If the Priory is where the Prior resides, then the Theory is where God resides
Do not disturb! Philosopher at work!
Fairy Tales: A Narrow Escape!***
(We are the quantum! Sorry, can't think our way out of this thing; sentience changes absolutely nothing!)
(Reflections of an ordinary, early XXI Century citizen)
October 30, 2017 Draft
(Yes, yes, it needs to be edited down)
"Modern art is what you can get away with," Andy Warhol told us, his work taking the cake and the banality of easel as someone described it. He also paraphrased McLuhan suggesting that 'artistic' works get approved not just by the few acting out of sometimes perplexing conviction, but by all those dutifully tagging along. The point at which credulity definitely starts taking it on the chin and the word 'travesty' enters many people's mind.
The same manifestation affects conventional philosophy and religion, man's most venerated cerebral and spiritual enterprises. Unchallenged by multitudes thirsting for reverent fantasy and reassurance by way of meticulous analysis and explanation, their self-satisfied proponents taking themselves as seriously as contemporary art's high priests do, no tongues-in-cheeks allowed.
But does something represent an absolute truth, just because people no longer question it?
Enough's enough said Buddha about thousands and thousands of Hindu gods; it's man who has to count for something!!! With Antonin Artaud repeating his notion stating it all when he wrote Pour en finir avec le jugement de dieu, asking us to stop this nonsense with our imaginary friend, the subject of our manicured dreams. For if man needed to create myths or fairy tales to deal with his own mind and to step out beyond himself so he could look down upon himself and heal himself or give himself that extra bit of courage and strength in the face of mostly cruel and often endless setbacks, then for a time and despite almost immediate, built-in and mostly silly taboos, this was fine. But superstitions and allegories are usually endless and also tend to stop minds while the truth even when complex always turns out to be relatively short. And by beginning to believe his lengthy, embroidered fantasies, his fictions, imposing them as if they were the truth, protecting instant orthodoxies as precious property, he created the beginning of his own degradation. Because fables or myths are dreams, or better still a series of pretty fibs and an elaborate lie however well meant, however well told, represents the seed of destruction that every grand falsehood carries within itself. Religion turning into auto-immune disease, everything black, or white, nothing grey, no life in between, no respect, no tolerance, no Laurel, no Hardy, just death.
Similarly, what's found at the opposite end of the scale is immodest pride as for its part formal western thought is built on the implication, its point-de-départ, that should we not be there, well, then nothing's really there or worth discussing. That unless a person can give birth to him or herself, our collective death would be the death of meaning. As if this planet had none of it long before we arrived, accommodating millions of years of different life?! And as if all of this doesn't strictly imply carpe diem, that what we see is what we get!
Philosophy's sole function should be the removal of all nonsense from the world when all it does is confound and compound, never ceasing to create rather than dismiss exquisite, endless, near lyrical examinations and rivalling conjectures! I know, no Sein no Zen, but notions like Heidegger's forever doctrinaire Sein and Dasein or Descartes' Je pense, donc je suis, I think therefore I am, both essentially flawed as deprived of our consciousness 'being' obviously doesn't necessarily and by itself cease to be! Plus that this very Sein sadly also constantly reminds us of our own forthcoming demise and in this capacity represents no life force whatsoever, in a certain way killing one hell of a party. And in Descartes' case the most that we could let him get away with: I think, therefore I am what or who I am (i.e. as opposed to others or animals). Better still what André Breton exhorted: I think, therefore I disturb!, though I obviously prefer Unamuno's simple I am, therefore I think. And what's wrong with I have some foresight, some insight, but so what?
When re-reading so many hallowed texts then, consider the self-indulgent hokum too often meriting some sort of stage direction saying: STOP! Here Mind Disappears Up Rectum! Because, one more time, after close scrutiny nearly all established conventions ultimately point in one single direction---they confirm our pre-eminence and successful continuity with a mind set far more interested in bunker consolidation and arid preservation than in keeping structures open to further thought and experience. Man still secretly convinced he's the measure of all that matters, that there's some sort of finality to the scheme of things and this finality is him, when most likely there's not even a scheme and the earth not the center of anything, merely the third and most beautiful be it somewhat obese bauble from our sun. For so called nothingness and the absence of human existence or awareness are not synonymous. Eons simply episodes in which nothingness arising from emptiness is not only a non sequitur but a non plus, though the answer to the question 'What is is??' admittedly remains a tempting and elusive one.
Or those ultimate ones of course 'Where does the Universe itself originate? Why is there some cosmic fabric, this cloth full of glittering mirror balls spinning, spinning like Jacques Brel's La Valse à Mille Temps including not only all the planets, but according to this singer our minds as well. (On the other hand I'm glad they spin or in our case we'd slide right off, and then what...?)
-About the Big Bang theory: First there was nothing, and then it exploded... If you can figure that one out, give me a call!
So what really are electro-magnetism, temperature, light, gravity and all their waves? Not only capable of making us and nearby things move, but also matter and mass millions and millions of miles away? All of which we eloquently note, describe, and measure and by the grace of which we live and die, but still cannot factually explain?'
And that in the meantime the body of modern western thought mainly deals with the mechanics of thinking and formation of action in thought, called will i.e. to be, is to do. That it mainly provides some sort of indexation and supplies comfort through carefully constructed theoretical truths no more real than those large, inane and inanimate wax figures in morbid musea staring us in the face. Something like Gustave Courbet's The Origin of the World, a portrait hyper grotesque and equally self-absorbed. And yet with ultimate intellectual perversion some brazenly suggesting that we're not here at all, that everything is an illusion. Even though, and after the onion soup a toilet door regrettably left ajar pretty well kills off this notion. Still, with all of this there's absolutely no doubt that the mind stays undernourished and utterly useless without developed senses, except for the cerebellum of course, the electric impulse controlling our muscles so we can move and ingest to stay alive.
Whereby no cognition without sensory perception, but, except in Plato's Cave and in the form of allegory, where are the dissertations which include references to the brain itself, our touch, our ears and our eyes, our neurology? The stuff bottled-thought custodians still ignore, but of which these days entire populations are aware? Those curators who will react to a massive overhaul of modern thinking only if imposed by some Deus Ex Machina, which never seems to come about. For in established philosophy and academically speaking is the nose not glamerous enough? And what is it exactly that sounds created by Schubert, Rachmaninoff or Prince make us cry or shiver with joy? Unleashing emotions that affect our reasoning...!? Not even phenomenologists touching on the flesh and the blood reality of sentience? Yes, which Kant's or Schopenhauer's internal and external paths coincided in each of them, their neurons, neurotransmitters and hormones, to make them arrive at their thought? And should we not first and foremost accept the absolute primacy of certain objects and conditions: a rock, it rains, this gravity, oxygen, you know, details like this? Far removed from human interpretation, memory and Gutenberg tooled retention in order to once and for all prevent the damned tail from wagging the dog? But that the public never reads any reference about?
Q: Umberto! Why oh why didn't you write: The Name of the Nose? Phenomenologists won't, even though a bit of epistemology wouldn't hurt...
A: Che cazzo, ragazzo; whatta are you talking about!?
But wait that's not all, what if spiders were the size of a horse? Life by itself is not only a blessed chemical incident, but a biological battle of proportions. Man luckily turning out to be about the right size given the measure of the planet and providing him with enough living space to walk away from displeasure or misadventure, often doing so by careful choice. And thereby luckily not the owner of a physical structure so large that he could easily have stepped over a small mountain or a large hill, as in mythology, Gullivers Travels and like Gargantua and Pantagruel, or most likely he would have disappeared long ago just like the dinosaur. On the other hand movies have been made with men the size of microbes or else minute like insects which would have created an entirely different situation on earth. And it could easily have been the case but was never taken into account in thrall as we are, with ourselves and the way we are. So that strictly speaking what we have and what we are and despite all that momentary prominence of ours, it's not only thanks to the thumb, the brain and our brawn, but the accident of comparable proportion, of approximate physical size within all those simultaneous combustions that went on.
So you see, it did and does always come down to the same and unfortunately remains the canard: I know, who else's, but our superficial take on the world and beyond rules all only because so far no tangible 'outside' condition prevails showing or teaching us anything that is clearer or superior. Tangible, I said. But should it exist it would in all likelihood patronize, ridicule us, and then what? Who wins? Anyway even if this is a strictly academic point it should still be taken into account, if anything to force open and humble the mind.
My position then, with ultimate wisdom, can't we shrugg it off for now? Does there absolutely have to be a 'take'? Has the foul, this different whiff of reckless certainty and learned self-importance not become quite unbearable? Even dangerous in places? Doctors of Divinity and Philosophy at one point having to be dragged out of their sanctum sanctorum, their Prius car or own mind so something like their mirror may help them get over themselves? To get shocked into reality the way I was by a quick but sobering look at my own skeleton, through a revealing X-Ray? Reminding me of our total nakedness and all of us too often forgetting that most of our convictions are linked to moments of structural self-assurance, timeless only in our head?!
