Author’s Note: The provenance of the phrase history is written by the victorious is disputed. But what can attribution achieve in this instance? The sentence (or sentiment) must surely have been uttered or thought by many prior to the origin we seek, and also ex post facto by many unaware of their plagiarism. The point remains that the marginalised have, historically, been denied a voice. When you are dead or imprisoned, uneducated or denied access, putting forward your version of events becomes problematic. Once something has been destroyed, only those left standing can rebuild, and do so with the only tools available to them: their vision.
It could be said that, to some extent, in the real-time networked world we have awoken in this side of the millennium, more people than ever have the ability to make themselves heard. But what do we find now that the curtain has not just been pulled back, but entirely torn from the frame? A cacophony of bewilderment and confusion. Given the ability to connect, we find the opposite: rival factions forming even within so-called liberal and humanitarian endeavours. True, beneath the media hype circus and informing every echo-chamber is a series of seemingly incomprehensible yet profound events. To make sense of these events we cling to the narrative structures that reinforce our own belief systems (even those who claim to be free of them entirely). But what we see is that these narratives, constructed in a context of individualism, serve to divide us further.
As well as the political and global turmoil, twenty-sixteen has, for various reasons, been a trying year for me personally and those around me with whom I am lucky enough to share a more intimate relationship. It is not my intention to emphasise either a positive or negative interpretation of trying. About midway through the year I discovered the writings of Charles Eisenstein whose philosophy has subsequently resonated with me profoundly: pulling together various paths of thought that I had been unable to do so alone. All ideology is narrative. Humanity has been driven by a story of separation, the self as a discrete entity. Science, politics, art, education, religion, economics &c. are all ideologies constructed to make sense of the world. All of these ideologies have failed because they are predicated on a falsehood (the story of separation).
What follows is my review of the past twelve months. It is necessarily my own perspective. A chronologically driven (linear and cyclical) second-person narrative, this story is one-part diary (personal and political), one-part consumption (books and music) and one-part philosophical exegesis (bildungsroman). Depending on your proximity: in jokes, pop-philosophy, bad puns, scholarly intent, juvenilia, paradox, pretension and/or pith. Anything underlined is hyperlinked to the source of the reference (music, words, obituaries &c.). Direct quotes are underlined and the reference is hyperlinked from the (Author, Date) notation to where the quote exists in its full context elsewhere on my blog. Before writing I set myself the following rules: Each entry must a) refer to the events of that month, both internal and external b) include a quote from every book I read that month that can be as seamlessly as possible woven into the overarching narrative c) contain a reference to some music I had on repeat that month, and d) reflect the nature and personal development of my philosophical enquiry. There follows a full bibliography and an appendix. Ma gavte la nata.
Adam John Miller
20th December, 2016
Dualism. . . Without it there can hardly be good literature.
With it, there most certainly can be no good life (Huxley, 1962).
It must have been put into her head early on, that after technology and its failures, after the monumental mistakes of the industrialised world, human beings could still shelter and survive in rudimentary ways, just as they always had. Independent communities were possible. Alternative societies. Something durable and extraordinary could be created in these mountains (Hall, 2007).
Step back. And again. Step back until every possible permutation of space and time has coalesced into a single point of pure luminescent complexity. Then drop anchor and pull the punch lines. Triple knots, hold the chords between grit-teeth and tauten. Scratch the surface of a speculative surge and reveal the trembling shipwreck: the harbour offers safety, the freedom of the rolling waves its price. One significant contribution to science from the linguistic point of view may be the greater development of our sense of perspective (Whorf, 1956). Scale. Perspective. Peaks and troughs. Contraria sunt complementa.
Look over your shoulder, square the unexpected death-rattle in the eyes. The Black Star’s pass shook those embattled into forgetting that not everyone wants to live life transparently. And anyway, to a chameleon, transparency is nothing more than a measured observation, a momentary glimpse from a series of facades. A checkpoint. Imitate the environment like art imitates life. Process over commodification.
The invitation said Bikini Party but instead you got another Birthday Kill. Rack them up as plastic slabs, as seems appropriate. Days later you’re all huddled outside a different crypt, spitting icicles into the night, scouting for twenty-three’s and other gravid synchronicities. You leave before the book signing.
The city. The zoo. A clumsy synonym or another matter for perception? In any case, safe from predators, a menagerie of fauna that predates our own three-coned inquisitiveness. With only a little exaggeration, one could say that our trichromatic colour vision is a device invented by certain fruiting trees in order to propagate themselves (Deutscher, 2010). With a little more exaggeration you could say anything at all. Perhaps the precedents set this year have always been implicit in progress? Dormant, waiting for us. Or have we over-embroidered the fabric? Too much pattern. Off-grid tessellation.
Choose your own adventure. The over-seer whispers sweet nothings. You invest so much in it, don’t you? It’s what elevates you above the beasts of the field, it’s what makes you special. Homo sapiens, you call yourself. Wise Man. Do you even know what it is, this consciousness you cite in your own exaltation? Do you even know what it’s for? (Watts, 2006). Textbook embellishments. Stitch, stitch. Correlation metastasizes into causality, coaxing you into the centre of your own universe. Calmer sutures. Impenetrable prose or an impregnable pose? You only get out what you’re willing to put into it. Each brittle utterance a fractal Rubin’s Vase, waiting for you to fill the gap. ‘Being’ exists only as a neurological and linguistic illusion. In particular the subject-verb-object sentence structure of the English language, and most other languages, encourages users to think in terms of the subject having some sort of separate ‘being’ from what it does. If someone claims to have free will, ask them, ‘free from precisely what?’ (Carroll, 2008). Poets are shameless with their experiences: they exploit them (Nietzsche, 1886). “We offer up ourselves in sacrifice. We are ready to die.”
