Friday, November 28, 2008


I've had my head up my ass reading (almost) nothing but Greek mythology, and thinking from there about that ancient world-view, factually so inadequate, but in spirit so much more like our own than that of tyrannical monotheism. We are a two-pillar civilization, with the Greeks forming one pillar and the Hebrews the other. Guess which one I favour? I will confine my remarks on monotheism to two, lest this lead to an explosive rant.

(1) Monotheism is good for tyrannical governments, having replaced polytheism as republican government gave way to imperial government in Rome. (2) Monotheism faces the Problem of Evil (if God is both all-powerful and all-loving, then how come there's evil and suffering?); we can play the theodicy game if you wish--I think I've got the first six or seven moves worked out...

But that's boring. Attacking Judaism, Islam and Christianity (in their more literal aspects) is as easy as it is pointless. Today I'd like to try a different tack: singing the praises of polytheism.

Now, I don't mean literal polytheism, because such literalness is pretty much impossible. Anything that's good about religions can be contained in poetry, and Greek mythology is an excellent source of that. It presents nature as it is, not as it is idealized and abstracted by some patriarch. (The idealization, incidentally, is what science is for.) Nature as an often violent interplay of hundreds of forces. It's true, the Greeks invented gods for pretty much everything. But what does it mean to invent a god. Here's my take: to deify something (anything: an occurrence, a feeling, a process, a higher-order pattern) is simply to flag it as an object of reverence. The stormy sea is an object of terror, but also a kind of self-transcending feeling; therefore, it is subject to reverence. Same goes for any force of nature beyond our direct control: thunder, the wind, the seasons, the cycle of the sun across the sky, the morphing of the clouds, the growth of plants (remember: this is understanding and control circa 2,500 years ago) , the welling up of the passions, inspiration, disease, death, falling in love, the feeling of tenderness, the birth of children, the reflection of our faces from a still pond, misfortune, pestilence, the forest, the babbling of brooks, calm days, fog, winter. The list goes on. But the commonality is that all these things are important to human life, and merit attention, whether positive of negative. Hence: gods. And I might mention that the gods of the Olympian pantheon are, in their form of social organization, almost republican. Zeus was never the all-powerful, all-benevolent god, so this pantheon never has to deal with the problem of evil (granted, they're vague on the topic). Zeus had to fight for his place, overthrowing his father Cronus in a long war with the Titans (as, incidentally, Cronus overthrew Uranus). An Zeus himself has been prophesied to face the same fate. Imagine that! Gods themselves impermanent. This seems to me like a much better way of organizing reverence around the cosmos we inhabit. A mad, crashing, sometimes senseless, sometimes tragic, sometimes joyous unfolding of some principle which may or may not be there, to which we mortals have to grow adjusted somehow.

One final remark: I have sometimes heard people talk about pantheism as if it can accomplish this kind of enchantment of nature, rendering it worthy of reverence. It can't. Why not? Well, value and reverence are differential concepts; you can't revere everything. That's not reverence, that's just excess in all directions, if it were at all possible. Pantheism asserts that God is All (or God is in all); i.e. that Nature is all there is, but with some intimation that this is worthy of reverence. Agreed, there are things to revere about nature, but this all-too-liberal cop-out tells me nothing of what this is. Polytheism at least makes a very compelling poetic and psychological suggestion: revere the refined arts as depicted in various deities, revere the muses that provide for inspired life, respect those things you have no control over, give a little of yourself to the world (sacrifice, not out of foolish altruism, but out of a need to be adjusted to it. Propitiate wrathful gods if it makes you feel better. Get together with your relevant others and sing hymns. Drink and be merry when you can be, and don't rage against forces more powerful than you. None of this is in pantheism.

Now, it bears saying I have no belief in Greek gods, but they help flag features of reality that I am interested in. Case in point: the muses are the daughters of Mnemosyne (the goddess of memory). When you feel inspired (which is the aspect of reality the muses personify) it is as if memory acts of its own accord, snatching up kernels, arranging them seemingly without effort, as if an external source were responsible. Ever since the concept of the unconscious came to the fore, we have a (slightly) less divine explanation. But in that case all the gods seem to identify interesting patterns of projection of our most burning unconscious needs into the "outer" world. (I suspect inner and outer, objective and subjective, to be somewhat misleading distinctions in this regard, but let's leave that.) Mythology (especially when done in a comparative manner) can unravel the vary general laws of all our minds. Just like literature, really, except mythology had the advantage of hundreds of years of Darwinian evolution in oral histories; the most "true to life" ones survived to be written down.