Yes, why not send the tenured and the ordained alone and naked into the Kalahari? While there re-igniting unbiased curiosity and uncertainty, for instance noticing an animal's hide or plumage perfectly assimilating the colours of surrounding? Pure trickery, for defence or for offence, by optical, mimetic, non-tactile transfer, and nature's way of deceiving, the place where we too must have first learned to lie and pretend through our teeth?
No, I won't get into the kinetic force of it, other than to say this is not contact osmosis. But only one example of somewhere along the line a different, invisible perception/awareness between the animate and the inert occuring that we can't explain and must have included some sort of primal recognition factor. Colours and fake shadows turning into stunning camouflages far, far removed from old parchments, dead idioms, sublime theories and notions. Enough to reject stolid pontification over the excitement of discovery, and also to see how long our desert dweller's severe thirst for certainty outlasts the need for a simple gulp of H2O. For up to now are they, nay, most of us not mere well-fed, self-immersed loungers, owners of self-pleasuring speculation and abstraction instead of acknowledging that our only legitimate possession is the sensuous, the strictly local bearing witness to it all? Even if such down to earth love and admiration goes unrequited, life a beautiful but lousy lover only interested in itself, not persé in us?
Ah, yes, I can picture it now! A mostly naked body wearing purple socks in burning sand and some all-ear elephant shouting 'Man, how can he breathe through that ridiculous little thing or even pick a peanut off the floor!' Or if he were an uncovered she, some wayward, roaming camel roaring 'Hey Joe, dig those puny humps!'. Though probably, and after having cleansed him or herself of all jaded assumption, our nude and two-legged walker starting those fabrications all over again. Amid apparent earthiness still seeking applause and confirmation: finding a tall monolith, sitting down on it to come up with brand new dreams or extravagant explanations and expectations, the way old Simon of the Desert did. But why, for as soon as we stopped building altars and temples and started building hospitals we became so much better off? What a bad habit all of this exalted thinking. I sometimes wish we were all dyslexic atheist philosophers, properly exclaiming that we don't believe in dogs. For the salient question is not how or why life, but why the question itself! Everyone always asking what is the meaning and destiny of man, but unless you're someone like Kafka and his impossibility of crows, nobody simultaneously asks what is the meaning and destiny of elks and elephants, simply because it's like asking what is the use of elks and elephants, which is none except for their extraordinary grace. And that it is precisely the meaning of elephants, who also mourn and cry like us, still not to have a specific purpose so that we must accept that yes, indeed, we're those aninals with the only real difference between us that whereas they can't... we don't question enough; in particular those home-cooked fantasies of ours. So keeping the field uneven, maintaining ourselves as the silly beasts we shouldn't be, only smart enough to lock the others up inside a Zoo and what kind of victory is that?! All this raising that other immortal question: What exactly is the purpose of purpose? And does real, immediate danger not provide our only close-up, often short-lived 'meaning'? Just as on another level and when standing before a masterpiece we shouldn't question it, beauty or ingenuity understood, self-evident, mystery and answer intertwined!? Ah, to be born inside a puzzle.... So that when it comes to daily existence, yes we must constantly and courageously ask all the pertinent questions with one exception, the big Why, the last, that final one! Because those so obsessed with it and in a certain sense, are they not already mostly dead...? Our real walking dead killed not by curiosity, but consumed by narcissism, greed and brought-on hatred in defense of their outrageous dreams?!
- Notre Appétit-d'être doit surmonter notre Raison-d'être, the only solution, our only real hope! Forget Weltschmerz, instead... do something commonly useful!
It's a fact, there has been only one animal to ever tame himself, learning how to trade not kill, but also after uncaging... immediately starting to cage his mind. This animal, later known as man, simple jumper become ringmaster, after breaking loose from the food chain spoiling it all by trying to place the entire universe on his minuscule shoulders, in the end unable to accept that sentience changes nothing! In the process accumulating and piling up real but also spurious wisdom to towering heights while learning to preserve it and permanently pass it on. For contrary to frivolous lore it's not prostitution, but philosophy that's our oldest and most painful profession, though certainly not as well paid. And significant the day we discovered we could even invent 'knowledge', and nothing would strike us down. I'm speaking here not of the so-called original sin, but again, of the original lie. Yes, in classical Greek the word philosophy meaning "love of sophia, knowledge and wisdom", but isn't it a fact we loved it so much that we started manufacturing it? Simultaneously mystifying and sanctifying it as time went by? Received and soon revered wisdom beefed up more than anything to cater to something deep inside our human psyche, namely our extraordinary vanity, our unquenchable thirst for survival, our need for order, but mostly our dual addiction to certainty and the still deeper emotional need to feel wanted? Knowledge manipulated the way a child closes its eyes pretending it's no longer there, or makes believe it lives in a world with which it feels more comfortable? The formal study of which the pious investigation of old innuendo, of half truth and fantastical conjecture with all recent doubt quashed practically before these studies are undertaken in places where anything new always gets barred?
Ah, yes, isn't it wonderful..... Everything certain, everything definite, everything definitive even if none of this can be found or seen anywhere under the stars. Just close your eyes and mind and simply forge it the way you've always managed, plus the Messiah's on his way anyway so you can celebrate him once a week and pop his balloons. Even better if on top of this you can self-induce some sincerity; though hundreds of mostly man-child soothsayers of the cloth will by example teach you how to fake even this! In other words an excellent variation on the adage No Sex Please, We're British: Absolutely No Doubts or Change, Please, We're Humans! A set of circumstances and states of mind leading directly to official fantasies, dogma, endless theory and the often terrible powers of possessive suggestion.
What mastery! What control! King of the hill, top of the heap, are we? Yes Sir! But perhaps more like a fantasizing ostrich sticking its head and neck deep into the sand proclaiming it's the Sovereign of the Savannah, forgetting its feathered arse sticks out and subject to laughter or savage attack. Plus speaking of darkness, unlike the momentary closed eyes of that child, a child eventually snapping out of it, what if we had all been born moles, subterranians, eyeless, yet somehow still with the same ingenuity? How would 'knowledge' have evolved? For there is no molecular reason there cannot be intelligent life without the same old exterior reference points. And would we then have 'imagined' light, days, mountains, oceans, still have invented our gods, our Virgins, God, heaven, the heavens, never even having seen daybreak, seen a bloody thing but darkness? Or no eyes, no skies, and so no pies....? At any rate, for those deriding this playful notion, perhaps they should be more generous. It's doing what they've been doing for centuries, and that is... labouring under assumptions and accepted suppositions a lot. The kind of mental rigidity that has made man earth's such disastrous tenant, eyes firmly fixed on convenient appearances, his brains when possible suspended, as opposed to the child's mind meandering in a small, dreamy playroom, always chasing new worlds.
Don't touch that sky, don't touch that mountain, don't touch that theory, it's Sacred, it's Holy, Grrrr, IT'S OURS..!! Better still, and individually, IT's MINE, MINE..!!
Let's face it, to a blind man all the world goes naked. Affirming that human perception and intelligence are pretty circumstantial and by definition conditional. And what about wisdom, knowledge's incidental step-child, isn't it also bewilderingly relative, particularly in the additional light of everything written in and around us having been so blatantly self-rigged? Oh dear, does this a sinner make, the refusal to be that submissive, ever following, ignorant Agnus Dei? (Thou shalt not eat from the tree of knowledge: Genesis, to which it's proper to respond Sapere Aude: Dare to Think.) Or a positivist and an irascible polemicist? A reductionist? An objectivist? A well-meaning, doubting relativist then? And so on, and so on. Well, no, no, no, no and no again because laborers in the sagacity, veneration or dignity trade measure elevated speculation against elevated speculation, and what is being attempted here is to remove beautiful irrelevance gently in its entirety from its august but withering plinth. Placing it in the playroom, away from that addiction to deterministic promise --- the battle between reason and desire, between fact and fancy having been uneven far too long.
For hasn't the time come to cease inventing certainties covering that arse? Because I once saw an exhibition of aquarelles produced by Down Syndrome children and they were the most unusual and unimaginably beautiful works of art that I have ever seen. Pointing towards a beguiling world all their own, not one beneath us, but one rivalling ours. And by saying the body perishes and cleverly suggesting the spirit is immortal, in other words that death is birth, where in religion and for that matter in philosophy can this hidden Mongaloid world be found? What happens after our chemicals happen to settle into a different mixture and texture, altering gods, playing fields? Do established disciplines really have any idea what such a person sees and feels, presumably no less real to him or her? And will their 'soul' forever carry on this way: where will 'it' end up? 'Truth' and 'relevance' only to be found in quantity, in volume, because fewer of these people are at stake? Yes, what and where is more real, decided upon by whom, especially when the choice is not between onion soup reality or illusion, but between reality that for one reason or another... is multiple? Like with sophistry and its many respectable guises, by implication presenting soothing definitions, yet mostly suitable nonsense and not much more. Or mysticism, escapism of the highest order, though happily mystics don't murder much. Alchemy and black magic then, treated with contempt these days, but not the rest of the hocus-pocus--- collective rationality somehow stopping half way down-road, turning itself inside out, rolling itself into a ball before getting kicked anywhere it wishes to go. Reason turning surreal, or at least slipping into the skin of irrational notions with few noticing or volunteering to admit what's going on.
