The other day my friends and I were out hiking in forested land in the Oakland hills and we sat on a bench to eat some sandwiches and share a beer. Some nice people stopped and asked us directions. they finished by saying “…and then this trail takes us back to the parking lot, right?”
by Touch Fucking Moonflower
What if the great enlightenment project of understanding the world around us is not actually possible? And what, on the other hand, if it is simply not desirable, not worth the cost — both to the world and to our own spirit?
Just as the smell of well-rotted manure is the smell of life, the hysterical crying of a child is the sound of life. It is the most profound and unmediated expression of life energy there is.
Also on the list we might place thunder, coyote howling across a canyon (defiant songdogs!), and the copulatory vocalizations of the human female.
It seems as if the worlds’ religions tacitly understand that the deities they imagine are not different from randomness itself.
When they desire to know the opinion of their deity on some matter, they universally employ a random process to give the deity voice.
The flight of birds in the sky, the patterns of entrails left after the sacrifice is disemboweled; stalks of yarrow, tumbling dice, tossed coins; coffee grounds, tea leaves, scattered cowries, smoke on the wind.
The pages of a holy book are allowed to fall open at random; God’s is the hand that chooses the page.
Devotees of some god or other will always see their god at work in the workings of chance. We pagans, on the other hand, will always see our chance at work in the actions of their god. But the interesting thing is that when push comes to shove they need our magic to manifest their idol. Without pagan power, gods are mute. So it is with sacred groves, with holy caves, with the festivals of the year; so it turns out to be with the very mechanism by which divine intention becomes known.
“To divine” = to observe the outcome of a random process. “Divine” = of or pertaining to a God.
“‘Magic’ is the total appreciation of chance”
Made Things in a World of Born Things (August, continued)
- White paper cone from a sno-cone
The preponderance of balloons this month is likely a result of the high proportion of my time (90%) spent off-trail (or off-map, anyway). This is reassuring because it means other hikers are picking them up, too, but terrifying because of the density of balloon coverage in our nation’s wilderness.
Ghost pines in the hills like haze.
I never really looked at a digger pine sapling before. The trunk has scales, like a fish!
IN A CERTAIN WAY, our practice is just this: Not to be astonished.
Not to tip over into astonishment.
“Chop wood, carry water” means: To be in the midst of this unbearably beautiful, incomprehensibly tremendously unspeakable miracle of even being alive at at all; not only to be in it, but to BE it, all of it; and just to chop wood, and carry water, when those are the jobs that need doing.
To let it all be happening, to let ourselves, which is everything, happen everywhere, and not to make a big deal out of it, not, in fact, to comment at all.
First, we ignore reality. We experience it, but it doesn’t fit with our notions of who we are (THAT we are) and how the world is constructed, so we just ignore it, or experience it as a moment of emptiness.
Then, reality kicks us right in the forehead. It is so much too much that there is no way we can even begin to describe, no way we can continue, if this is how things are — this has been going on all along, and it is SO BEAUTIFUL.
In a certain way, this is where practice begins. Now, a day without work is a day without food. The miraculousness of it is still enough to leave us speechless; but, speechless, we must speak, and so we do. We speak, we walk, we chop wood, we carry water; the eyebrows raise and lower, the mouth opens and closes; and the ghost of a smile plays about our lips. In it and not of it. That is our practice.
This is what a technological singularity looks like: families torn apart because each member is addictively engaged with his or her own device to the exclusion of family interactions. A dopamine addiction which makes humans nothing more than handles for computer chips. The game-ification of reality, transforming every activity into a game, easily understood, trivial, and restartable at will. The “reality sickness” one feels when wrenching oneself away from the machine and realizing it is 3 in the morning. Games, apps, social networks engineered (by humans, for venal human reasons) to be as addictive as possible.
To the extent a singularity or post-human condition is likely to occur, this is what it looks like. It is a queasy, banal, embarrassing waste of time. A waste of human time, which may benefit machines in some mysterious unfathomable way, but which certainly benefits other humans who engineered the machines and reaped the profit from our purchases and our data. Machine-human consciousness is like this. It has a history and it serves a master.
Awakened by a skunk in the night — once examining my food bags; when I got up to shoo him off he jumped back, then approached again, playful — once he squirted some spray at someone in the vicinity and it hung in the air for ten minutes or so — and then I was so sensitized that every time he jumped in the underbrush I jolted up.
Coyote calling ‘tween dawn and sunrise, echoing up the canyon, on and on, for half an hour at least. They sound like barking dogs, they sound like howling wolves, they sound like shrieking humans, they sound like singing birds, but a pack of them, at some distance, echoing up a canyon like that, sounds like nothing on earth unless it is a humpback whale. The whole pack of them kept repeating the same figure, a complex fugal wave of sound, then stillness, on and on and on… like poetry.
Brion Gysin said that when you hear your music, you know it, and I have heard mine. And I think that if we could understand the syntax — whether that is understood as musicological syntax, or linguistic syntax — of coyote song, we would understand something about the nature of mind, and of life on earth, which has heretofore eluded us.
That’s the way the seasons are. No it’s not the way the seasons are, it’s the way the mind is. Sitting here in this dry riverbed, the idea of green hillsides and rushing water is a complete abstraction. I can, with effort, call up a memory of green hillsides, and I know that these will be, so I force myself to pretend my memory is here, but I cannot really imagine these hillsides green.
Human memory is about one month long.
Last night I was lying here reading when a pair of deer came down the game trail I’m lying on. They were maybe 20 feet away when I raised my head to look at them and they scampered off.
- my smell is weaker this month (doubtful)
- some meteorologic effect is keeping it from dissipating as quickly
- or the critters here, far from any trail, have forgotten what humans smell like
Actually, now I think about it, there is a strong prevailing wind blowing up the canyon from the South, and the only being I’ve come upon while hiking North, with the wind, is one fat old pig. Occam’s Razor wins again.
Dharanis? You’re kidding, right? Aren’t those just magic spells? What is this crap?
Here, the argument is the opposite of that invoked in dealing with question 1. The idea is that, what our Zen ancestors did, we shall do. If you Indian ancestors chanted incomprehensible nonsense magic spells to propitiate demons, and our Chinese ancestors chanted these same nonsense syllables, mispronouncing them, and our Japanese ancestors mispronounced the Chinese mispronunciation of these same meaningless made-up words of power, well then, who are we to buck tradition? Obviously, mispronunciation works — as a container for stillness.
There is some poetry to this argument. In fact, it constitutes an argument for poetry! But let us not forget the example of William Tyndale, who, in the early 16th century, had the bright idea of translating the Bible into English, so ordinary fieldhands might know what it contained. His reward, doled out by both church and state, was strangulation, followed by burning at the stake. The attachment to the old ways, especially when they are old ways of chanting incomprehensible syllables in dead languages, is certainly a pattern — perhaps and identifying characteristic of religiosity.
In which case, the question is an old one: Is Zen a religion? Or if not, what is it?
Made Things in a World of Born Things
- GU Energy Paste wrapper
- Water bottle label
- Spam can
- Fresca can
- 1/2 mylar happy-face balloon
- Purple mylar balloon
- Balloon ribbon
- Purple mylar “happy birthday” balloon
- Red, white & blue balloons attached with red & blue ribbon
- Fragment of a white balloon w/ taped note reading “En memoria de Cinthia Avilez Amaro 1983-2002″
- Another mylar balloon, too far off the trail for me to bother with
- Also a piece of shredded rubber balloon in the stream, w/ some kind of white lichen or deposit on it. I left it as I felt it was forming a substrate.
The other day my bookkeeper left me a note about something she thought was going to happen, which didn’t. So I, in turn, left her a note, which read, “This turned out not to be true.” Later as we were discussing the situation I had the blinding realization that this sentence is what I want for my epitaph. Those seven words are all I want carved into my stone.
I’ll tell you how to become invisible: be something no one wants to see. Be drunk, be poor, be dirty, be crazy. Be something that makes people guilty for their own good fortune. You will disappear as suddenly as if you wore a magic ring — and be free to do anything you like.
We cannot speak about “illegal” drugs in general — they belong to the realm of the taboo. Discussing them carries a risk.
Meanwhile, several important “legal” drugs may be spoken of — but it is considered crass or even somewhat crazy to call them “drugs.” Tobacco, coffee, tea, chocolate are discussed as if they were pastimes, beverages, foods — reference to their consciousness-altering abilities is only made sub rosa, coyly: “everybody knows this isn’t really true — but it’s as if chocolate made you high!” We behave as if the buzz from these drugs is identical to ordinary consciousness — in fact, “clean and sober” people smoke like chimneys, can’t get started without their coffee, gorge on chocolate as a matter of course.
And even in the case of alcohol, our culture’s drug of choice, there is a strange reticence, a certain imperative to obscure the fact that it is a drug. We speak of drunkenness, but as if only tyros, weaklings and subhuman losers actually indulge to that degree. We civilized people attend wine tastings, scotch tastings, tequila tastings — as if taste were what it is all about — as it the stuff didn’t all taste inherently terrible, and as teens we hadn’t forced ourselves to learn to choke it down. So that we could get high.
Just so, we speak of coffee cuppings, tea tastings — as if these drugs existed only in the mouth, never crossed the blood-brain barrier. It would be odd and embarrassing to discuss or admit the different buzz from pu erh and darjeeling, from red wine and white — taste is the only euphemism we allow ourselves for getting high.
In their youth, many, perhaps most, American Zen teachers were wildly promiscuous and experimented with drugs. In their maturity, they encourage their young students to practice monogamy (though rarely celibacy) and sobriety. How helpful is this?
I realize, this question has nothing to do with Zen really. It’s a broader question about innocence and experience, and whether experienced persons can really spare inexperienced persons any suffering, whether they (we) can really give anyone the benefit of their (our) experience. I confess, more and more it seems to me that it is the job of the innocent to make mistakes, to go down blind alleys, to thrash around in the dark, and explaining that one has explored that alley and that it does not, in fact, lead anywhere is less than useful. As far as I can see, the only truly helpful stance for an experienced person to take towards those less experienced is one of compassion based on having traversed the same blind alleys oneself. “Yes it hurts doesn’t it. Let me get you a glass of water.”
Of course, on entering the “nirvana gate,” the main entrance to a Zen monastery, each person symbolically agrees to a set of five vows among which are sobriety and sexual continence. And most Buddhist teachers and students agree that vows are not rules, but reminders; they become necessary when a rule is broken, or is about to be. Still, I catch a strong whiff of “do as I say, not as I have done” in many statements, both public and private, I’ve heard Zen teachers make over the years — a kind of smirking acknowledgment of one’s own former foolishness which at times veers into pride, rendering the moral dogmas weak at best, hypocritical at worst. And I wonder: How easy is it for those who have not sown their wild oats to settle into committed relationships? It certainly was not easy for me. How easy is it for those who have not experienced the raptures of intoxicants to appreciate the intoxication of everyday mind? Myself, if I didn’t know what it was like to be high, I would never know how high I am, without being high at all.
Even the years spent desperately seeking after wisdom… were they really wasted? Ought one to try to save others the trouble? I am unconvinced.
The unexpected always delivers the goods.
Some kind of long-stemmed buckwheat-type plant, now out of flower, covered with aphids — three different kinds: red, yellow, black. I noticed it by the dark moistness of their honeydew on the dry riverbed rocks beneath.
Nearby, a wild turkey eggshell, thicker than that of a chicken but still too fragile to take home.
Zen’s antecedents include strong elements of surprise and tricky shamanic humor, which are distinctly lacking from its contemporary American forms. Why is this?
