By Brian George
(This was formerly part 5, but a new section--"The Infinite Recession of a Landscape"--has been added, and this is now part 6.)
In “The Real,” Parmenides said, “And thus it remains constant in one place; for hard necessity keeps it in the bonds of the limit that holds it fast on every side. Wherefore it is not permitted to what is to be infinite; for it is in need of nothing, while, if it were infinite, it would stand in need of everything…
“Since then, it has a furthest limit, it is complete on every side, like the mass of a primordial sphere, equally poised from the center point in every direction; for it cannot be greater or smaller in one place than another.”—Adapted from a translation by John Burnet
“Four Scouts to the New World” was written several years ago, but I have chosen to re-post it now because of its connection to the crisis—i.e., the earthquake, tsunami, and subsequent near nuclear meltdown—that is unfolding in Japan. One of the central themes of the essay is that any and all “perfect systems” have an innate tendency to self-destruct. The Tao Te Ching says, “The greatest perfection seems imperfect,” and “That which approaches perfection will soon end.”
People tend to use the words “tragedy” and “disaster” as if they were interchangeable; they are not. A “disaster” is an event that appears to happen by itself, that is thrust upon us from the external world—although this may or may not ultimately be so. A “tragedy,” on the other hand, is an event that directs us reexamine and to probe the highly peculiar nature of human action in the world. The key point is: That the actor has done nothing wrong.
It is sad, then—if each actor is free to act as badly as he wants—that I am somehow disallowed from hating all of my enemies! And after I worked hard for so many years to perfect my occult point of view. In the end, my perspective is no better and no worse than yours.
Although faceless, perhaps GE executives from the 1960s are the true and unsung heroes of the story, for it was they who built the atomic plant at Fukushima—without which our general state of anxiety would have no point of focus. Conversely, although billions no doubt recognize his face, we should not assume that Obama’s role is of any great importance—not yet. Time will tell, as will we. There are no bad parts, only actors who are not prepared to take advantage of the moment, and who have not probed deep enough.
If the actor is to cultivate an other-than-human viewpoint, he must first confront the origin of his fear. Death calls the actor towards his own face in the mirror, at the same time that it warns him to immediately stay put.
There are those who feel the energy of unknown eyes on their backs, and attribute all sorts of motives to this interest. Conspiracy theories multiply like new strains of bacteria. The main characters are ill at ease. They would like to account for this sense of being watched. They wait for some objective explanation of why stagehands have been granted so much power. If we ask who is in charge of moving scenery around, we will find that there is no way to even begin to count the candidates—nor does it matter much.
It is difficult enough to determine what we ourselves should do next, and to remember how we have acted in the past. Why, for example, when we used our tongues to dismember the first gods, did we put this spotlight here and that shadow over there?
From one point the whole of the rest of space expanded. Quite oddly, it does not grow any larger than it was, nor, in principle, can it. Thus the splitting of one atom can destroy the Pacific Rim. One actor can speak truth to power—against overwhelming odds, and even at the cost of his defeat—and thus forge a weapon for the Kali Yuga. Thus great oaks grow from acorns, as cities spring from an antediluvian bird’s nest—now a crater—and one fertilized egg can repopulate a world.
At the edge of space, as I have said, in a manner of speaking sit the 8-armed and the 12-armed “Aeons,” those living libraries, who have seen this all before. They have seen it both backwards and forwards, and experienced it from the outside in as well as from the inside out. It is a puzzle why they hang on each small gesture of the actor—and yet, breathlessly, they do.
A crisis has arrived, which demands that the actor act; in order to do so he must choose between two equally impossible alternatives. We are left with no choice but to empathize with the actor—for any choice that he/she makes will be simultaneously both right and wrong. The daily bureaucratic and scientific and political business of the world may be little more than the slow-motion clockwork that gives form to this tragic arc.
If the actor could view his projections from all of 360 degrees, it might be possible—for some period of time, and only just—to keep his actions in alignment with the whole.
If he launches a pet project—whether an essay called “Four Scouts to the New World,” or a boat made from the bones of gods, or a genetically engineered species, or a form of government, or a chain of nuclear reactors—he will tend to see it in a positive light. To act well, he must keep his focus; it is natural that he should block out any dissonant information. But reality is always vaster and more unpredictable than we think.
(Illustration: Brian George, Aeonic theatre, photogram, 2004)