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

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

When Not to Move

Countries and flags

Even the cosmopolis can feel confining.

I had harboured aspirations of striking out beyond the precincts of my ostensibly humble region and transferring my base of operations to somewhere fundamentally different; somewhere founded on a different design, a local perhaps perpetuated and driven by an ideology of a dissimilar tenor. The trajectory I envisioned, even from the point of my recent journey’s genesis—that first degree—took me up and out of my limited experience to environments diverse and challenging. Goodbye, Toronto! Goodbye, goodbye. Because really, how many jolly adventures can one have in the same local? Won’t the familiarity of a well-worn home lead to stagnation? Doesn’t the well run dry after ceaselessly drawing from it, year after year? And quite honestly, no one wants to be a parochial academic when the world beckons to ambition so compulsively. When you see yourself climbing up onto the shoulders of giants you imagine that giant standing at the epicentre of an unequivocally vital site, somewhere where they’ll see your banner snapping in the troposphere and it will mean something; the little people far afield might be driven to rally or flee.

Possibly, I exaggerate. If not, it’s still an indulgent fantasy. I came late to this.

I phoned a dear friend once many years ago, and I caught her at an unusual time. Her voice was thick with emotion, and as we talked she came to seem genuinely depressed. “My darling,” I said to her, “whatever is the matter?”

“Oh, it’s ridiculous,” she answered.

“Tell me,” I pressed.

“I’ve just finally realized that I’m never going to be a pop star.”

Hearing her articulate this epiphany was a minor detonation. There was a clear and lucid origin of perspective in its essence. Something had sunken in.

The allure of this particular pipe dream was relatively foreign to me. At that point in my life I saw myself as too unconventional, and too contrary, to be suited for any kind of status that relied upon mass appeal. The brand of success I entertained in my own reveries took the shape of a loving peer group and a chance to make a living creatively, but quietly and out of the way; and not so much out of pragmatism but rather an untrustworthy orientation toward brute reality. However, my friend’s realization, and what she was coming to terms with (however tongue-in-cheek) addressed a fundamental mythology that motivates a certain quantity of every project of self-determination. The spectre of destiny draws many of us forward; and it is seldom a modest phantasm that does the work within the formative imagination. Around the corner of the everyday is anticipation for a revelatory moment of discovery, a juncture where the avatars of forces which drive the world suddenly take notice, attend, and carry you off—transmute you from your station and install you within the charmed sphere of the relevant, respected, and adored.

The permutations of these fantasies are, of course, endless; and they drive the compulsive magnetism of celebrity. The public regards, but it also projects; and that delirious projection is a lot of what spurs much of the everyday toil through mediocrity. I suppose it’s most especially acute in the young, before the force of raw statistics begins to wear at your consciousness. However, at some point you have to mourn your chances.

I mourned early. I recovered.

And my ambition has evolved rather than degraded: I haven’t worn down—I’ve sharpened. I’ve fine tuned. This older self I have inherited, thanks to the inexorable dilation of time, entertains much grander designs than what my prematurely pessimistic ego made room for when I thought I was headed nowhere fast. I had always known that I would never be a pop star, but at some point I had become actually optimistic about the prospects of a more modest luminary position in the firmament. My dream machine has been steadily stoked these past few years, and where I would have been familiar tracing the inner contours of my psyche and discerning only resignation, instead I have adumbrated the shape and substance of actual desire; powerful objectives motivated. This is genuinely a surprise.

I blame positive reinforcement: the continuous encouragement of multiple successes after facing difficult odds.

So when my ambition to breach the national barrier surrounding me was forestalled last year, and my long range plans ran afoul of the very real odds stacked against me, I recalled my friend, anguished on the other end of the phone line. This will never be was stitched into the fabric of the sky, and I felt the destitution of a lofty dream aborted.

Never is a brutal oblivion; but never is also hard to ensure. In a universe that thrives on the proliferation of possibilities, of aleatory contingencies and powerfully interlaced probabilities, never is almost as unlikely as always. Not this one, no this time, is so much more palatable, and so much more credible, than never.

