Sunday, January 29, 2012

Life Returns to the Uroboros/ Space Does Not Go Anywhere/ Sections 2 and 3

By Brian George


As puzzled as I was by the near consensus among young artists in the discussion group, I was more puzzled by the attitude of Nagel, a rigorous thinker, who appeared to take the “speck of dust in space” idea quite seriously. Was I missing something? His own understanding of the idea was of course far more sophisticated—more finely tuned in language and more rooted in historical context—than that of the young artists. He was careful to emphasize the equal importance of subjective and objective modes; subjectivity was, after all, one part of the objective world. It was fully real.

By employing the method of “dual vision,” Nagel attempted to locate meaning in the play of contradiction. Were he successful in this ambition—and able to remain in a state of “negative capability”—I would have been pleased to follow where he led. I found, however, that he gave far more credibility to the demands of the objective mode.

Nagel writes, “Objectivity is not content to remain a servant of the individual perspective and its values. It has a life of its own and an aspiration for transcendence that will not be quieted in response to the call to resume our true identity.” He does not grant that subjective consciousness is allowed to pursue any such aspiration for transcendence. Its significance is purely local. The astounding event of consciousness has no large-scale implications.

Choice of imagery betrays the unconscious attitude of the author. “Playing in a Little League baseball game, making pancakes, or applying a coat of nail polish are perfectly good things to do.” In tests, the objective mode is preferred by two out of three mature adults. Without knowledge of the self, however, there can be no true detachment.


If we say that understanding of the meaning of our life is a purely subjective phenomenon, something that each person must determine for himself, by his own inexact and yet pragmatic methods, does this imply that our experience of this meaning is in some way insubstantial?

Subject and object are the two sides of one inexpressible symbol. Although the self exists at an angle to the world—i.e., it is in it, but not fully of if—what is true of one should not be less true of the other. The self, like a heat signature, fades into the fog. It cannot look too directly at the world from which it comes. A wave carries the other off. External structures are themselves more insubstantial than they seem. A promethean technocracy floats on the pregnant waters of illusion. It could be, however, that this apparent lack of substance is due to our use of the inappropriate tool.

“When I think about modern art I reach for my revolver,” said Mussolini, the defender of heroic nudism. “Stark violence is the sire of all the world’s values,” wrote Robinson Jeffers, whose weapon was the pen. An experience of the “telos” can be killed, but never forced.

For the breaking of eggs a revolution is perhaps too large a hammer. The occult instrument that can crack the cosmic egg leaves little or no direct evidence behind. As is specified in the code, the true seer is not permitted to communicate. He does not speak, but rather shows by a sign—as Heraclitus said—whereas the ignorant cannot be tempted to shut up. The big stick of the WTO creates order (of a kind) as it empties out all meaning from past cultures. The key of fractal chaos can be slid into the locks of most self-organizing systems, thus opening them for use, but such systems do not automatically connect each soul to his/her origins.

Eugenics cannot determine why the statue of the Archaic Greek warrior smiles, despite his wounds, as though he were in possession of some secret, and laughed inwardly at a joke too subtle for his descendants. An early cosmonaut once boasted that god was nowhere to be found in outer space; his nosecone had established proof of death. GPS cannot be used to track the imagination of the artist behind the animals at Lascaux.

Lamp in hand, Diogenes wanders back and forth through the city. It is noon. He cannot discover the location of the sun, and decides to look for an honest man instead.

“Nature loves to hide”—said Heraclitus. Should our own natures be any different? Perhaps our natural sense of meaning dies when subject to examination—like a heart removed from a living body.

Like life, meaning can best be understood by its presence. When it is absent, no act of will can create it. No arbitrary word can call it out of nothing.

If we stand outside of ourselves, beyond and above the paradox of the human, like a doctor probing the unconscious subject of a laboratory experiment, the hard light can indeed prompt us to regard existence as absurd. The subject is a kind of bladder, which we are glad to inflate with our demiurgic dreams.

So too, from this vantage point, we might logically jump to the following conclusions—that:

Consciousness is a mishap. The brain is chemical soup. Nature is promiscuous—an unfit mother. The net of interdependent origination is a joke. Pain warrants no compassion. Since humans are weak, it is better to be a perpetrator than a victim. It is a good thing that the observer is in charge.

Objective methodology allows for the accumulation of data. It does not allow us to enter into the experience of the subject, let alone to determine “why” the subject is. Many parts do not make a whole. If there was no subject to transmit the living spark, then our electromagnetic field would not be able to cohere; there would be no difference between a body and a corpse, and no way to distinguish between a human and a robot. Many facts do not add up to one truth.

In the space beyond Earth’s orbit, there is no fixed platform on which to position our Archimedes lever. We cannot objectively enter into the experience of another subject. Should we assume that the objective viewpoint is any more effective in allowing us to understand ourselves? If the self is an object, it is a strange and disturbing type of object—as de Chirico has said—which we turn this way and that to see how it is made, only to discover that it is haunted. The self is an absence that appropriates the other.

Beyond the existing framework, and inclusive of all contradictions, a truly objective consciousness might only be possible after death.

(Illustration: Pierre Roy)

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Life Returns to the Uroboros/ Space Does Not Go Anywhere/ Section 1

By Brian George

“Coming into this particular body, and being born of these particular parents, and in such a place, and in general what we call external circumstances; that all happenings form a unity and are spun together is signified by the Fates (Moirai).” —Plotinus, II.3.15


Is human meaning something that can be objectively established, like the structure of a molecule or a natural law? Or is the sense of meaning closer to a physical sensation, the perception of a self-evident truth, a preexistent certainty, an ontological connection to the primal core of our natures?

