And the triumph of empiricism is jeopardized by the surprising truth that our sense data are primarily symbols.
♦ Susanne K. Langer, Philosophy in a New Key
And the triumph of empiricism is jeopardized by the surprising truth that our sense data are primarily symbols.
♦ Susanne K. Langer, Philosophy in a New Key
But our notebooks give us away, for however dutifully we record what we see around us, the common denominator of all we see is always, transparently, shamelessly, the implacable “I.” We are not talking here about the kind of notebook that is patently for public consumption, a structural conceit for binding together a series of graceful pensées; we are talking about something private, about bits of the mind’s string too short to use, an indiscriminate and erratic assemblage with meaning only for its maker.
♦ Joan Didion, “On Keeping a Notebook”
And so in the late twentieth century the imperial cycle of the last century in some way replicates itself, although today there are really no big empty spaces, no expanding frontiers, no exciting new settlements to establish. We live in one global environment with a huge number of ecological, economic, social, and political pressures tearing at its only dimly perceived, basically uninterpreted and uncomprehended fabric. Anyone with even a vague consciousness of this whole is alarmed at how such remorselessly selfish and narrow interests—patriotism, chauvinism, ethnic, religious, and racial hatreds—can in fact lead to mass destructiveness. The world simply cannot afford this many more times.
♦ Edward Said, “Two Visions in Heart of Darkness“
The populist dramatics presently unfolding, spreading out, and blanketing large swaths of the earth’s restless surface are part of the fabric that Said qualified as not just “basically uninterpreted” but also “uncomprehended.” I would add that the interwoven thread counts of ecology, economy, society, and politics also exist as a fabric uninterrupted: for the accumulated fibres of our invention have seamlessly stitched up every square millimetre of real estate, solid or psychic, spatial or virtual, from point to point to point. There is nothing raw, open, uncatalogued, or uncovered in the sense that would have existed for that plucky imperialist surveyor out at the vanguard of “civilization.” The map doesn’t drop off at some point. The tapestry of record covers all continents and states of matter, but it doesn’t exist with any satisfactory kind of explanatory notes. When almost anyone can know that everywhere in the world exists in unquestionable reification, and that you can’t fire a cannon anywhere without wiping out a village, you begin to realize that we are all part of the weave, and that its constantly evolving design is simply beyond any of us to contend with definitively. And yet, just as the illusion of the frontier of human conquest has dwindled from overtly national consciousnesses of patriotic narratives (for now), capitalist minds attuned to handicap everywhere remain constantly on the look-out to press their advantage on any number of fronts. Colonization remains a presaged and imperative force, and constantly on the move into spaces not empty, not unknown, but only provisionally unexploited. It is the lack of comprehension that allows for the reemergence and reassertion of mythologies reductive enough to claim that the human fabric is patchy, in need of radical repair, and not just inequivalent but also of unequal quality, stitch to stitch.
The notion of ‘just now’ has been lived out indeed in a century already divided into decades with names and nicknames, ranging from the dynastic to the dynamic, from Edwardian to Roaring. Most important, an instant-by-instant difference in the actual experience of historical time lives out—and in—the rhythms of an unprecedented and accelerating pace of change in the history of material cultures. Accordingly, the imaginative experience of temporality moves beyond one of crisis time to one of time itself in crisis: a formerly natural, apparently gradual time of diurnal days and seasonal rounds has been lined ever more finely and grandly by the developing mechanisms of chronometry, which have worked in ways little and large—from the division of the globe into twenty-four equal time zones to the parsing of micro-times within a supposedly seamless instantaneity—to unsettle temporal measurement itself.
♦ Vincent Sherry, “A History of ‘Modernism'”
Marilyn Strathern . . . taught me that “it matters what ideas we use to think other ideas (with).” Strathern is an ethnographer of thinking practices. She embodies for me the arts of feminist speculative fabulation in the scholarly mode. It matters what matters we use to think other matters with; it matters what stories we tell to tell other stories with; it matters what knots knot knots, what thoughts think thoughts, what descriptions describe descriptions, what ties tie ties. It matters what stories make worlds, what worlds make stories. Strathern wrote about accepting the risk of relentless contingency; she thinks about anthropology as the knowledge practice that studies relations with relations, that puts relations at risk with other relations, from unexpected other worlds.
♦ Donna Haraway, Staying with the Trouble
There is a lot of loneliness.
As we bump shoulders and rub elbows, plowing ahead in this interminable journey toward each moment, each subsequent depression in space-time—the what of what follows next—there is a lot of silent nagging. There is an isolated sense of oneness that does not feel like it is in company; and that asserts the consciousness of being alone, despite the population of the world—the incontrovertible, unavoidable suffocation that progressively accumulates between the interactions of so many bodies, so close, so endlessly wanting, yet sharing with each other so very grudgingly. It is hard not to think that, sometimes, the voice that is so many voices on the inside—the part of me that says me, as well as I, but at the same time even cries out questions like what about?, and is it really?—is so isolated, so indentured to its own companionship, that the outside may, just may, be a hallucination.