Fifty thousand years ago there were these three guys spread out across the plain, and they each heard something rustling in the grass. The first one thought it was a tiger, and he ran like hell, and it was a tiger but the guy got away. The second one thought the rustling was a tiger, and he ran like hell, but it was only the wind and his friends all laughed at him for being such a chickenshit. But the third guy, he thought it was only the wind, so he shrugged it off and a tiger had him for dinner. And the same thing happened a million times across ten thousand generations—and after a while everyone was seeing tigers in the grass even when there weren’t any tigers, because even chickenshits have more kids than corpses do. And from those humble beginnings we learned to see faces in the clouds and portents in the stars, to see agency in randomness, because natural selection favours the paranoid. Even here in the twenty-first century you can make people more honest just by scribbling a pair of eyes on the wall with a Sharpie. Even now, we are wired to believe that unseen things are watching us. And it came to pass that certain people figured out how to use that (Watts, 2014).
Confucius said that before you embark on a journey of revenge, you should dig two graves. Lao Tzu told Confucius that those who know do not say, those who say do not know. What do you say to that? You drag yourself out of the plain, wild-eyed and grunting, scratching signs into the dirt. There is no one like you. Proto-brain second-guessing the omen of myriad pinpricks of light. You’re doing it now. Echoes in cemeteries in Prague, in Alabama, in here: the one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience. The one thing you have in common with everything else is your difference. How can I discover the universal bond that orders all things if I cannot lift a finger without creating an infinity of new entities? For with such a movement all the relations of position between my finger and all other objects change. The relations are the ways in which my mind perceives the connections between single entities, but what is the guarantee that this is universal and stable? (Eco, 1980).
Occupants of uninhabited space, the upholstered world but a memory, a false pattern reading, Notable Alumni. You’re offering someone a glass of water but you are the one that’s thirsty, haunted by that imagined teratoma. Monomythical album-spread. The symbols are new but the meaning is fixed. Scratch, scratch. Remove the hands from the clock. Preach. Recorded methods are no longer the process, henceforth open to interpretation, transmission, manipulation. Self-flagellate in the absence of Truth. The desire and loathing excited by improper aesthetic means are really not aesthetic emotions not only because they are kinetic in character but also because they are not more than physical. Our flesh shrinks from what it dreads and responds to the stimulus of what it desires by a purely reflex action of the nervous system. Our eyelid closes before we are aware that the fly is about to enter our eye (Joyce, 1916).
Brush off the dust, Step Beyond. Stumble from plain to furrow, print to metadata, captivated by a claim and its counterclaim. Be a tourist everywhere, especially in the jungle. Wear your silver suit. Bring your wife. Soft play, sucrotic. Rope burns and tiaras, too much cake for Tottenham. Pure unbridled joy even in the tears of the innocent. Quex park triumphant: a crash course. Snippets of conversation overheard at the carpark party:
“As I see it, your Simultaneity Theory simply denies the most obvious fact about time, the fact that time passes.”
“Well, in physics one is careful about what one calls ‘facts.’ It is different from business. Within the strict terms of Simultaneity Theory, succession is not considered as a physically objective phenomenon, but as a subjective one. We think that time ‘passes,’ flows past us, but what if it is we who move forward, from past to future, always discovering the new? It would be a little like reading a book, you see. The book is all there, all at once, between its covers. But if you want to read the story and understand it, you must begin with the first page, and go forward, always in order. So the universe would be a very great book, and we would be very small readers.”
“But the fact is, we experience the universe as a succession, a flow. In which case, what’s the use of this theory of how on some higher plane it may be all eternally coexistent? Fun for you theorists, maybe, but it has no practical application, no relevance to real life. Unless it means we can build a time machine!”
“It’s not there like a couch or a house. Time isn’t space. You can’t walk around in it!”
“Why not?” (Le Guin, 1974).
The order that our mind imagines is like a net, or like a ladder, built to attain something. But afterward you must throw the ladder away, because you discover that, even if it was useful, it was meaningless. Er muoz gelîchesame die leiter abewerfen, sô er an ir ufgestigen (Eco, 1980).
Back inside: Hang the glitter ball so that the light refracts, casting Indra’s Net across the walls, the ceiling. Open the windows wide so the wind can catch it, sending the fragments to spiral, kaleidoscopic. For the love of Sophia. For the will to understand. To make it heroic. To let go. To go. Nach mir, ich komme.
Occulatrocity: Ring a ring o’ rosey crosses, crown and sceptre, ashes to ashes, Semmelweis Reflex. Russell Square, pre-class daydream. You remember Gurdjieff’s opaque allusions to the teacher-student dynamic but there is no Orage or Ouspensky in the class. Neither is there a Gurdjieff. Make it Heroic. Sisyphus! Orpheus! Samson! Chip, chip. Within every hero is the germ of the unheroic, yearning for exploitation just as the hero is exploited by their destined valiance. Flung helmet: the kick in the discovery. With every kind of belief one must exercise a certain caution – for it hardens into dogma if it becomes absolute rather than provisional. The word Tao, on the other hand, suggests to me different stances (all truth being relative) – a state of total disponibilité, total availability, a total and comprehensive whole-hearted awareness of that instant where certainty breaks the surface like a hooked fish. Reality is then prime, independent of the hampering conceptual apparatus of conscious thought (Durrell, 1980).
