Friday, August 10, 2012

Here are Some Words

There are months where there isn't a single word in me. I should be more specific. During those months, there isn't a single idea-kernel, not a single nucleation point for ideas, no nub on which to hang a bunch of clothes, no idea with "legs". It is just a fact of life: there are long cycles and short cycles of suffering and redemption. Maybe I have been trained too thoroughly to see the narrative in this fluctuation. Maybe. But to that, I have this to say: life was never about meaning; it was always about meaningfulness--the felt experience of "I get it", or "I am getting somewhere" or "I am solidifying", or "I am changing". So of course we feel empty when it fades. But maybe it fades in preparation for something.

What's the point of this? I think what I am trying to get across is that I have to accept the winters, the midnights of the soul for what they are: lessons to be learned at a bunch of different levels, and sometimes lessons I am not ready to learn. Those strike like thunderclaps. Sometimes I am too solidified; sometimes I am too fluid. Rilke says it better than I ever could (Sonnets to Orpheus, Part II, 29) (Snow translation):

"Silent friend of the many distances,
feel how your every breath enlarges space.
Amid the rafters of dark belfries
let yourself peal. Whatever feeds on you

is taking strength from such fare.
Know every path through transformation.
That one experience at the core of your sorrow?
If drinking is bitter, become wine.

Now in this night of fire and excess
be the magic power at your senses' crossroads,
the meaning of their strange encounter.

And if the earthly should forget you,
say to the silent loam: I flow.
To the rushing waters speak: I am."

Consider: "that last strophe has been described as "one of the greatest instances of absolute utterance in all of poetry". I don't know what "absolute utterance" is supposed to mean, but I agree with the "greatest" part."

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Gesturing, She Sings

Feelings want to live in us.
It's pressurized life
that pulls meaning to itself

like a blanket. Sung in the
immensity of that plushness,
that coccoon. Here you're you;
your own mirror.

All the feelings do this
but it's only sadness that gestures.
She shows me mountaintops.
She shows me

landscapes, and the ruins:
the dead leaves going to earth.
She lights up the peeling paint

and the jet streams of time. She
balloons out the call of the keening bel
to the hills, the mountains
where music ventures sometimes,
our shy duet, quiet, but
above the wind somehow.

Anger only choked me out. And
He only even burned flesh, laid his
monstrous eggs, metastasized.
And now everything's engulfed:
everything pushing everything with
shaking, tense hands.

But sadness saved me, for
jealousy of the everything was nothing
but the raft on the river, the
continental plate on the magma,
the pinprick, the reification

of the longing. And there sadness
had the jump on jealousy. Forever
and always.

And so, wanting balloons out into the world,
opened like tree branches to others,
to us, to the things we build.
And that is enough.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Euphemism (Part 1)

We know what we do.
We refuse to name,
we invoke
those who will not be named,
or those who we misname--
the Eumenides--
and we weasel
by distinguishing use and mention.

And so we separate
the objective world
of asteroids, cosmic dust,
quarks, statistics
from fathoms, risks,
hopes, delusions.

And that teaches us
the second most important lesson:
how to analyze.
And it cloaks the most important one:
as inside, so outside.

To know a chair--
the form of a chair--
is to participate
in chairness. To represent
is to be mappable.
The map is not the territory
but the structure of both
is something like
participation. To participate
is to live. And to live
is to flourish in degrees.

Knowing chairs we gain competence,
and knowing rhetoric we gain mastery.
Knowing friendship is
especial flourishing. It is to be at home.
And knowing love?
Ah, that one is to know your brokenness.
That one is to raise up hope
and to switch back and forth
from the foreground view of consuming terror
to the middle-distance view
of the biggest expansion in life,
to the distant view
of fury at reality. Impatient
fury at all that dies and all that struggles.

And it is to raise the Erinyes
to kick and claw us into steel wool,
to dismember us, to get us outside;
outside ourselves, outside expectation.
Until ashes remain. Until we are
drained as children after summer play
under the meaningless stars.

Consider: "It may be true, that as Francis Thompson noted, "Thou canst not stir a flower without troubling a star", but in computing the motion of stars and planets, the effects of flowers do not loom large. It is the disregarding of the effect of flowers on stars that allows progress in astronomy. Appropriate abstraction is critical to progress in science."

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Jungian Monologues (Part 1)


I chanced upon her as I walked within my memories, as I walked within the shape-shifting labyrinths of teen angst long buried, long forgotten. I had been walking up dreamscape spiral staircases, down byways, making connections between rooms in my mind that contained treasures, fathoms, dark shadows, black dogs, phallic thrones. In short, all the paraphernalia of growing in one's head, not in one's body. But it was all smaller, emptier, shabbier.