The dream can stand some adjustment. I do not need to be stationed in America to realize my ambitions. The well, here in Canada, in Toronto, has not run dry; and whatever arguments I thought made it imperative to shuck this city like an old skin have lost a lot of their validity under detailed scrutiny. Good things can come from familiar territories. Progress without movement can be an exciting way to examine personal morphology. One can trace new outlines over the old shapes on a map. The iterations might create a compelling palimpsest, a record and new manuscript simultaneously. The core of the exercise is solid, is estimable; familiar but still challenging. There are newnesses to learn from right here as much as there.

So I stay. So I commit to inscribing my mark with a fine point on a site that has asked me to use its surface. There are other ways to transcend boundaries and reach beyond one’s original sphere. The world becomes progressively smaller when it consists of continents of text. It can be nice to be at home and to travel without moving.

All Things Separate

indoor cloud

At times it can be hard to know what you’re looking at. Certain bodies have boundaries that are indistinct. An object identifiable but undefinable describes an inordinate range of phenomena if enough scrutiny is focused on categorical detail. Where is the limit of a cloud? How can you mark the border of an ocean? Classification and identification, as Nietzsche has written, can be described as metaphor based upon a metaphor. If the structure of reality is founded on the premise of recognizing the interplay between differences, surely there is a way to definitively state that one thing is not another, that the compartments are separate, that the world is an aggregate of isolated things piled limit to limit against one another, touching but sacrosanct.

We end up having to build artificial walls to contain the indistinct; boxes real or virtual but equipped with windows wide enough to observe what must not bleed into the immediate surroundings: a mountain, a city, a river, an intersection, a being, a book, a network, a cell, a molecule, an atom. Things irreducible? Things indivisible? Whole things, complete things, individual things?

Illusion. Deception. Conceit. Anyone who focuses their attention on the apparent ontology of things can recognise that they all exist in translation, transition, and transformation. The interrelations of all components make up the mutable and mutating structures that combine and shift to produce the fabric of existence.

I have felt isolated and apart for the past number of months. The project that began as a journey through a process, one punctuated with landmarks and milestones, was interrupted; and it has been an effort not to flounder; a herculean labour to remain connected to the give and take of a life that cannot (or will not) exist amputated from meaning or purpose. The work I have been committed to is the work of imbricating the apparently distinct, and the redrawing of provisional boundaries—walls with windows—around hybrid results so that correlative interrelations might be observed. This is the business of theorizing about the world. This is the complicated dance of pattern recognition in the play of cause and effect; complex systems giving rise to identifiable marvels. I want to study culture. I want to continue to study culture—and in a community, in a network that complicates the boundaries of where one thing or individual begins and another ends.

All this is to say that I have some idea of what I’m looking at when I stare at the letter saying I have been invited to begin my PhD. It may be a distinct thing but it is connected to a universe of generative inaugurations, influences, and reciprocal involvements that combine to make it what it is. This is the beginning of the end of a long journey, and though everything that I base my sense of purpose on might only be a sophisticated metaphor, to say “only” is a trivialization that belies the monumental nature of identifying a thing that implies another thing, one which lies closer to an inexpressible truth. Let us all be part of the attempt to identify what it is that we see, if only to share the joy of recognition with companion beings. Let us exchange perceptions and complicate the beginning and end of the singular object.

Notational, No. 9

[A] book about the attrition of a fantasy, a collectively invested form of life, the good life. As that fantasy has become more fantastic, with less and less relation to how people can live—its attrition manifests itself in an emerging set of aesthetic conventions that make a claim to affective realism derived from embodied, affective rhythms of survival.