Tardis Cymbals, practically strapped. Waking up in Cattle Country: you would have thought twice about the Matinée had you known it was a dry-bar. Faith mixer. Contemplating data sets, group dynamics, individual wills, whims and wits. Watching prepubescent fantasies play out in real-time, in surround-sound, in three-dimensions. In two. In one. Will you ever fully understand Gödel’s incompleteness theorems? Thought is competition and competition is waste. We are not weary, we are entropic. True wisdom can neither be learnt nor taught. It is a spiritual state, to which he who lives in harmony with nature attains. Knowledge is shallow if we compare it with the extent of the unknown, and only the unknowable is of value. Society produces rogues, and education makes one rogue cleverer than another. That is the only result of School Boards. Besides, of what possible philosophic importance can education be, when it serves simply to make each man differ from his neighbour? We arrive ultimately at a chaos of opinions, doubt everything, and fall into the vulgar habit of arguing; and it is only the intellectually lost who ever argue (Wilde, 1890).
All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players; they have their exits and their entrances, and one man in his time plays many parts. Cinema’s failure becomes our victory. Our usual props put to one side in favour of new tools, lighting, stage direction and prompts. We are all Friends. We play the game, assume our rôles, forget our lines. Homo Ludens. The searchlight of the ratiocinate principle is too weak to light up this territory: words themselves are used as a kind of sculpture, to symbolize what cannot be directly expressed: the heraldry of language is called into play to accentuate, to attest to, to pierce through the rind of the merely cognitive impulse and delineate once and for all the mystery, the resting place of the Tao. The affirmation here is that of a total personality, speaking from its totality. In the symbol of the Simple Way, expressed once and for all, you will find no trace of that abruption of the personality from its cosmos which has hallucinated European thought ever since pre-Socratic times. There is, to write nicely, no human entity (Durrell, 1980).
Since the principal lesson to be learned from the past is that predicting the future is hazardous, we can only list our fears and our hopes. One possibility is a backlash leading to some form of dogmatism, mysticism, or religious fundamentalism. This may appear unlikely, at least in academic circles, but the demise of reason has been radical enough to pave the way for a more extreme irrationalism. A second possibility is that intellectuals will become reluctant to attempt any thoroughgoing critique of the existing social order, and will either become its servile advocates or retreat from political engagement entirely (Sokal and Bricmont, 1997).
And so you retreat. When faced with the unassailable this is entirely reasonable. But what are the means of retreat? Moving further from one is to move towards an other. To withdraw along egocentric coordinates is to pass over the opportunities of the unknown. Mind-forg’d manacles: all the rage. It is more often than not the case that when faced with the impasse, the abyss, the mire, your instincts take over. Or, more accurately, instinct takes the reigns from you. Continuous translational symmetry. If instinct is common to all, is it sovereign? Columnated ruins domino. Robed concentration. Snippets of conversation overheard at base-camp:
“I like to move my toes. I don’t like shutting my feet in these hard solid leather cases. It makes them feel dead. I can’t bend my ankles.”
“But you aren’t supposed to bend your ankles! These boots are made especially to give the ankle support.”
“What I lose in firmness I’ll make up in quickness.”
“I see. I see. For a century mountaineers have gone up the Alps and Himalayas and Grampians in nailed climbing boots. You might think they knew about climbing. Oh, no, Duncan Thaw knows better. They should have worn sandals.”
“What’s wrong for them might be right for me.”
“My God! What’s this I’ve brought into the world? What did I do to deserve this? If we could only live by our own experience we would have no science, no civilisation, no progress! Man has advanced by his capacity to learn from others, and these boots cost me four pounds eight.”
“There would be no science and civilisation and all that if everybody did things the way everybody else does” (Gray, 1981).
Always journeying east, you huddle for warmth with unfamiliar faces and say you’ll never play an all-dayer again. Maybe this time you mean it. Everyone else seems to. Safety in numbers. Safely in numbness (when the influenza fights back). Stay home, or at least stay indoors, pity-spinning (and sipping) Kubanskaya on Nuts & Vaults whilst no one else is listening. Some will only ever be interested in the past. “What units will you measure my endurance by?” And then the Prince departs and suddenly causality blossoms forth, the pieces of debris seemingly intrinsically linked. But if scattered bits and pieces of posthumous bric-a-brac are allied, then what is there to put back together? Is it not just a matter for math? What is the biggest number (silent b) you can think of? “You don’t have to get high to be happy.” Which analgesic will trace an unbroken path back to before? Did you really have it so good? Remembering the second stag-done, awash with a cappella’d “Me & Mrs Joneses.”
Tap, tap. The Tao is that which first lets the light, then the dark. Occasions the interplay of the two primal forces so that there is always renewal. It is that which keeps it all from wearing down. The universe will never be extinguished because just when the darkness seems to have smothered all, to be truly transcendent, the new seeds of light are reborn in the very depths. That is the Way. When the seed falls, it falls into the earth, into the soil. And beneath, out of sight, it comes to life (Dick, 1962). Every object, property, every manifestation of the ten thousand things, contains within itself every other thing, conspicuous by its very absence. The silent evidence: prevailing. You are you only by the absence of everything that you are not. Dust is everywhere, sweep.
You spend a day pacing the halls of justice. You are patience, peace, presence. You are a break in the cloud when it is cold. You are the shade of a tree when it is hot. There is no justice.