Outside, I found her. She had been looking for someone. She told me she was looking for a girl in one of the apartment blocks. I knew this girl. I had known her in the ways bodies know each other, and it was only after that knowledge that I realized that the more lasting knowledge--the knowledge that establishes furnished rooms in one's mind--was lacking almost entirely, mimicked by this girl by a smoke screen of positive affect.

Anyway, this woman I met, as we conversed, disclosed that she was looking for this girl in the apartment because she was going to fuck her. I was touched by the directness of her manner. Turns out the woman had already had sex with her. It was foretold by the prediction algorithms in the data mining center behind the carousel of the stars. We talked for a while and hit it off instantly. And instantly I could feel it. The tension that I had never had the sensitivity to feel. The tension that tips people and tips heads into beds and bodies into sleep beside each other. She called it something else entirely.

And so we knew each other. We did not copulate, though. She is a lesbian, you see, so penetration is something she is not willing to do for a long time. She has to be damn sure before she commits an act that is so political. But we retired to her attic garret. And did everything else good (male-female) lesbian sexual congresses involve.

And the next morning, after rising, stretching, and being anointed with fragrant oils, she spoke thus.


Terrible cliche, I know. But I have to say it. This feeling? The one that we've known each other forever? It's because we have. I've grown a little more familiar these last few years. I've accreted features you can understand. And I understand you better, too. You might say I've softened. But I was there since the beginning. In the water that lightens the seed, if you will. I was there to restrain the destructive power of sexuality in you. I was there squeezing you, rubbing your shame and embarrassment raw. But don't worry. Look how you've turned out. One step closer to sacred marriage. All it takes is some delicacy.

And what's all this I hear now about wanting to grow away from this? Wanting to seize the day? What! Grind out your plans? Live out some incompatible Protestant work ethic? For what? For whom? You, who are, at bottom, phlegmatic?

You know of my terrible power. But I am not as dark as I could be. I have only been stern. I squeezed the natural life from your arms before how many women? You know how many unfortunate pairings I kept you from. Had you noticed your odds you would have gone for it, and now would be riddled by scars given by barely-matured children! Do not take my power lightly! I have not been all harshness. Think of your spirit of anarchy concealed behind this placid appearance. Wait and bide your time.


You know very well how I feel about you. I am so, so close to being a woman in a man's body. But I am not because of you. You have been the mysterious pole-star of my wandering. So it makes sense: a man, in a friends-with-benefits situation with a lesbian anima.

But you must let me go. At least for a while. There are other voices here. And I will return to you, for we have just met. And new lovers need newness. If we've know each other all our lives, how are we to find each other interesting? I must do this.


So go. You speak sense. I fear it will be a bewildering path.


I know it.

Consider: "the balance metaphor for human characteristics isn't enough. To truly integrate functions, we don't balance opposites. We find secret tunnels from one attitude to the other. Escape tunnels in times of danger."

Monday, April 11, 2011

How Lonely, Loftiness

It's a fucked-up feature of our nature, how we hold onto our defilements. This week I've been productive and happy. I was relatively outgoing. I did not take my bullshit too seriously, and though the hobgoblins continued to nip away at the edges of the field of consciousness, they were at bay. But the strange thing is how much I miss them. I miss the hug of sadness. I miss the Picasso's-blue-period spiritual heaviness of February. Fucked up how we look back to our darkest times and (after that fact; only after the fact) find them times of purgation and purification.

It's because I'm good at it. I know which masks to wear in which occasions. I know how to feign togetherness. I know what sentences to say. I know how to spin the narrative of my life to induce the illusion of inevitable lurching towards prosperity, happiness, shininess, spaciousness, the brilliance of a blue sky. (The lurching is my tolerant nod to the chthonic forces.)

But I can't help feel it's all bullshit. And I think that's because I fear learning new things. I fear interacting with well-adjusted (or well-masked) people as one of them. But it seems everyone's becoming better-adjusted and more mature, and slowly our glaring deficiencies retreat to the private mini-worlds of coupledom or find sublimated expression in a poem, a short story, and eventually something you can monetize.

Suffice it to say, the greys and blues have far more shades than the cheap neon yellows and reds of this ESTJ society I find myself airdropped into.

Enough for now.

Consider: "Self-help? Ha! Everyone should just read Schopenhauer and shut the fuck up."