In conclusion: monotheism isn't very insightful, psychologically. Pantheism is a cop-out. Polytheism is a naturalistic psychological system, not a metaphysical one.

Consider: "Since I am so quickly done for / I wonder what I was begun for?"

Monday, November 24, 2008

Buddha, meet Psychopath

I won't pretend that I can imagine this eventuality. I won't pretend I have stong intuitions of what will happen. Armchair psychology can only take you so far. All I can say is that, from the people I associate with, my feelings are slightly with Buddha. But this could be due to self-selection effects in the people I take as friends and relevant others. If I worked retail, or in a call center in India, I might have different intuitions. Or even if I suffered greatly (in the sense of being beyond my Vygotskian zone of proximal learning), I might have better insight into what breaks people, into the Hobbesian intuition of war of all against all. This may be reinforced as I live my life, especially as I get on my own two feet during a recession and see the kind of cannibalistic competition for limited resources unfold.

People might misuderstand my conception of Buddha. I don't (necessarily) mean a bald dude in a robe, meditating with cornrows (in Thai style), or even the fat mendicant with huge earlobes (in Spadina tourist trap style). I mean anyone with insight into our human condition, anyone who has not turned away from the pitted, rutted, tundra of human desolation (with its ocassional flower-patches of happiness), the tundra dotted with strange beasts wandering among more-or-less genetically pre-conditioned tracks, the uncanny basilisks and terrifying mastodons, the profoundly wise leviathans and the hermetic albatrosses, the manipulator foxes and the terrifying fungal blooms. I certainly don't mean dime-a-dozen new-age gurus who spread an essentially psychological message to LSD-flashback-prone hippies with a yearning to project the unseen inward forces into something outside of themselves, who bastardize to the point of unrecognizability, who preach a message as coming from the Other (other culture, other person, other world...) when really it has always been hiding in plain sight. Seek it in Art, in friendship, in insight, in passionate bearing of troubles, in wild joy unbound by inhibitions, in the glories of discovery, in the stretching broadening of travel, in the learning of skills, in the cultivation of eloquence, in the education of the imagination, in open-handed giving, in magnanimous taking, in dance music running skiing yoga techno sweat paragliding sailing strolling improvising talking joking listening eating centering floating sleeping waking loving feeling projecting reminding... in many things. But not everything.

We all do this. We all fail at this all the time. We all succeed some of the time. So, hope? Fervent hope that we can withstand the psychopath with Buddha (that placid place somewhere within; that dynamically metastable response system we weave into our neocortex and limbic system.)

Consider: "It is just that we should be grateful, not only to those with whose views we may agree, but also to those who have expressed more superficial views; for these also contributed something, by developing before us the powers of thought."

Thursday, November 13, 2008


Standing in my kitchen, staring at the human navel.

A glass in my hand, blown by glass-blowers. Human effort. Or forged and shaped in silicon dioxide smelting furnaces. Made by human hands. Built by human hands. Conceived and drawn up by human minds. The very rationale for the effort human: economic gain, the control of human energy flows. Gold, silver, amber, amethyst, charms, wheat, grain. So the architect’s children can grow. So water can lighten the seeds. So his wife can have geraniums in her garden. Human garden, Nature in a matchbox: awnings, sun rooms, greenhouses. The seeds themselves human, bred for thousands of years: human ears of corn, fitting human hands, feeding human bowels, growing in pace with our yearning, our impatience for grain. Grain, now! Entire land masses human.

In the glass in my hand, I pour orange juice. Plucked by hands. Packaged by hands. Driven by hands skilled with machine-oxen. Pulp has been extracted. Vitamins added. Human pharmacies.

I stare at the kitchen counter, at the walls. Fruit flies dance around in the air. Human fruit flies. Scions of our garbage piles. Live in caves. Lights flicker on and off unpredictably. Instantaneously. Storms in the distance. Fly traps allow them to live out their lives within bottles. Live, feed, mate, fall to earth. Dirty water infused with fruit and fly corpses. Our human fruit, our human fly corpses. Fall apart to earth. Not the kitchen counter. Polypropylene I wager. Will persist for tens of thousands of years. Hidden power of covalent bonds unrolled in a sheet in a factory somewhere. Again: human factory, human architect, human tycoon’s hands at the wheel. Also own the foundries, the mills, the barges, the factory farms, the woodlots. Primate needs on a primate landscape.

