Material

Bodies lie. They demur. They recline and they equivocate. Any clear insistence, any indisputable inspiration, comes from the mind; the mind that animates but must also contend with base reality. As the malleable flesh fails and ages around the signals, bright and incandescent, firing between the cells of our bone houses, our agendas are perverted. Our plans are ruddied by the flush of instinct, the knee-jerk spasm that knocks the painstakingly assembled model over, to scatter its assemblage across the floor. How is it that this is how we must be, every day, until we’re not?

I know full well what I want from my day, every day. It’s not complicated. I want to pull off a double-summersault-backflip-pirouette, over lava, suspended by a ductile thread of contingent assurity. I would like to do this without fail, fall, or fracture. I would like to do it on command. Such things seem eminently possible before I climb out of bed, and burn my toast. The signal and the action are at odds; and while I feel indisputably here as my casement comes into contact with the ground, the walls, the air, I am also manifestly not here: I am wringing fireworks from failures in a zone that does not disturb the stratosphere. I am knocking the surfaces of indignity with a well-worn rap of my metaphysical knuckles. These are operations that do not leave a discernible mark. What I have to show, on the other hand, are powder burns and skinned fists. Failure— because it is always failure with the body; the body never lives up to its potential—is perfectly evident when the mind falters; but it falters because of sleep; because of hunger; because of transitional lusts that scuttle our best plans.

So, today I’m embracing the failure before it catches up with me.

edvard-munch-kvinnene-ved-skjelettet-(the-women-and-the-skeleton)

The Call of the Interdependent Solipsist

or

Everybody’s Inside

[This is not a dispatch; it is a meditation.]

The mystery of togetherness is a frightful illusion. No mind is, or ever will be, in true communion with any other mind. You will never spontaneously experience any other human being as a second self. All Others are, at the very least, impenetrable.

The entirety of the cosmos you experience is within you. No iota of matter, no quanta of energy, no movement of bodies, no gesture of goodwill, no screw of hate, no cry for help or exaltation has ever been before you have registered or conceived it.

There are things you do not actively control, but there is nothing that you are not. The sum total of your model of the universe cohabitates and transmits within your neural network to produce that node of being which expresses itself as I. This is the embodiment of the Self. The Self is the result of a constantly shifting totality that is curious and acquisitive, and entirely devoted to expressing itself to itself.

The Self is comprised of matter and energy that, in its ceaseless toil of maintenance and self-preservation, seeks continuously to free itself from itself and observe its origin. As consciousness describes itself only in effect, never cause, the source of the I is occluded, as the I occupies the node of existence identical to that which it wishes to see. The metaphysical locality of the Self is chained to its own subjectivity and can never escape the immediate performance of the I.

The Self is a mobile node that is driven to explore only inasmuch as its integrity is not threatened. Just as the experience of the body registers need for homeostasis, the experience of the mind strives for equilibrium.

Equilibrium can ossify into stasis. As change is the only constant of time, the healthy Self must adapt to change by maintaining its integrity, but also by accepting that, though continuous in its existence, the Self’s qualities must mutate as the necessities of interacting with what it does and does not understand—but which are all nonetheless part of itself—demand new strategies to cope with the reality that it has to work with.

If the universe exists beyond the perception of the Self, its ultimate reality is inaccessible beyond the terms of the Self; but if it does not, the I must accept that the simulation of a reality comprised of one fractured and multiplicious consciousness is the only one available to it.

Whether or not Other minds exist, the I that reasons and questions is lonely, and cannot define itself without translation developed though the interaction differences. Other minds are not the I that questions. Other minds must be contended with if the I is to maintain its integrity.

The elaborate structure of what is known and experienced only develops through testing and response. The isolated I, which can never prove that any Other mind exists, must suppose that what it experiences as Others equivalent to itself are essential for its equilibrium and continued integrity. As far as can be discerned, the experience of life is cognate with consciousness. Consciousness can only be validated by similar manifestations in experience. There must be a response to the I that questions.

As the I that questions is ultimately alone, and must develop tacit assurances as to the integrity of its existence. Without any ultimate verification, it continues to sense itself, and proliferate its experience in consistent but continually transforming ways.

The only way the I, which is the only known expression of existence in totality, can reasonably conduct itself without going mad is by recognising that all manifestations of difference must be treated as intimate expressions of its holistic appraisal of the universe. If reality is composed of the Self, the I must recognise that all discord, misery, and strife which it contributes to, or condones, is grief manifested within itself, and contributes to its own loss of integrity.

The only way for the I that questions to exist ethically is to honour what it experiences at the manifestations of reality with the same respect with which it treats itself.

solitary

Notational, No. 19

There is only ,, illusion ” in art where ignorance of the bystander confuses imagination and its works with cruder processes. Truly men feel an enlargement before great or good work, an expansion but this is not, as so many believe today a ,, lie ”, a stupefaction, a kind of mesmerism, a thing to block out “ life ”, bitter to the individual, by a “ vision of beauty ”. It is a work of the imagination. It gives the feeling of completion by revealing the oneness of experience ; it rouses rather than stupefies the intelligence by demonstrating the importance of personality, by showing the individual, depressed before it, that his life is valuable — when completed by the imagination. And then only. Such work elucidates —

♦ William Carlos Williams, Spring and All

The world can expand. Life perceives and responds. Feedback is generated within and is redirected out.

