“Out flew the web and floated wide;
The mirror crack’d from side to side;
‘The curse is come upon me,’ cried
The Lady of Shalott.”
(from “The Lady of Shalott” by Alfred Lord Tennyson)
Like so many lovers of English literature, I was caught up in the web of Tennyson’s poem “The Lady of Shalott” from the very first time I read it in high school. It’s a dramatic, romantic poem, replete with faerie magic: just the sort of thing that appealed to my young, outsider self. I used “The Faerie Lady of Shalott” as a description of myself online and often used “Shalottian” as a username.
As I grew up and learned more about literature, my relationship with the poem became more interesting and problematic. You see, I firmly believe that you can read any piece of literature in multiple ways, and I see The Lady as being able to represent many different women. She can be a damsel in distress whom fate compelled to a tragic end. She can be a feminist figure who dares to defy traditional women’s work and takes hold of her own destiny, only to be destroyed by the patriarchal society around her. She can also be seen as a manifestation of the female artist, who, as Virginia Woolf would have approved of, has found a room of her own, but whose work cannot be appreciated outside of that room because, as a woman, to male readers she will only be another “Lovely face.”
This blog is called “From the Cracked Mirror” partially to represent the mirror that The Lady of Shalott used to view her world. It cracks when she decides that she can no longer just interact with reflections of reality and has to go out into the world itself. This blog is about taking the reflections of our culture: tv, advertising, the media, and cracking their subtext. Though I enjoy media as much as the next person, I think it’s important not to simply accept culture passively and to think critically about what changes we think our culture needs. Moving from the cracked mirror means to approach life actively instead of passively. Being active can mean activism (though I am not a very good activist; I am the person baking the baked goods for bake sales, not the person organizing rallies.), writing, or just observing the world actively, with a thoughtful, critical mind.
There’s another reason why I named this blog “From the Cracked Mirror”. I was raised a Reformed Jew, and the synagogue I grew up with put a huge emphasis on tikkun olam, or “healing the world.” According to Jewish tradition, it is our responsibility to heal the world. This comes from a passage from the Zohar, a book of Jewish mysticism, or Kabbalah (This is very esoteric stuff that does not really play a role in modern Judaism.), that states that when God created the universe, he poured his light into vessels, which shattered with the excess of light. From the very creation of the universe, it was shattered. When you do good deeds, you help repair these “vessels” and give back light. In an interactive art installation inspired by this belief, artist Mierle Laderman represented the broken vessels with a wall of hanging hand mirrors. Though these days I’m pretty agnosticly atheist, the part of me that loves metaphor finds this an incredibly compelling image. And I do believe that whether you see it as a spiritual thing or not it is our responsibility to help heal the world.
I write from a cracked mirror now, trying to replace the shards in whatever small ways that I can.
Yes, I realize that I’m contradicting myself: in my first explanation breaking the mirror causes freedom, but in the second I strive to repair it. I wish I had some kind of deep, meaningful explanation for this, but the truth is that it just sort of happened like that. Both reasons for the blog’s title are equally important to me. You can read into that however you want (or not!).