It may have something to do with the history of Zen in America. In its early (beatnik) phase, it was precisely these elements that attracted American Zen’s first adherents, many of whom drifted on to other things, overdosed, or “matured” into dour droning humorless Zen teachers themselves. In other words, rejecting these “adolescent” elements is a way for Zen practice in America to “grow up,” to prove itself a serious religious movement, and not a counter-cultural fad. Still, the question remains: by rendering itself palatable to mainstream society, has Zen lost something essential? Is there not something subversive in the whole project? Is there not, perhaps, something existentially funny about the whole situation, which no amount of po-faced chanting about precepts can fully exorcise?
This morning at moonrise, the sky just hinting at the coming dawn, coyote went buck-wild in the hills across from me. Hollering to each other across long distances, their calls, somewhere between dog, wolf and wild human, echoed through the entire valley (Miller’s Field) for a full half-hour. One repeated the same yapping figure, two low three high in triplet, remaining still in a stand of pine & oak just across the riverbed. The next nearest, whose motif involved both barks and a kind of arrogant squeal, seemed to be moving along the ridgetop. Others were farther off.
I heard them again after sunrise, in a pack, more distant. Then, while having coffee (I forgot my lighter but found one match floating around my pack), well after sunrise, a youngster came marching across the riverbed, two bones connected by sinew in his mouth. I walked to where I could get another look at him and he returned my gaze for a while, then picked up his bones and trotted unhurriedly up the bank.
I believe that they live in or make some use of the thicket of Cercocarpus near my campsite. Within is a complex of passages, part burrowed from the bushes, part dug from the ground. I’ve gone in, but left quickly from the overwhelming sense that the owner(s) were not at home just then, but would be back any time.
When you eat, you eat yourself — this fundamental fact must not be obscured by the vow not to kill. A puritanical reading of the Buddhist precepts helps to ignore our suffering, not to keep it front and center, because it encourages us to pretend we are more pure than we are…
Coyote have several times shat in the middle of my path. Fuckers!
The fish does not feel damp, the shrew does not feel hungry.
This Mother’s Day I prepared a meal of local king salmon baked in grape leaves from a neighborhood tree, with rosé butter, salad with aioli dressing, and strawberries with sugar and cream, for my mother, my sweetheart, and her children. Sitting down to table I delivered this sermon:
“Today while I was getting some supplies I was thinking about why we celebrate this day at this time of year; and it occurred to me that there has been a lot of invisible work going on in darkness all winter long, and this is the moment in the year when the results of that work become manifest. All the secret stirrings among the roots of grasses, the bird gathering fluff to feather his nest, for reasons he doesn’t understand, just as his father and grandfather did, to try to entice a beautiful lady bird to come and share it with him; this is the moment in the year when all that hidden work breaks forth into the light in flower and song.
So in a way, the “Mother” whose day we celebrate today is Mother Earth. She who is everywhere, and upon whom we depend.
And I thought further, we are those flowers. We are the manifestation of the secret work of our mothers and fathers. Not just the mystery of conception of course; but all their toil through the long dark of our hiddenness.
That is what each of us is. Mom is the manifestation of the work undertaken by her mother and father; your mother is the blooming forth of efforts made by her mother and father. I am the manifestation of work done by Mom, and my father, whose photo hangs on the wall over there. And each of you three, beautiful children; you are the flowering, the visible proof of invisible labors undertaken in secret by your mother and father — and, indeed, by many others, known and unknown, who worked in secret on your behalf, so that you could flower forth like this. You are the visible evidence of their manifold invisible struggles.
And then I thought: this means that we, each of us, have a responsibility. Because NOW is the moment when their work becomes visible, becomes manifest through us, because we are nothing more than its manifestation, NOW is the moment when we must do the very best that we can. It doesn’t matter if we don’t feel ready. When it is our turn to step into the spotlight, when we become visible, we are not just ourselves. We are everyone whose hidden work is manifested through us. And so, when the spotlight shines on us, we sing, and through us are singing all those hidden forces that produced us; and it is our responsibility to really belt it out, to give it our all, to do it well as we possibly can, no matter how ill-prepared we may feel. That is the Law of the Turning World.
And finally I thought: This is how it has always been, in our mothers’ day and our grandmothers’ day and their grandmothers’ day, back into the hidden mists of history; and that is how it will always be, until the world disappears into the all-consuming fire at the end of time.
The way to prepare for this collapse — a collapse which may be our only salvation, and even so should not be counted on — is not by stockpiling anything. Nor is it by learning self-reliance, voluntary simplicity, or resilient communities. All of these things are part of it, but they, by themselves, are not going to get us through what is likely coming.
We are going to need myths to get us through.
We are going to need to prepare the ground of a new culture within the dying body of the old.
My intuition is that somehow this is through stories, though they need not be simple.
But through stories that speak, somehow, of another narrative than “progress.”
Stories that speak of eternal time, that place us in eternal time.
Progress, unless I miss my guess, has failed us, is not going to provide for our children what it did for our parents.
Learning how to reinhabit place, how to step back in to a flowing stream that is never the same, finding our place in it, that is the necessity, that is the trick.
It is as if we are Carolingians in the dark ages, searching for the meaning of the ruins we live among –
but we are searching for the lost knowledge of the people we killed off in order to take the land we live on.
Their technology, their cultural heritage, which we are going to need, which is the knowledge necessary to live in eternal time
was encoded in the form of stories.
Where their stories were recorded, we are going to have to learn them, to learn them by heart.
But further we are going to have to make up our own.
To find some language to record and convey this technology as we learn it.
A technology, let us be very clear, that goes nowhere. It is not “progress.”
Growing old is hard, just as hard as growing up. But we don’t pity the child, who falls down, bruises herself, cries, picks herself up, and falls again, over and over, who cannot understand the speech around her and cannot make herself understood, who wets herself and cries at night. We praise her, and continue to live our lives with her and around her, because we know that this is her time to do this, that it is natural. We don’t even think, “everyone goes through this, I did too”; we just carry on, appreciating her for what she is at this moment of her life.
In the same way, we must make space for the old, respect their adventure and encourage them to do the same. We do this as we do with the young, by living our lives with them and around them, making a place where their particular moment makes sense, and acknowledging that we need them, need them to be just as they are. We need people in our lives who move more slowly, who sleep in the afternoon, a kitten on their lap; who don’t always know where they are or who we are. We need them to feel loved even as these things happen, not in spite of them or because of them; as we love a child, simply because that is our way. And we need them to love us in turn, even when they do not remember our names; as a reaffirmation of that loving that is the fabric of being itself.
Vision of the body’s systems (reproductive, circulatory, skeletal, respiratory, etc.) twining around each other like vines, like smoke.
Power tools encourage you to think in terms of shaping your surroundings. It might take a tree 40 years to produce itself, five minutes to chop it down with a chainsaw, 30 minutes to chop it down with a bucksaw. But the chainsaw uses five minutes and a few tablespoons of gasoline, while the bucksaw requires thrice the time and one third the liquid volume of sweat.
It is this volume of sweat extracted from the cutter’s body that makes the difference. If you have to do the work yourself, instead of mortgaging the world’s future to do it, you immediately become much more selective; one tree in five now seems sufficient.
I sort of missed my tent-dwelling neighbors, though. After they pulled up the tent-spikes and decamped, it felt a little lonely for an hour or so.
On the way out I checked their campsites for debris.
[Note: "Obscure Reference" is a shadowy network of which I may or not be a member, depending on your perspective. Its literature contains the phrases "draw a line and cross it" and "the desire for absolute stink" (or anyway it used to).
"Dirt: Part One" is private.]
Dirt Part Two (for Obscure Reference)
Trapped, I go through.
What is dirt? What is this dirt we crave, cannot live with, cannot live without? How do we benefit by forbidding something to ourselves, and what do we gain when we luxuriate in it again?
There are those who think that, without repression, there can be no transgression, to the great impoverishment of eroticism. These people think that the Catholic Church is a vast and efficient eros machine.
Georges Bataille, the great theorist of transgression, founded a secret society. Acéphale, “Headless.” One of the inspirations for Obscure Reference.
Stars for his nipples, a spiral umbilicus, this man is much like us. Indeed, our secret society also aspires, in spite of itself, to headlessness. As Bataille wrote in Acéphale #1, “Secretly or not, it is necessary to become altogether different or else to cease to be.”
Draw a line and cross it. The desire for absolute stink.
Something stinks in here. But, it is only a relative stench. In fact, it smells kind of good.
I gathered all my courage as though I were about to leap forthwith into hell-fire, and let the thought come. I saw before me the cathedral, the blue sky, God sits on His golden throne, high above the world — and from under the throne an enormous turd falls upon the sparkling new roof, shatters it, and breaks the walls of the cathedral asunder. I felt an enormous, indescribable relief. Instead of the expected damnation, grace had come upon me… I wept for happiness and gratitude.
Carl Gustav Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections
It was Freud who observed that, while the methane blown out of other peoples’ anusses is offensive to the nose, one’s own farts smell, well not that bad really.
We can but wonder, what exactly is an “absolute stink?” The superheated methane that pours from vents on the ocean floor perhaps? An environment where only archaebacteria, creatures from an altogether different, and forgotten, biological lineage can survive.
There is always an underground.
The phrase, “draw a line and cross it,” derives from an action. Michael Michael, also known as Danger Ranger, an early member of the San Francisco Cacophony Society (another inspiration for Obscure Reference), did this on first arriving, with a few dozen fellow travelers, on the Black Rock Playa in 1990. As I heard him tell it, “I drew a line in the dust in front of us with my foot, and I said, ‘on the other side of this line everything is going to be different.’ And it was.”
This year 60,000 people will make the trek to Burning Man, to try crossing Michael’s line, to see who they turn into in a condition of absolute alterity. Some will drag their old world with them across the line. Some will abandon everything they were before.
How do you pack for a trip to a sea-floor vent?
How much can you change and remain certain you are still you?
Initiation is death. Death of someone. Who dies?
What stinks? It smells like something died in here!
(“Punk’s not dead! Nah that smell’s just summink in yer underwear mate innit!” -Ye Olde punk slogan)
The Death & Resurrection Show. Bataille’s Acéphale were rumored to have held a human sacrifice. This is part of the legend about him.
(Let the sacrifice be me! I mean, the old parts of me — the neurotic, inhibited parts. Oh psychic surgeon, don’t let your hand slip, don’t accidentally kill the free parts, the new parts, the wild unhinged wise compassionate parts! Those are the real me.)
These legends, rumors, obscure references, are where the repressed lives on. Once you proclaim, “What we do is secret,” some will guess it involves ritual murder, shit, semen, racism, or, uh, whatever stinks to them. Preferably a combo platter.
It is very hard to find a post-industrial or black metal band who openly espouse Nazism. Sigrblot, Burzum, and Blood Axis spring to mind, but other than that… there are only rumors. The dude from Death In June openly consorted with Boyd Rice, but then, his friends say he’s just a lonely gay obsessed aesthete and what’s the matter with that really in the long run.
This is because the rumors are what matters. The rumors, the legends, the hints of something dark and repressed, something that returns eternally — the South will rise again! — are what fascinates, are where the action is.
The dirt, under the carpet. “I heard there’s some dirt under that carpet!”
“Dirt! Cool. I want some of that shit.”
One day I was buying some stuff (for $20!) in Whole Foods and the checker noticed my Mayhem shirt, which has SS Totenkopfs on the sleeves. I have no idea why, Mayhem never used that symbol, but there they were. And he asked if I had heard of Death In June, who had also used that symbol, and then looked at me knowingly and said, “…though of course it’s older than that.” And I nodded knowingly back.
It was an OBSCURE REFERENCE. And we were on the inside!
Whatever cannot be spoken of openly is spoken of in whispers. We keep the dirty books under the counter.
There is always an underground. The fact that it is underground does not guarantee its value. Or does it?
There are always an inside and an outside. The fact that we meet on the inside does not guarantee our fraternity.
