Monday, January 7, 2013

"Earth Maze" Depicts "Unknown Potentialities Within Self and Nature"

After I played in the Second Annual Michigan Chess Festival, my friend Erika Klotz took a picture of me standing next to Derek Wernher's "Earth Maze" sculpture. I assumed that the inscription on the plaque next to the statue would be legible in the photo but later realized that this was not the case. However, after doing some research I found the complete text:


The sculpture incorporates the circle or sphere as the symbol of unity of self as well as union between man and nature. The interior or maze portion of the sculpture is a network of interconnecting passages and spaces representative of unknown potentialities within self and nature. The opposing of smooth and rough surfaces, spherical and angular forms in the piece, are different ways of blending contradicting elements to express wholeness. "Earth Maze," which is eight feet in diameter and weighs over two tons, was created by Derek Wernher of Metamora, Michigan for the Northfield Hilton Inn.

Here is the photo of me standing in front of "Earth Maze":

Erika also took a closeup shot of the interior details of "Earth Maze":

I spent the rest of that day touring Troy, Michigan with Erika, a fun conclusion to my birthday weekend trip--a trip that represented a milestone in my ongoing efforts to change my Perspective about life.

The evocative phrase "unknown potentialities within self and nature" can be interpreted and perceived in many ways. It reminds me of, among other things, the main title sequence for the Incredible Hulk TV show:

The voice-over describes Dr. David Banner's quest to tap into "the hidden strengths that all humans have."  While the show emphasized physical strength, the greatest strength that all humans have is the strength of the human spirit--the capacity to know right from wrong, good from evil and then act on this knowledge even at the risk of suffering personal harm. After Dr. Banner's scientific experiment went awry, his physiology became permanently transformed and whenever he became "angry or outraged" he acquired the necessary physical strength to confront whatever evil or torments afflicted him. The capability to "hulk out" and wreak havoc against wrongdoers is an alluring fantasy but the show wisely depicted the downside as well: Dr. Banner had no memory of or control over his "hulk outs" and he was extremely concerned that he would harm innocent people (even though the show's viewers realized that the Incredible Hulk, though apparently simple-minded, possessed Dr. Banner's inherent goodness and gentleness). Dr. Banner futilely sought to cure himself and/or to remove himself from any situation that might cause him to "hulk out." A child might look at the Incredible Hulk and merely see someone who uses great physical strength to control his surroundings but Dr. Banner perceived the Incredible Hulk as an entity that lacked self-control, the most important kind of control; a passage in the Bhagavad Gita--quoted at the beginning of Jerzy Kosinski's National Book Award winning novel Steps--states, "For the uncontrolled there is no wisdom, nor for the uncontrolled is there the power of concentration; and for him without concentration there is no peace. And for the unpeaceful, how can there be happiness?" The control in question has nothing to do with manipulating others through the application of force (physical, verbal or otherwise) but rather controlling oneself--one's thoughts, emotions and actions. Dr. Banner lacked peace and happiness because he could not find a way to control the "raging spirit that dwells within him," a very apt metaphor for human existence on both the individual and societal levels because "raging spirit" can be observed in both mundane circumstances (a road rager's extended middle finger) and extreme circumstances (mass murder).

Dr. Banner's quest was poignantly captured by the haunting "Lonely Man Theme," played during the closing credits of each episode of the Incredible Hulk:

Bill Bixby, the actor who portrayed Dr. Banner, died of cancer a couple months before his 60th birthday. In his final interview, he displayed both the strong will and gentle spirit that he had in common with Dr. Banner, declaring that some people cease battling as soon as they hear the dreaded "C word" but that his attitude was, "You come and get me and you drag me away. But I'm not going to contribute to my own death." Bixby concluded with these touching words: "Be good to yourselves, because if you're good to yourself, then you'll be kind to everybody else. I'd sure like to see that before I die."

Being good to ourselves as a prelude to being kind to everybody else is an excellent way to express the "unity of self as well as union between man and nature" that Wernher depicted in "Earth Maze." In the concluding episode of Cosmos (titled "Who Speaks for Earth?"), Carl Sagan declares, "The civilization now in jeopardy is all humanity. As the ancient myth makers knew, we are children equally of the earth and sky. In our tenure of this planet, we have accumulated dangerous, evolutionary baggage--propensities for aggression and ritual, submission to leaders, hostility to outsiders, all of which puts our survival in some doubt. We have also acquired compassion for others, love for our children, a desire to learn from history and experience, and a great, soaring passionate intelligence--the clear tools for our continued survival and prosperity."

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