I thought of this scene as I was reflecting on online connections where communication is disembodied. Or, when we have in our minds eye an idea but when it is met in "reality" there is a mismatch. Here is the segment from Wordsworth:
That very day,
From a bare ridge we also first beheld
Unveiled the summit of Mont Blanc, and grieved
To have a soulless image on the eye
That had usurped upon a living thought
That never more could be.
As Coetzee, through his character, explains:
"So. The majestic white mountain, Mont Blanc, turns out to be a disappointment. Why? Let us start with the unusual verb form usurp upon...usurp upon means to intrude or encroach upon. Usurp, to take over entirely, is the perfective of usurp upon; usurping completes the act of usurping upon...Why grieve? Because he says, a soulless image, a mere image on the retina, has encroached upon what has hitherto been a living thought...The same word usurp recurs a few lines later. Usurpation is one of the great themes of the Alps sequence. The great archetypes of the mind, pure ideas, find themselves usurped by mere sense images."
I have read portions of this poem and am going to read carefully the whole poem because it is very rich in these kinds of themes, and I think that, in the main, Coetzee, has interpreted Wordsworth accurately. Particularly when he says:
"Yet we cannot live our daily lives in the realm of pure ideas, cocooned from sense-experience. The question is not, How can we keep the imagination pure, protected from the onslaughts of reality? The question has to be, Can we find a way for the two to coexist"
In the digital age, the notion of Platonic forms (alluded to in an earlier part of Wordsworth's poem), that is ideas and images separated from the tangible realities of sense, take on greater and greater resonance. Young people coming of age in the digital age are now "digital natives" and are susceptible to this form of cognitive dissonance when they go out an encounter the world.
And so in this age, even moreso than Wordsworth this is a challenge for us as we teach our children to live in the "world" however that is defined and navigated. These two realms, the realm of ideas and the realms of the real, need to be integrated.