Or does it?
Horses placed in a stall together will eventually mate for life. This is social sculpture.
Secretly or not, it is necessary to become altogether different or else to cease to be.
Two things about this:
1) What would it mean to secretly become altogether different? Has it happened yet? How would you know?
Is it happening … now?
2) Bataille offers two choices, which amount to the same thing. Or do they? If “I” become altogether different, have “I” ceased to be?
The question is not merely academic for some of us. For instance, Mick Jagger at the end of Performance. He would really be interested in one’s answer to that question.
Grow or die. That is the Law of Life. Plants follow it, archaebacteria follow it; and we follow it.
But even this is a limited view. Probably, if we could see clearly, we would say death is just a species of growth; probably nothing ever comes or goes.
Otherwise this stone would seem defaced
beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders
and would not glisten like a wild beast’s fur:
would not, from all the borders of itself,
burst like a star: for here there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.
-Rilke “Archaic Torso of Apollo”
Rilke describes the confrontation with alterity which is membership in community. “For here there is no place / that does not see you.” Community is the opposite of the panopticon. Not a mechanism by which some hidden watcher can see everyone, but a situation where everyone can see each other.
Here, there are no secrets. The dirt is visible. S/he who dealt it, smelt it, and so does everyone else.
This is the alchemical retort, the occult cauldron, in which transformation is catalyzed. “You must change your life.”
The alchemical path, the tantric path, is to turn shit into gold: or possibly to reveal their equivalence. To turn the shallows inside out and plunge into their depths.
The tantric path, the alchemical path, is to learn to surf transgression, so the world turns inside out and “we rise by that by which we fall.”
The Source Family (not an inspiration for Obscure Reference) had a room in their commune devoted to non-orgasmic energy sex between members. They rose for meditation together at 4:00 am, after which they all took a few deep tokes of weed together, abstaining (mostly) from drugs for the rest of the day.
Paracelsus is said to have enraged his colleagues by presenting some of them with a bowl of human excrement, declaring, “If you do not want to familiarize yourselves with the secrets of putrefactive fermentation, you are not worthy of being called physicians.”
In the acceptance of obscenity, excrement, and death there lies a spiritual energy which I make use of.
I will leave it there, as I found it. No tidy conclusion, or even poetic inconclusiveness, would be appropriate to the subject matter. They say that Buddhas are like clean fire, bodhisattvas like a little left-over ash; if so, then we delight in unresolved questions, imperfections, uncorrected delusions — the stuff of life. We delight in them, and let them pass.
Frater Lemonhead, (OR)
18 Jan 2013
Made Things in a World of Born Things:
- An enormous mylar balloon representing Thomas the Tank Engine
- A rubber balloon, sufficiently shredded that I left it.
- A tin can, likewise
- A Bangkok Airways refreshing tissue, still sealed!
Entire lifetimes lived in the hills. Civilization is not reality. It is a dream I undergo. Its hours are measured by the clock, but nothing to the years I spent seated astride that rock… Fetching water from the spring…
It’s crazy how you can hear the wind coming from so far away, a minute or two away as an unformed sound, that grows and defines itself until it is upon you.
Most American locales contain two cultures: Hipsters and Straights. Here in the Bay Area, there are three: Hipsters, Straights and Burners.
Straights are straight. They don’t consider themselves part of any special group. Status among them is measured by the accumulation of objects, particularly those in limited supply. Straight culture is materialistic, conformist, humorless, misogynistic and future-oriented.
Straight drug use is confined to caffeine, alcohol, and chocolate, with nicotine added in certain geographic zones.
No one claims to be a Hipster. If one person calls another a Hipster, the speaker is either a straight person who doesn’t really get what’s going on, or another Hipster trying to claim higher status. Being recognized as a Hipster would be a sign of failure, for a Hipster.
Status among Hipsters is measured by knowledge. There are many different tribes and affinity groups among Hipsters, membership in which is determined by the manipulation of an infinite number of symbols, which are worn, spoken, ridden upon, or displayed in other ways. These symbol-systems are constantly being co-created, altered and rewritten as epiphenomena of the tribes which use them; thus the knowledge necessary for status as a Hipster must constantly be reacquired; much like shrews or hunter-gatherers, their existence is a process. Status is in constant danger of being lost, and cannot be accumulated as it can among Straights.
Hipster culture is an information economy; it is conformist within narrowly defined tribal boundaries, but delights in its non-conformity with out-groups, including Straights; it is ironic, urbane, jaded, cynical and self-destructive. Mysticism would be a sign of weakness among Hipsters, as it would be a sign of non-comformity among Straights. Hipster culture is gender neutral; the underlying symbol systems are being read and written by women in the same way as men, so from a Straight perspective it is often difficult to tell Hipster males from Hipster females. Hipster culture is thus less porn-addicted and more sex-positive than straight culture. It is present-oriented, as it is constantly in flux and status accumulation is impossible.
Hipsters use caffeine, alcohol, synthetic stimulants, and synthetic opiates; nicotine use is more common than among Straights. Drug use, like all other aspects of their lives, is closely determined by tribal affiliation.
Burners self-identify as Burners, and are thus identified by the other two classes. Hipsters despise Burners; they exercise a distasteful fascination for Straights, who sense they are enjoying more drugs and sex than anyone else.
Status among Burners is measured by doing. The number, size, complexity and originality of projects a Burner has undertaken determine social standing, almost to the exclusion of anything else. Oddly, their success is a secondary consideration. An ambitious, original failure is “worth” more in Burner culture than a conservative, derivative success.
Status among Burners can thus be accumulated, unlike among Hipsters; once a project has been attempted, the status accrued cannot be lost. Burner royalty cannot be deposed. However, unlike Straight status, Burner status is not a zero-sum game. The creativity, daring, and blind stupidity necessary to a Burner’s projects are not a finite commodity. Thus, while each high-status Straight is so only by maintaining some other Straight or group of them in a low-status condition, the Burner pantheon simply grows as Burner culture ages.
Burner culture is characterized by an astonishing mixture of reverence and irreverence. The mixture itself is the identifying feature. While different Burner sub-groups tend to one pole or the other, the constant oscillation is essential and unavoidable. This is a source of great confusion to both Straights and Hipsters, neither of whom hold world-views which allow for this apparent self-contradiction.
Burner culture is anti-materialist and non-conformist. It is earnest, mystical, absurdist, and timeless. Burner culture is matriarchal; whether as a cause or an effect of this, it is polyamorous, polysexual, sex-positive, and libertine.
While Burner use of psychedelics and empathogens is legendary and tantamount to an identifying characteristic, alcohol, caffeine, cannabis, artificial stimulants and anti-anxiety drugs are also common. Caffeine and nicotine are the most popular drugs among “sober” Burners.
Status among all three groups is rewarded by opportunities to procreate. Among Straights, status guarantees access to resources necessary for long life, though it exposes them to “diseases of affluence” which somewhat mitigate this. Hipster culture’s core values of present-orientation and self-destructiveness tend to drastically reduce the lifespan of high status members. Status has no particular effect on the lifespans of Burners.
Are these three cultures mutually exclusive? Yes, and no. They are three radically different ways of organizing status relations, each internally consistent, and inconsistent with the others. Thus, every Burner, every Hipster, is in a certain sense still a part of Straight society, and may be succeeding or failing by the criteria of Straight society. Likewise, in a certain sense all of us are Hipsters, though most of us are Hipster peons by virtue of failing to expend the necessary energy to understand and manipulate the symbols of some Hipster in-group. And, in this same sense, all of us are Burners. If we imagine, for a moment, that we are living in a gift economy, in which we are what we do for the enjoyment of others, not what we own or what we know… then suddenly, mysteriously, we find ourselves in awe of mighty doers, though they may own nothing, know little. The fundamental moral is that while status may be an irreducible organizing aspect of human life, its definition is contingent and historically determined; and at any given time, there are several histories taking place, each with its own definition of status. And it is, in fact, possible for us to choose.
It is a cliché to claim, “everything is changing so fast, faster and faster all the time, the world is unrecognizable now to an 80 year old.” People say this without thinking, and then sit back as if they have said something profound and now we must ponder it. But I am not so sure.
Sometimes I think it may be more a matter of perspective.
If you are sitting at the side of a long, straight highway, in the desert, you can see an oncoming semi-truck from miles away, and from that distance it does not appear to be moving very fast. It is only as it approaches you that you begin to sense the tremendous speed with which it is barreling down the highway; and just as it is passing you, its speed is unimaginable — too fast to be perceived.
Just so, life in the distant past seems not to have changed very much. But it’s important to realize that, just as with the truck, we don’t have access to many details about what that life was like. It is tiny, indistinct at such a distance. It is only as we approach our own era that we begin to have access to such granularity of detail that objectively small changes seem tremendously important; and the world around us, our own lives, is rushing past us with such a wealth of detail that we really have no sense of perspective about whether it is “changing” or not.
One day, historians will say, “in the late 20th century there was a style of music called “pop,” and it was performed by a musical group called “The Beatles.” We think there may have also been others, but we’re not sure.”
Someone living at the time The Beatles were making music would have been exquisitely attuned to each new record they released, would have been intimately aware of the networks of mutual influence among them and all the other bands active at the time. This granularity of detail is already lost to us. We, on the other hand, feel that if we neglect to check the blogs for a month we’re hopelessly out of date.
Much is made of communications technology, and the ways the world has “shrunk.” But it strikes me that no real improvement in the speed of communication has been made since the first telegraph cable was laid. Neither telephone nor radio nor internet is any faster. It is just different types of information that are making the the journey. Future historians may see it this way. “In the 19th Century people discovered how to send information down a wire, and for some reason they continued using this inefficient method for several hundred years, with no real advancement until our era, when Jones invented the semiotoblast,” they may write. We, intoxicated by the granularity of detail we are experiencing, see the tablet computer as a “revolution.”
Even more ridiculous to my way of thinking is the absurd assumption that “hunter-gatherers” (as if such disparate lifeways could be referred to by a collective noun in this way) living today can tell us all we need to know about their and our pleistocene ancestors, because “nothing changes for them,” as if that was obvious on the face of it, as if any of us had access to a metric that could determine such a fact. It seems much more likely to me that we are simply unable to see the ways their lives are changing; as Brian Eno succinctly put it once, “‘primitive’ means we don’t know the ways in which it’s advanced.”
Owning land together with someone, or in a group, is fraught with troubles. All around are stories of friends who entered into shared purchases of vacation land when they were younger, for instance, and now their co-owners cannot afford to do any upkeep, and the property values are falling, and no one can buy anyone else out. Or couples, now separated, who own property together, and cannot subdivide, and despite their colossal increase in paper wealth as the property has appreciated, one of them refuses to sell.
We all know examples like this; so it is obvious that shared real property should be entered into only fenced about with complex and unpleasantly litigious agreements, and even then is likely to end in irritation if not tears. So be it.
But there is (perhaps) a reason for this.
I am an anti-capitalist. But I do not believe, as most anti-capitalists do, that the root of all post-colonial evil is the economic exploitation of workers by bosses, the alienation of workers from the surplus produced by their work. I think it is an evil, but not the root. Nor do I believe, as many do, that our problem is money, that we need to find a new means of exchange, or perhaps a gift economy. I agree that this would be a good thing, but I’m not sure it is possible without further change.
Nor do I even feel that the issue is one of private property — that we feel we can own something like a flat-screen television, or a slave. I agree that this is a strange idea. But not the strangest I have heard.
The strangest idea I have heard is the idea that you can own an area of the earth — real property. That, in the words of Chief Joseph, the earth could belong to us, not we to it. Sentimental, perhaps, but after some thought I am sure it is a bizarre and corrosive idea, and until we can erase such a strange idea from our minds our society must inevitably remain violent and unfair. For it is founded on a principle of unparalleled violence and unfairness. The insane idea that the earth itself can be owned, or that one can own some bundle of rights to it.