The Pleasure of Finding Things Out
A scientist is never certain. We know that all our statements are approximate statements with different degrees of certainty; that when a statement is made, the question is not whether it is true or false but rather how likely it is to be true or false. We must discuss each question within the uncertainties that are allowed. And as evidence grows it increases the probability perhaps that some idea is right, or decreases it. But it never makes absolutely certain one way or the other. Now we have found that this is of paramount importance in order to progress. We absolutely must leave room for doubt or there is no progress and there is no learning. People search for certainty. But there is no certainty (Feynman, 1999).
Dopamine is an organic chemical, a neurotransmitter sending signals around the reward-motivation centre of your brain. And yours. Your brain automatically finds an etymologically causal link from dopamine to dope until you learn that dope, in the narcotic-slang sense, is derived from the Dutch doop, meaning sauce, and was common usage long before dopamine, the chemical, was identified. Dopamine is an acronym of Dihydroxyphenylethylamine. Pat yourself on the back. Let it flow.
The measurers of the world can no longer detach themselves. They have to measure themselves too. Matter, time, space, forces – all beautiful and intricate illusions in which we must now collude. Shakespeare would have grasped wave functions, Donne would have understood complementarity and relative time. They would have plundered this new science for the imagery. And they would have educated their audiences too (McEwan, 1987).
Bask in the Camden sun, safe in the knowledge that you will no longer have to travel this far north. The thing about The Library is that characters don’t come back when they die. It’s as if death is for real (Link, 2005). Our problem is that we know.
With the sun still high in the sky, trek south for the views of Arrowe Hill. When you receive a gift, the natural reaction is gratitude. Return the favour. Take it all in. Panta rhei. It is obvious that the real wealth of life aboard our planet is a forwardly-operative, metabolic, and intellectual regenerating system. Quite clearly we have vast amounts of income wealth as Sun radiation and Moon gravity to implement our forward success. Our children and their children are our future days. If we do not comprehend and realize our potential ability to support all life forever we are cosmically bankrupt (Fuller, 1968).
If by now it seems so clear then what are you searching for? You do not find it in the north nor in the south. You head east but after an hour or two you are desperate to return home. You do not find it in the west, it is not at home. Likewise, enquiries up, down, left and right prove fruitless. Back and forth: acronymous lip-syncing!
Move from psychogeography to aesthetics, to the catwalk, free popcorn and fearless imaginations. Unstitch the narratives, re-thread the hole. Closed caption competition time. Are all ontological concerns merely awaiting an aesthetic decision? Dressed up. Informed, or not? The past is a mannequin, naked until our memories cloth it. Your technique is inimitable. Events are only a springboard for style and ideas, since all facts could be emphasised or played down depending on the temperament and bias of the historian who assembled them (Huysmans, 1891).
More scorched tiles –
Citrus, rock salt, arbitrary clocks.
The homeless sleep all night in the rose garden,
in the shadow of decrepit, phallic worship –
awakened by sprinkler systems and the call to prayer.
Feral cats gorge on chicken feet and entrails and everywhere
the loud Americans exclaim: “You’re so lucky!”
We sweat it out amongst oil paints,
obtuse literature and broken Arabic. Abdoul and Sabbah fast
whilst the white wine warms before our thirst is quenched
and the lotion blinds us.
Everyone is a tourist: fumbling throngs
in bum bags and flip flops and holiday haircuts.
We say, “We’re going home…” but we don’t want to return.
Waiting for the roof-man,
asleep on the kitchen floor:
The Universal Mother.
I wonder how many more times I can say, “I quit smoking…”
before it quits me.
Oh! Marrakech, is it too much to say, “I love you!”?
You are yet to let us down despite
the absence of alcohol and the band not showing up.
We prowl your private courtyards in our pants and
make love in your moonlight. We paint on your sun-bleached terraces
and compose our fragile verse.
The maybe-sparrows chirp and the Palace storks clack
like clenched teeth (at least in our feeble impressions).
Oh! Marrakech, press yourself upon us some more.
We have set our stalls amongst you and dreamt –
often lost for words but blossoming.
Your lips are sweet and soft,
we are complete.
Oh! Marrakech, please accept our flaws and poor attempts at representation
that only further muddied water. We cloud your pools with our potions
and pallid flesh as you cleanse yourself in prayer
we pause –
– And do our best to fit in.
We drop our brushes and clumsy syllables –
we flop in your heat, seeking refuge and yet you welcome us with an open heart.
Oh! Marrakech, how can we repay you?
“All blacks are not the same…”
So the roof-man arrives (in the silence) and we
“Do what you came to -“
We’ll soon be showered and off to the garden to
pick the candid lemon peel from our teeth
and spit more platitudes at the birds in cages.
Lily’s shadow looms large across the lounge, inhale –
and – “no more pool parties, I guess?”
And then your new record comes out on the very day that your country votes to leave the European Union, and is largely ignored. At least, this is the correlation that informs your belief that it would otherwise have been declared a triumph. You find what you seek. L’Auberge Espagnole. It is impossible to understand how millions and millions of people all obey a sickly collection of gentlemen that call themselves Government! The word, I expect, frightens people. It is a form of planetary hypnosis, and very unhealthy. It has been going on for years. And it only occurred to relatively few to disobey and make what they call revolutions. If they won their revolutions, which they occasionally did, they made more governments, sometimes more cruel and stupid than the last. I am sure it would be very pleasant and healthy for human beings to have no authority whatever. They would have to think for themselves, instead of always being told what to do and think by advertisements, cinemas, policemen, and parliaments (Carrington, 1976).