No light from the outside sky penetrates the kitchen. Only the buzzing neon. Human vibrations unheard by human egos. Vibrations like the hippies talked about: ultrasonic, subsonic, supersonic. Sonograms by Google Earth telling us what the coral reefs look like. (Art for art’s sake, these coral reefs, these submerged bohemias. Colour, waves, shifting hues, shifting moods. Tropical fishes like Pollocks. Thick medium. Medium of the womb. Human womb. Amniotic fluid. Vague frissons running up and down necks. Back to the darkness).

I leave the kitchen in human shoes. Everywhere around me I hear the vibrations of sewing machines, or (rarely) the clack-clack of knitting needles. Penumbras out of time, hypnagogic intimations. The shriek of bandsaws, skillsaws, table saws, miter saws around my desk, my drawers, the bookcase. The sparking arcs of welding around my lamps. Kiln sounds around my mug.

The electronics I dare not probe. What shigawire monomolecular reels spun these out? What projected inadequacies of our informational, logocentric consciousness do these things serve to soothe? Human, all. But humanity that reeks of all-too-human contempt for the all-too-human. Humanity that would exsanguinate Thailand for Denmark’s sins. That destroyed the bikini atoll. Giving up the outer senses to cultivate the subtler senses of possibility. Visionaries. Artists. Giving up plebian happiness for aristocratic virtues. Ragnarok virtues. (The frost giants are the comets that populate the Oort cloud.)

And there, the inhuman meteor lurks. Its orbit unknown. An unknown unknown. The reason why nobody looks up at the night sky anymore, why we drown it out in orangy city hearthglows. Day-blue is human: it’s when we cloudwatch and see old kings, tree groves, plot arcs. Orange is warm to the eye’s touch. Black, however...

Consider: "The lamps keep swaying, fully unaware: / is our light lying? / Is night the only reality / thas endured through thousands of years?"

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Dies Irae

...nobody is anything...

Here is a little something of me. A little of my transom, a little snap-through of the clouds drifting through my sky. (The all-sky?) Thinking about homeopathy on the way back home I was pulled away from the near-death of College street. Thinking how homeopathy and “Western” medicine have orthogonal frameworks. Perhaps not orthogonal, but apposite, if that is the right word to use. At any rate, little intersection—but that doesn’t mean they don’t step on each others’ toes all the time. Though about it through the lens of existential questions. Homeopathy provides a human understanding of our ailments, mainstream medicine seeks a measured distance away from our predicament. Which is better depends on the condition at hand. Deep existential anxieties: inevitable death, rot, breakouts, invisible forces descending on us. Which is better? Healing with an understanding, holistic but ineffectual-when-it-comes-to-the-inhuman-universe paradigm, or with a at-times-effective-but-itself-startlingly-inhuman paradigm? I don’t know. I wanted to sing western medicine’s praises because it works, but it doesn’t work for the things we are most deeply anxious about. How could it. Of course, neither does homeopathy, but this line of thought takes some wind from the sails of the “it works, bitches” argument for biomedicine.

Occurred to me I don’t know the full, and surely complicated story of homeopathy. Batshit insanity, fantasy, wishful thinking, magical thinking, placebo effects, post hoc ergo propter hoc surely abounds at the fringes of an unregulated industry, but is that fringe or core? What is the core idea behind homeopathy? Is it that we need to be more integrative? But that’s silly. Biomedicine gets integrative when piecemeal solutions don’t work. It gradually changes. It is not a Newtonian monolith—that would be a straw man. In fact, physiology is deeply infused with modern dynamicist thinking, with its own philosophically troubling circular causation, its own part-whole conundrums. Modern “materialism” misunderstands modern physiology. But such is life.

Occurred to me boundary is blurry. So then we need to look at clusters of ideas. Surely there are scientifically informed holistic practitioners. So what’s the problem? Eastern ideas? Traditional medicine? What does that even mean? Traditional medicine too is developing. All a kind of soup my thinking gets me into. But this is not-that-informed thinking.