Most of this evolving in the epoch between Euclid and Copernicus, when we were visited upon by a thousand years of darkness, a time of reason lost when most of the damage was sustained; the birth of insidious intellectual perversion. And the reason Greek and Roman thinkers were such astute theorists mainly because free-thinkers, unburdened by intellectual straight-jackets, checks, dogmatic halls of mirrors, double curtains and traps or having to worry about Christmas coming up. Though let it be noted that for all their democratic zeal and just like Jefferson many of them owned slaves making them not all genius even though healthy and free, but only well-adjusted debaters imperfect, inconsistent, and morally flawed. But at least daring to explore, people who within Amor Fati and in strictly abstract terms believed more in civility and community than in immortality, when after a millennium or more of monotheism all we have to show for are murder, deceit and oppression in massive attempts to corner fluid thought. Killing, in other words, in order not to be forced to contemplate or accept death...
And even now this persisting twilight, these lingering fogs in so many quarters on this planet which include New-Agers who are already quite mad, or the truistical notions of Intelligent Design, also called Directed Creationism in thermo-underwear, and all of it nothing more than yet another 'truth' job. Because of the primal need of these and so many others for someone or something to look after them which then leads up to a lethal childishness allowing them to drop bombs in order to make if certainly not prove a ridiculous and tragic point. Totally unable to accept natural spontaneity in any shape or form, including the much smarter part of creation that followed the first chemical explosion of life, the self-perpetuating spark. And as far as I'm concerned the true miracle involved; the spark travelling unaccompanied to and picking a suitable partner sometimes miles away, together making sure they not only endure a little longer, but carry on the fire using a variety of ingenious seduction and recognition mechanisms hidden in all plants and pants.
Signalling death yes, of course, but always linked to simultaneous natural renewal through sexual desire, by itself this masterful libidinal bag of tricks. I mean is there anything more ingenious for us humans than a well-timed erection or a pulsating clitoris? I can think of none! And yet some folks are still incapable of wonder and marvel, addicted to built-in, ready-made life-vest theories enforced by way of threat and terror as in the 'holy' punishment and preposterous case of the hanging of 'witches' in Salem based on Monty Python style deductive reasoning. The beauty of randomness, of never ending natural eruption and combustion escaping those making sure that absolutely nothing interferes with their convenient, static, crutch creed explanations; obstination their game, never to be dissuaded. The attempted elimination of certain fixed ideas to them akin to some sort of spiritual lobotomy in the face of which they jump on a horse, draw monstrous swords, howl ferociously and fearlessly attack disagreeing strangers. When strictly speaking 'we' can't 'know' anything, a savage but beautiful gnosis never to be entirely ours for the simple reason that the real, the overall not the partial truth is both enormous, mobile and fast. Yes Veritas Odit Moras, the truth hates delay, yet it still and often remains beyond us and can't be copied, caught, bought, contained or otherwise domesticated; not for private use and rising above us like a magnificent but veiled mountain top.
Collective delusion making religion so addictive, even to a paleontologist and scientist like Teilhard de Chardin who despite millions of years of overwhelming natural evidence to the contrary managed to remain a Jesuit priest and thus a cake eating, fence sitting creationist, and for some apparently a way to legitimise themselves. Manifesting underpinnings of near sexual connotation, sex so much more than the physical, orgasmic, the blind drive of multiplication, at a deeper level confirming, making man feeling not just accepted, but wanted, needed. With religion, while itself in no need of man, falsely I feel, still seen to protect and thereby confirm and so, identical to sex, making people feel so very wanted. And then of course whoever is wanted must be SAFE? Right? Sex and religion, both of them strong and completely irrational sentiments, sharing an irrepressible desire for belonging, a lair for which many will kill if threatened by eviction. Or from where to prudishly divert eyes from what really happens to be the case.
- Q: Sir, do you believe?
- A: Of course!
- Q: And a just-in-case believer?
- A: The best, as always!
So that it is just as derisory for the gullible to claim all is well, that we're needed and looked after purely on the basis of fairy tales, as it is an extreme form of arrogance to shut all doors to mystery, suggesting we already know everything there is to know.
In other words we should exclude nothing, but believe in very little and also admit that centuries of mainly self-stroking musings have not been a complete waste, far from it, even though our dead white males often turned out to be stale pale males. Extremely useful the musings that make ethics systemic as these turn life bearable whereas ire, indignation, envy, greed, disrespect, unreasonable perceptions of shame, fear-induced hatred, retribution and vengeance are all tools to kill. A all of this ultimately making us understand the structures and mechanics of language, of feelings, of purpose of thoughts, never mind the hundreds of immature conclusions that in the process were arrived at: all of it simply moral teething and part of our growing up. Works, even though radiant considering the primitive times in which they were conceived, never to be taken as an end onto itself. As for instance Spinoza's dozen or so formulae first 'proving' there is a single creator and telling us that God is everything, then concluding in his Ethica that on the contrary, everything is God and thereby to all intents and purposes becoming a free-spirited naturalist atheist nobly turning his back on constructed belief, on constructed meaning, in this respect well ahead yet pre-dating Kierkegaard and his 'accompanied' existentialism by a couple of centuries. 'Accompanied' because of the continued attempt by a magnificent but gutless Danish fence sitter to have his cake and eat it, too! Unwilling to let go of religion's convenience, its false and pretty comforts and proprieties...
Like Kant's de facto and safely sticking to some abstract God code, some God-figure, but still called one of our first modern rationalists. Or else someone like Sartre who agreed with Hume saying the inner self is a delusion, writing that our consciousness resides fully in the outside world, that there is no world apart from the external world, before declaring that experience can no longer be seen as a process of assimilation in which information is incorporated into a personal body of knowledge. Hello? What kind of idiotic, contradicting nonsense is this? At once maintaining humanism is a condescending bourgeois tool, while totally blind to the inherent tyranny of anti-humanism. Or incongruently defining individual sovereignty and freedom for us while remaining an unapologetic Stalinist, and having the audacity to denigrate freedom delivering America and its allies in order to laud the lunatic keeper of that vast prison called Cuba. A smart French moral charlatan who approved of revolutionary blood-letting for abstract ideals while he sat sipping drinks in a comfortable Paris café. A typical situation of obstinate thinking and erroneous loyalties unsurprisingly leading to concrete betrayals and in the latter's case not only spurious but even morally duplicitous reasoning by the lecherous lover I long ago baptised Jean-Paul Satyr... As with de Beauvoir's political savvy, from the same café in 1939 naively maintaining that all fear of Hitler was grossly exaggerated and repeating her stunning moral and political insight when it came to Mao 10 years on while condemning Camus' revolt against the concept of bloody revolution as cowardice, no less. Merci, I'll have another café-au-lait, pas trop fort... Or else Heildigger's lowering his antisemitic Bavarian Lederhosen to get into wood nymph Hannah's pants, unless this is the tale of a cunning Jewish piglet bagging the big, bad butcher, but either way a man who's still taken seriously merely because his massive, deliberately impenetrable lithurgy reads like a Jackson Pollock drip painting, offering consistent asymmetric density by the m2 only pleasing to academic strivers. With one big difference in that stepping back from a Pollock work, like his Number 21, or Mural, it becomes unmistakenly beautiful, just like its 3-dimensional cousin Hanging Fire by the deliciously inventive sculptor Cornelia Parker.
No, let's just call a spade a spade and brand a lot if not all of this inconsistent, pretentious intellectual and moral posturing, more than enough to temper our natural urge towards always latent hero-worship. At least the way today it comes across to ordinary investigative citizens. As with modern language-based deconstruction theories which, pursued to their extreme lead to a nasty case of decomposition: figure skating all of it, circles beautifully drawn, exquisite axles and soaring tripple toe loops, just about choking the bishop in mid-air and much coveted medals in the end, seeking, seeking perhaps, but always stuck in the same old bloody freezing ice rink. Beckett stumbling upon it, in Godot, Lucky's soliloquy to be precise, suggesting that massive words don't constitute more life, deliver more meaning or freedom, necessarily deliver anything. And on another level also this simple analogy to ponder: recently Swiss aero-dynamic engineers 'proving' that it's quite impossible for our dear old bumble-bee... to fly!