Some things we experience broaden the scope of our projections. The creative response to stimulus can fuel and connote an expansive reality. The boundaries of the self stretch outward, extend upward and rootle downward, with compulsive energy when we encounter those “visions of beauty,” those moments of synthesis, when something more than what you know you know is conveyed. Imagination, that rare and impossible thing that fills in all the gaps, invents the way out of even the meanest cage, starts and whirrs its gears impatiently when we are faced with the evidence of design. We are nothing but sophisticated pattern recognition machines. The analogous spark that yokes moment to disparate moment, class to class, phenomena to its comparable repetition, illuminates our mechanisms. We see ourselves in expression, any expression that means something to us. This can be the play of atoms moved but undirected by curiosity or drive, as much as it can be the arrested manipulation of media. Nature is not art, but art might cause the same eidetic reverie that carries the sense of self beyond the confines of the body. We are composed of a oneness with everything that has translated within us: perception to pulse, experience to energy. What, that “stupefies the intelligence,” might come out of the moments between moments, when we make out directions that lead precisely nowhere? Do we learn something?

spring-and-all

Fragmentary, No. 14

In the past we have always assumed that the external world around us has represented reality, however confusing or uncertain, and that the inner world of our minds, its dreams, hopes, ambitions, represented the realm of fantasy and the imagination. These roles, it seems to me, have been reversed. The most prudent and effective method of dealing with the world around us is to assume that it is a complete fiction – conversely, the one small node of reality left to us is inside our own heads. Freud’s classic distinction between the latent and manifest content of the dream, between the apparent and the real, now needs to be applied to the external world of so-called reality.

♦ J. G. Ballard, 1995 Introduction to Crash

urban-sprawl

Fragmentary, No. 13

Of course the pornographic imagination is hardly the only form of consciousness that proposes a total universe. Another is the type of imagination that has generated modern symbolic logic. In the total universe proposed by the logician’s imagination, all statements can be broken down or chewed up to make it possible to rerender them in the form of logical language; those parts of ordinary language that don’t fit are simply lopped off. Certain of the well-known states of the religious imagination, to take another example, operate in the same cannibalistic way, engorging all materials made available to them for retranslation into phenomena saturated with the religious polarities. . . .

♦ Susan Sontag, “The Pornographic Imagination”

sontag

Presence

present

Expectation is a curious orientation. At its heart, it is a state that we feel entitled to. When we turn ourselves outward, grasp invisibly into the future, and take hold of something un-yet realized … there’s something that feels justified; even if it doesn’t feel realistic. What we expect from within coalesces around a core of right: from inside our subjectivity, we have grounds to dwell upon even our most modest anticipations. There is something in the future that we deserve.

Which comes as both fulfillment and desolation; a bare recognition or ultimate disappointment. Jubilation. Despair. The accumulated evidence has made us feel this way. We are led to invest in the coming moment, to foresee the end of a manifest trajectory. Life, it may be said, encourages it. Patterns emerge effortlessly, and we project.

To expect, in the true sense of the word, carries with it a bouquet consequences. The random, unforeseeable nature of even the meanest scenario means that our dreams are constantly thwarted, but also that our most reasonable projections for the future refuse to manifest faithfully. We surround ourselves in fiction with characters perfectly adapted to the whims and uncertainties of their environments. The sleuth infallibly predicts the failure of the criminal. The perspicacious leader effortlessly calls the results of a vote. The Machiavellian schemer pulls the strings of countless hangers-on. The dream of a dream realized is recapitulated over and over. We might expect that at some point our own hard-won deductions or inductions will someday work out for us.

This is a season of expectations. Despite the anti-climaxes of ambitions thwarted and dreams unrealized; relationships, presents, and events unrequited despite our unquestionable deservedness; the holiday season is a lesson in acceptance, of things as they are with all of their unexpected manifestations. The map to the future can only ever be approximate. What we see coming our way resolves as it crests the horizon. Is that what I was waiting for?

Yes. This is what you get.

A Vaulted Dream

I have been thinking about the nature of the Paris arcades as Walter Benjamin employs them, and specifically how they relate to his conception of the dream, or the construct of the dream house.

When he writes:

“Arcades are houses or passages having no outside—like the dream” [L1a,1]

he is tapping an essential quality as to what the arcades represent for him, as an accomplishment, but also as a motif, a structuring structure that contributes heavily to a huge proportion his written thought.

The dream house is simultaneously an inner and outer fabulation—it exists in the mind but also as an outer space—yet one that is enclosed by impressively constructed boundaries, beyond which there is no exterior. The formulations intellected by Benjamin, which gift the arcades a secondary existence as an all-encompassing gestalt, preclude a world that does not participate in its ordering principles.

