Sunday, February 9, 2020

Review of the Miniature

Miniature tree & cardinal from Katie
Miniature french horn, jug, and fan from Nancy

My dear friends and colleagues Heather and Nancy asked me to share what I had discerned after years of studying "little things," as Nancy so lovingly refers to them. Most immediately, I would say that humans seek out the miniature in search of the secrets of the universe. It is often an inward quest toward the heart of the doll or the center of the dollhouse, whereas the outward manifestation is a tiny perfect world, such as the Christmas Village, or even a single item — a diminutive lamp, house, or globe — fashioned in quaint imitation of its larger counterpart.

We are drawn to those qualities so elusive in real life: perfection, wholeness, and — yes, in all honesty we have to admit — control. The miniature represents a seamless universe and a seamless body where nothing leaks or slips away. Completion without loss.

the miniature vs the gigantic
small vs large
inside vs outside
inanimate vs animate
seamless and contained vs messy and unpredictable

"You can think of the universe as a set of wooden Russian matryoshka dolls, with each doll having a smaller one inside of it. The entire visible universe is the outermost doll, and nested inside it are galaxies, solar systems, stars, planets -- right down to the smallest doll, which is you. But inside of you is an even smaller doll that somehow has the biggest doll inside of it. When you figure out this riddle, you will have discovered the key to your ascension!"

by Elizabeth Clare Prophet
Reincarnation: The Missing Link In Christianity


"The Infinity of Your Interiority. The human person is a threshold where many infinities meet. There is the infinity of space that reaches out into the depths of the cosmos; the infinity of time reaching back over billions of years. There is the infinity of the microcosm: one little speck on the top of your thumb contains a whole inner cosmos, but it is so tiny that it is not visible to the human eye. The infinity in the microscopic is as dazzling as that of the cosmos. However, the infinity which haunts everyone and which no-one can finally quell, is the infinity of their own interiority. A world lies hidden behind each human face. . . .

"Another infinity, as yet unborn, is dimly present. . . . It is such a privilege to be embodied. You have a relationship to place through the body, it is no wonder that humans have always been fascinated by place. Place offers us a home here; without place we would literally have no where. Landscape is the ultimate where; and in landscape the house that we call home is our intimate place. The home is decorated and personalized; it takes on the soul of the person who lives there and becomes the mirror of the spirit"
(41 - 44).

" . . . the desire to bring subject and object together . . ." (60).

by John O'Donohue
from Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom


" . . . It is the week before Christmas. In the apartment across the way, a man works on a dollhouse. So what if we are doomed? He will die rubbing a small chair smooth" (199).

by Carole Maso
from AVA



The dollhouse: " . . . the most consummate of miniatures . . . A house within a house . . . the dollhouse's aptest analogy is the locket or the secret recesses of the heart: center within center, within within within. The dollhouse is a materialized secret; what we look for is the dollhouse within the dollhouse and its promise of an infinitely profound interiority. . . . even the most basic use of the toy object -- to be 'played with' -- is not often found in the world of the dollhouse. The dollhouse is consumed by the eye" (61, 62).

" . . . a monument against instability, randomness, and vulgarity. . . . Worlds of inversion, of contamination and crudeness, are controlled within the dollhouse by an absolute manipulation and control of the boundaries of time and space" (62, 63).

" . . . the seamless body of the doll. . . . The diminutive is a term of manipulation and control as much as it is a term of endearment" (124).

" . . . the miniature typifies the structure of memory, of childhood . . . from its petite sincerity arises an 'authentic' subject . . . . (171 - 72).

by Susan Stewart
from On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic,
the Souvenir, the Collection


Yule Log
: Interestingly enough, these miniature cakes are now better known than either the gigantic originals that they represent or the historical tradition of Bringing in the Yule Log. In her fascinating study of the miniature and the gigantic, folklore scholar Susan Stewart has written of the human impulse to transform nature and quaint rural customs into art. The resulting souvenirs and miniatures become the objects of our desire for "an elusive and purer, yet diminished, past."