And what about all those notions of time then? Besides the filling in of distance, isn't time mostly the mental space in which we move? Isn't our ontological 'zeit' immaterial in terms of the universe, given that in all our thinking the fatal inhibitor is our own ephemeral fire-fly status, that old three score and ten business disqualifying us from participating in issues of enormity, making much vaunted relativity theories so relative that to us and strictly speaking they become null and void? Lost in the endless waters of space and motion, at least as far as physical man is concerned? And if you don't agree, Prof Dr Heinz Zweidrei-Klean and Herr Dr Schneewittchen of the Max Planck Institute of Extra-terrestrial Physics have accepted to investigate my point, but indicate they'll need 1.3 million 'years' to prove or disprove it. Yes, yes, I jest, or do they? Because in biological terms aren't we mere temporary syntheses? No Travelling Wilburys, but travelling particles and molecules if not amoebas, in cosmic terms somewhat ingenious, electro-chemical flames? Yes, man the flame, with the earth and all of life a slow burning fire. Even the tree, that humble bumble-bee, extensions of an even larger fire until he, they or it burn out. And yes, yes, life the flame does repeat itself, but never by leaving things the way they were, making our conjugation 'is', a very, very relative and tenuous one....
And also meaning that in the same way that we must deal with inherited credo much more knowingly, we must equally accept that there are limits to our importance and perception. That there will always be more than that smallest universe of them all: this space behind our eyes and between our ears. Images of galaxies thrust together into clusters reaching us through the arrival of 'old' light, the grand irony of something on the surface of things taking place right now, but having been concluded and changed into something entirely different millions of 'our' years ago, and so, to us, no longer a realistic 'truth'. That this, to us, is a bit of an impractical, nay, futile spectacle at which point it is best to sit down, have a cold beer, relax, and pretend that the red galaxy we saw through our Hubble mirror telescope was a squirt of ketchup on its lens. That astonished as we are to find an atom is in fact another pint-sized universe, or at least a solar system with whirling bodies of its own, and earth for all we know a proton in an atom in a molecule of some giant leg of lamb, making us the quantum and forcing us to stand back and reflect at levels we never contemplated before. Discovering that only looking at particles not at ourselves, is beginning to understand the universe. That the cosmos as a womb or a universe inside a universe inside a universe and so on are all distinct possibilities and our 'playing with and inside this space' though all too human, though not uninteresting also not determinant whatsoever, merely representative of an entirely in itself remarkable, volatile intellect. And yet those Big Bang or Unified String theories should not become obsessions in that there could be many space bangs and ripples, folds and strands beyond our mental range, imagination or sight, the fifth essence or the unknowable dimensions as they're called, perhaps requiring a totally new, a seventh sense. Allowing only that presumably there is a method to the cosmic chaos, given that not all chaos is madness. And that, again, while not having to give up all exploration which is in our blood, man has to remain much, much more philosophical in the truest, purest sense: above all no dogma or doctrine at the end of which particularly forbidding, supposedly 'wise' men tend to lose no sleep over calling for mass murder and mayhem! Man, while basically intelligent still too often caught up in what can only be described as unfortunate self-inflicted, self-imposed, self-serving, attitudinal stupidity!
It's all very well and sometimes entertaining, though what does it all really matter when there's every possibility the human species itself might have disappeared or been eclipsed in say 20.000, 30.000 years in the way that strains of insects were found frozen in time and inside droplets of primordial amber? Man the new fossil, our current collective umbilical cord already stretched to roughly 200.000 years, isn't it going to snap at one point? There being only so much genetic mileage to be extracted from the overly complex human mammal, plus given that as organised societies we've been around a scant 8000 'years' (with our very limited perspective branding the first of these as existing in 'antiquity', though happily one historian when asked what influence the Roman Empire had exercised on modern western society, retorted that it was much too recent a situation for him to comment on!), and yet not organised enough to suspend the depletion of our planet when looking at its diseased atmosphere, oceans and forests, its festering coastlines?
(Image provided by the magnificent young sculptor and sub aqua artist Jason de Caires Taylor, see Jason Taylor )
Of course it can be argued that there's nothing to worry about, that nothing disappears in thin air, the earth 'forever' feeding on itself in the way that forests live on their own fallen leaves, branches and trunks, over the ages pumping up hundreds of thousands of tons of oxygen each day, the very atmosphere and topsoil covering otherwise inhospitable rock. But then also consider that we may be too clever to survive, humanity not that forest, only one among its many branches, one becoming way too heavy for its own good and ready to break. Or put differently, humanity found hanging from its own family tree, done in by natural factors which include itself and a sad case of Omphalos lost...
And even upon some unforeseen genetic renewal starting another life cycle on another planet only represents a potential stay of execution seeing how we constantly foul the incubator. Unless we decide to arrive as a pollen instead of a virus, come to pollinate and bloom rather than infect, but despite all our missteps that most marvellous thing of all: still getting this final choice to make! One not to get screwed up through deadly narrow-mindedness by way of one-dimensionality. Though either way at some hopefully very, very distant day, bequeathing decadent, ghostly piles of vine-covered rubble formerly known as New York City, Cairo, Shanghai: Angkor Wat on the Hudson, the Nile, the Yangtze. For now forgetting about walking one's dog along the Milky Way or open a bar on Mars (Ah, yes, those Mars bars...), today everyone fighting over how it all began, biological evolution or divine creation, but few daring to ask how it'll all end. Not apocalyptic claptrap this, only that at the very least and at one point there'll follow an organic scaling down, a drastic planetary housekeeping of Permian or Cretaceous proportion probably followed by a whole new Cambrian explosion, and not because anyone says so but because of the way things do work, the chemical seasons of all matter, everything chemical, everything always on the move and fermenting, the majestic but unequivocal seasons of being. That, mutatis mutandis, constant molecular processing and being processed are the only way delicious life can exist and thrive. Even social and political forces a mitosis of a kind, the organic splitting of 'cells' and 'thought' followed by new formations all the time!
With this I mean let's move away from sophisticated sentimentalism, and inject some pragmatism and realism. Because when two of among millions of galaxies collide, events taking tens of millions of our years to culminate, how can Jesuits, Jews, Salafists, Sikhs and so many other gentlemen for instance, still really, really believe that this is all with them in mind? Deny that their ardent extra-existential reveries and vanities and accompanying dieties, their pursuit of certain dis-realities and dis-identities not mere, contrived survival tools, which do create a degree of solidarity, but also lead to out-of-hand ambition and certain elitism often justifying cruel inquisitions? That they're suffering from the disease called 'petrified conviction', linked to acute 'dogmatitis' sometimes progressing into extended pandemics? Places where dilemmas don't exist, again everyting approved and certain! Or is all of this simply fear of 'boire la mer'? Man innately terrorised by endlessness, forever wrapping himself in protective cocoons? Filling this endlessness with endless factual emptiness. His struggle with mortality, infinity and space so acute that he must set boundaries, shores, respite, by way of made-up answers as buoys... fearing he's drowning before he has begun to swim? Akin to an airplane pilot in mortal combat with vacuity setting an artificial horizon, so he won't crash?
(Lion to Lioness, peering over the Maasai Mara veldt)- What the hell is that....!!!???
(Her, spotting a Wildebeest with a long, black beard)- I think it's an orthodox Gnu!!
(Him, puzzled)- What else is Gnu...!
(Her)- It doesn't matter, does it? He's different and cute!
(Him)- But only if he knows he's from this Kingdom, just like that Acacia tree!
(Her) - One of all of us, no matter what?
(Him)- But convictions what they are, likely a more difficult task...!
(Her)- What are you saying? That Super-Gnu's not in the stars?
(Him)- Yup! So stop Gnu-flecting!
(Her)- I only genuflect and bow before you!
(Him)- Don't overdo it, honey! Just gimme a big hug!
Creed, ethnic origin, traditions and institutions, the eminent Dr Lévi-Strauss tells us, a by-product of a world that started without us and one day will end without us. Einstein in his 'God' letter, rightly I feel, acknowledged as much. A place where despite appearances, and without any disrespect, we all did come from the same stardust and like it or not, end up in the same cosmic cauldron. So that for now and on the purely physical level let's at least realise that tectonic plates and all their seismic activity are still capable of keeping the world's crust violently on the move. That a small planetary wobble can make all mammals including man extinct, that volcanic ash-induced ice ages covering continents with hundreds of meters of unliveable deep frost are not a thing of the past; in short that life and the earth have not stopped evolving now that we're here. That whale skulls and enormous jawbones have been found high up in the Peruvian Andes and that pink salt is mined in the Himalayas which can mean only one thing, and that is that these majestic mountains also once were extended seabed. Or that hyena fossils have been found high up in the Canadian arctic indicating that these lands weren't so arctic at a certain point in time. And that lush northern Africa covered with savanahs and lakes turned into the burning Sahara less than 15 000 years ago, with fossils of giant sharks, sawfish and electric rays dating back 50 millions years before getting dug up in what today is deadly dry, barren Mali. Plus that what is currently known as the Black Sea still was a low lying sweet water inland lake with sophisticated Thracian settlements at its shores not long ago. Predating the Egyptian Pyramids by at least 2000 years these tribes suddenly finding themselves swept away to their death, at the receiving end of a huge Mediterranean salt water flood, after the fact and much later described as being of 'biblical' proportion, originating at the Bosporus after glaciers and ice caps at the top of the earth had melted to substantially raise sea levels during epochs of extreme global warming.