The Butterfly effect, the future shock. Post-truth. The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn. You find yourself on the terrace, outside the orangery. At the base of a celebratory Wolfram Sequence, the glitter-ball having been dismantled and reassembled into a talking point. Just about music. It was about life. And death was a big part of life that tended to be ignored, or denied. No one wanted to think there would be an end to themselves (Everett, 2008). Disingenuous renditions, re-conditioned blues standards, the X-Factor. Soliloquy overheard in the garden:
“The metaphysical mutation that gave rise to materialism and modern science in turn spawned two great trends: rationalism and individualism. Huxley’s mistake was in having poorly evaluated the balance of power between these two. Specifically, he underestimated the growth of individualism brought about by an increased consciousness of death. Individualism gives rise to freedom, the sense of self, the need to distinguish oneself and to be superior to others. A rational society like the one he describes in Brave New World can defuse the struggle. Economic rivalry—a metaphor for mastery over space-has no more reason to exist in a society of plenty, where the economy is strictly regulated. Sexual rivalry-a metaphor for mastery over time through reproduction-has no more reason to exist in a society where the connection between sex and procreation has been broken. But Huxley forgets about individualism. He doesn’t understand that sex, even stripped of its link with reproduction, still exists-not as a pleasure principle, but as a form of narcissistic differentiation. The same is true of the desire for wealth. Why has the Swedish model of social democracy never triumphed over liberalism? Why has it never been applied to sexual satisfaction? Because the metaphysical mutation brought about by modern science leads to individuation, vanity, malice and desire. Any philosopher, not just Buddhist or Christian, but any philosopher worthy of the name, knows that, in itself, desire—unlike pleasure—is a source of suffering, pain and hatred. The utopian solution—from Plato to Huxley by way of Fourier—is to do away with desire and the suffering it causes by satisfying it immediately. The opposite is true of the sex-and-advertising society we live in, where desire is marshalled and blown up out of all proportion, while satisfaction is maintained in the private sphere. For society to function, for competition to continue, people have to want more and more, until desire fills their lives and finally devours them” (Houellebecq, 1998).
Patriotism is not enough. But neither is anything else. Science is not enough, religion is not enough, art is not enough, politics and economics are not enough, nor is love, nor is duty, nor is action however disinterested, nor, however sublime, is contemplation. Nothing short of everything will really do (Huxley, 1962).
A sour mood descends as the increasingly bewildered hoards attempt to pluck meaning from the broken strings. Leaders resign left, right and centre, whistling whimsical arias or waxing wantonly with statistics. The multitudes splinter fairly evenly either side of the prime meridian. Let n represent the lines drawn, the absence of n, a constant, reverse it. Trench’s median. You head north to what you had expected to be the relative safety of the others. You perform to an empty field that later begins to fill with armchair anarchists, released for the weekend from their salaries and awkward children. You stare into a mirror cut into the shape of a man. One of three imposters. Squad numbers. Defence. Sweep.
Reality appears to unravel, but instead of seizing the opportunity to coalesce, rival gangs begin to form, hoarse from twittering, bloody from clambering, spilling insipid opinions. In a millennium or two, a seeming paradox of our civilisation will be best understood by those men versed in the methods of counter-archaeology. They will study us not by digging into the earth but by climbing vast dunes of industrial rubble and mutilated steel, seeking to reach the tops of our buildings. Scaling our masonry they will identify the encrsutations of twentieth-century art and culture, decade by decade, each layer simple enough to compare with the detritus at ground level – our shattered bank vaults, cash registers, safes, locks, electrified alarm systems and armored vehicles (DeLillo, 1973).
You both try to forget about it all for the serpentine anniversary celebrations, spending the day in the traditional way, relaxing in the city’s greenery, the gallery and the herb gardens. Two years. Forever. But the sense of immanence pervades, tendrils of dark cloud coil. You hear the rallying cry of The Glowing Man but his power is fleeting, transient, and too soon his voice is lost amongst the clamouring swarm. Duels are fought with portmanteaus. The religiously-minded dualist calls homemade spirits from the vasty deep; the nondualist calls the vasty deep into his spirit or, to be more accurate, he finds that the vasty deep is already there (Huxley, 1962).
Necessity, Not Legacy
When Sicks came out we all felt sick,
like something had come unstitched.
Spit and polish alone is insufficient
to fix this shit, awl-rite!?
Sticking close to tepid script,
we flail and flap about.
Fling our fists with fragile wrists towards bricks
and yet we always miss, and yes, we always miss.
Intermission? Not IRL. Not now. Hope is the leash of submisison. Foreshadowing. The interval between albums could be plotted exponentially as life stretches linear-time, but possible correlates are potentially limitless. Rendered meaningless. Pick up from wherever, whenever you left. Tripartite. You are art, harmony, omnipresence in the ultimate now. You are science, reason, experiment. You are father, son and holy spirit, an endless real-time projection of universal purport. Weave a narrative so complex, seemingly so complete, you call it an immortal soul. You are stitched up again and call it a cure. Paint symphonically in your own blood and call it your ninth album proper. You are convinced. Natural science is deeply flawed because scientists misrepresent the real, problematic aims of science. The official aim is truth, but the actual aim is explanatory truth or, more generally, valuable truth. Highly problematic assumptions concerning metaphysics, values and politics are inherent in the real, unacknowledged intellectual aims of science, and these aims (and associated methods) need to be improved as science proceeds. Giving intellectual priority to the pursuit of knowledge is damagingly irrational from the standpoint of helping to promote human welfare. We urgently need to bring about a revolution in the aims and methods, the whole character and structure, of academia so that the basic aim becomes to seek and promote wisdom (Maxwell, 1984).