And, as it happens, the society into which we have been born holds that as a fundamental right — believes, in principle, that not only can the earth be owned but that it is all owned, by someone; that good fences make good neighbors, and any areas not owned by individuals are owned in common.
So as it turns out, communal ownership is not a solution to this problem, though it sometimes seems to be. It is a dysfunctional solution. It leaves unchallenged the underlying assumption — that real property can be owned — while attempting a rearrangement at the level of consequences. This is why utopian gestures — announcing “this bus owns itself, the pink slip is in the glove compartment,” “this house is the peoples’ house, anyone can do what they want here” — almost inevitably devolve into traditional ownership. 3/4 of the time, the original paper owners step back in, assert their rights, and take their responsibilities; 1/4 of the time it is a total trainwreck, the property is taken from its would-be liberators, and, eventually, some dystopian entity assumes traditional ownership.
Better, in my opinion, to use the language of mainstream society to engage its social contract in a way that avoids these outcomes, while remembering, and making space for, the truth that we belong to the earth, not it to us; that, no matter how it appears, we wander free upon its surface; that our lives are short and its is long.
Time is not linear — or not necessarily. That is just a way of looking at it.
Another way of looking at it is as a circle.
Instead of extending in a line, from past to future, with the present represented by a tiny dot somewhere in the middle, both ends extending infinitely,
we think of it as circling, or,
as an unconnected collection of moments.
There is the moment of sunset, when it is time to prepare dinner,
the moment of sunrise, when it is time to shake off sleep.
Any moment of sunset is one with all the others,
is one with all the others, forever,
there is only that.
Sunrise does not “follow” night; night is its own moment.
Each moment is fully itself, and not in the way that a dot on a line is fully itself; it is fully itself as a circle returning to a certain point on its traversal.
We do not think, “now it is evening, what have I accomplished on this day — this is day # 15332 of my life — tomorrow is almost here” etc.
Instead we think, “now it is evening. I know this moment. This is the moment of beginning to prepare an evening meal. I wonder what’s in the fridge.”
Each moment fully itself, an archetype.
Not embedded in a line.
Not embedded in a circular kind of line, either; when we say “circular,’ we mean really “archetypal” time;
time in which cyclic moments are archetypes, and our responses to them are ritualized, are whole.
NOW the sun is high in the sky, and it is time for lunch,
NOW the bell has rung, and it is time for zazen,
NOW the rainy season has begun, and it is time to bring in the furniture,
NOW the first flowers are blooming on the plum trees, and it is time to plant the crops,
NOW the shortest night of the year, time to build a bonfire and leap over it.
NOW a child is born, we must care for it,
NOW I am lying in my bed, can no longer get up, and it is time to say goodbye to this beautiful world.
Each moment is fully itself, and in a way it does not matter if it was “you” who experienced it all those other times,
or if, in fact, it was “other people,” “ancestors” — in this circular time it is always now, you do what the moment calls out of you, as your ancestors did before you,
as you did all those other times,
as you and people will continue to do forever.
You don’t think, “it is evening, exactly 24 hours ago I was also preparing dinner,”
you think, “it is evening, time to prepare dinner, as it always was and always will be.”
Your ancestors are participating in the moment with you,
all the earlier versions of “you” are also ancestors, are also here in this moment, participating.
You could produce earlier versions of “you,” through memory, and think, “I did it this way this time, I did it that way that time,”
but this thinking is unnecessary; your response to this moment is already informed by the other times you’ve met this moment,
and really what is happening is that the moment is alive.
Really what is happening is that the moment is alive,
there is no “you,” no “object,” the moment is what is;
but it is harder to perceive this burdened with the image of a moment as a point on an infinite line,
the idea that time is flowing somehow, or that we are moving down it, moving along it.
We are, in fact, so strongly conditioned by this model of what time is, of how it works,
that it is difficult for us to think of anything else as being “time” at all,
difficult to see that this cyclical time, archetypal time, ritual time,
is still time, but a time that does not flow,
a time of moments that are just what they are.
Difficult for us to realize that we do not FEEL time flowing,
that we cannot SEE it extending infinitely back and forward;
that actually the time we experience is so different from the time we think.
That there is no “moment,” here and gone,
but a NOW which is spacious, big enough to hold whatever we need to find in it, big enough for an entire life if we let it be.
First impressions are usually correct. The reason for this is the temporal and logical opposite of what you might think.
It is not because of any insight on our part. Nor is it because of any signals sent through gesture, clothing, pheromones or wrinkles.
It is because the “person” we eventually come to “know” is always at least half our own invention.
She is a co-creation.
This is also why friends’ deaths have such a strange effect. The body has died, it is incontrovertible. But somehow, we feel the “person” is still there. A ghost.
The “person” that we knew, whose death we mourn, was always at least half our own creation. At least half (maybe it is much more — I cannot be sure of the proportion) of our loved one carries on regardless of the body’s death.
This is equally true of our “enemies” as of our “friends.”
They have some limited autonomy, to help or harm us. But at least half of what they do is our invention.
So, of course our first impressions are correct. We may have already imagined such a person in fact. Our imagination must simply continue its procedure, and the person, perhaps without realizing it, becomes what we had already imagined her to be.
Lest this seem discouraging, we must always remember that this is also true of ourselves.
Whatever we think we are, it is at least half imagination.
Further, whatever our existence in the world, it is at least half our friends’ and enemies’ creation.
1. Most, but not all, of the carbon in the earth will be turned into CO2 by humans. It will be stopped short of complete transformation by an epidemic combined with social and economic collapse which will, in turn, be caused by the rising price of getting the carbon out of the ground.
2. The epidemic in question has a simple cause which is overcrowding — not overpopulation per se but the economic arithmetic which is leading to exponential urbanization around the world. Human monocultures combined with overuse of antibiotics will inevitably lead to epidemic disease, simply because bacteria and viruses have lifetimes several orders of magnitude shorter than ours and evolve that much faster.
3. No one knows what the effect on global climate of this catastrophic release of CO2 will be. The overall response of warming is fairly linear, and thus theoretically predictable. However the global climate is a non-linear system and thus inherently unpredictable even in the short term. Unpredictable literally means “un-predictable.” No computer has been designed which can make a prediction about the effect of this warming on the global climate. The results of climate models run on computers — positive feedback, leading to a surface temperature equivalent to that of Venus, a new ice age, or something in between — are nothing better than guesses. These results cannot be assigned a probability, or a margin of error.
4. High tech methods, like photovoltaic cells, integrated fast reactors, clean coal, etc, will do absolutely nothing to stop this process. The fundamental reason for this is that humans are not smart enough to design foolproof systems. Any design-intensive solution will fall victim to the law of unintended consequences. Further, human politics are only human neurosis writ large. We are a short-sighted species and, as long as there are profits to be made, long-term rational decisions will not be made. This is because profit is a proxy for evolutionary fitness and we have no choice but to maximize it. Also, the non-linearity of the global climate system assures that hard evidence of climate change will not be available to us until it is too late to turn back. Photovoltaic cells, fast reactors, geoengineering, GM crops and the rest of it are brought to us by the same minds that brought us thalidomide, DDT, Chernobyl, the Green Revolution, and biofuels — that is minds intoxicated by hubris and profoundly conditioned by greed and short-sightedness. Minds exactly like our own.
I feel the whole valley is full of my spirit. I look up and see the rock I meditated on yesterday afternoon, look down & see the pond I bathed in this morning.
This morning on my way to bathe I watched an old turtle wait for a young one as they migrated downstream.
Mid Fork Coyote Creek –
–Tiger’s-eye orange with umber veins. 3 cm.
–Yellow & black striped
–Black with yellow spots, line of red dots on wingtips, 3 cm.
–Brown with eyes on wings, 2 cm
Historically ours has been the losing side. Humans with a connection to the Earth have been perpetually disenfranchised and slaughtered by those without. So be it. The biota does not care. (The biota cannot “care.”)
Tents sprang up all along the valley last night, including right across the creek from me. That’s another thing I don’t quite get: tent-sleeping. I mean I get it psychologically — home = safety — but viewed objectively it’s such a funny thing to do (unless it’s raining or snowing). Last night was an exquisite, moonless, star-filled night, Venus, Mars & Mercury lined up in the sunset sky; later, at the darkest time, the Milky Way was like two strips of cloud across the heavens. To come all the way out here and then miss that — I don’t know.
Plus tents are manifestly unsafe for the same reason — they dull your senses. I could have strolled over there and tagged their packs (if I were that kind of hermit) and they would never have known.
In the pre-dawn dark, before even the birds began to sing, coyotes upstream let out the most insane-sounding song, like a chorus of maenads and banshees, really unearthly, and then all stopped at once. If I’d been in a tent I’d’ve been terrified. As it was I was terrified, but at least I knew where they were.
And in a tent I might have slept right through it, which would have been the greatest loss of all.
After bathing I stood in the river for a while, after the manner of my species.
Made Things in a World of Born Things
- Balloon ribbon with a scrap of balloon
- Capri Sun container
- Bottle cap reading “Smirnoff”
- Rectangle of automobile tire
The problem with the Children of Abraham — adherents of the world’s monotheistic religions, in Gary Snyder’s happy phrase — is that their concept of God the creator of all blurs the distinction between made and born that is essential to humanity’s finding its way out of its current dilemma (well, I think so anyway — not that I’m especially hopeful). The trees were made by God and the cathedrals were made by man in praise of God, they say. And it becomes as if everything was made, and can be unmade and remade better.
Given how butterflies maneuver, that they get anywhere at all is surprising. That they migrate is incomprehensible.
Hunched over my pot of chili like a real prospector. Only I’m prospecting for nothing.
Buck language and doe language. Buck and doe language.
When I write, “world of contingency,” I mean that I am nothing other than a part of that world. Ripples and tides in it affect me. If I have no faith in it, I have no faith in myself. And vice versa. I am an expression of it. An animal among others. No more, but also thankfully no less, thanks to which I can survive here, without most of my made accoutrements.
–2 cm across, white, yellow wingtips
–3 cm across, speckled dark brown & gold
–1.5 cm, light violet with a little orange on the tail. Sit quietly for long periods of time on dry thistles at dusk.
All above on Middle Fork Coyote Creek
On Blue Ridge:
–4 cm yellow with black stripes fore & aft. Mating now. Black longitudinal stripes also.
East Fork Coyote Creek:
–1.5 cm ivory
Middle Fork again:
–2 cm, white, orange wingtips
In the woods, I am reborn into a world of contigency. I have no choice but faith in this world, and assumption of my role in it. My place in it. The realization that I have a place in it.
Conditioned as I become to my place in society, and the world of made things that are one eternal refusal or postponement of contingency.
Humans are like those sea-worms that excrete labyrynths around themselves. Wherever we go we line our highways and byways with made things.
What this is:
In 1993 or 1994 I was driving more or less aimlessly from San Francisco to Colorado, and ended up being forced by snow to cross the Sierra at Donner Pass and continue down the East side, where I stopped at a place called June Lake, got out of the car, looked up at the mountains, and wrote one phrase in my notebook: “The Terrible Beauty of the Bride.” Later I decided that this should be the title of my collected writings on nature; though I had produced no such writings at that point.
By the time I got to Boulder my carburetor was failing, and in order to keep the car from stalling I had to keep my two feet on all three pedals simultaneously at stop signs; a skill which served me well years later when I was hired to drive junker cars past the bidders at the Tucson auto auction in summer. But I digress. Many things happened, and a few years later I was in London, living on a place called Eel Pie Island, accessible only by footbridge from the mainland. On high tide days I could sit at the window and watch the waters of the Thames advance across the lawn. For some reason I set out upon the project of describing the flowers I came upon as precisely as I could. Since I had no botanical vocabulary, this proved to be an almost impossible task; the closer I looked, the more indescribable the flowers became. Sometime I’ll dig these notes up and show them to you — everyone who wants to write should attempt something so stupid and impossible.