And that none of this had much to do with human activity or divine punishment, so that while it behoves us to stop cutting down trees and bloody well clean up our plastics and industrial act, greenhouse periods also form part of planetary seasons making that we'll always only be the flame that jumped into the flambé pan, that off-spring of light, that spark in boots, in trousers and skirts, that short wild dance in the universe together with our bosom friends, those superb plants and their amazing architecture, those wonderful insects and those sometimes bizarre looking striped, spotted, hoofed, pawed, clawed, scaled, horned, finned, furred or feathered cousins of ours. A ball, a dance, too crazy, too magnificent to end until the fires die, only to spring up elsewhere in that long, long night... likely with entirely new music to dance to, starring unrecognizable creatures and crops.
We, for now, the third force then between volcanic and solar action only until these very fires through core exhaustion and solidification or else some sort of collision decide to alter everything, and we're not so quietly asked to dematerialise. Adaptation by disappearance, as it's called, also referred to as the evolution of extinction. Unless of course we did manage to get away, circling a new sun/star by way of moon and asteroid hopping. But NONE of these aspects adequately reflected in contemporary philosophical treatises and dissertations having come to public attention, still carefully looking inward and the other way, building outmoded thought on outmoded thought only for completely adrift academic purposes. In which no free and open philosophical search takes place, parasitical positions firmly re-taken from 9 to 5, and all subsequent energy gets wasted on defending these. With abstrusity sometimes bordering on the perverse, lacking any link to people's lives, as if the word 'new' itself anathema, with the cultural divide between science and the contemplative humanities a case of two solitudes. As for the rest, this has nothing to do with the quality of our thinkers, but over the centuries and even now where out of some sort of obedience they arbitrarily apply what is commonly called premature closure, likened by me to serious intellectual coitus interruptus. Through convention compartmentalised or ideologically lobotomised man, carefully constructing sometimes admirable but nevertheless, by now incomplete thought, in dismissal of the idea that what is ultimately required is not so much the spinning of ever more thought... but more courage and a minimal degree of metaphysical defiance.
Yes, slow, essential change making all things tick, is assuming that we can stop and linger, hang on, always bloody hanging on, implying we're above change, not part and parcel of it, not a little silly or worse: the height of egregious attempted, organised consolidation? For what are these 20.000 or 30.000 man years anyway but a quick drop in the ocean of cosmic 'matter/time/space', organic or not, in a place where in human terms when all is said and done and except for brief but enormous and violent outbursts, nothing much takes place? Not inherently of course, but because of our abysmally limited perspective, that severely curtailed and therefore insignificant presence. We, sadly, the universe's ephemeral, marginal and totally immaterial witnesses? Making that even should we be the universe's prize biological trophy, we by implication also represent its failure. This by letting us escape that lousy food chain without sustaining us beyond the fleeting and the contingent, on top of this allowing us to play a same and sordid endgame by way of repeated... self-destruction?
I know, die we do and strictly biologically speaking die we must, but by giving the good and the strong a couple more centuries of life like the Greenland shark we would at least get to live down our errors and in the end avoid so much man-made tragedy and grief. The case of smart not random evolution, even though there are dangers of our own making in this again, and I'm thinking in terms of equally lengthy deadly dictatorships. Human minds then, so fragile, capable of grasping the ages but in an immediate, searing physical sense remaining brutally temporary and in the end to what avail, as no matter what.... Sorry folks, we just can't think our way out of this thing? Those brilliant bubbles below that hair and hat, electro-chemically built to burst way too soon, who should learn how to contemplate their own stool bringing them down a notch or more.... On the other hand, as bubbles go, there's no great champagne without them, so that ostensibly we do perhaps, somewhere, somehow, still play an extremely minuscule role as long as we preserve ourselves in the Dom Perignon bottle and that bottle stays whole! For isn't one bundled up bundle of cells throwing a piece of rubber at another conglomeration of cells that picks it up and brings it right back not an extraordinary cosmic spectacle? Oh, I'm sorry that's my neighbour Harry walking his dog in the park. But please, let's not start this again, the over-indulging in rampant, addictive fantasy needing a 'fix' every day of the week exaggerating how clever and significant we are, all the while celebrating the 'timeless' ingenuity of all those famous predecessors of ours. On whose shoulders it is said we stand and who made us what we are today, as if in aviation terms by reading up on da Vinci and his fantastical flying machines or the Wright Brothers solely is what got us to the moon; the constant scraping of the barrel by those insisting that they did, overly disposed towards the adoration of anyone and anything, re-doing and re-doing that think-thing, rehearsed and rehearsed just as they were told... and told! But if anything and in the end not much more than complacent historians, incapable of courageous, meaningful, auto-generated, open thought.
With all due respect, what we as fire-flies ought to consider perhaps is turn A Brief History of Time into A Timely History of Briefs and String Theory, that Phantom of the Cosmic Opera, into as many as Bach's Air on a G-String melodies as possible: precisely the down to earth joy that's missing from most 'traditional' thought, except perhaps for Socrates suggesting that a personal life in itself left unexamined to the fullest is not worth living: examined he said, not crafted, not constructed, not fabricated, manicured, not devised, in complete denial of the natural world! Because, putting it like Duke Ellington, And a One, and a Two and a One more Time, besides the real but perhaps impractical, however elegantly dreaming up the rest is not the same. In fact it can be damned dishonest and no longer acceptable. Like making up the news.
The significance of most pioneering Greek and Roman poets, playwrights and philosophers therefore, of historical nature nothing else. With Pliny the Elder already rejecting the mad idea that life gets renewed by death after witnessing innocent Pompeii's total, utter, wanton destruction. Or Lucretius and before him Aeschylus and Pindar speaking splendidly and freely well before the slow thousand year killing of uninhibited thought. Only eventually to be followed by folks like Kant, Hegel, Hume, Rousseau, Schopenhauer and his porcupine parable and evidently one of these himself; today all this work of great interest, but strictly for historians and proper-thought-less nerds. After close reading all inherited thought to be affectionately put aside, and superseded by our own determinations unless they really, really, still coincide. Especially Wittgenstein's maintaining that all our answers lie in language, seems like an obsession with the arrow, not with its path. Or that there cannot be absolute truth as mathematics are unable to prove this, the so-called incompleteness theorem. With it dawning on Gödel and many others that mathematics are imperfect and finite in their capacity to embrace all of reality for the simple reason that not all reality is logical or rational by linear human standards, but random and fluid, a cameleon, nearly impossible to define, draw or trap. The Stoics by way of the Cynics coming closest to understanding what life really has to offer by asking us to face truths without preaching resignation. Though even they were still far too self-centred for a world by definition needing to be shared, despite once in a while looking over their shoulders concluding that only a good man or woman can be wise. Whereby wise means generous, of course!
Or else Erasmus of Rotterdam, already showing us how difficult it is to become and remain a humanist, while exposing many of man's ugly faces in In Praise of Folly. A work so earnest it must have been close to heresy in its day, a hay-day of frozen, artificial truths. He an anti-philosopher really, who to his credit rejected silly, arid, punctilious rationale in favour of passion---a measured dose of sweet madness and playfulness. A man who hated people remembering and obeying what they heard, wishing for them to clap their hands, live and drink lustily as excellent disciples of folly. Not bad for a fifteenth century chap, traveling on a mule who didn't take himself all that seriously, but who was unable to separate himself from the Church. Then again who was during the times Rome had a suffocating, totalitarian hold over every aspect of society? And what about Nietzsche, the nonconformist, following the first, the hesitant earlier exponents of the Buddhism-inspired Enlightenment? The first one to fully break the mould, that hold of a priori divine presence over nearly all traditional western thinking, not so much killing Him but banning God to history, in a sense saying 'You're fired!' In the end spoiling things with incoherent, syphilitic twaddle, already losing the plot before getting hit by that horse in Turin, but a philosopher only wanting man to be strong, not pathetic, independent and free at the expense of no one; a notion I fully subscribe to. Though at the same time a somewhat pessimistic, self-contradictory chap, and as such an aphorist for all seasons, capable of paradoxically opposing good and evil. In the end without a consistent line of thought, never quite having expressed that profound, temporal joy unlike vulgar, shallow hedonistic stuff is our only meaning, probably because in his humourless personal life he hadn't run into much. A man detesting all religions for being Utopian and playing up to our weakest instincts, yet not blushing to reinvent an ancient prophet for his postulations with the ridiculous, gospel structured Thus Spake Zarathustra, in which he attempts to mortally and morally replace this God. As if we have a choice, for besides mostly abusive and abused fantasy is the alternative not some sort of existential paralysis, le mal d'être, leading to collective suicide?