And nobody is anything. Harsh words. Soup words. Words of universal compassion. As we arise, we pass away. Each moment. Each thought. Each sensation. Each sense-impression. Each association. But also: each insight, each personality, each transformation, each warm, vanishing wave of the heart, each life, each culture, each war, each trauma, each meal, each longing, each delight, each ache and itch as it travels up and down and in an out and spiraling, each flash of anger as it mobilizes, checks resources, grabs the attention, pulls it into its own lens; each memory just that: a trace carried here, a fly caught in associative winds. Present, somehow bodily, but experienced as absent.

And what is God? She too arises and passes away. In people, in episodes, over the course of a day, in the duration of a glance, in the rustling of a skirt, in a shout on the street, in the printing of a theodicy, in families, in nations. God’s rising and falling arc during an economic crisis: positive anima (or animus), negative anima; present anima, absent anima. All in absentia. God in a leaf; gods in the intonations of the Lord’s Prayer. God as synecdoche: “give us this day our daily bread”. God arising up the elevator, falling out of the office tower. Golden calves on Ben Vrackie’s fields, now fallow with trodding human hooves. Gods arise in vapour columns and perish in the eyes of hurricanes. Gods encircle the world and flat down in watersheds, down the Ganges, bathing the pilgrims. God absent in the stampede, in the artillery barrage, in the bombing of Calcutta. Mysteriously present again, old Loki, in Mother Teresa’s mischievous grin, in hoofbeats down the street. God as the all-white cowboy encountered at crossroads. Every one the same. But the surfaces are different. As different as oranges and clementines.

Reminds me: leave a little milk and bread out for Orpheus. A little earthsmoke and rue. Dance a circle in a forest grove. Cantabrian circle (Spanish cavalry maneuver). Watch the constellation of the Rider, Staff, Way. God arising in the beginning of each of Rilke’s elegies and dying away to a man, to a warm fuzzy feeling at the end. God too dies into reality. Dies irae. Somehow we com off disappointed. Behind the door is just another room. But now we have more space.

Space! Dies illa!

God arises and dies away over the course of a page. Arpeggiated.

Ah, God is Mozart. It’s so obvious. God is a steppe wolf. I am God (says Kerouac). Ginsberg’s not so pompous. Lived longer, too. Greater man, I wager. God is big. The great King. (We don’t put much stock into such political organization.)

I am God.

I am a fuck-up. A jerk-off. A wastrel. A culture maggot, grown up to nothing. Listened in too many philosophy lectures. Silly, jobless, mystical, inspired.

He who despises himself still honours himself as one who despises. (Lacrymosa.)

I don’t despise myself. (Communio.)... The Leakeys would be proud. Every moment of inspration feels like it's going back to a source.

The point: there’s something to homeopathy. But that something might just be compassion. And some biomedical doctors have that too, I hope I will have it. (If I dare hope.)

And God waxes and wanes within a single parenthetical sentence.

Consider: "We develop concentration for the sake of mindfulness, mindfulness for the sake of insight, insight for the sake of wisdom, and wisdom for the sake of freedom."

Monday, November 03, 2008


I hope to one day wake up from reading shitty arguments on the internet. I hope to wake up from a society where wishful thinking, cut with a fine dose of bigotry, cut with plenty of rotted-away organs of empathy dictates social policy. I hope to wake up, and become more fully formed, free of the apotropaic magic I turn to in my darker moments (knocking on wood, or projecting onto indiosyncratic idols), free of the burning stings of passion that draw me back in, back into the maelstrom, back into a categorical helplessness before Being.

I hope to grow into my city further, like a creeping vine around a lightpost. I hope to draw inspiration from these bricks and alleys, these people, the sky, the towers, the dells, the ravines and the streetcars. Like I used to, before mid-twenty hit and I found myself trying, desperately (thankfully successfully), to work to pay for shit. Mid twenties, where I dropped my various askeses to let mysefl get jerked around, regrowing the attitude of circa age 20.

Ah, it is one thing to wake up from all this. But what do I wake up to? To poetry loking at me from behind everything. This is the task, besides which there can be few others. (Oh sure, prefessional sinecures here and there, friendships and love, obligations.) Ah, but to live those obligaitons while still listening to the things speak to me constantly, in all their as-they-are-ness. There's the goal. The goal of this existential gym. And I recognize the ideal-nature of this goal, and I recognize the self in all this. But, alas, I am all that.

Consider: "Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things. "