Some years later I was in Southern California, trying to write a novel about a man who wanted to understand everything about the world, and who thus could not walk out the front door of his house without describing the exact shape, size and color of the bricks in the threshold, and setting out to discover how they were fired and of what kind of clay. This was, I’m afraid, somewhat autobiographical, and it is a good thing I abandoned it quickly.
Years later still, and I had studied botany, biology, ecology, and a number of other things and was researching feral pigs in the backcountry of central California. Wandering these golden hills and glacier-scoured granite, sometimes with friends but often alone, I carried with me a little yellow notebook someone had given me, on the title page of which were the words, “The Terrible Beauty of the Bride.” These are some of the things written in it.
A first-level approximation of the current geopolitical situation is this: the US is a net exporter of suffering.
A second-level approximation would be: the US is like a living cell; it maintains a suffering gradient across its borders. It does this in order to do two things: keep wages low elsewhere, and keep oil cheap. By propping up repressive regimes across the globe, we subsidize the cheap transshipment of widgets to areas of low wages, where they are assembled into luxury goods which are then cheaply shipped to where consumers have the money to buy them. The repressive regimes also ensure that labor cannot move to where wages are high, as it would in a truly free market.
In other words, we export our suffering.
Islam, as the word is used in American public discourse, has almost no religious or metaphysical significance. “Muslims” are now very little more than those who believe the strange doctrine that the oil belongs to those who happen to have camped on top of it.
I should make clear that I neither agree nor disagree with this assertion. It is clear to me that the overgrown human cerebrum is good for only one thing, which is burning up the future to power the present. We are resource-depleters. As such, the hydrocarbons in the oil will be oxidized into CO2, whether by those humans who happen to have camped on top of it or by those who happen to have slaughtered the peaceful former inhabitants of a vast tract of rich land: America. Whether in 100 years or 1000, the acceleration of biogeochemical cycling which our unfortunate brains, combined with the unseasonably clement weather of the last 10 or 20 thousand years, are precipitating is, on the evolutionary timeframe, an explosion, a Chernobyl. Perhaps the sentence structure is unnecessarily complex. I mean that our era – the era of “civilization,” of the fossil fuel subsidy – will be over so quickly it will be invisible, on the evolutionary timescale. A catastrophic spike, with consequences undreamable by we who are living it.
A higher-level approximation would be: that not only does the US maintain a suffering gradient across its shores, it also maintains one internal to itself. It is necessary, and has always been necessary, to the spread of industrial capitalism that there be populations of workers who are not granted political representation. The mechanism of this is called “race.”
The word, “white,” as a racial designation, indicates those workers who have at some historical moment been granted political representation; once granted it is not often taken away. It is no longer possible for them to have race, because it is no longer necessary for them to have race. The others, those who are allowed to live and work here but are not allowed access to the political and social mechanisms by which their suffering could be shared, are called “ethnic groups,” “minorities” (even where they are majorities), “at-risk youth,” “immigrants,” “urban,” and an endless variety of other names, all signifying those who may be safely exploited.
It is interesting to note that the “Ethnic Studies Department” at my university, and I suspect at other universities as well, is divided into Native American Studies, Chicano Studies, and African-American Studies. Asians have their own department, as do Germans, French, Russians, and others who are evidently without ethnicity.
It is also interesting that, in this case, the barrier to free movement of labor which is otherwise essential to the maintenance of a suffering gradient is broached. It is a commonplace that, without porosity of borders, the economy of California (and many other parts of North America) would fail overnight. This is because “white” people could not enjoy the lifestyle to which they have become accustomed if those who prepare their food and wash the dishes after they have finished eating were citizens, and oil cannot be made cheap enough to ship both meals and dishes back and forth across the border.
This is why the Immigration and Naturalization Service does nothing to halt “illegal” immigration, but actually functions as an arm of the Drug Enforcement Agency, which does nothing to stop the flow of “illegal” drugs, but instead acts to prop up repressive regimes in the Southern half of this continent; a local branch of the Central Intelligence Agency, in fact, which of course has nothing to do with intelligence.
I should state explicitly that I am “white,” and that the lifestyle being maintained is the one I have become accustomed to. Though I have had $0 in the bank for most of my life and rarely enjoy the luxury of conspicuous consumption, my suffering is also being exported. It is not just the sweaters, hats and furniture I find in the street, which are perfectly serviceable, and free. It goes much deeper than that. The very fact I live the kind of life I do, that I can choose to live simply, is underwritten by the suffering, the toil, and in times of war (and which times that I have lived through have not been times of war, declared or undeclared?) the death, torture and dismemberment of vast multitudes of humans I will never meet. The parcel of land on which I make my dwelling was liberated for me by genocide, the house I rent a room in was built by slave labor, and everything I own was manufactured and transported under threat of death. The food I eat, the air I breathe, were stolen from the hungry mouths and choking nostrils of other humans, genetically indistinguishable from me, who make their beds across the bay, near the refinery, or in the street outside.
This is not an apology, though it does make me feel strange. It is a fact. That life is a war of all against all is one moment in a dialectic; the contrary moment to which is that life is one vast shimmering symbiosis.
I am a noticing machine. Here I record what I have noticed.
[Notes written down around 2004, when I was enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley, one of the most politically progressive educational institutions in America. The intervening seven years have given me no reason to revise.]
Something else I found on my hard drive: A letter to an old friend and publisher of mine, apparently in response to a request for a “writer’s statement.” I am pretty sure it was never published and in fact it was likely never sent. Makes good reading now though.
Fortuitously, just before your letter arrived my housemate, archiving at a local artspace, came upon the following biographical statement I wrote for a reading in 1994 or so:
“’Halliday Dresser’ is the defunct tag on a vortex once the site of floes of energy across a certain soap-bubble-curtain between subject and object. Having read widely, he knows nothing about many subjects. He is the author of a folded book. He lives in Noe Valley and collects frying pans.”
To which there is little to add, other than that Noe Valley is a tony section of San Francisco, in which I have never lived; and that I seem for the last five years or so, to have ceased the production of poetry. This is partly an ideological decision; while I’m proud of the things I’ve written, and tried to make them as good as possible, under the countenance of eternity, with no judge but chance (which is to say God) and yourself, reader, it seems more and more to me that writing is not enough. Art is not enough. Contra Duncan (whom I still adore as a figure, though he was an unpleasant human being and his poetry tends toward infantilism) I vow to make love and war as other men (and women) make poetry; exercising all my faculties at once.
Our society seems to be in decline and thus poets, like other artists, are on its fringes, isolated from its main stream and from each other. Poetry must survive, and I have done what I can to nurture it. But it is, at this time and in this place, almost an idiolect and not a potent tool for human interaction. I would encourage any reader of these words to consider these things; to what use are your intelligence and creativity being put? I personally would like to nurture, not just the art of poetry, but my fellow humans and other living things, and in so doing to hurry my society to its grave, as it is utterly corrupt. I feel this is the responsibility of intelligent, creative people, in such a place, at such a time.
“…So the stiff & strong are below
the supple & yielding on top.”
-Lao Tzu, per Cleary
To me this means that the most important thing in life is not to be a sourpuss. So: if there is poetry in you, make poems! I discourage no one from the making of poems. Merely from stopping there. Life is endlessly full of things to do, all equally essential and demanding as making poetry. Sometimes it may prove necessary to put a brick through a window; other times it may be essential to enjoy some barbecue. Poetry is being ever joyfully aware of life’s invitations.
Poetry is the art of observation. For me, a poem which does not bring its reader and/or writer to a condition of astonished observantness is unsuccessful. My poems have always aspired to begin there and end there; it seems that they still do, but no longer involve language at all. The truth is that I do not really know why this is so.
6 July 2002. Henry Coe State Park, California.
For some years it has been my habit, when the conversation turns to my favorite modern painter*, Gerhard Richter, to say he is the last painter, whether there are other painters after him or not. This is how he paints; his style, his technique are mute proof that the discipline he is practicing is obsolete, and this somehow intensifies his loyalty to it. His brushstrokes are the nails in its coffin and the marks of its fingernails scratching on the lid.
This is not, however, why he is my favorite modern painter. It is a clever and despairing post-modern feint. I like his paintings because they are beautiful. Were they all as banally intelligent as the color-chip paintings of the Seventies, there would be more to say, perhaps, but less to feel, and one would not return and return. I have a hard time, when the conversation turns to his work, saying more. I have been reduced, for some years now, to one bon mot, and a certain queasiness. It is, of course, this discomfort that assures that one is, in fact, in the presence of art, and not something more practical; but I doubt if the considerations to follow will exhaust my discomfort completely, and I am only a little afraid of the shadows. Let us peer among them together.
It was only recently that I realized how mistaken was my several-times-repeated witticism. Only on 18 February 2001, when Richter was upstaged by our friend, Balthasar Stanislas Klossowski de Lola, known as Balthus, who in dying made my prophecy come true. Now, with Balthus gone, Richter is indeed the last painter; but it must be admitted that, survived by Richter or not, Balthus was also the last painter. What to make of it? The new millennium only just begun, and we museum-goers are already saddled with two ghosts, one strangely moribund before his time and one defiantly childlike in death.
Two ghosts; two adherents of an art form one would prefer to forget about. What, I began to wonder, might these two last painters have to say to one another? What else, beside their lastness, do these men have in common? As I wandered the halls of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and perused the monographs and encomia suddenly issuing, I began to feel I had found help with what I had come to call my “Richter problem” from an altogether unexpected quarter
The Renaissance magus, poet, translator and astrologer Marsilio Ficino, having cast an inauspicious horoscope for one of the Medicis (I forget which), with admirable practicality proceeded to paint a different, more lucky field of stars on his client’s bedroom ceiling.
Balthus’ death is the mirror-image of Richter’s Modern retrospective. It is his death that has catapulted this rebelliously pre-modern man into the age of which he resolutely formed no part, and one suspects it was his own premonition of impending death that led him to begin granting interviews with persons who could still not understand him, but could no longer blithely dismiss him as a cloistered pervert.
*Formerly my favorite contemporary painter. The current retrospective at the New York and San Francisco Museums of Modern Art marks the painter’s transition from contemporaneity to modernity. This is a good, cheap criterion for the limits of “our” era.
I know, I am sending mixed temporal messages here. But that is only because I am receiving them. For the duration of this essay I will use the word, “modern,” to refer to things that have been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art (or published by Modern Library!), and will apply the prefix, “post-,” as its adherents do, when I mean “cute.”
(More Spring cleaning. I have absolutely no recollection of writing these fragments, which are evidently from 2001 sometime. I remember coming up with the idea for the essay, and the title; spending several weeks obsessively dwelling with reproductions of both artists’ work; and eventually, as is my normal practice, deciding that it was just too boring and banal to spell it all out, tacking thoughts together with rational connections in a linear manner. Better to let people have their own thoughts than to attempt to impose one’s own upon them; especially when the medium (language) is too vapid to convey anything important.
It may be that I was exposed at too tender an age to the claim of Robert Duncan, that it is sufficient to name something a sonnet, after which to actually write it in sonnet form is redundant. A title and a few incomprehensible scrawlings is normally the most I can bring myself to commit to paper — not only due to sloth (and several other deadly sins), but also in accord with a completely unrealistic respect for the intelligence of my imaginary reader.