So that again, yes, yes, these men and so many others made an indisputable but transitory contribution to our development as speaking, seeing, feeling and acting beings, if anything by showing us sometimes rather unintentionally how better, or how, at this point, no longer to proceed because of what we now know and they did not. The new realities which are not 'new' at all, replacing old ones so sadly contrived. We, the blessed, through truly enlightening, break-through investigation (from Galileo and Newton, to Darwin, Einstein, Watson and Planck, from particle physics, paleo-anthropology, DNA and modern evolutionary molecular/cellular biology, to the origin world of vital photosynthesis, neutrinos, isotopes, bosons, fermions, photons, dark matter, dark energy, dark gravity and so on) as total laymen and men in the street finally able to assess. No longer in need of primitive impulses, of awkward philosophical theory or religious doctrine. Free, free at last. No more beautiful bullshit that once saw us through but also kept us down. Able to stand back and really contemplate our common, limited, yet quite fascinating destiny with unfettered appreciation. Who beg to differ by placing mind over myth and matter over mind even when this cuts our own species down to size. Regaining the natural sense of awe and joy we nearly lost through intimidation and cosmetic artificiality.
As for morals, it is clear by now that tolerance and justice are entirely linked to developed intelligence, the lack of it, coarse primitivity, producing inequity and unspeakable social cruelty. That all known gods were born after our civilizations formed so that religion is derived from our innate morality and not the other way round. Marking the arrival of the saddest irony of all, the spectacle of arrested thought turning man back into beast, his creeds incorporating his most horrible attributes and defeats, never his victories. The observation that sense takes centuries to become common; moral evolution in so many quarters stopped dead in its track. Anyway, nature as a whole unforgiving, undemocratic and amoral, only man potentially considerate for the simple reason that while it takes two to be decent, in the long run and pragmatically speaking, empathy and tolerance make such eminent personal 'common' sense. With the purest and noblest among us precisely those whose generosity comes without some held out or 'divine' reward. Our real saints secular souls, unheralded, unpaid, invisible, remaining completely anonymous while others appropriate religion and go to Calcutta to elevate themselves, as if there can be no goodness without the holy Muppet Show. That circus of robes and those smoke screens of incense - to fool the devil, you must understand -, or should we call it teargas as on some of us it has a similar effect?
Q: Excuse me, which one's the Christian heaven?
A: Down there! Third one on the left!
Q: Rev. Allen, could you tell me where's heaven, and if it stays open all night?
A: Ah, yes! It does! And it ain't far from downtown!
Q: As always serving tea and cinnamon buns?
A: Yes, Ikea's open most of the time!
Upon his return from space an astronaut having looked back down or up at us said he saw no disease, no wars, no cars, that it was beautiful! One of us, one of ours not particularly rueful about finding neither Heaven nor Hell, seeing no Christian or other people's planets dangling around like vast Christmas tree balls in darkness. Though he did miss seeing you and me roasting on the beach while knowing we were there and wishing us well. Beatifully alive on that blessed, self-contained, brave, blue heavenly body circling an amazing mass of light and warmth when seen up close, but a humiliating dot when spotted from as little as 100 million miles removed! Is this therefore not the moment to accept the magnificence of life on its own unique terms for perhaps only the second time; first so innocently, in the very, very beginning, and again only of late? Without the intervening interference of sanctimony, of artificial despair, silly threats of damnation, the torments of a sulfurous hell, the fire, the brimstone of it, the deliberate perdition of it, places where even seraphs fear to tread? Without the feeble crutch of tailor-made yet devastating eternity full of bored stiff angels, sainthood and all its supporting drama, dogma and rites for a goodbye, see you later kind of God. All these handmaids of worship without feeling that for us, here, there's no grand role left to play, that we have lost our meaning, as if we ever really had one or for that matter really need one!? Not as übermensch, superman, but simply as superSchmidt or superJones. Man whose only greatness lies in his courage to face and manage, if not completely influence his own destiny but one who's no longer in need of fictitious heroes? For haven't we put far too much capital in the search of lofty exterior 'meaning' without which, it has been suggested, we cannot live? When the opposite is true, that what's uniquely important in a human life is immediate daily purpose and reason; remove or defeat it and see suicide rates rise, native American self-decimation the horrible example of it. And even in the unlikely event that there exists an organised power some place high, must we then really think of it in terms of it 'revealing' itself by way of sainted comic-strips given the abject cruelty it constantly displays, never really protecting or loving.... for how could it? Yet still getting courted with naive worship, that ignoble form of begging on knees when normally speaking we're guilty of nothing? Relieving ourselves in prayer as it's called, but really only exposing gratuitous despair? All the while singing deadly mainly white Songs of Praise or as some will have it the dousing of oneself with Psalm Oil, ultimately meaningless and as always ending up reflecting man's private hopes, needs and fears? And which if I were He and existed, would not only bore me stiff, but really piss me off? Te Deum tedium... as it ought to be called! I mean is there anything more pathetic than singing Erbarme Dich, Mein Gott..., Have Mercy On Us, My God..., or listen to sterile priestly Gregorian chant beseeching that tricky old hypnotist up there, one created unfortunately by way of our own masochistic lore? On occasion thrice done over by the self-hypnotics, the extasy and delirium of the Hildegard von Bingen or Teresa of Avila brand and no different from zombie pagan voodoo and Santeria rites in Haiti, Cuba and Brazil. Yet all of it deprived of the overwhelming sincerity and honesty, the explosive joy of Black American Gospel singing and something that nobody should ever take away from these good folks, letting them be, letting them be...., even if profoundly admiring the expression one doesn't necessarily share the substance of all that exuberance. In my personal case a Hosanna in theatrical and musical fairy tales not involving the King of Glory as much as Hakuna Matata the Lion King...! And all of which reminds me of one Peter O'Toole, in my book one of our greatest philosophers whose favorite greasy, wine and whiskey stained jacket could no longer be cleaned and was sent back to him with a Dry Cleaner's note saying Item Returned To Owner In Unimproved State, and a wording he so much loved that he decided he would use it on his tombstone... And why not? For if so many behave like pets or worse like slaves, perhaps they should no longer speak of their Maker, but of their Owner! And through this lively anecdote only to say that yes humility is fine, but all that self-humiliation not so much.
For don't we need self-esteem to achieve the highest degree of universal decency on our own, as a final victory over evil? And is a sort of moral equality not what the world needs most right now? Whereby we're our own 'meaning'? Besides, what happened to genuine dignity? Don't we know by now? Shouldn't we? And whereby dog-fighting or arguing over the above or not, exponential personal growth rather than incessant inference or mere glib phrase-making needs to be the game! Remaining supremely pragmatic at all times, instead of incongruously turning temporal philosophy or even modern science and technology accompanied by their brand new mythologies into some crypto-religion yet again. With holier than thou hierarchies accommodating classical power-seekers aided by the usual suspects, those habitual acolytes and sycophants, never forgetting that scientifically speaking we still do not understand the extraordinary double birth through metamorphosis of caterpillar and butterfly, of tadpole and frog, man incapable of concocting an organic capsule from which under a hot lamp and pouring some water over it a beautiful rose or strawberry will grow. Or for that matter, and to hell with Fabergé, by himself create an egg that actually works...!
For isn't it disturbing to note how crowds knowing so much about divinity and philosophy, know so little about being philosophical? That only earnest enquiry and the inevitable victory of real knowledge over subjective pontification can lead us to victory over our lingering cowardice, testify in favour of our ultimate maturity, our final peace! And just as it is foolish to cut down forward-going reasoning, the same applying to those only dreaming in name. For friends, devout believers, and if not devout certainly devoted, why not entertain the notion that He struggles to keep it all together. That like most of us and with the best of intentions, He miserably fails sometimes, with so few giving Him a helping hand. That when all is said and done, He's so Human... Rather than that perfect but Inhuman God waiting to get us, some sort of sadist to boot. I mean, once you believe, can't you go all the way, believe anything you want, owners of all that glorious devotion? Why then shackle yourselves, and when dreaming not dream all out... to guilt free, proud, here-here-land? Or is this already too rational? And if you won't be rational, will you at least not to be unreasonable? Or too practical, like that young American I read about, a matter-of-fact believer, praying year after year for the Lord to give him a new bike and never receiving one, concluding that stealing one and asking for forgiveness worked far, far better. Signifying that bespoke dreaming is what we get, apt reveries, featuring a convenient, tailor-made God. And the philosophical and religious lead-up to it only exposing pettiness, a tragic lack of humour and imagination and all too often the deep absence of true understanding; restrictions sanctioned by long dead, perhaps shining, yet understandably era-confined minds.
