Once their faces were turned
outwards, men became
unable to see themselves,
and that is our great weakness.
No longer able to see ourselves,
we imagine ourselves.
René Daumal, The Head Inside Out
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: theirvision.
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…
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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
“Now Stephen, before the sweet course we must rest. Why don’t you play something for your mother on her birthday?” With this the hotel manager had waved towards the upright piano by the wall. That gesture – that casual wave towards the dining-room upright – was one Stephen was to recall again and again over the years. And each time he did so something of the sickening chill he had felt at that moment would come back to him. At first he had looked at his father in disbelief, but the latter had simply gone on smiling contentedly, holding his hand out towards the piano… An idea had flashed through Stephen’s mind – an idea rejected the very next instant – that his parents were conspiring together against him. Certainly from the way they were gazing at him it was as though they had no memory at all of the anguished history surrounding his piano playing. In any case, the protest he had started to formulate had faded in his mouth, and he had risen to his feet as though it were someone else doing it… For one giddying moment he saw the possibility that he would somehow perform at a level never before attained, and that he would finish to find his parents smiling, applauding and exchanging with each other looks of deep affection. But no sooner had he commenced the opening bar, he realised the utter impossibility of any such scenario… He played on nevertheless. For a long time… the figures at the edge of his vision had remained very still. Then he had seen his mother lean back slightly in her chair and bring a hand up to her chin. Several bars later, his father had turned his gaze away from Stephen, placed both hands on his lap and bowed his head forward so that he appeared to be studying a spot on the table before him… and when at last the piece had finished, Stephen had sat staring at the keyboard for several moments before working up the courage to look round at the scene awaiting him. Neither of his parents was looking at him. His father’s head had now become so bowed the forehead was almost touching the table surface. His mother was looking in the other direction across the room, wearing the frosty expression Stephen was so familiar with.
Kazuo Ishiguro, The Unconsoled.
No spinsterlollypop for me– yes– we have
I got lusting palate– I
Always eat them– — — — — — —
They have dandy celluloid tubes– all sizes–
Tinted diabolically as a baboon’s hind-complexion.
A man’s a–
Will-o’-th’-wisp! What’s the dread
Matter with the up-to-date-American-
Home-comforts? Bum insufficient for the
Should-be wellgroomed upsy!
That’s the leading question.
There’s the vibrator– — —
Coy flappertoy! I am adult citizen with
Vote– I demand my unstinted share
In roofeden– witchsabbath of our baby-
What’s radio for–if you please?
“Eve’s dart pricks snookums upon
An apple a day– — —
It’ll come– — — —
Ha! When? I’m no tongueswallowing yogi.
Progress is ravishlng–
It doesn’t me–
Nudge it —
Broadcast– — — —
That’s the lightning idea!
S.O.S. national shortage of–
How are we going to put it befitting
Psh! Any sissy poet has sufficient freezing
Chemicals in his Freudian icechest to snuff all
Cockiness. We’ll hire one.
Hell! Not that! That’s the trouble– —
Cock crow silly!
They’re in France– the air on the line–
The Poles– — — — — —
Have them send waves– like candy–
Valentines– — — —
“Say it with– — —
Serpentine aircurrents– — —
Hhhhhphssssssss! The very word penetrates
I feel whoozy!
I like that. I don’t hanker after Billyboys– but I am entitled
To be deeply shocked.
So are we– but you fill the hiatus.
Dear– I ain’t queer– I need it straight — —
A dozen cocktails– please– — — —
Baroness Elsa von Freytag Loringhoven, A Dozen Cocktails Please.
The bowler hat was a motif in the musical composition that was Sabina’s life. It returned again and again, each time with a different meaning, and all the meanings flowed through the bowler hat like water through a riverbed. I might call it Heraclitus’ ( You can’t step twice into the same river ) riverbed: the bowler hat was a bed through which each time Sabina saw another river flow, another semantic river: each time the same object would give rise to a new meaning, though all former meanings would resonate (like an echo, like a parade of echoes) together with the new one. Each new experience would resound, each time enriching the harmony. The reason why Tomas and Sabina were touched by the sight of the bowler hat in a Zurich hotel and made love almost in tears was that its black presence was not merely a reminder of their love games but also a memento of Sabina’s father and of her grandfather, who lived in a century without airplanes and cars.
Now, perhaps, we are in a better position to understand the abyss separating Sabina and Franz: he listened eagerly to the story of her life and she was equally eager to hear the story of his, but although they had a clear understanding of the logical meaning of the words they exchanged, they failed to hear the semantic susurrus of the river flowing through them.
And so when she put on the bowler hat in his presence, Franz felt uncomfortable, as if someone had spoken to him in a language he did not know. It was neither obscene nor sentimental, merely an incomprehensible gesture. What made him feel uncomfortable was its very lack of meaning.
Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being.
It was Aureliano who conceived the formula that was to protect them against loss of memory for several months. He discovered it by chance. An expert insomniac, having been one of the first, he had learned the art of silverwork to perfection. One day he was looking for the small anvil that he used for laminating metals and he could not remember its name. His father told him: “Stake.” Aureliano wrote the name on a piece of paper that he pasted to the base of the small anvil: stake. In that way he was sure of not forgetting it in the future. It did not occur to him that this was the first manifestation of a loss of memory, because the object had a difficult name to remember. But a few days later he discovered that he had trouble remembering almost every object in the laboratory. Then he marked them with their respective names so that all he had to do was read the inscription in order to identify them. When his father told him about his alarm at having forgotten even the most impressive happenings of his childhood, Aureliano explained his method to him, and José Arcadio Buendía put it into practice all through the house and later on imposed it on the whole village. With an inked brush he marked everything with its name: table, chair, clock, door, wall, bed, pan. He went to the corral and marked the animals and plants: cow, goat, pig, hen, cassava, caladium, banana. Little by little, studying the infinite possibilities of a loss of memory, he realized that the day might come when things would be recognized by their inscriptions but that no one would remember their use. Then he was more explicit. The sign that he hung on the neck of the cow was an exemplary proof of the way in which the inhabitants of Macondo were prepared to fight against loss of memory: This is the cow. She must be milked every morning so that she will produce milk, and the milk must be boiled in order to be mixed with coffee to make coffee and milk. Thus they went on living in a reality that was slipping away, momentarily captured by words, but which would escape irremediably when they forgot the values of the written letters.