This is not a new or drastic hypothesis. Even if we know in our bones that we are active in a world that is not fundamentally of ourselves, we do not know that we are not by ourselves. What is commonly written off as paranoia plays quite acutely into the troublesome notion that, if we are honest about the experience, we are either more or less connected to reality than we are comfortably aware of. Ostensibly, we are now at a point that it can be unequivocally said that everything is radically interdependent. Our investigations into the biosphere, all the ecosystems of life—and onto the expressions of that life—only serve to demonstrate the inconceivably dense mutualities of being. The tethers that bind this to that, and then that to everything else, are being continually uncovered by all areas of curiosity. The physics, the chemistry, the biology; the sociology, psychology, and neuroscience of all the spheres come to be disentangled just long enough to show us that they are utterly, and perhaps limitlessly, entangled. The chain of being has been exposed: the universe is not a chain, it is a web, and the cables of interconnectivity span not just the animate organisms of the world, but all bodies that move everywhere, along with the energies that drive them. This systemic dependence permeates reality to such a degree that the mind that can conceive the boundaries of a cosmic totality is not a mind, as such, but the collective co-calculations and projections of independent points of inspiration, aggregated on and within the synthetic products of human inquiry. Inspiration, it turns out, isn’t individual genius, it is the ongoing product of a collective act of expression.
So, the contingencies of being tirelessly radiate outward from the self; yet the outside world only gives the individual the most menial proof that we are truly in attendance most of the time. The signs and signals the assert connectivity can only be verified by confidence in the senses. The same senses that are routinely shown by experiments you can do on yourself to be fallible and prone to mistakes. Could everyone be a puppet? Good question. Is there a game so subtle and insidious at play that everyone is in on it and I am the only one who does not know the rules? Nobody is qualified to say. Or, are the eyes that look back into mine anything more than mechanical devices, elaborately engineered to respond to my provocations without any sort of process? That’s interesting. That’s absorbing and troublesome. Is my life animated by kneejerk reactions to my hard-won, but ultimately banal and routine, decisions? How does one adjudicate in this morass of confusion when I have never been taught to adequately evaluate it?
Everyone is looking at me.
No. No that’s not right.
No one is looking at me.
Nothing I can do will prove, incontrovertibly, that I am not a figment adrift in a complex, meaningless, phenomenon of chance and obsession; something that could expire at any moment. From what I know, I am precarious. The forces at play that keep me upright, animate and animated, may be multiplicitous, may be conceivably unquantifiable, but their reality remains something that I need to believe in; the something of everything needs to register within my borders as that which I can invest the self of myself into.
What keeps me sane, comfortable, and comforted? I suppose, the beautiful illusion of communion—the suggestion that stimulus and response is dependable and authentic; that the respect I perform outwardly is the respect I experience inwardly. These are the static sparks flaring under the touch of the hand, the reassurances that prick the instant awake. It remains so interesting to be.
One can only engage with dynamic systems if not to succumb to the ossifications that accrue around repetition and its corollary, lassitude.
But in the attempt to comprehensively encompass any kind of dynamic totality, the structure of interrelations eventually collapses as additions accrue and alignments shift.
The arrow of time brooks no exceptions, and the increase of entropy is the only lucid, determinable telos of any cosmic material teleology.
What is left, between that which is identifiable, are empty spaces between, through which nothing coheres, except by arbitrary association; which is only sensible to the initiated who maintain those associations.
The void and the annihilation of meaning is all that remains to be witnessed, once connections fail.
Communion is impossible.
Understanding is unachievable.
Enlightenment means reduction to primary premises and a relinquishment of a worldly imperative in favour of a principle of otherworldly rest.
History is fabrication and fantasy.
Any promise that the future transmits to us comes to be appropriated and/or perverted by indifferent, lazy, stupid, and/or malign forces, all eager to co-opt any hope of inclusivity and community to, rather, exclusion and exclusivity—on any and all scales.
The luminous experiences that come from leading the forces of culture are not immune to any of this. They are sustained by the distraction of creating idealized narratives, or through their products of utility and evanescent pleasure, through which we may establish resonant patterns that promote recognition in the events of our own memories and experiences.
The bundling of a cosmic awareness into a personal existence is a recipe that eventually results in suicidal ideation. It is too much for an individual to bear; yet we’re all expected by the overmind to be capable of shouldering this burden, in a system where only a select few are directly participating, and fewer still are major actors.
The only defence capable of preserving this human paradigm is community, willful ignorance, and gratitude built around the groupings of local consciousness; and the terror of its cancellation.
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.
[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.
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?