All this so that if one really must believe.... there may be something to be said for adoring the hybrid animal deities in the pantheon of older cultures like the Hindu Ganesh man-elephant, the Egyptian Anubis man-jackal, the Aztec Quetzalcoatl man-serpent, or the femme fatale temptress-songbird Sirens, not to forget our own fish-tail Mermaids who point at their playful folkloric origin rather than some divine 'revelation' and why a new dawn is needed even though and as Faulkner put it the past is never dead. And one whereby current guiding philosophy and religion get put into requiem form, or else into a child's theatre of the mind where by now surely they belong. Leaving us with only one broad formal philosophical and theological discipline, termed perhaps (Studies of) The History of Unfinished Human Thought. Or is it The Redundant Plea Contained In All Past Human Rumination And Reflection?! In his Library of Babel the opposite of what Borges calls a detailed history of the future because we should study precisely so we don't over-regurgitate... Something from which the aloof clerks of philosophy and creed in the eyes of the public have been totally removed, for again what a disappointment.... those in charge of stimulating intellect without apparently realising it... stifling it with endless, suffocating analysis. All this profoundly obliging, conformist work by the yard and the forever concurrent forgetting to get themselves a mind.... sailing through life not living it by obtaining a degree. People who appear to feel nothing, recognise nothing, discover nothing, offer nothing but piles of words. In disciplines that go deeper, deeper, but essentially and in solipsistic extremes merely suppress. Those illiberal dissertations that get denser in ever more turgid, depressing displays of entrenchment totally ignoring evolution, climate, geology and other dominant external conditions, going INWARD thus getting darker and yet applauded for their RIGOUR, but ceasing to be nutritive because ultimately hostile to generous new light pouring in from all sides! Quite overlooking for instance that insects or so many sub-aquatic organisms may well be a much more interesting life-form than the wasteful, stupid/smart land mammals that on so many levels we've become! And that in the middle of all that chaotic cosmic violence taking in a perfectly peaceful windstill morning next to palm groves near a quiet sunny coastline is the greatest miracle of all. Only at the very, very end of that vast, slow, moving parade and directed or not... Mankind, including its sensory cognition tools and its relative individual size, but also with a mind that often entertains extremely innocent thoughts!
Giambattista Vico, a XVIIth century Italian philosopher following the footsteps of another Napolitan, Giordano Bruno, burnt at the stake a century earlier, coming closest to freeing himself, attacking the Church and also the reigning brain of his day, Descartes, who pretended to be a supreme anthropocentric rationalist while thriving on regimented 'methodical doubt', but also managing to remain a devout Catholic all his life (or as Pascal already said of him: talking about duality, of triple contradictions, speaking not of doubt, but of confusion and trying to have one's cake and eating it, too...). Saying that man had successfully faced three ages: the Age of Gods, the Age of Heroes and was now embarking on the Age of Man, with no further need for morale boosters. But Vico also talking himself out of a comfortable job by refusing to sit on a Faculty in ultimate denial of its members' faculties, at the University of Naples in 1699, selling all his worldly belongings to prove his point and going on to starve to death for lack of income. But this now no longer needing to happen to men and women of utter intellectual integrity, and if some do feel trapped, why still persist in working exclusively on the intricacies... of the trap? In order to show off? Like the criminal lawyer not for a moment believing in a murderer's innocence, but pleading it only so he can prove that he's smarter than the rest, than the system, smarter even than the truth and purely a matter of unstoppable ambition?
Allow me to add, here, now, today, and in conclusion that there are a handful of myths and faerie or fairy tales from which we needn't escape, from which we needn't be set free. We don't have to deprive ourselves altogether of our fantasies. We only need to carefully remember how perverted political and religious so-called romanticism endorsed wasted living, accounting for much abject cruelty, ignominiously producing millions of dead; belief systems and doctrines still thriving in too many places out there. These other fables the happy exception: bereft of the inherent intellectual dishonesty of all the rest. Differing from your run-of-the-mill, multi-striped scribbling and scripture in that they attempt to unmask ostensibly benign falsehoods, near hypnotic and addictive to so many, while neither creating nor perpetuating them. Alice in Wonderland's adventures from the other side of the mirror in Through the Looking-Glass coming to mind (contrariwise, continued Tweedleedee, if it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn't, it ain't. That's the logic.) or else The Emperor's New Clothes, without forgetting Orwell's farm of course. And what about toothless Tigger in Winnie-the-Pooh, isn't he absitively, posolutely honester than most of us will ever be? With one superb quote remaining to end this brief exposé and somewhat personal tour d'horizon, not intended to offend, but to help set free the slaves, even though in their bewilderment and as a primitive response these'll often savagely attack anyone making this attempt. How bizarre, slaves rising to remain slaves, but it happens moreoften than not. And how utterly tragic, the rabidly credulous in essence pining for the death of death turning to murder to obtain it!
This then a quote from another one of these rare works, The Wizard of Oz, the old fool caught in the act of deception. Dorothy's exclamation to be precise, on another farm, at the end of the twister, after she awakes:
"Auntie Em, Auntie Em!
There's no place like home!...
There's no place like home!"
That's right, little girl, there is absolutely nothing wrong with home: our here and our now. Human existence not needing to be fraught with feelings of fear or a colossal sense of vacuity once official fairy tales have been exposed for what they are. Simply put, we must stop kidding ourselves, cut out the crap, for even if we're not particularly significant, we're NOT worthless. And at the risk of sounding like Peter Sellers as Chauncey the dim-witted gardener in Being There, I truly think it's what Voltaire meant a couple or more centuries ago when he closed Candide with the ambiguous Il faut cultiver notre jardin, urging us to cultivate our delicious earthly garden, retrieve lost dignity and move on to live authentically. Never missing a beat, a notion to which before him Epicurus out of his Garden or even Montaigne, even though outsiders certainly no strangers and both moralists of the first order to whom existential pleasure remained essential, stayed faithful all their life. Lusty moralists they, not puritanical sybarites and already aware that we often observe and think from within a too self-assured, partially self-constructed, partially delivered comfort zone, with few guessing what can happen to our house-of-cards moral balancing act, capable of the overnight crashing into horrendous ugliness. And that what we like to think of as free will, in fact the response to so much by itself pernicious feedback. So that overseeing and inspecting this with much humility is the only key to successful continuation. Not fanciful escape, the attempt at spiritual emigration to timeless places nowhere to be found, on top of all the elbowing to get in.
Put differently again, all this representing the last and hopefully longest lasting phase of all. The First, at the dawn of 'our' days, one of light and innocence, the Second, one of fear and survival, the Third, one of fear and sustenance, the Fourth, one of fear, fantasy and order. The Fifth, one of power, fear, fantasy and enslavement, followed by the Sixth, one of self-induced darkness and the beginning of the struggle to free ourselves, then more recently the Seventh, one of drifting into despair and a sense of the absurd as reflected in bleak XXth Century theatre and literature, but now, possibly, the time ripe to do away with all that atavistic fear: at one point fear must die, there's nothing to be afraid of, there is no such thing as 'nothingness' if you can figure that one out, therefore nothing is 'absurd' except perhaps wasting our stay on this heavenly body. And what is nothing to some, every bit as magnificent as the piece of art that man himself still represents. This piece of attitude, no longer worrying about his ultimate insignificance and seemingly mere decorative status, finally remaining indifferent to the whole and as such nature's only rebel. Yes, rebellion is man, for despite his passing magnificence, he does remain the cosmos' very own beautiful failure. And therefore, with a touch of anguish, but also with a touch of anger, dares to shout: 'Screw the Universe!'. Not throwing the existential hat into the ring, but shaking off sadness and submission, and thereby majestic, heroic at last! Dignity come!
So that the only damn time for humanity to ask Why, What Was The Point would be after a furtive, an immense Gamma Ray flash had destroyed all life on earth. But then, who'd be left to do the asking? Therefore don't ask, even now, today! Accept the whole point is that life itself is the point, and none other. Ay, if only all would listen and stop defending their fantasies with stipulated reasoning as if a rational approach to the completely irrational suddenly establishes truth and fact. Instead of passing through life like brainwashed Manchurian Candidates, have-bomb-will-travel 'idealists' all too often acting in the name of nursery stuff of the most destructive kind who became fanatics not of real but of imposed, unnatural harmony and not the friends of hours, friends of ours that they should be. For together we form the Hollywood cast and despite all appearances the only existing reality, and any cosmic audience.... the dream. Because really, from any perspective, besides untimely death and despite his undeniable genius man's only persistent enemies are false light and lingering misunderstanding. And he doesn't improve matters by not 'farming' himself more responsibly, or as masters of negation allow himself to be misled by fear induced willful ignorance, the partial abrogation of his intellect and so the delegation not only of his judgment, but of his conscience. By not living exuberantly whenever and wherever possible, by erroneously thinking that dignity's putting on a robe, accompanied by all imaginable pomp-and-prejudice creating rituals. By favouring myopic notion over suitable humility and huge, elaborate lies over simple courageous truth: man the abdicator, the adulator, the manufacturer, the fabulist, the often mindless conformist, the derelict, the great pretender with a frightening capacity to inflict pain and block out genuine thought. Don't let him seek perverse solace, machinate meaning, invent an existential alibi: living by itself is never a crime and life while daunting at times not some sort of huge injustice perpetrated on mankind. Plus that something which cannot easily be explained is not necessarily empty, let alone absurd. So while Signore Vico called it the Third Age, why don't we call all of this Phase Eight, and see what happens?! If lived equitably it may well cause fewer societal convulsions and also fight heartburn.