Recently I helped to lead a discussion on Thomas Nagel's “A View from Nowhere”—a text that looks at the problem of human meaning in relation to the subjective and objective modes of understanding. One idea caught the imagination of the group, and was repeated in various forms throughout the morning. The idea was: that we are specks of dust on a tiny planet that orbits an obscure sun in an infinitely vast cosmos. Therefore human life has no significance whatsoever.

I was a bit disappointed. This was, after all, a group of artists, who should have been militant in their defense of the importance of subconscious symbols. How could you trust your own creative process if you did not believe that your subjectivity had any right to exist?

There is a song from the 1970s that is often played—inexplicably—at weddings. Its refrain goes, “Dust in the wind. All we are is dust in the wind” While I confess to liking this rock anthem by Kansas, it has been 30 years since I last regarded the concept as profound.

Sipping milk from a glass, I would lie awake at 3 AM. My alarm clock would tick. Its minute hand would move. Shadows thrown by headlights would twist branches across the ceiling. My intellect would soar to the heights and depths of space—only to realize that the self did not exist. Vertigo would then take over.

My head was empty—like a manikin's. I experienced the silence that would one day supersede the accident of our biology. Hormones fueled the experiment in tumescent nonexistence. Annihilation was more intimate than sex. The cold touch of the inanimate transformed me. These experiences of the void were, in their own way, true. My mistake was the all too common one—to confuse spatial extent with philosophical depth.

(Illustration: Alberto Savinio)

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Preexistent Race Descends/ Pythagoras (Section 6)/ End

By Brian George

To the Assembly Beyond Space the Greek ambassadors wore rags. They carried all of their belongings with them. They diagramed the precession of the equinox in the sand, and played on lyres made out of turtle shells. Years of wandering between dimensions had left them hungry for Omphalos. A bird with a key had opened a few hermetically sealed ears. "Backward, go to what you love. The 12 thank you. Act now for the greater good." From a cloud Pythagoras would educate Phoenicia. Mantric ratios could not encompass slang. 

Flags fluttered on the topless tower. Smoke puffs, in concentric rings, from the Age of Iron drifted up. Disturbing the transparency of the 1 unbroken sphere, nostalgia tugged at the great heart of Pythagoras. Geometry was greater than his soul was inviolate. The perfect should not stay impotent, for long. Just proportions are to be obeyed.

Athena had split the head! Poor demiurge! Uncoiling like a snake, an alternate future flew. The atomic chain reaction shook apart each citadel.

Gnarled olive branches waved on the plateau. Pythagoras was in lovehe could not help himself. White boxes dotted the Aegean blue. His mother met his father. There was so much to be done at the turning point of a 5200 year cycle. Glad, he turned his astrolabe towards Earth.

(Illustration: Giorgio de Chirico)

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Preexistent Race Descends/ Pythagoras (Section 6)/ Beginning

By Brian George

The void does not acknowledge any single name. 26,000 years escort precession of the equinox. Democracy precedes the egg by 10. Pythagoras was the 5th. As Euphorbos he fought at Troy. At Samos as Mermotimos he probed the sex life of the food taboo. He saw behind the stage, before it.
Said the birds, "Be warned that you should never tamper with perfection!"
He had the sight. Anonymous bequeathed the gift when he stayed late at Saqqara--in a flash, full access to encyclopedic transport. The back part of his head was popped open by the 12. In his own body the future could be touched. Out of black gold birds have forged his thighbone. 8 observe the strange laws of the Ogdoad: fear--as at once he learned to do.

Palm fronds sprout beyond the scorpionic claws. He came from far away.

Clamorous tides where the sun cast its length. Buildings from the sky hung, like a wedding of murdered archetypes. They cut the path. They exported the palm tree’s trunk. Through a cold sky Saturn rose above the wreck of Mohenjo Daru.
What did Pythagoras learn from Zaratas the Chaldean? The age of the sphinx.
Vast the convoluted curve. Space. The incarnations were concurrent, not consecutive. It was known from the start how many would survive. Enough. It was important that the symmetry broke. Computers electrocuted dead armies to the South. The secret was its own reward. It appeared. The war was old. The grounding of Omphalos--it is not a story fit for Baal Shem Tov’s dismembered children.      

There were many gods involved. Violence was generative. The Earth itself was pregnant. The path of creation was a paradox that no omniscience could untangle.

At Delos as Pyrrhos, Pythagoras collected dreams for naked warriors to perform. Before that as Aithalides, the pilot of the Argo, he brooded on the depth.

Unnatural the Earth’s history. Space was wider than the eye could see. It was made by hand. 1 year was the life span of each god. Teachers had sex with geometry. Space in and of itself encoded all the good parts of the former Earth.

1 memory served the transplanted population. It was traded back and forth, a beloved object, not too much worse for wear, before somehow being lost. The glow from an earlier period had not quite disappeared. "Do you have the time?" a bird said.

Few souls could outrun the centrifugal movement of the wheel.

What was left of prehistory you could put inside your mouth. Prove us wrong.

Serendipitous destruction. The dead threw their weight around. Populations thronged the Theban gates. In search of bodies they have multiplied the most ancient of explosions. Exact the arcade. It echoed with the march of giants. Like the seeds of some hallucinated growth, survivors of the great flood planted memories of their trauma. Shadows hardened into the code of Hamnurabi. Inside became outside. Zeus developed breasts. Ishtar put on her technocratic phallus.

(Illustration: Giorgio de Chirico, Head of a Philosopher)