Raw data curdles into fact. Add more and blend ’til knowledge appears, smooth’d. Commit to paper and sell it as wisdom. Plato suggested that writing things down would plant forgetfulness in the soul: a recipe not for memory, but for reminder, no true wisdom but only its semblance, the conceit of wisdom. You begin to suggest parallels to yourself but it is easy to fall back into the pattern when everyone is dancing in the heatwave. Momentarily revitalised, you head back south for The Modern Dance where Jarry’s reincarnation reminds you to refine yourself in the furnace of the moment. Do it. Refine yourself in the furnace of the moment. Everywhere is here to stay.
It is evident, from all of this work, that the brain’s representation of the body can often be fooled simply by scrambling the inputs from different senses. If sight and touch say one thing, however absurd, even a lifetime of proprioception and a stable body image cannot always resist this (Sacks, 2012). Quit smoking. Better to dodge all those adults on scooters. You are right to hate them. “Planned obsolescence never goes out of style.” Pray to St. Augustine for a sign that things aren’t exactly as they seem. On a roll. Maintain the wave. Call it Transitsongs and call upon your compadres to help you out when you fall short of your own grand designs. Try to remember the garden party soliloquy:
“There was a definite moment which one can visualise in a manner which makes it as actual as tomorrow will be. There came a radical shift of emphasis which pushed the balance over from the domain of spirit into matter. Hints of this can be traced in the old mythologies. The whole axis of the human sensibility was altered. The ancient vegetation gave place to our new steel vegetation, flowering in bronze, then iron, then steel – a progressive hardening of the arteries. The table of the essences gave place to the table of the elements. The Philosopher’s Stone, the Holy Grail of the ancient consciousness gave place to the usurping values of the gold bar; it was the new ruler of the soul, and now the slave, deeming himself free, measured his potency against coin, against capital value, the wholly saturnian element in his nature. The dark sweet radiance of usury was born. And freedom, which is simply the power of spending – its prototype the orgasm – was shackled in the mind and later in the body. The faculty of accumulation, the usury, embedded itself in the very sperm sac of man, who began to found cultures based on key repressions – the faculty of storing, holding back, accumulating. Then came periodic blood-lettings in the shape of wars with their symbolic cutlery of steel weapons – the penis and vagina are plain to the view as well as the lathe-turned egg of death. This death-desiring culture could only be consummated and realised by suicide” (Durrell, 1974).
The More Beautiful World
Our Hearts Know is Possible
It is no coincidence that the abstraction of spirit from matter, the removal of the abode of the gods into a heavenly realm, and the emergence of patriarchy all happened at about the same time. All arose with the first large-scale agricultural civilizations, with their social classes, division of labor, and need to exert control over natural forces. It was then that the conquest of nature that had started earlier with domestication of plants and animals became an explicit virtue, and the gods became the lords of nature rather than its personification. The builder societies, requiring standardization in their armies and construction projects, developing abstract systems of measure in their accounting and distribution of resources, looked naturally to the sky, with its orderly, predictable movements, as the seat of divinity. Mirroring that, the higher social classes—the priests, nobles, and kings—had less and less to do with the soil and with the messiness of human relationships, but were kept insulated in temples, palaces, and, when they must go out, above the ground on litters. At the same time, the concepts of good and evil were born. Anything that violated the progressive imposition of control onto nature and human nature was evil: floods, weeds, wolves, locusts, etc., as well as fleshly desires, rebelliousness, and indolence. Self-discipline—necessary to raise oneself above the desires of the material world—became a cardinal spiritual virtue (Eisenstein, 2013).
You make a pilgrimage to a spiritual retreat amongst the Lakes. You are welcomed, avuncular, despite the lack of blood. These things are not important here. You are given The Key: the Universe is the flesh of God. You meditate, storm a fortress, dry out. The milk is unpasteurised, the smiles wise, the laughter is genuine. “Say goodnight to Rumi. Say goodnight to the plants. Say goodnight to the books.” You understand that this is a turning point, whatever has happened, regardless of intent, this has been profound. Spirit is matter. Matter is spirit. All ideology stems from the same root, the flora only appears different depending on how the light catches it, depending on what illumination you bring to it.
Posturing through metaphysical collapse, you return home and then set off once more to the Isle, all peace and tranquillity in the absence of the progenitors. Once more the unbridled joy of the innocent is restorative. Switch position, stance, assume a role, effortlessly. Heteronymous: ethereal base substance. To commingle and intersperse contingent realities – that’s the game! After all, how few are the options open to us – few varieties of human shape, mental dispositions, scales of behaviour. How many coats of reality does it take to get a nice clean surface to the apprehension? We are all fragments of one another; everyone has a little bit of everything in his make-up (Durrell, 1982).