Revised, unedited March, 2018 draft
Originated some time during 2002
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***Fairy Tales (Merriam-Webster Dictionary): A story in which improbable events lead to a happy ending. Hence the suggestion of achieving a narrow escape from 'improbable events' or for that matter apocryphal endings, by inching back to something closer to probability but still rather good. Like saving the life of a girl trapped in some unreal comedy. Snow White, stepping into our living room, wiping her brow, exclaiming, phew, finally got out of this goddamn fairy tale, may I come in?
Everything you've read here has been said or written before by people as far back as Democritus, Lucretius, Heraclitus, Diderot and Holbach, I later found out. This a summing up by an ordinary XXI Century citizen, arriving at his own perspective without 'formal' indoctrination, pre-conconceived notions or pre-acquired certainties. Just common sense, absolutely no despair and a good pinch of ontological courage, although I have bad days too. Yes, cognition commoves, it is not for the fainthearted, but priceless if one has balls. For life is not a rehearsal for anything, this multiple act play is ìt. The trick is not to waste time on self-stroking Revelation, or for that matter on being an arrogant nihilist, but insist on becoming a compassionate... Now-ist. Or Be-ist. Yes, Be-ists not Beasts, the taming of ourselves our only victory, our sole and distant glance at purely symbolic eternity! Become men modern, as Dylan Thomas put it, who do not go gentle into that good night! But rage, rage against the dying of the light....
Accompanying seminal prose poem
A FUNERAL FOR IMMORTALITY
(Subtitle: The Lodes of Time)
There is no sweeter contingency
Yet consider the promise of endlessness but finding all things good, become all hell
So that the possibility of immortality's own death sneaking up, to this deception we should not over-react,
when still in need of
Indeed, if immortality were a woman who had a certain way with us, holding herself out, making us go and go on, when otherwise and long ago we would have given up: yes, such is the power of suggestion and the degree to which our fears and at once the self-preservation behind our beliefs, do stimulate
The terrible power of fantasy, as it is called
For as it turns out her generosity always exactly mirrors our generosity towards ourselves
Now one day such a lady surely deserves a warm-hearted elegy, seeing how before our very eyes she suddenly grew so very old, and cold. Or was it slowly, but nobody paid attention? The cause of death, since you ask, usually ignored in as formal an outpouring as an obituary, and futile bringing the matter up except perhaps for those themselves blindly moribund. And having loads of time coming up with a suitable epitaph, there rarely existing need for impatience or thrusts of other sorts
For it is nearly impossible to write a well-reasoned prose poem on something that isn't quite real, something like a real enough obituary or elegy for afterlife and the reason lady-embodiment serves us well. For in defence of things it must be given a try as life only valued as a constant 'raging against the dying of the light' so often leads to the de facto denial of one. Like the stating, as so many do, that wisdom is 'accepting life's limitations' and from there swiftly going on to suggest how terrific and infinite and un-'limitated' the next one is. Commencing the search for the holy grail of this immortality, even when there is not the faintest hope of finding it, the real, organic universe unable to function in this fashion. Or, as a friend of mine expresses it, immortality having no future at all
And which I only now begin to understand
But let us return to the task of burying a lady: it is not easy celebrating someone who never was and could not be, someone comforting and fanciful, alive superbly in our desires, one we only recently and to our great shock learned no longer lives among us. Gone, defunct, dead and needing to be buried with great pomp, out of respect for what we perceived were her extraordinary accomplishments: dishing out limitless, beguiling reward as recompense for our own perceived victories and qualities. A spell-binding, an overly generous lady, deserving an elaborate grave, a solid grave, for she was uncommonly elusive and thought to be extremely tall, with all of us knowing her but none of us ever really seeing her, even though, incredibly, we would kill for her if we had to, chips down and seemingly in the service of some deep need
With an elegy or obituary that could say a lot or not so much, because she meant a lot or not so much, depending on to whom one spoke. In fact there could be more than one of each, the irony that she knew so many and survived such a long, long time in the minds of most. Longer, and get this, than all her admirers, adherents and good friends put together. The Daily Telegraph probably celebrating her service to King and Country. The Times her estates. The Guardian her fellow man and Radio Four her forceful voice. And that is because we are all so very much inspired by anything or anyone confirming what we already stand for, making every attestation like it rich, because... in fact... our own
Though strangely, dead or simply disappeared, she keeps on popping up, sighted by those who can't give up, wanting to have a fresh go at her. When the only thing the poor dear wanted was to be remembered, not be seduced again or in the other extreme driven to exhaustion. Or ridiculed by some, because that's the way we are: sometimes good, sometimes nasty, just don't push and as long as either way we bag redemption. But seriously and swiftly removing tongue from cheek, is it not the premise of promise of such another life, the one after the one we know to be so short, precarious and cruel, the sole element of change that possibly makes sense? For what is the point of extending life, with one just as fraught with uncertainty? And therefore making the dreaming up of one that is neither, such a perfectly natural endeavour? Putting to good use the one faculty which makes us differ from all other living creatures: Need something you cannot have, thus badly want? Why, invent it!
Then buy it! And need itself then, so very facultative. And artificiality on the surface so very beneficiary. For it certainly seems to work in other parts of our existence, like matters economic: half the world living decently by the fabrication of products that are useless or invisible. Goods and services based on fear and contingency. On mere impression and suggestion, with them crazy or smart enough to provide the stuff and us daft enough to buy it. Yes, along broad lines it works, just like the Cold War. The economic catalyst without which we would all have been eating dirt and for decades fostering industry upon industry keeping us directly or indirectly in a job. Though nothing ever happened, no shots fired, only those empty, angry menaces and threats. And what did Yves Saint Laurent ever do for Joe Pizza? Sodomy and velvet hats? Just what everyman was pining for? Of course not, but let the poor designer be, you do get the point: he successfully employed thousands of us in hundreds of stores in a dozen countries, or more. But in the end, both Yves and the Cold War tired and went. Yet fatuous immortality, despite all funerals, ever so kept her allures
For on a further level it is self-evident that there can be no life without death, that death is watching over us, worse, that life can only be... by killing and consuming another life- form. So why then eliminate the notion of death? The refusal to become an ancestor like trying to steal the horizon: it cannot be done and to begin with does not make sense. But by insisting on doing so, by trampling on others in the act, by being blind to every breath-taking landscape on our road, what are we achieving, anyway? To a growing number of us the secret lying in staying away from this sort of thing, by overcoming existential fears and silly ambition. Not craving immortality and reward the answer, ignoring that innate vulnerability to incentives of the kind. For it may be that in this ignoring and the human dignity it engenders lie the only timelessness that matters. Additionally and as a by-product, a delightful element of discovery left to our children, a stretch of road truly their own, nothing handed down or for much longer. The case before. Yes, not having their existence cut and dried after the ignoring... no longer ignored
Is this not the very least that we can do, bequeathing them life's magnificent sense of adventure, the one that we are busy claiming on the late side? Therefore, besides her obituary, the funeral for immortality, our lovely but somewhat sly and once ancient lady, should be an extremely joyous and even repetitive one. Itself an unending New Orleans jazz funeral with laughter and dance flowing through the streets of five continents. Listen! Listen to the sway of that music, slow drums rolling, brash brass and soft reeds blowing, all feet moving, all man's skins aglow
What a way to live
as live we must,
lodes of time
far from over
(Conceived just prior to Fairy Tales, the Essay)
(plus this: Dr Allen again asking if eternity means forever having to watch Holiday on Ice, making it essentially meaningless and terrifying and so our death hopefully... the real and only thing!?)
Man should neither live
like mole afraid
nor as someone’s slave
‘ been given
Only taming himself
by feeding not stealing from his other,
raging at injustice
and at day’s end,
any held out
P.S: Unless man learns how to alter orbits or change spheres he'll remain essentially meaningless, except to himself of course. So I'd be impressed meeting someone who's not a slow-burning chemical reaction, a walking bio-factory, and still says hello... Someone not taking in 3 times a day, excreting no waste, not having to breathe for a life. Someone equal to the Universe, not a slave to it, not a bubble. Without a penis as link, without a navel, become a small roving planet. Yes, man the Planet, Planet Man, not establishing a blood-line to the gods, apotheosizing, not Promethean, not even a Nietzschean Man God, a true phenomenon, significant, so much more than little Emperors and small Popes...