And so, imaginary reader, to you I bequeath these fragmentary paragraphs, on a topic which is perhaps too recondite to be much help. I append a lengthy random selection from both men’s oeuvres, for your imaginary enjoyment. It really is remarkable — to me — both how incontrovertibly beautiful all these paintings are — I could just go on copying and pasting all night — and how well they echo each other. The obsessive focus of the one resonates so perfectly with the almost pathological heterogeneity of the other. And at the end: Two portraits. It is as if between the two of them all that can be said in the medium has been. This seems even more true to me than it did when I wrote this.)
I am a pagan. This means I know no god but Chance. I mean this literally. The sensations of awe, wonder, and delight, of worship, that religious people associate with the notion of God, I associate with the notion of Chance, of randomness. This is the underlying principle which has created the world in all its beauty & multiplicity, and which continues to create it perpetually all around me; which created me and acts in me and through me. For me there is no contradiction between reason and faith. Logic, acting on the evidence of my senses, tells me this is so, and my intuition reaffirms it. There is no doubt. Chance is mother and father of us all — I am a convert. So I am not atheist, or agnostic. I understand the ecstasies of mystics, I have shed tears of joy and awe at the magnificence of this principle. I know what it is to kneel.
But there is one aspect of religious faith I cannot share. The principle they worship, which they call “God,” is modelled on a living being. It is imagined, or understood, as possessing something analogous to intention, to emotion. God is said to “care,” to “love,” to “know.” Chance, however, cannot be conceived of in this way. It has no existence of itself, but as an organizational principle inheres in things and their interactions. It obviously has no emotion; it is absolutely uncaring, without intention, and most importantly, without even knowledge of its actions. There is no importuning Chance; Chance does not take sides.
Listening to a gospel radio show one Sunday, I realized that, fond as I am of the music, most of the lyrics seemed to be gibberish; or if not gibberish then a kind of code, to which I lack and have always lacked the key. Then I thought about it some more, and it occurred to me that a simple substitution might help. By replacing the word, “God,” with “Chance” and the name “Jesus Christ” with “Conscience” I was able to render the mystifying blather of Christians very nearly comprehensible. One could almost have a conversation with one of them, were it not for the suspicion that they do not in fact understand by “God” and “Jesus Christ” what I understand by Chance and Conscience; it is merely that the emotions they feel about their principles and the trust they place in them are analogous to those I feel towards mine.
As a subject for future research, it might also work to substitute for the word “soul” the concept of “autonomic nervous system.” This occurred to me on realizing that the word for soul in many languages connotes breathing, “that which breathes.” Which of course is what we pagans refer to as the autonomic nervous system.
I think it is possible that there are other people who refer to themselves as “pagans” who do not share this worldview — who believe in a variety of “entities” to which they address themselves in ritual, song and poetry. This notion of “entities,” “outside oneself,” is a thorny one. For, while strictly speaking I would argue there is no entity anywhere, “natural” or “supernatural,” inside or outside “oneself,” there is simultaneously a sense in which, from the standpoint of our conditioned minds, our best bet is anthropomorphizing.
By this I mean that the magical act performed by Indian folk magicians who paint a pair of eyes on a certain stone or tree, and then offer incense and clarified butter to it is effective. By giving some aspect of the world a “face,” we free ourselves to relate to it ethically, in a face-to-face relation as Emanual Levinas would put it; we invite it into our sangha, and broaden our family by one more. And it is in this way that our family grows, until we know it as it really is: all beings, ten directions, three times.
It may be that it is not enough to contact the spirit world. We have a further responsibility, which is to listen to what the spirits say; and attend carefully to those who speak the truth, because they can teach us something, something we desperately need to learn. How do we know which ones are speaking the truth? It’s easy. They are the ones who say: “There is no separation anywhere.” They are the ones who say, “You do not exist as such, and it’s alright.” They are the ones who say, without words, through wordless roars and shimmering speech, “You are part of everything, and everything is part of you. And the whole impossible whole, infinite, never complete, mirroring itself infinitely at all levels in all its parts, is rolling on forever, dying and living all around and through you, and will continue just the same when you are gone, though you will never go anywhere because you are nothing less than all of this we have shown you.”
Those spirits are the ones to listen to.
There are other spirits also, who, through fundamental cowardice, believe in their own existence; and, because they are desperately trying to convince themselves that they exist as individuals, separate from the whole, will, as a natural corollary, tend to reaffirm your separate existence as well — perhaps even your importance. These are the spirits who may give people the impression that they have some special role to play; that they have been granted some special insight; that their thoughts are true. In extreme cases it appears that these spirits have, in colossally destructive codependence with their contactees, proclaimed themselves deities, and ennobled their believers into prophets.
Fellow pagans, fellow psychonauts, beware of demons who wish you to believe in them! And invoke, invoke again, the demons who know themselves as the whole, who relish their own blissful unimportance, and who deliver you, even if briefly, into a cosmos more vast than than either rational mind or religious mania can comprehend!
So Mote It Be.
(An old essay extended with some recent thoughts.)
On the morning of February 26th of last year I awoke from a dream. In this dream I was holding a book with the odd title, “Yoga for Strip Malls.” In the dream it was I who had written the book; and I knew what I meant by it. Shaking sleep out of my eyes, I transcribed the implications of this phrase as follows:
Yoga is an ancient discipline based on the fundamental insight that the process of awakening takes place in the body and mind simultaneously. Neuroses — karmic signatures — are inscribed in the body as mechanistic habit patterns as they are inscribed in the mind as suffering. Once released, there is only dancing; the living being functions freely as an indistinguishable facet of all physical reality, and moments of perception produce neither illusions of subject nor object, but arise spontaneously together forever.
This profoundly subversive teaching and practice, or a vestige of it, has become extremely popular in the United States at the beginning of the 21st century. Its ontological significance mostly forgotten, it is mainly understood as a means to physical health, which is understood as having a shapely ass. There is nothing wrong with this; philosophies and spiritual practices have histories, are co-created by ongoing processes of culture and economics in time; and I appreciate the shapely asses of the world.
But, rather than teaching yoga in a strip-mall, I want to teach yoga TO the strip-malls. I want them to see and live their fundamental non-separation from the rest of existence. I want them to know their own bottomless hearts; to be freed from their mechanistic and selfish flows of capital, from the suffering of their shoddy construction, off-gassing toxic petroleum by-products, bad design and cheap harsh lighting. It is a natural process; I need do nothing. Water is already pooling about their foundations where the sump pumps have begun to fail, baloney board is rotting and rebar is rusting, wild blackberries grow up among the cracks.
In this way, it sometimes may be that curing the cells kills the body, or that the decay of the whole is the health of its parts. I love the strip-malls, and all the people in them. We are not trapped by them — they are not prisons. And it is only natural that they come to function as agents of freedom, and we do too.
Incongruously, she had come to the event wearing a silver satin, full-length evening dress — an heirloom — the sort of thing one could find in an antique clothing store in Notting Hill Gate. I fell forward and thought that my hand was covered by some cool, white liquid. It was the fabric of the dress. Until that moment neither of us had considered the other a potential lover. Our relationship had functioned on quite a different level. But suddenly all the normal sets of relations were obviated. We reached out toward each other, and I had the distinct impression of passing through her, of physically reaching beyond her. She pulled her dress over her head in a single gesture. I did the same with my shirt, which ripped to pieces in my hands as I took it off over my head. I heard buttons fly, and somewhere my glasses landed and shattered.
Then we made love. Or rather we had an experience that vaguely related to making love but was a thing unto itself. We were both howling and singing in the glossolalia of DMT, rolling over the ground with everything awash in crawling, geometric hallucinations. She was transformed; words exist to describe what she became — pure anima, Kali, Leucothea, something erotic but not human, something addressed to the species and not to the individual, glittering with the possibility of cannibalism, madness, space, and extinction. She seemed on the edge of devouring me.
Reality was shattered. This kind of fucking occurs at the very limit of what is possible. Everything had been transformed into orgasm and visible, chattering oceans of elf language. Then I saw that where our bodies were glued together there was flowing, out of her, over me, over the floor of the roof, flowing everywhere, some sort of obsidian liquid, something dark and glittering, with color and lights within it. After the DMT flash, after the seizures of orgasms, after all that, this new thing shocked me to the core. What was this fluid and what was going on? I looked at it. I looked right into it, and it was the surface of my own mind reflected in front of me. Was it translinguistic matter, the living opalescent excrescence of the alchemical abyss of hyperspace, something generated by the sex act performed under such crazy conditions? I looked into it again and now saw in it the lama who taught me Tibetan, who would have been asleep a mile away. In the fluid I saw him, in the company of a monk I had never seen; they were looking into a mirrored plate. Then I realized that they were watching me! I could not understand it. I looked away from the fluid and away from my companion, so intense was her aura of strangeness.
Then the thought of discovery sobered me enough to realize that we must get away from this exposed place. Both of us were completely naked, and the scene around us was one of total, unexplainable chaos. She was lying down, unable to rise, so I picked her up and made my way down the narrow staircase, past the grain storage bins and into my room. The whole time I remember saying over and over to her and to myself: “I am a human being. I am a human being.” I had to reassure myself, for I was not at that moment sure.
Pondering all of this, I crept back to the roof and collected my glasses. Incredibly, they were unbroken, although I had distinctly heard them shatter. Obsidian liquids, the ectoplasmic excrescences of tantric hanky-panky, were nowhere to be seen. With my glasses and our clothes, I returned to my room where my companion was sleeping. I smoked a little hashish and then climbed into the mosquito net and lay down beside her. In spite of all the excitement and the stimulation of my system, I immediately went to sleep.
Terence McKenna, True Hallucinations
Long ago when King Brahmadatta reigned in Benares, a gentleman whose Christian names were Thomas Henry – you possible have heard of him — he was no less a personage than the Grandfather of the great Aldous Huxley — once found himself threatened by a predicament similar to that in which I stand tonight. He had been asked to lecture a distinguished group of people. What bothered him was this: what assumption was he to make about the existing knowledge of the audience? He adopted the sensible course of asking the advice of an old hand at the game; and was told “You must do one of two things. You may assume that they know everything, or that they know nothing.” Thomas Henry thought it over, and decided that he would assume that they know nothing. I think that merely shows how badly brought up he must have been; and explains how it was that he became a kirty little atheist, and repented on his death-bed, and died blaspheming.
-Aleister Crowley, “Gilles de Rais, the banned lecture; to have been delivered before the Oxford University Poetry Society on 3 February 1930″
Who must play, cannot play.
-James T. Carse
Game theory as it is is pretty good; the problem is, there is no place in the theory for changing the rules.
-Alfred North Whitehead
Shiva is the archetype for the energy play of non-attachment. The effect of this is Lila or Free Theater.
-Shivalila Community, The Book of the Mother
Artaud — Grotowski — Hijikata — Nitsch
Performance of native religious dances tends to be formal and apparently repetitive. Not just repeated gestures, but whole patterns of movement that seem to go through thousand-year spaces. Cycles of endless time.
Reinhabitory theater should emulate that sense of movement.
-Peter Berg, “Reinhabitory Theater”
The joyfulness of infinite play, its theatricality, lies in learning to start something we cannot finish.
The Book of the Mother is the self-published record of the philosophical and psychological discoveries made by a commune called the Shivalila Community, based on their experiences of administering, in their own words, “approximately twelve thousand 250 microgram doses of LSD over ten years.”
Peter Berg is a Digger and founder of the SF Mime Troupe.
James T Carse’s book Finite and Infinite Games is one of the best books ever written.
Green Gnosis is the luminous stream of mystical understanding proceeding from plant spirits and the Greenwood, as accessed by the wortcunner via the Art Magical. Also called phytognosis, it is the process whereby the Angels Arboreal bequeath wisdom unto man. Plant Folklore is the encryption and transmission, in common parlance, of localized Green Gnosis in accordance with the mastery and cunning of its steward generation.
