Friday, November 25, 2011

Excerpts from the Reality Sandwich forum for "The Goddess as Active Listener/ Part 3

By Brian George

The 12-step curriculum of the wormhole; only two lines
could be saved from the Mahabharata

Hi Lance,

You wrote, “I just realized that George's writing parallels the layers of dreams I just saw in the movie 'Inception'. There's a time-release / time-differential thing going on where some parts you get immediately and some just 'pop' in when you're not even thinking about it.”

It amazes me how moments of great significance can pass almost unnoticed at the time, and yet something has been seeded and set in motion in such a way that it will later smash and then rearrange your world. I, very luckily, became aware of this early on, and ever since have been reluctant to describe any potential teaching moment as being either a “positive” or a “negative” experience, until—at a minimum—several years have gone by.

When I was a senior at Doherty Memorial High School in Worcester, Massachusetts, I had a “Cultural and Intellectual History of Europe” teacher called Samuel Sleeper. He was gruff but not especially loveable—a classic professorial type, with a tweed jacket and Meerschaum pipe, brilliant but absent minded and more than a bit disgruntled, since he was teaching at a high school and not a college. He seemed to forever be picking some piece of mucus or tobacco off of his lip.

His eyes fixed on a point known only to himself, words almost but not quite exiting from his mouth, his hand half-raised in some archaic gesture, Mr. Sleeper would drift through the corridors of our shopping-mall-style school—as though drawn by the field of a Nietzschean magnet, as though each door were the cover of one of the Great Books. At times, he would sense some strange disturbance in the field, as when, for example, a student might flag him down to ask a question about homework. He would pause, annoyed, as his eyes refocused on the third dimension, before answering a question that the student did not ask.

His lack of immediate focus was the sign of some deep philosophical assault on the Abyss. He would spend five minutes in tamping the tobacco into his pipe, and then stare at it, and then just as studiously remove all of the tobacco he had just put in.

Due to my inadvertent courting of the power of the World Snake, the egg that had contained the small city of my childhood was just about to be smashed apart. One night, at around 2AM or so, I experienced a kind of volcanic upsurge in crude visionary energy, which led to the creation of my first true poem—a 16 page megalomaniacal teenage Mahabharata. Very foolishly, perhaps, I turned to the most self-important teacher that I could think of for assistance. Mr. Sleeper agreed to serve as editor for these 16 pages of archly literate hallucination.

Slowly puffing on his pipe, and pausing every few minutes to pick a piece of food off of his tie or sport jacket, the Incarnate History of the West, the Living Sculpture of Praxiteles pondered, as the up and down wagging of his enormous head came finally to  rest. He said, “Well, here is a good line down at the bottom of page three, and here is another one on 16 that has a bit of potential.”

I was crushed, as might be expected, and did my best to immediately forget his assessment of me as a self-deluded dilettante. This I managed to do—to some extent, and with variable success—for the rest of the school year. But his judgment haunted me. I found good reasons to ignore it: Mr. Sleeper was a snob. I was a working class kid from the wrong side of Worcester who had somehow stumbled into an affluent school. His most immediate concern, no doubt, was to put me in my place. The fact that such reasons were accurate helped to cover but not to heal the wound that had been so casually opened up. In retrospect, however, this was a crucial teaching moment and key turning point. Mr. Sleeper, in his arrogant and blissfully accidental way, had offered me a gift—a great gift—a fact that I came to acknowledge almost immediately upon graduation.

I was smart, yes, and reasonably well read, but there were nonetheless gigantic holes in my knowledge. During the two years before I went to the Art Institute of Boston, during which I was working as a janitor at the Worcester Telegram and Gazette—cleaning ink off of every imaginable surface, only to find that it had reappeared—I would spend almost all of my free time going book by book through the stacks at the Clark University Library. My teenage grandiosity had been killed by Samuel Sleeper, and I had turned into a kind of ghost.

But these two years of contemplative solitude were the womb from which my mature creative vision would be born.

(Illustration: Max Beckmann, Beginnings)

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Excerpts from the Reality Sandwich forum for "The Goddess as Active Listener"/ Part 2

By Brian George

Moebius revisited; our stories return from the world of light to haunt us

Hi rodomontade,

You wrote, “Historical and artistic references don't usually have much resonance in my own search...I'm certainly intrigued by the ‘What if’ question, as my own life seems to have been altered by late-term, arbitrary intrusions/suggestions/interventions by others. However, that interest is an offshoot of questions about ‘decision-making,’ and whether decisions, as generally construed, are actually possible.

“‘Decisions’ seem unrelated to acts of ‘free will’ and are generally simply retroactive explanations, justifications, rationalizations, etc. Is there some knowable nexus between events, meetings with mentors, etc., and what, for lack of a better term, is called ‘fate?’ Many of us have experiences of the type that you describe here. Does the acting out of such an encounter at the time—and especially in retrospect—simply constitute the fulfillment of a need—an addiction, really—for stories with a narrative arc?”