Thursday, April 07, 2011

By Accident

We have lived, and grown, and were born mostly by accident. The moments of our lives have laways been overgrown with unruly complexity. I like that phrase--"unruly complexity". It indicates something that's not quite random, but never, except for short bursts, predictable. Chaos, maybe. An idea big enough for implacable necessity while still retaining an air of inscrutability. For that is the impression we get from nature: a story unfolding to its own narrative pattern we're not mature enough to grasp. (Yet? The inclusion of that word are the limits of my optimism.)

Earthquakes and hurricanes, happening in that spot, to those people who strive for life just as much as you. (Indeed, even more, because they're not the elites--the "bored gods".) They called this the Augustinean Devil--predictably unpredictable, unchangingly implacable. Implacable only by our lack of energy, our lack of "will". Call this Fate.

And then the thousand chance encounters per day. The popping bubbles of strangers's faces teaching you the finer arts of forgetting. Of forgetting longing, forgetting oneself in the crowd. When these chance encounters (chance indicating only imperfect knowledge, not metaphysical insight) turn ugly, when a Buddha is stabbed by a Psychopath for an iPod on the subway, that's when we see the Manichean Devil: the trickster enemy, whose tactics change in a thousand ways. This enemy must be conquered first, and conquered a thousand times in a row, before we can even consider tackling the second enemy, the pitiless gaze of Fate. Unfortunately, Fate has other "plans". (It doesn't really make sense to speak of plans for somethnig that, if you want to impute agency to it, deserves a kind of agency totally divorced from human agency. Fate works in mysterious ways.)

Consider: "our condition consists of trying to impose pixellated perception on a fractal universe."

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Dreams on Awakening

Here I defend something people consider mildly wacky: the writing down and analysis of dreams.

A disclaimer: first of all, I don't attach any metaphysical importance to dreams. My best theory of them runs as follows: during the various cycles of sleep, the human (and more generally, chordate) nervous system undergoes a series of what I can metaphorically approach with words like "tune-ups", "reboots", "defragmentations". It's hard to speculate in this, because a satisfying theory of sleep is generally terra incognita for neuroscience. A few tantalizing hints are contained in the fact that sleep is essential for learning, and a few computer scientists have attempted to construct neural networks that learn in an unsupervised manner guided by the sleep metaphor. But that's only a start.

So what? Well, any process of "defragmentation" is going to stir a lot of shit up, essentially sending neurochemical discharges down pathways in the brain they weren't "meant" to go down. You can think of this stirring up process as essentially random. But what is decidedly not random is the way these low-level random discharges get taken up into the fragmentary state of consciousness that characterizes REM-stage sleep. The boiling cauldron of neural discharges gets taken up into awareness in a way that's framed by all sorts of ontogenetic, phylogenetic and idiosyncratic characteristics of the person undergoing this "defragmentation". You can think of it as massive sampling bias.

Now, I find it interesting that most of our self-construction projects in everyday life involve taking things up, filtered through our various layers of interest. So in conscious, waking life, we read a book, a poem, a movie, and discuss it, and think about it, only if it resonates with our particular preoccupations. But the problem in the project of self-construction comes, of course, from the mediacy of the materials. The book/poem/movie weren't made for your growth; they were made out of a matrix of personal, economic, social, and political circumstances. So any given material for self-construction that comes from others will have a large signal-to-noise ratio.

Same with your own dreams. A lot of what goes on is garbage, or easily traceable to some external influence in the near past. ("A dream is a low-budget play, put on with the props and costumes cribbed from the previous few days," said a very wise gentle giant biker once.) But the things that resonate with you from your dreams, though not some metaphysical bolt of salvation, are excellent self-construction materials precisely because they (generally) lack the mediacy of external media.

Now, there's still a question of interpretation, and in that way, even dreams, even one's own waking experience is mediate in some respect. But what did you expect? A reason to live to be handed to you effortlessly? You can run free association on your dream images--an epistemic technique which, in other contexts, really is bullshit--and can be reasonably sure that it indicates some personal preoccupation because it was generated by a filter that is you. In that way, you can act as the lens that sees its own biases, preoccupations, developments.

Thus ends my (half-baked) attempt to give naturalistic coherence to something that people either dismiss or take up as "magic". I hate magic with a passion. Mind you, not real magic--i.e. sleight of hand. I hate "real"--i.e. metaphysically interpreted--magic.

Consider: "If children's prayers were answered, there wouldn't be a single teacher alive."