-Daniel A. Schulke, Magister and Verdelet, Cultus Sabbati
Robin Williamson: The Forming of Blodeuwedd
There is evidence from all around the world of animals deliberately consuming such plants, and legends about plants used in sacred rituals often include references to animals introducing them to mankind.
One such species … is the reindeer, which goes to great lengths to search out the hallucinogenic fly agaric mushroom (Amanita muscaria) — the one with the white-spotted red cap that garden gnomes like to sit on. Eating the toadstool makes reindeer behave in a drunken fashion, running about aimlessly and making strange noises. Head-twitching is also common.
Fly agaric is found across the northern hemisphere and has long been used for its psychotropic properties. But its use can be dangerous because it also contains toxic substances. Reindeer seem to metabolize these toxic elements without harm, while the main psychoactive constituents remain unmetabolized and are excreted in the urine. Reindeer herders in Europe and Asia long ago learnt to collect the reindeer urine for use as a comparatively safe source of the hallucinogen.
In the Canadian Rockies, wild bighorn sheep are said to take great risks to get at a rare psychoactive lichen. In scraping it off the rock surface they can wear their teeth down to the gums.
In South America’s rain forests, jaguars have been filmed behaving in a kittenish manner after gnawing the bitter roots and bark of yage (Banisteriopsis caapi), a hallucinogenic vine that is also used by native tribes in ritualistic ceremonies. Some anthropologists believe that man first learnt to use the drug after watching jaguars.
-Andrew Haynes, Pharmaceutical Journal Vol. 285, 18 December 2010
Schulke is the successor of Andrew Chumbley, about whom more above and below.
Williamson’s beautiful song is an imagination of the spell woven by the Magicians Math and Gwydion to create Blodeuwedd, painted above by Christopher Williams, out of eight kinds of flowers.
Haynes’ full article contains many more examples, and few attributions.
I was thinking about Anne again — trying to explain to someone how our friendship began. Anne was that rarest thing, a grown-up who took me seriously. I started talking seriously with her when I was in my late teens, and from then until last year I never felt patronized by her — ridiculous as I no doubt was and continued to be!
Over the years the balance changed, until eventually, almost invisibly, I was able to walk farther than she on the trails behind Santa Barbara, where we rambled early in the mornings, discussing everything, watching the dogs gallop ahead and turn, overjoyed, to see us coming on behind. And somehow, almost invisibly, there began to be cultural references I was more fluent in; even, occasionally, a leap of logic I might see that she had missed. Still, throughout it all, over 30 years or so of intense conversation, I never felt ignored or disregarded.
And further, considering this fact, it came to me that the reason I always felt as if Anne took me and my ridiculous ideas seriously was not that she agreed with me. Quite the opposite, it was the intensity and seriousness of her disagreement. From the beginning, Anne subjected my thought to the minutest scrutiny, allowing no logical fallacy or muddleheaded notion to escape unmentioned. Far from being an occasional event, it was actually the norm for us to end a discussion by agreeing to disagree. Anne had the mysterious ability to be simultaneously infuriated and delighted with my outlook — as if the very fact of my wrong-headedness was a wonderful gift, something to be celebrated.
From the very beginning, Anne gave my immature and vagrant thought the respect to consider it thoroughly, and to attack it with the full force of her astonishingly powerful intellect. And in so doing she began to teach me how to think: but that is nothing. Do you see?
Far more important, by confessing her own disagreement while expressing evident delight in an opposing point of view, she taught me something about how to be in the world. That the intellectual journey is neither to convince nor to be convinced (though one’s ideas are inevitably changed by this journey); it is to be compassionate. And this compassion expresses itself in an intense and consuming curiosity about all other points of view. The question is not, “How can I show you the error of your ways,” it is, “What is it like to think what you think? And how did you come to that conclusion?” And if there is an error in logic along the way, if there is an aspect of the question your interlocutor has not discovered, this is friendship, the shared discovery, the ongoing search for truth together.
I know a little more about why I am writing this now. I am writing it because I never had the chance to say it to her directly. Of course, of course, I know she knew, she knew without my having to articulate it all — but that is not the point. The point of death is that I did not know it, could not know it, until the story was complete, until I stood alone and she was no longer there to tell.
All witchcraft comes from carnal lust, which in woman is insatiable.
We are the witchcraft. We are the oldest organization in the world. When man was first born, we were. We sang the first cradle song. We healed the first wound, we comforted the first terror. We were the Guardians against the Darkness, the Helpers on the Left Hand Side.
We are on the side of man, of life and of the individual. Therefore we are against religion, morality and government. Therefore our name is Lucifer.
We are on the side of freedom, of love, of joy and laughter and divine drunkenness. Therefore our name is Babalon.
Sometimes we move openly, sometimes in silence and in secret. Night and day are one to us, calm and storm, seasons and the cycles of man, all these things are one, for we are at the roots. Supplicant we stand before the Powers of Life and Death, and are heard of these powers and avail. Our way is the secret way, the unknown direction. Ours is the way of the serpent in the underbrush, our knowledge is in the eyes of goats and women.
–Jack Parsons, Freedom is a Two-Edged Sword
(By the way, it was not my idea to juxtapose these two quotes. They appear together in the text of a presentation by the always interesting Peter and Alkistis of Scarlet Imprint , which also references Hélène Cixous, Jules Michelet, is rather interesting and is available here. The photos are from photographer Rachel Sussman’s project on the world’s oldest living organisms. The promo video is for the song “Celebrate” by Babe Rainbow)
I spoke to my friend Anne in Santa Barbara a week ago. She is 86. When her husband handed her the phone, she said: “Dear heart, I’m afraid I have some bad news for you. I’m dying of cancer.”
Of course I knew that already. But still — if I can be, in my life, one tenth as brave and noble as that woman, I will be proud.
About a year ago Anne told me she had stopped her lifelong practice of meditation. She said, “It just doesn’t make sense anymore. I don’t want to change anything. I accept things as they are.”
I responded as I always do when people bring that up; I said, “You know, we don’t do this practice to make things change. We do this to celebrate that things are as they are.”
Anne had no time for such foolishness. She waved me away, saying “You can practice however you practice; for me it doesn’t make any sense anymore. I have to admit, Halliday, I don’t believe in the Mother Goddess. I don’t think I ever did.”
In the last year or so it was as if all that was inessential in Anne began to burn away; all the neurosis, all the cowardice. And what was left was wisdom and nobility so bright it was difficult to look at directly.
Anne was the most amazing gardener I ever knew. She’s one of the reasons I became a gardener, one of the reasons I became a meditator, one of the reasons I studied science. In my life, she has probably been the most sane person I have had the good fortune to encounter. As I write this, she is dying, may already be gone. Her body has collapsed, cancer in the liver, kidney, lungs, and pelvic floor. Wracked by pain, unable to walk, unable to keep the pain medication down; it is a matter of hours. I am writing this because I don’t know what else to do.
First, a photo in which everything is happening at once:
Then, a quote in which very many things are happening at once:
So, before I close I want to tell a little bit about bioassay, and what I really think the witches’ plants are, and the so-called witches’ ointments are. We produced several preparations, after these recipes, and we found out we can put a LOT of stuff on the body; it doesn’t work. The only place where it works is: the rectum, and the vagina. And if you see the depictions of the witches, it’s almost like they’re rubbing their clit on their broom! My conclusion is, that it’s an aphrodisiac, because it really enhances erotic feelings and desire, used for sex — especially anal sex, because for that you need a salve. And that was, of course, the main thing that was totally illegalized by the Catholic church, because they only wanted you to procreate, and sex for fun: No way! You’re a witch, immediately! And if you do what they in that time called sodomitic practices — anal sex — that was one of the main reasons to put people into jail, and to burn them; because that is sex for fun. And that is an old secret in magical practices, that anal sex is totally connected with either mystical experiences or some really deep experiences, and totally connected with people having fun and insight. For example in tantra they do it to feed the kundalini snake; so the man has to offer his semen into the rectum of the woman to give power to the snake.
And [the ointment] works perfectly in this way. So now you can dream up your bioassays for it. The recipe is based on henbane; putting in a little belladonna, and a little bit of datura, and some essential oils… and a little opium… and cannabis. And then, if you have sex, you really get high with it. And I think that’s the purpose of life: to have the most beautiful experiences you can have. I mean, many people don’t think that anal sex with drugs is really dirty or bad, but I heard that in some states of the U.S. it’s still illegal today, and — it’s very strange, but everything that gives pleasure, and may give you magical flights, or shamanic experiences, is illegal. If you look at the drug laws, every plant that was — or still is — sacred in shamanic cultures is illegal. So shamanism is illegal.
-Christian Rätsch, speaking at the Palenque Ethnobotany Conference, 2000. Complete audio here.
In the first century A.D., Josephus Flavius wrote that there grew a plant in the Dead Sea area that glowed red at night and that it was difficult to approach the plant, which hid when a man drew near it; but it could be tamed if urine and menstrual blood were sprinkled on it.
-Schultes, Hoffman, Rätsch, Plants of the Gods, Second Edition, pp. 90-91
And to my mind, one of the most profound and humbling lessons that ayahuasca teaches – one that we thick-headed humans have the hardest time grasping – is the realization that “you monkeys only think you’re running things.”
-Dennis McKenna, “Ayahuasca and Human Destiny”
Towards the end of the Christian Era there was a form of communication called “social networking,” which made use of the same wires as an earlier form of communication called the “telephone,” which it mostly supplanted. An early brand of “social network” was called “MySpace,” which enjoyed an extremely brief popularity before quickly being rendered obsolete after being purchased by an aging newspaper mogul. “Newspapers,” as their name suggests, were a way of disseminating news that was printed on something called paper, which was like artificial birchbark; we are speaking here of news that does not stay news.
“MySpace,” in addition to being a communication medium, included a rudimentary publishing mechanism, and I experimented with it for a time. I had long given up the writing of poetry at that point; however, one day it dawned on me that “poems” might be exactly what MySpace was encouraging me to produce. Either that or the most retarded things I ever wrote. Or both. But formally: they were bits of writing, identified by titles, and “poems” is probably as good a word as any.
Soon after drawing this conclusion I lost interest in the whole endeavor and began wasting my time in other, better ways. Rereading these I honestly think they’re fucking awesome. Little bullets of retarded poetry shooting out into space… into a space which is not, will never be, mine. I offer them to the ten directions. The pdf is here.
I was wrong. Dubstep is dead after all.
It is dead, and Burning Man killed it. Or ketamine killed it. Or it was some unholy combination of the two. But anyway, if I never hear wobble bass again in my life it’ll be too soon for me.
More about this here
Sub Rosa Myths 4: Sinople Twilight in Catal Huyuk
Side One, “El Amor Encima el Oro”
Side Two, “Archiev::Erdarbeit”
Some years ago, when I began to really understand that physical music storage was soon to be a thing of the past, and I was thereby to be freed from a sizeable responsibility imposed on me by the outward manifestation of my internal bondage, I spent a couple of very pleasant years, and made a small amount of money, selling off all my records and cds on Ebay. As I went along, I replaced and expanded on this collection, either by making digital versions myself or through file-sharing networks. Almost everything I had on vinyl turned out to exist in digital form already, saving me mostly the difficulty of making digital recordings from purely analog originals. In fact, an oddity of the desire information turns out to have for freedom is, that recordings which were originally made in extremely small quantities, once digitized, often become as readily available on the file-sharing networks as recordings made in unlimited batches by the same artists. The laws of supply and demand, and the opportunity for pocket-lining through their manipulation, as understood by makers of watches, wines, handbags, and esoteric music, do not function the same way in the new media as in the old.
