and they are not extensions of humans– though they seem to have the purpose of serving humans, as Death, sister to Dream (otherwise known as Morpheus), tells him in episode 6. Morpheus tells Corinthian the same thing in episode 10. I tend to disagree with this anthropocentric assertion. I think the universe is just not that into us (to revamp a phrase from the self help- dating manual by Greg Behrendt He’s Just Not that Into You (2004)).

If these beings are the extensions of humankind, it makes sense. However, I don’t agree that the fate of the universe centers around humankind, as it does in this series (as ego-gratifying as that idea may be), and I would beg to differ with Gaiman on that score. But I will leave that alone for a second.

Is Desire the Antithesis of Dream?

Desire is the twin of Despair in the series, and is definitely one of the antagonists and enemy to Dream. I do worry about the choice to make Desire some sort of trans being… though I couldn’t say whether he’s a trans man or a trans woman. I just worry about our culture’s use of LGBTQ+ as bad guys. But I’m also intrigued by the attempt to differentiate between desire and dream. Certainly capitalism seems an example of desire run amok.

Another interesting assertion is made when the Vortex is prophesied to be the end of Dream. She is born out of an anomaly caused by the humans trying to capture death and accidentally getting dream instead, suggesting that when we try to evade the normal process of life, we make trouble. The implication is that chaos and disorder is the enemy of life and order. I disagree with this contention, also.

Even though I disagree with some of the assertions, I enjoy that this series started the conversation. I’m loving how Gaiman explores these concepts allegorically. I enjoyed how the visuals (except for the tacky vortex crystal heart), which are wonderfully evocative of comic book angles, and I loved how Morpheus needs to and does.