So, to summarize what I understand you to be saying: you distrust conventional modes of interpretation, whether artistic, historic, or personal, and suspect that the world may be a kind of three-dimensional Rorschach blot, upon which we project our needs. Yes, what appear to be “meaningful coincidences” do occur, but perhaps these have less to do with Fate than with our desire to read the random patterns of our experience as a narrative.

For many years I avoided telling stories, for reasons similar to your own; the bits and pieces of the contemporary world did not seem to fit together, at least not on the level that I lived. Events were signs, to be read, but it was clear that the Ur-Text—if such a thing existed—was not set up to be user-friendly. Then too, my stupidity did not seem like an accident. If our pea-brains are the result of random changes in our DNA, as we have been told, then why would we not be content with sex and food, instead of yearning for their metaphysical equivalents? Large scale myths had meaning for me, yes, but there appeared to be a gulf between the larger patterns and the smaller ones.

In August of 1986, however, I had an experience of being lifted out of the solar system by a tornado, as I mention in “A Brief Biography,” for “energetic realignment by a race of acupuncture manikins.” In a kind of anteroom to the created world, I was shown the wheels which contain all of history, in which the beginning, the middle, and the end of every story are perceived as being simultaneous. Upon my return, after crashing through the roof of my apartment building, I had the sense that everything around me was about to spontaneously combust. I reached up and out to touch the lamp beside my bed, but had to yank my fingers back; the metal was too hot to touch.

For weeks, I kept finding evidence of a change. Shelves of books at the Copley Square Library appeared to have been moved, and everything in my neighborhood was just a little bit off. As in the movie “Dark City”, some things had been added, and other things left out. A subtle breach between dream and waking had occurred, which rendered both terms obsolete. The gulf between the upper and the lower worlds began to seem like a theatrical effect.

A revolution had occurred by night. My family, friends, and countrymen were unaware that a change in the narrative voice had removed the Earth from beneath them. For my own part, I felt seized and violated by my subjection to the small hands of the larger pattern. But then again, it would be easy to convey the wrong impression; the experience was one of equal ecstasy and fear. The seed of my current orientation had been planted: that our stories are more real than we are, and that the already complete story creates our lives retroactively.

Still, I can see the wheels, and feel the violence of the tornado, as the solar system tumbles into the three rings of an atom, and I can hear a soft voice asking, “Brian, do you know who I am?” I often wish that I had an encyclopedic memory—or, at the least, a half-way adequate one. Perhaps the Ur-Text operates on a need-to-know basis; it could tell us more, but it would have to kill us. Enough remains of the experience that I shiver when I think of it, as the force of the swirling energy begins to draw me back there.

(Illustration: Brian George, Time Spiral, 2004)


Friday, November 18, 2011

Excerpts from the Reality Sandwich forum for "The Goddess as Active Listener"/ Part 1

By Brian George

Revolution by night/ 6 questions about aliens

Hi Joan of Art, 

You wrote, “I really appreciate your imaginative matriarchal approach to narrative and recognition of the necessary threads we spiders weave into the cracks of each other's psyches through imaginative hooey flab. I marvel at how you managed to present the game-changing wisdumb of aliens from a human perspective—WITHOUT being alienating, which is always my problem, but at this stage in the game I don't seem to care. What is your relationship to extra-terrestrials?”

—Please, will you watch your language! The ones I know prefer the politically incorrect name of “aliens,” which they take to be a kind of inter-dimensional joke.  

Who, you may ask, is the butt of this black humor? That is the never ending question. Perhaps the 8-armed egg of Moebius knows, but he/ she cannot be tempted to say much, and we humans seem to have lost our keys to the grammar of the once universal language. 

Let me respond to your question with six questions of my own: 

1) How “alien” are they, really, and is the shiver of uncanniness we feel a tribute to the closeness of our bond? 

2) Why do “aliens” approach humans in the most intimate of settings, such as bedrooms, which they enter with no prior notice, almost as though some long standing relationship were in effect, of which their Earthly counterparts, only, remain unaware? 

3) If they are exobiological, then why do they have such an interest in our bodies, which they violate with impunity, leaving only a few hieroglyphic scars, as we find that their zany transplants and their Fascist interventions often do more good than harm?  

4) And how should we interpret this incestuous family drama: heads or tails, love match or Greek Tragedy? 

5) Are they the servants and we the masters, now grown senile, on whose behalf they perform their initiatory rites? 

6) Is our categorization of these presences as “aliens” a kind of magical act to avoid confronting the full fear and wonder of the dimension that they come from, the home that we left some indeterminate time ago, on which a door slammed shut?