You are making it happen and it is happening to you. No mantras or prayers, no promulgates. Be the means. Project. Plant the seeds, metaphorically. Do not try to overcome. There is no practical application of Taoism, not if properly comprehended. Confucius confused, Buddha befuddled. Actionless action. However unworkable, seemingly impossible, you will take Utopian as a complement. Maybe you are more open, maybe emotionally traumatic events have allowed a deeper understanding to blossom. But this timeless and yet ever-changing Event was something that words could only caricature and diminish, never convey. It was not only bliss, it was also understanding. Understanding of everything, but without knowledge of anything. Knowledge involved a knower and all the infinite diversity of known and knowable things. But here there was neither spectacle nor spectator. There was only this experienced fact of being blissfully one with Oneness… Speaking was difficult. Not because there was any physical impediment. It was just that speech seemed so fatuous, so totally pointless. Ultimately and essentially there was only a luminous bliss, only a knowledgeless understanding, only union with unity in a limitless, undifferentiated awareness. This, self-evidently, was the mind’s natural state. Light here, light now. And because it was infinitely here and timelessly now, there was nobody outside the light to look at the light. The fact was the awareness, the awareness the fact. “Eckhart called it God. Felicity so ravishing, so inconceivably intense that no one can describe it. And in the midst of it God glows and flames without ceasing” (Huxley, 1962).
And then you must once again descend into the Halls of Justice. You do all you can to maintain peace, compassion and understanding in the face of the unassailable. Your strength is immeasurable. Your love is total. You are shelter from the storm. You are the oasis of the arid desert. There is no justice.
The Party’s Over
The day when Aristotle decided (malgré lui) that the reign of the magician-shaman was over (Empedocles), was the soul’s D-Day. The paths of the mind had become overgrown. From that moment the hunt for the measurable certainties was on. Death became a constant, the ego was born. Monsieur came down to preside over the human condition (Durrell, 1985).
Overwhelming institutional failure. No anchor and no terra firma to anchor to. If all ideology, all social interaction is a narrative, necessity, then from the rubble and debris why not write yourself a fin heureuse? Shoes off at the temple, shoes off at the airport. You visit a House of God to engage with Sacred Economics, illuminating dark recesses and the threads between things, the thread is everything. You overflow, spill, catch yourself and remember to be the means. Inception. Ideas will not, cannot be assimilated by force. Ideologies preserved the essence of religion over everyday existence by exercising control that; as secular as it might claim to be, perpetuated traditional Judeo-Christian forms of behavior: guilt, self-hatred, fear of pleasure, the hope for a future heaven on earth, and, above all, the contempt for the body and for the earth that gives our upside-down world its intolerable reality (Vaneigem, 1986).
Quantity Street. You trek out of town to another town, overrun with numbered runners. You watch them, breathless, and then return on an empty stomach. “Everything is conquered by submission, even submission itself, even as matter is conquered by entropy, and truth by its opposite. Even entropy, so apparently absolute in its operation, is capable, if left to itself, of conversion into a regenerative form. The phoenix is no myth!” (Durrell, 1983). Keep running. Your final call to the Halls of Justice is postponed: happily unsummoned!
You finally attend the Requiem but you are unable to derive any pleasure from it, nor are you able to discern the source of the problem. Ubiquitous separation. Huxley’s words ring through your head, drowning the tribal formula, sponsored anonymity and backpack’d masses. Are you trying too hard? Seemingly always on the move, you return north to hone your own craft in the company of a teenage idol. You are not disappointed. This is what you needed. The party’s over here. Where is the pleasure in creativity? What is creativity? Art struggles with commodity, wrestles with ego. You see it everywhere and try to stifle it in yourself until you realise that the ego will never suppress itself. Refine yourself in the furnace of the moment.
Despite better judgement, attempt to sketch a manifesto of spontaneity before finding your thoughts (your feelings) far better articulated elsewhere:
Spontaneity is the true mode of being of individual creativity, creativity’s initial, immaculate form, unpolluted at the source and as yet unthreatened by the mechanisms of co-optation. Whereas creativity in the broad sense is the most equitably distributed thing imaginable, spontaneity seems to be confined to a chosen few. Its possession is a privilege of those whom long resistance to Power has endowed with a consciousness of their own value as individuals.
Spontaneity is immediate experience, consciousness of a lived immediacy threatened on all sides yet not yet alienated, not yet relegated to inauthenticity. Consciousness of the present harmonizes with lived experience in a sort of extemporization.
The instant of creative spontaneity is the minutest possible manifestation of reversal of perspective. It is a unitary moment. The eruption of lived pleasure is such that in losing myself I find myself; forgetting that I exist, I realize myself. Consciousness of immediate experience lies in this oscillation, in this improvisational jazz. By contrast, thought directed toward lived experience with analytical intent is bound to remain detached from that experience. This applies to all reflection on everyday life, including, to be sure, the present one (Vaneigem, 1968).
There’s a fire backstage. The clown comes out to warn the audience. Laughter and applause. They think it’s a joke! The clown repeats his warning. The fire grows hotter; the applause grows louder. That’s how the world will end: to general applause, from halfwits who think it’s a joke. And the first morning of the world will dawn again. The eternal New Year. And he will step with us all into the new world. The coming world. And there will be only forces and densities, not forms and matters. And there will be but currents and countercurrents, peaks and troughs, and nothing enduring. And there will be nothing but God. Nothing but divinity, angels torn apart. Nothing but the end, perpetually ending. Nothing but the beginning, eternally recurring. After philosophy, we will have no names (Iyer, 2014).
Memory, anxiety, death: universal preoccupations. Flock-concepts, whether you are drawn to them or repelled, petrified. Awareness of your fleeting nature, it could be argued, is all that separates Homo Defixit from Nature. If you are still determined that you are. Sperate, that is. All that we do, all ideology is an attempt to postpone the inevitable. The majority of monotheisms will suggest to you that suppression of your mind and body in life will allow your soul to soar, indulging in unknown pleasures, in death. Politicians, taking their lead from the temple, preach from their second homes that you must pointlessly toil through your prime years so that you can enjoy your sunset. All creative endeavours, the totality of culture, is a message from the collective ego to the future: Don’t forget us.
