The Thinking 

An Apple with Character

October 14, 2016


Still Life with Apples and a Glass, Paul Cezanne

IF I were a photographer of any ability, I would take a photograph of one of the apples I bought yesterday. Since I can’t take a decent picture, I will draw a snapshot in words.

I went to a roadside stand far from the supermarket. Instead of pristine apples from 200 hundred miles away in plastic bags, they were all jumbled together, entirely naked, in bins, separated by variety and pestered by a few bees. Buy by the large basket, and they were 39 cents a pound.

A Jonagold, this apple has tiny brown varicose veins or scribbles along the top, a small black spot where a worm or fungus had a meal, and skin that is pinkish red and dusky yellow. It is not shiny or shellacked. The hostile action of the wind and rain seem visible on its dulled skin. The spot suggests hardship too. This apple has been through some stuff.

Did you know that an apple has a soul? Yes, it does. If I wanted to really convince you of this philosophical proposition, I would put this apple on your plate and say, “See.” The apple’s musky golden-ness is all the proof you need. It is like no other apple you’ve seen and like every apple you’ve seen. Plato would say its an expression of the Form of the ideal apple. I say, it is itself, an instance of apple-ness that will never be replicated, but nevertheless is real, and no mere shadow of the ideal.

An apple has a soul, but it does not have an immortal soul.

It will die when the physical apple is gone. (Is the apple off the tree dead or is it still alive?) The material of this apple will be transformed into dirt and live on. But the soul of the apple will perish forever. Artists have spent much time and exhausting effort painting bowls or piles of fruit on tables not because they were hungry or in the advertising business for apple growers but because they were trying to capture the evanescent soul of fruit. Not easy. Not an easy thing to do at all.

When I looked at all those naked apples piled in the farm bins, I had a sudden vision of the tedium of the farm workers who picked them. (A housewife has natural sympathy for invisible tedium.) I saw their boredom. And yet at the end of the day, when those farmers or field hands put their heads on their pillows, golden apples must have filled their dreams, the souls of fruit and man intertwined.

The best apples reflect their own small part in the world’s suffering. I’m sorry to say it, but suffering imparts beauty. Goodness and suffering are inextricably linked. The best apple — unpampered by chemicals and varnish — is made for nourishment that is physical and aesthetic. Artificiality is un-beautiful. A lack of suffering is false. Seeing an apple like this, so filled with character, I am not at all surprised at what Eve is accused of doing — though obviously I cannot defend it. She wanted through the medium of the beautiful apple to experience some of the power of God, the Creator of this fruit. Such are the temptations posed by apples.

For us living through the unfortunate consequences of that bungled snack, the apple’s beauty is a consolation and an inspiration. It’s a mysterious vestige and promise of Paradise no photograph or words can capture. The great painters come the closest — the dream life of man and the earthbound life of fruit intertwined. I cannot do justice to the apple’s nobility in words. I cannot even do a halfway decent job of it. I give up. It communicates to me on a spiritual level. It inspires me to renew my vow to try, in my own flawed way, to love what is greater than myself. While the apple itself is not greater than me, its beauty is. I am not wise, but I can love wisdom. I am not beautiful, but I can love beauty. I am not good, but I can love goodness. The faculty of admiration survives the apple. Thus the apple partakes of immortality. This small thing reminds me that we have everything we need.

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