Many of his obsessions relate to this motif. Be it architecture, artistic movements, historiography, psychology, or language, it is the achievements of human conception—either material, abstract, or both—that form the boundaries which encompass the subjects he is driven to explore. The achievement of the arcades, which, as a reality unto themselves, manmade and humanly occupied, contains all the material one needs to analyze them. The extremes of their construction, and the limits of their ontology, are for him a metonym for the edifice of human accomplishment. His preoccupation with the orienting principles of that accomplishment, as well as the minute play of the particular observed within everyday experience, concedes that there is no exterior. We are always already within the colonnades of history. Outside of the that the dialectic does not exist.

Yet this is not a constraining limitation for Benjamin. The arcades are capacious enough to encompass the effectively insurmountable repository of data that emerges within the interior of the civilized edifice. Again, the qualities of his dream house reveal what procedures are enabled within it:

“. . . as we walked on, the ghost accompanied us from inside all the houses. It passed through the walls and always remained at the same height with us. I saw this, though I was blind. The path we travel through arcades is fundamentally just such a ghost walk, on which doors give way and walls yield.” [L2,7, my emphasis]

This is a vision of the interior realm ready for exploration. The arcades do not present barriers to investigation—they influence but do not impede, and movement between zones in pursuit of an objective, some form of apprehension, is unrestrained.

The arcade is effectively the—endlessly productive—ideal world that does not impede, does not pervert, and does not arrest attempts to penetrate and intellectually contend with its existence. Situated within this kind of idyllic model, no understanding is necessarily out of reach, and it is the task of the critic to explore and record. This is the premise which orients his ambition to delineate a thinkably unthinkable concordance of what the arcades contain.

paris-arcades

Fragmentary, No. 12

confusion

What is new is not that the world lacks meaning, or has little meaning, or less than it used to have; it is that we seem to feel an explicit and intense daily need to give it meaning: to give meaning to the world, not just some village or lineage. This need to give meaning to the present, if not the past, is the price we pay for the overabundance of events corresponding to a situation we could call “supermodern” to express its essential quality: excess.

♦ Marc Augé, Non-Places

A Message

It read: “We are never alone now.”

I did not know the individual who said this to me. We had only exchanged fragments of sentences, which had confirmed that we were both in bed. In another time, in another life altogether, if these words were directed at you by anyone, in any context, alarm bells would sound. The associations of someone implicating you in a kind of coordinate pact, a theoretical superimposition of localities, wed together forever—even the dearest friend, the closest lover, the parent or child who wishes to establish a communion that transcends the limitations of space, time, and individuality—on some level this ignites a panicked, knee-jerk objection from the (not entirely) subconscious:

What do you mean “we” and “never”? I have things to do alone; and I frequently want to be. You can shove off with any sort of idyllic, timeless conjunction! I am quite certain that solitude is part of the deal. The mass of particles that collectively assert that I am me, and that me is an I, is never going to be superimposed and integrated with a yours—you can stay over there. I don’t want you beneath my skin—and I certainly don’t need you lurking about all the time. I need space to do my secret dance, with only the cold, impassive universe of things to stand sentinel around me.

But then I realized he wasn’t addressing me individually. He was articulating a reality that our culture is enmeshed in: the constant access to conversation; the conduits open to other minds perpetually ready to receive.

I really haven’t misplaced my phone in months.

Being together and being in contact have become two radically different things. States of existence that once needed specific circumstances to be true have become unmoored from the foundations of physical position. Wandering intimacies are constantly an option. If you don’t want to disconnect from other minds, from the semiotic telepathy of text and tone, you are, practically, free to make that choice. Within the boundaries of a wired and wireless society, sleep is the only place you need go where you are actually unreachable—at least until the alarm, or the beep, or the bell, or the hum reaches in and fishes you out of unconsciousness before plugging you back into the network.

I suppose many people live like this now. The individual on the other side of the profile I had said “hello” to was stating a fact of life as it stands for millions of people. This was not the earnest assertion of an unhinged mind, desperate to establish an inseparable metaphysical partnership; it was someone who has acquiesced to the forceful suggestion that if you turn it off you’re really tuning out of reality as we know it.

I am unreasonably glad that some part of me remains analog.

when-two-become-one

Fragmentary, No. 11

My wing is ready for flight,
I would like to turn back.
If I stayed everliving time,
I’d still have little luck.

—Gerhard Scholem, “Greetings from the Angelus”

There is a picture by Klee called Angelus Novus. It shows an angel who seems about to move away from something he stares at. His eyes are wide, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how the angel of history must look. His face is turned toward the past. Where a chain of events appears before us, he sees one single catastrophe, which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it at his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise and has got caught in his wings; it is so strong that the angel can no longer close them. This storm drives him irresistibly into the future, to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows toward the sky. What we call progress is this storm.

♦ Walter Benjamin, “On the Concept of History”

Coll IMJ, photo (c) IMJ

Coll IMJ, photo (c) IMJ