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.



Notational, No. 18

I really believe that brotherhood is what makes a man human. If I owe God a human life, this is where I fall down. “Man liveth not by Self alone but in his brother’s face. . . . Each shall behold the Eternal Father and love and joy abound.” When the preachers of dread tell you that others only distract you from metaphysical freedom then you must turn away from them. The real and essential question is one of our employment by other human beings and their employment by us. Without this true employment you never dread death, you cultivate it. And consciousness when it doesn’t clearly understand what to live for, what to die for, can only abuse and ridicule itself.

♦ Saul Bellow, Herzog

The body is not a solitary fact. The system of interrelated organs that pulse and prompt action, which motivates reciprocal engagement, is only distinguished through interrelation of an external order. Other bodies are necessary for our own identities to be. This reality asserts itself from any direction you might approach to validate your own facticity. We are generated out of relationships. Think of the vast heritage of meetings that have occurred to beget each individual now present on the surface of the earth. And the continuity of our somatic heritage is reproduced in the vital need for contact and communication between bodies, in order to assert the singularity of the human self. We need each other as much as we have needed our ancestors.

There is another body that needs to be considered when an individual contemplates the extensions and limits of its own awareness. It is constructed of a virtual anatomy that has come into being through the genesis, transmission, and reception of what has been assessed as culture. Multiply coded, inter-relatable, ever changing, and fiercely compelling, it has grown out of that primal activity of naming things as well as their actions. The corpus of culture inhabits the activities that have accrued (and are accruing) between us. It transcends the limits of any solitary person, any one that exists or has existed. Each mind is the product of many minds.

We may only depart for regions unknown from the shores of collective achievement. Freedom requires a community to, in fact, be a state of being. Eschew the multitude! Fly to the metaphysical hinterlands of self-discovery! Climb the mountain and dig yourself into the summit! Cultivate the transcendent spiral of a featureless infinity! It denies the work that goes into making this radical undertaking significant. We are, none of us, self-corroborating entities. Each must send messages to each if there is to be a dialogue to emulate in the mind. A body that does not articulate and contend with other bodies has nothing to articulate or contend to itself.

herzog letter