(Illustration: Roberto Matta, Being With)

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Habits of the Heart/ Part 9

By Brian George

Telos; the Wayward Comet

Revolting against fate, we can also project our desire for completion on the future, as though it were somehow different from the past. Six of one, a half-dozen of the other. The more things change the more they stay the same; it is not so easy to escape from the habits of the heart. We are the ghosts who inhabit the dead bodies we create. We are haunted by the Real. It is possible too that our habits are the teachers that we search for, however bad they may be. We are the archeological footnotes to a world that never was, the memory of which has been implanted in our genes; thus each act of our history has already been recorded. We, the slaves of post-traumatic stress, are true experts in the renovation of the labyrinth. But this is not the "future world" of which I earlier spoke.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Habits of the Heart/ Part 8

By Brian George

Nostalgic Industries Reconstitute the Ideal

Right and left change places; unconscious myths create unnatural alliances. Perception lags behind the fact of interdependence in this technologically most complex of societies. The Human Genome Project has stamped its seal of approval on the engine of our descent. Reverse engineering will remaximize the conditions for our growth.

Why should it be so difficult for each good individual to explain the meaning of his actions, or to put her purposes—already clear—into the context of the macrocosmos, or to talk to a tree? It should not be difficult to create a circle out of stories, as other cultures have, or to celebrate the mute expressiveness of objects, or to touch the Earth, or to recognize the full existence of the other. It should not be difficult, but it is. The hand of a demiurge has intervened. We do not inhabit space. We are new—although ancient evils corrupt us. Reality is virtual. Homeland security depends upon the reproduction of the logo.

"Character is fate," said Heraclitus. The external world provides each subject with the nurture he deserves. Accidents enforce the law. The subjective world turns inside out. Values diverge. Paths intersect. Is there anything human for which the self is not responsible? Does good character compel us to speak truth to power, to correct injustice, to defend the orphan and the widow? There would be a price to pay; our arrogance would upset the predetermined order.

Though wealth is no proof of providence—as nothing could be—perhaps poverty is a more certain sign that one is not of the elect. Luck is a tribute to the true values of the self. Injustice is the price of a civilized society. Hard labor teaches the unenlightened to obey. Exploitation by the Carlyle Group improves the net value of the wilderness. Exxon will transform the demonic wastelands of the Alaskan Wildlife Refuge. Grace cannot be earned. Wealth cannot be redistributed. The transcendent watcher legislates from above. Emerson wrote, "Then again, do not tell me, as a good man did today, of my obligation to put all poor men in good situations. Are they my poor?" 150 years later we are waiting for an answer.

Luckily, the past does not exist. The future has not yet been created. A golden egg floats on the ocean. Archetypes are unmanifest. Symbols cannot act. There was no race before us. America is itself a dream. Do we have some obligation to those not present, to the dead or the unborn, to those who cannot speak for themselves? In his draft of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote that our settlement here was "effected at the expense of our own blood and treasure, unassisted by the wealth or strength of Great Britain"—forgetting how recently the British had defended the young colonies from French and Indian attacks. Fathers exist to be killed. Mothers more quietly disappear.

So too we are convinced that we have given birth to ourselves—"ex nihilo." There is no one like us! There never was, never will be, and therefore we owe nothing except what we choose to give to anyone. The self is good. The other is—at least potentially—bad. The best government governs least, and all schemes to relate the self to the macrocosmos are suspect.

This approach provides us with a maximum of latitude to act. We "do what we will," but it is only chance that interprets what will come from the subconscious. We are free to create a place for ourselves, a hermetically sealed space to which no gods have been invited, and, if we are not happy, then we are free to walk away. The approach makes it difficult, however, to determine the true meaning of an action. If a part exists—however perfect its autonomy—the fact that it exists implies also the existence of a whole, as well as some just proportion between the two. If the whole does not exist then the part means almost nothing. Moods arise. Phenomena come and go.

Let us now return to “Habits of the Heart.” Again, let us ask what freedom is for; we should ask also if we serve some end beyond the self, and, if so, whose. Are we parts of one living whole? If we are, does this interconnectedness limit or expand the true potential of our freedom? Can the one be many? It is not that the four contemporaries from chapter 1 do not share in a common moral language. This language does exist—the authors refer to it as the "first language of individualism”— but it is not adequate, in and of itself, to allow them or us to address the nature of success, the meaning of freedom, and the requirements of justice upon which the creation of a good society would depend. As the power of the multinational conglomerate grows, it is paradoxical that our response is to define ourselves more narrowly. To each his own.

There is an almost tragic contradiction at the heart of the American Dream. If each of us is endowed with ultimate freedom—not only to pursue our own happiness but also, if we choose, to ignore any demands that might be placed on us by others—then it becomes difficult if not impossible for us to collaborate on any common project. Society becomes a blind accretion of competing interest groups. Reconciliation is projected backwards as the dream of a simpler time --that never was, in which the corrupt industrialist lay down with the wholesome worker to be exploited.

As the perfect is the enemy of the good, so too freedom—as abstract ideal—subverts the potential for true liberation. No conceptual framework exists that would now allow us to translate the American Dream into reality. At the moment, it is best experienced through the golden haze of nostalgia.

(Illustration: Hans Glaser, Strange objects over Basel, 1561)