♦ Laren Berlant, Cruel Optimism

There is reason to take issue with the historical present. That we have gradually, inexorably, been becoming detached from the genuine prospect of realistic achievement of a collectively entertained (and entertaining) fantasy life seems almost cruel in itself to acknowledge. The negative injunction—”don’t look!”—could rightly and more reliably be expected to emanate from an internal source rather than an external one. We do not desire to examine the very tenuous foundations on which we are so hastily and compellingly erected from. The project of living today in the Western world almost requires a blindness complicit with the unachievable nature of our ambitions; ambitions which are manufactured against the impetus of an ostensibly easily accessed sense of reason, along with features of social and political realities that we willfully attenuate to the point of polite dinner conversation. Actual, meaningful, cognitive assessment of the terms, conditions, cost, reliability, and plausibility of the models we project outward and upward from ourselves, on which we base life changing decisions and evaluate one another in society, can feasibly be apprehended to be inherently repulsive. Too much of our sense of coherence and intelligibility relies upon a hope that may in fact be toxic to any real form of stability. The point that Berlant hammers so deftly is one of precarity: as supporting and driving institutions continue to shrink from the business of real service to a larger community, and instead mobilize people as statistics which serve the bottom line of not even the 1% but rather composite, covetous corporate and national entities, the prospect of success becomes hazardous. It may never arrive. It likely won’t, not recognizably. The “good life” is so utterly contingent in a world with so few genuine supports that its mirage may be better understood as a form of abuse; but where does it emanate from? The sources at this point are inscribed on inner spaces as deeply as on outer. The “situation tragedy” which Berlant invokes lurks at the periphery of most modern lives, as a pessimism that acts almost as a force unconsciously moves in to inhabit the regions of projected futurity, spaces that were once mediated by a sustained and nourishing sense of hope. Perhaps we should ignore the injunction despite the allure of ignorance, and look to reevaluate our dreams.

Constancy

There is always something to be said when the business of everyday experience converges with that of thinking; when the outer systems we navigate and encounter manage to connect with figurative inner tracks—to the less spatialized components that complicate the production of living. This is the time of the year when things change, and three-dimensional reality forces some recognition of the fourth-dimension’s incessant advance into familiar but unknown territories. The world seems to tilt. Time springs forward. The hues of nature tint and inch their ways towards the sky.

This also happens to be the end of a particularly significant term for me, and these past few weeks I’ve been facing the inalterable crux of a forked path, where each direction leads to a different way forward: both futures appealing but radically different. My inner life has been stirred up into a restrained but inexorable tumult as I contend with unavoidable outer demands. I’ve had to put my foot down—foot forward. I’ve had to commit.

The motivations that impel our actions do not seem to emanate from a void, from some mysterious state of blind genesis. We follow our ways back to understand the how and why of whom we are. This is not a new strategy, but it has come to be more formalized in the past century. The great-grandtheory of self-awareness, psychoanalysis, relies upon the implication that there is a narrative structure to a life. Freud recognized a central thread running through seemingly unrelated patches of activity (within and without) and stitched them all together. The details of that centrality—such as what it is that dives the libido, or the clarity of the pleasure principle—has, most definitely, benefited from further extrapolation. The students of the unconscious, post-Freud, have elaborated more nuanced diagnostics of the psyche; raw sexual motivations need not dominate the story in quite the way the author of the Oedipus complex set forth. There have been moves to suggest that the energy driving us may be more abstract. The connection that is there for exploration, for analysis—with the proviso that nothing that we do happens without a reason—is multifarious and open to interpretation. It may be that we are contingent in the sense that we respond to our often-unpredictable environment, but psychoanalysis posits that we are deterministic in our choices, in the tenor and the tone of our replies to events.

Freud himself came to admit that the process he pioneered was a more effective and therapeutic tool when caring for the minds of relatively healthy individuals. Working out a structure of meaning, accounting for and defining an interpretive frame to apply to life, is ultimately upkeep for the soul. Not accurately a science, despite its clinical and research component, and not quite a philosophy or a spiritual dogma, psychoanalysis is more of an atheist narrative of cause and effect, an analytical blueprint for understanding the ineffable. To function it requires complicity between all participants in the project: one has to acquiesce to a standard psychic cosmology, a common lexicography, and the premise that vast reaches of one’s personality operate anterior to active awareness; but there’s something there, in the resultant care for the incorporeal aggregate one calls the self.

My narrative, like many other’s, seems hopelessly disparate at times, but these past four years have established an arc of progress that I find reassuring, and the interest that I have been developing during that time in exploring the mechanics and techniques of analysis has had a large part to play in solidifying strategies for the next stage of the journey. Change has a significant part to play in making sense of what I am up to on the whole during this journey. The makings of a deeper understanding, which I can choose to accept, come from a long, hard process of acknowledging that there is a center; even if that center is constituted by a radical instability.