Many shaman of the past, in attempting to enlighten the masses, fell victim to political witch hunts, their ideas not conducive to a passive herd. All thought is hyperbole. Mind is a disease of the semen. You think your big brain is the pinnacle of evolution because it thought up the atom bomb, the internet and convenience food. It conceived of genocide, ethics and architecture. Arguments from observation. Darwin reversal. There is no such thing as mental illness. It is merely a convenient label for grouping and isolating cases where identification has not occurred properly. Those whom Power can neither govern nor kill, it taxes with madness. Power no longer protects the people; it protects itself against the people (Vaneigem, 1968).
And then it happens again: in such hopelessness, the general vote will be for the supernatural. It’s dusk in the second Age of Reason. We were wonderful, but now we are doomed (McEwan, 2016). Informed by the individualism of prevailing monotheistic belief systems, and driven by the competitive greed of growth economics that proceeded it (all symptoms of the story separation, not causes): people voted in fear. Situation: the only thing spectators participate in is an aesthetic of nothingness. The only thing that can be expressed in the mode of the spectacle is the emptiness of everyday life. And indeed, what better commodity than an aesthetic of emptiness? The accelerating decomposition of values has itself become the only available form of entertainment. The trick is that the spectators of the cultural and ideological vacuum are here enlisted as its organizers (Vaneigem, 1968). Bake off.
Morphogenesis, the personal and the political, entwined as a double helix. Some people try to understand. You set what is left of the world to rights: In vino veritas. Conversations echoed by podcasts sending synchronitic feelers out into the fog. Peradam. A knife is neither true nor false, but anyone impaled on its blade is in error (Daumal, 1952). And then The Fambly Chat. Communication is only possible between equals, that is to say, between those inhabiting the same reality tunnel. Be the means. It goes as well as can be expected but you’re not sure how much of it stuck. Further attempts to engage your peers in discussion fall on deaf ears, closed minds preoccupied with causes célèbres. And so you disconnect, departing with the ladies man and the guerrillero del tiempo. A parting status: History is written by the victorious. The revolution of daily life will be the work of those who, with varying degrees of facility, are able to recognize the seeds of total self-realization preserved, contradicted and dissimulated within ideologies of every kind and who cease consequently to be either mystified or mystifiers. The reversal of perspective replaces knowledge by praxis, hope by freedom and mediation by the will of the here and now. It consecrates the triumph of a body of human relationships founded on three inseparable poles: participation, communication and realization. Anyone who realises that his problems are ultimately social in nature must first of all find himself. Otherwise he will find nothing in other people apart from his own absence (Vaneigem, 1968).
We are not manufactured to understand abstract matters—we need context. We respect what has happened, ignoring what could have happened. We are naturally shallow and superficial—and we do not know it. Both the artistic and scientific enterprises are the product of our need to reduce dimensions and inflict some order on things. A novel, a story, a myth, or a tale, all have the same function: they spare us from the complexity of the world and shield us from its randomness.
Conventional wisdom holds that memory is like a serial recording device like a computer diskette. In reality, memory is dynamic—not static— like a paper on which new texts (or new versions of the same text) will be continuously recorded, thanks to the power of posterior information. So we pull memories along causative lines, revising them involuntarily and unconsciously. We continuously renarrate past events in the light of what appears to make what we think of as logical sense after these events occur.
We are explanation-seeking animals who tend to think that everything has an identifiable cause and grab the most apparent one as the explanation. Yet there may not be a visible because; to the contrary, frequently there is nothing, not even a spectrum of possible explanations. But silent evidence masks this fact. Whenever our survival is in play, the very notion of because is severely weakened. The condition of survival drowns all possible explanations (Taleb, 2007).
Bookends: Look who’s coming to town, more plastic slabs for the racks, conceived with little effort. Year end, less lists, this. Zipf’s law, fit as many appropriations in as you can, whether appropriate or not. Keep asking, what is it like to be you? The left wing and the right wing both belong to the same bird. Remember that the problematic is a symptom of separation, not a cause. The idea that political history could play any part in my own life was still disconcerting, and slightly repellent. All the same, I realised that the widening gap, now a chasm, between the people and those who claimed to speak for them, the politicians and journalists, would necessarily lead to something chaotic, violent and unpredictable (Houellebecq, 2015). The experts were wrong but you still do not know who was right. Perspective. Scale. A Mandelbrot set: Googol it. Put up the tree and try not to make sense of anything that has happened. “Now we walk with weather most uncertain, now we weather things beyond control.”
Let Charles say it for you: Interdependency, which implies a conditional relationship, is far too weak a word for this non-separation of self and other. My claim is much stronger: that the self is not absolute or discrete but contingent, relationally-defined, and blurrily demarcated. There is no self except in relationship to the other. The economic man, the rational actor, the Cartesian “I am” is a delusion that cuts us off from most of what we are, leaving us lonely and small. It has been said in a Judaic-Christian-Islamic context that separation from God, the Fall, is the source of all suffering. Buddhism names attachment as the cause of suffering, but careful examination reveals its teaching to be nearly identical to that of esoteric Western religion. Attachment, to the impermanent, delusory ego self and all those things that reinforce it, maintains a separation from the rest of the universe from which we are not actually separate. Attachment is separation. As for separation from God, what is God but that which transcends our separate selves and interpenetrates all being? On the origin of suffering, Eastern and (esoteric) Western religion are in fundamental agreement (Eisenstein, 2007). Maybe.
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