I can't help thinking of the old - time Yule Logs (meant for burning on the hearth) and the contemporary Yule Log Cake or Buche de Noel (intended for eating) when Stewart says that the antiquarian's "search is primarily an aesthetic one, an attempt to erase the actual past in order to create an imagined past which is available for consumption" (Susan Stewart, On Longing, 143).

In this case, not just metaphorical consumption! But actual consumption, as in "Hey, who's ready for a piece of cake?"


Gingerbread House: Even Martha Stewart (no relation!) weighs in on the topic: "What is more tantalizing -- at a child's eye level -- than a gingerbread replica of the house you're standing in?" Reading Martha's insight gave me goosebumps! Why? Because she is talking about the secrets of interiority! Within within within. Likewise, the most basic use of gingerbread -- to be eaten -- is not the case with a gingerbread house, which is to be consumed by the eye, not the taste buds, edible though it may be. The transcendent vision offered by the gingerbread house or the dollhouse, "the most consummate of miniatures," can be known through visual apprehension alone.

Martha goes on the describe "The whimsy and . . . the thrill of . . . playing with scale and expectations: What's big is rendered small (the house) but with such an eye to detail that it uses three shades and flavors of cookie, and the roof and chimney have the realistic look of shingles and bricks. Meanwhile, what's small (the teddy bear) is presented as life - size . . ." (Martha Stewart Living, December 2012, 130 - 31).

Some Days

Some days I put the people in their places at the table,
bend their legs at the knees,
if they come with that feature,
and fix them into the tiny wooden chairs.

All afternoon they face one another,
the man in the brown suit,
the woman in the blue dress,
perfectly motionless, perfectly behaved.

But other days, I am the one
who is lifted up by the ribs,
then lowered into the dining room of a dollhouse
to sit with the others at the long table.

Very funny,
but how would you like it
if you never knew from one day to the next
if you were going to spend it

striding around like a vivid god,
your shoulders in the clouds,
or sitting down there amidst the wallpaper,
staring straight ahead with your little plastic face

Billy Collins (b. 1941)
Poet Laureate of the United States, 2001 - 2003
New York State Poet, 2004-2006

I love the way it looks as if the
princess is holding the bronze fan!

More Small Chairs

1 comment:

  1. Nostalgia

    Remember the 1340s? We were doing a dance called the Catapult.
    You always wore brown, the color craze of the decade,
    and I was draped in one of those capes that were popular,
    the ones with unicorns and pomegranates in needlework.
    Everyone would pause for beer and onions in the afternoon,
    and at night we would play a game called “Find the Cow.”
    Everything was hand-lettered then, not like today.

    Where has the summer of 1572 gone? Brocade and sonnet
    marathons were the rage. We used to dress up in the flags
    of rival baronies and conquer one another in cold rooms of stone.
    Out on the dance floor we were all doing the Struggle
    while your sister practiced the Daphne all alone in her room.
    We borrowed the jargon of farriers for our slang.
    These days language seems transparent, a badly broken code.

    The 1790s will never come again. Childhood was big.
    People would take walks to the very tops of hills
    and write down what they saw in their journals without speaking.
    Our collars were high and our hats were extremely soft.
    We would surprise each other with alphabets made of twigs.
    It was a wonderful time to be alive, or even dead.

    I am very fond of the period between 1815 and 1821.
    Europe trembled while we sat still for our portraits.
    And I would love to return to 1901 if only for a moment,
    time enough to wind up a music box and do a few dance steps,
    or shoot me back to 1922 or 1941, or at least let me
    recapture the serenity of last month when we picked
    berries and glided through afternoons in a canoe.

    Even this morning would be an improvement over the present.
    I was in the garden then, surrounded by the hum of bees
    and the Latin names of flowers, watching the early light
    flash off the slanted windows of the greenhouse
    and silver the limbs on the rows of dark hemlocks.

    As usual, I was thinking about the moments of the past,
    letting my memory rush over them like water
    rushing over the stones on the bottom of a stream.
    I was even thinking a little about the future, that place
    where people are doing a dance we cannot imagine,
    a dance whose name we can only guess.