Confidence owes a great deal to the tacit acceptance of mystery.

Touching Choice

I’ve been out of the pages and into the streets: down the highway: to different halls. I’ve been reconnoitring; figuratively; physically. The future, you see, has sent out invitations, and I need to assess which trajectory I most desire to travel. I need to figure out in which direction to launch myself. These are heady times.

But you can never truly get what you want, says Lacan. The objet petit a resists every attempt to possess. In this case, the inaccessible real and the perpetual deferral is any satisfaction with whatever choice is adumbrated; or even committed to. I have options, each which will fail to satisfy, but none of which will prevent the attempt to enjoy. In the end does it matter to whom I say “yes”?

Of course it does. It’s a smoke screen to suggest otherwise. The shape of the future arriving may not lead to a subsequent future after that worth vying for. I need to want to fight the interminable fight, and strive for that petit a, which, in this case, may involve struggling to define the indefinable elusive for many more years to come. A radical ambiguity is part of the appeal.

If only I could decide where I want to live, what I want to owe to whom, and how best to plunder some incomparable booty from the universe.

I’ve worked hard to get to faced with this predicament. Do I enjoy it now that it’s arrived? Can I live in this moment satisfied with the accomplishment, or is it a perpetually postponed arrival to a destination I can all but connect with? I’m reaching out. My fingers are extended. Contact is a hair’s breadth away . . .

Everything moves forward.

Direct Modification

The burdens of this season are not melting yet. In fact, they’re settling in strata. There is a transient geology to be studied in the sediments (and sentiments) that layer and compound, as winter weighs this chapter of the almanac down. We’re compressed. We ossify a little between frozen ground and snow, but also between the sub-freezing temperatures and the cost of keeping warm. Each stratum that complicates movement or rest contributes to our fixity and our preservation. We need to last ’till spring.

This season is uncommonly heavy with anticipation. This time around I am particularly aware of the burden, waiting out the winter of 2014; it is the year that the conditions that define my environment will change. We just do not know what precisely they are changing to.

This afternoon I wrote a technical summary of Lamarck’s theory of adaptation, the ideological precursor to Darwin’s version of descent with modification. In the early 1800s Lamarck proposed an intimate relationship between any given organism and its environment. He was one of the first to suggest that it is what surrounds life, what composes its boundaries and limits, that determines the expression of that life, not just behaviourally but physically. Accordingly, we are not born with a purpose or function that is our own: we inherit these things from those ancestors that developed them, an intergenerational transaction that tracks so far back that the concept of origins dissolve in a nebulous region of pre-identity, of deep time. We are all tracing the intricacies of a continuum that begins simply, but complicate as creation marches forward.

The premise states that the structure of our life, as it functions in the present, is more complex than the life that prefigured it. By exercising what we need to exercise, by flexing those faculties available to us—to cope with the acute demands of our environment—we are strengthening not just ourselves, but our descendants. There is agency in our inheritance and in our evolution; although Lamarck never used the word “evolution.”

It is an appealing theory in the way that it mobilizes the feel of history. The components of a use/disuse effect upon our very nature rewards the effort we put into our dedications, and seems to suggest that we can imprint our accomplishments onto a nascent future. It is not quite like Darwin’s lottery, where dice composed of cosmic rays determine the pace of change; even if, in the case of this example, the dice are anachronistic.

I like to think of my own development as Lamarckian, within the boundaries of my own existence. I prefer to consider my intellectual life in terms of successive generations, less complex manifestations self-generating my next iteration in response to an environment that has bounded me, and creating better adapted individual to live in the next era, just a little more complicated and assured. (The complication is an unavoidable consequence: I don’t know if I work more efficiently, but I do know I work more.)

You can see how compelling it is to think in these terms. You might understand how the modern theory of evolution still becomes easily conflated with more antiquated designs of thought. I hope the pressures of these layers upon me right now preserve some of what I have been during this last period. It may not be an accurate way to describe what is going on within the ecosystem of my own boundaries, but I feel the beginnings of another self more complex and purposeful.