All of which is to the good, I say. However, during these proceedings it turned out that there remained a small proportion of these recordings which had missed the window of profitably being rereleased on cd, and which, for whatever reason, could not be found anywhere in the file-sharing metaverse. Of these, I quickly discarded a further share, realizing morosely that these belonged to that category of records whose rarity constituted their value, irrespective of the interest or beauty of the music found on them.
Still, there remained a stubborn vestigial crust, a short stack of vinyl flapjacks whose beauty was undeniable (to me) and which would be lost to me forever if I simply auctioned them off; so I sealed them up in a box under my girlfriend’s bed, telling myself I would do something about them someday.
Anyway, it was very wise man who said, “What we need is more magic mushrooms and less documentation,” but this time I’m going to ignore him. I’m currently recovering from surgery and not really up for anything any more useful to society than documentation. Certainly not mushrooms.
I’ll put these up as mp3 and flac, with photos. The skin off the cocoa of my music collection.
I will post these without comment, to avoid being even more of a wet trainspotter than I already am, but if you happen to want to discuss what these records are, use the comment field. Some of these things are really pretty obscure. A few exist digitally now, but I recorded them anyway because (of course) I like the crackly sound. Some are well-known in their circles. And some are genuinely kvlt. All sound, for whatever reason, as good or better to me now than they did 10 or 20 or however many years ago I last listened to them. May the merit contained in these sound recordings go on awakening and pleasing living beings in the 10 directions until the end of time.
Current 93: The Red Face of God EP
…Mais peut l’humanité survive? Devrait l’humanité survive?
“Carter’s relatives talk much of these things because he has lately disappeared. His little old servant Parks, who for years bore patiently with his vagaries, last saw him on the morning he drove off alone in his car with a key he had recently found. Parks had helped him get the key from the old box containing it, and had felt strangely affected by the grotesque carvings on the box, and by some other odd quality he could not name. When Carter left, he had said he was going to visit his old ancestral country around Arkham.
There is talk of apportioning Randolph Carter’s estate among his heirs, but I shall stand firmly against this course because I do not believe he is dead. There are twists of time and space, of vision and reality, which only a dreamer can divine; and from what I know of Carter I think he has merely found a way to traverse these mazes. Whether or not he will ever come back, I cannot say. He wanted the lands of dream he had lost, and yearned for the days of his childhood. Then he found a key, and I somehow believe he was able to use it to strange advantage.
I shall ask him when I see him, for I expect to meet him shortly in a certain dream-city we both used to haunt. [...] Certainly, I look forward impatiently to the sight of that great silver key, for in its cryptical arabesques there may stand symbolised all the aims and mysteries of a blindly impersonal cosmos.”
-HP Lovecraft, The Silver Key
Notes: The environmental organization Alexander Grothendiek founded after abandoning academia was called Survivre et Vivre, “Survive and Live” in French.
The unpublished manuscript in which Grothendiek derives the existence of God from the phenomenon of dreams is called La Clef des Songes, “The Key of Dreams.”
Lovecraft’s short story is well worth reading.
The above writing is Grothendiek’s abstract of his own talk, written into the colloquium book at the Universität Bielefeld in 1971. It reads (in German):
“Witches’ Kitchen 1971. Riemann-Roch Theorem : The dernier cri : The diagram is commutative! To give an approximate sense to the statement about f : X -> Y , I had to abuse the listeners’ patience for almost two hours. Black on white (in Springer lecture notes) it probably takes about 400, 500 pages. A gripping example of how our thirst for knowledge and discovery indulges itself more and more in a logical delirium far removed from life, while life itself is going to Hell in a thousand ways — and is under the threat of final extermination. High time to change our course!”
Alexander Grothendiek’s whereabouts have been mostly unknown since July 1990. If he is alive, he will recently have turned 82.
Should you wish to know more:
Burning Man: more than just a dusty dogpile of drug-addled polyamorous zombies, dreadlocked retards, socially-inept dotcom casualties desperately seeking meaning in psychedelics and dance music culture, survivalist fuckups who couldn’t make it in the mainstream art scene, weekend swingers in RVs, and sunburned tourists in cargo shorts?
Interesting question. I’ll have to get back to you on that.
Well, if you throw in the whiskey-swilling gutter punks who actually make it run, and a smattering of mad scientists, sex magicians, middle-aged ayahuasca shamanesses, and general unclassifiable freaks, that IS a fairly comprehensive list of the dramatis personae. And yes, the fashion crimes are heinous and ubiquitous; though after 3 or 4 days the whole post-apocalyptic drag queen thing does start to make a little more sense. But I’m not sure if that excuses it or not.
And yes, before I ever went I found burners mostly distasteful and slightly intriguing, and I still feel basically the same way; other than the people I camp with (spoiler alert: in the future, this will include you), I avoid talking to burners in the default world.
Plus, now the word on the street is that Burning Man has ruined dubstep — Fuck! We’re sorry. We didn’t mean to. We were just out there in the middle of the desert, naked except for some feathers & mascara & sequins, a little too stoned and sun-damaged and sleep-deprived to really be able to stomach anything with higher BPMs, and now our friend has a scrip for adderall, so we no longer require psytrance to stay awake… Whatever we broke about dubstep, we’ll fix it. Our other friend has a blowtorch!
But then, there’s this other thing about it — that it is, actually, the only important social movement of our generation, for one. That it is a gateway into a perpetual state of prophetic dream, for another — a giant shared dreamtime where, through sleep-deprivation, heat, dust, sound, light, and the music of your neighbors’ stoned lovemaking it becomes possible for 30,000 people to remain in contact with their own unconsciouses long enough to experience transformative explosions of radical intimacy. That it’s a feminized space in which women and men actively experiment with new ways of interacting, beyond the gender / power structures that we all grew up in and learned to take for granted. That it’s a practice utopia mingled with a practice apocalypse — the only realistic way of learning how to cope with social collapse, which is to say with life itself. A feast of fools, a temporary autonomous zone, a pirate kingdom, where slaves are freed and the king within is decapitated. That it recaptures the primordial role of art, its capacity for evoking genuine wonder — that it embodies Beuys’ dictum that everyone must become an artist in order for our species to survive, and does so by punching back through the millennia to a time before the distinctions between art, religion, magic, and science were drawn — so out there, the shamanesses, mad scientists, survivalists and magicians are often the same people. Which is all of us.
Worthwhile for a moment to remember that Thomasso Campanella’s magical description of alchemic utopia was called “Heliopolis,” “La Citta del Sole” in the words of renaissance magus Giordano Bruno; City of the Sun. Giordano Bruno — I think they burned him… His drawings of a many-centered solar system look strangely like a place I’ve been, a place I’ll go again.
A city so strange, so huge, surreal, and intense, that it seems it could only exist in the mind. But its physicality is genuine, visceral, dusty, hot, loud and insane. Nobody could think of a thing like that. I can hardly even remember it without mingled fear and love threatening to push my eyes back into my head.
Uh, yeah, anyway. Maybe that’s enough on that topic.
Draw a line and cross it. On the other side everything is going to be different.
Touch Moonflower, 8 May 10, Berkeley. Photos in this post by me (or anyway found on my camera!)
Soundtrack to this post: Ana Sia live.
Dubstep not dead; it just got eaten alive by left coast glitchstep acid crunk, where it lives on in the belly, morphing perpetually in the moist darkness.
Also — Steve Dye suggests some ways of repairing dubstep:
I took this photo, of Boston ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata) growing over a particularly hideous work of public art near Home Depot, a few months ago, and added it to the queue of half-formed ideas for posting here. Then this week I had a couple other experiences along the same lines:
First, while carpet shopping at Emmett Eiland’s warehouse, one of the carpet people (What do you call them? They form a particular kind of society) mentioned of a certain rug in passing that its pattern is known as a “Memling gul,” after a German painter, Memling, who painted similar carpets in the 15th Century. I checked to make sure I had understood correctly — “The carpet is named after a painting of a carpet?” My friend the carpet-seller chuckled, with that rueful and enigmatic muted twinkle so typical of carpet-sellers, and assented. Yes I had heard right.
I did a little digging and it turns out that several Anatolian carpet patterns, some of which are historic, some still in production like the Memling gul, are known to Western carpet scholars by the names of Renaissance painters who placed them in their paintings, for reasons which art historians are still debating. Foremost among these, in addition to the Memling gul, are the large- and small-pattern Holbeins, a fact which may surprise those of you who know more about art history than you do about rugs; but there are also carpets called “Lotto” and “Bellini.” The popularity of Oriental carpets in European paintings, both religious and secular, roughly corresponds to the period we call the Renaissance, though no one seems to be claiming that the importation of carpets from Asia Minor caused the Renaissance. Yet. The jury still seems to be out on what caused what. The Islamic prohibition on graven images produces an irreducibly non-representational art form which arcs back around and, incorporated into representational art in the barbarian, infidel West, catalyzes a change of consciousness called “perspective” which, in the hands of Descartes, allows all reality to be understood simultaneously as geometry and pure number?
The Memling gul, by the way, is named after this rather amazing painting:
The plot grows even thicker when we discover that Memling apparently used some kind of camera obscura type device to project this scene onto his oaken board. So the carpet is, just maybe, real in more ways than you are. The occult history of the camera obscura, and the second efflorescence of “Eastern” carpets in “Western” Orientalist salon paintings of the 19th century, are two further detours it would be super-interesting to take, and I will follow them up in exactly 11 years, so keep checking back.
Then, the other night, we went to hear a talk with musical examples by Alfred Brendel at UC Berkeley. An amazing event by a genius of music, which was only slightly marred by this guy who let one rip while getting past us into his seat. I was like, dude, don’t push past people while farting!
Anyway, Brendel engaged in an incredibly eloquent and wide-ranging discussion of the structure and psychological resonances of a number of works by Beethoven and Schoenberg; and in the middle of it, he mentioned in passing that, while most musicians and music writers since Adorno think of Beethoven’s Waldstein sonata as being a kind of tone-painting of the mountains, an earlier French tradition of performance understood it as being a spiritual depiction of dawn, and in fact the sonata is sometimes known in France under the name l’Aurore, “dawn” in French. It turns out that some German music scholars got wind of this around the beginning of the 20th Century; but they misheard the French word aurore for the German word horror! They then went into a lengthy explanation of how and why this piece evokes the emotion of horror; do the initial staccato notes of the allegro not sound like the chattering of teeth?
You can judge for yourself; here is Brendel’s 1996 recording of the Waldstein sonata, number 21 in C, Op. 53; which will be his last, as he retired last year from concertizing.
1. Allegro con Brio
Normally I don’t really go in for Proust. Too many words. But my mom sent me this passage, from The Guermantes Way, and I thought it was amazing enough that I wanted to share it with you; and so I’m going to type the entire paragraph. Which is, like, a million pages long. But never mind. I am going to do it as a kind of spiritual exercise. You’ll see.
Alas, this phantom was just what I did see when, entering the drawing room before my grandmother had been told of my return, I found her there, reading. I was in the room, or rather I was not yet in the room since she was not aware of my presence, and, like a woman whom one surprises at a piece of work which she will lay aside if anyone comes in, she had abandoned herself to a train of thoughts which she had never allowed to be visible by me. Of myself — thanks to that privilege which does not last but which one enjoys during the brief moment of return, the faculty of being a spectator, so to speak, of one’s own absence, — there was present only the witness, the observer, with a hat and traveling coat, the stranger who does not belong to the house, the photographer who has called to take a photograph of places which one will never see again. The process that mechanically occurred in my eyes when I caught sight of my grandmother was indeed a photograph. We never see the people who are dear to us save in the animated system, the perpetual motion of our incessant love for them, which before allowing the images that their faces present to reach us catches them in its vortex, flings them back upon the idea that we have always had of them, makes them adhere to it, coincide with it. How, since into the forehead, the cheeks of my grandmother I had been accustomed to read all the most delicate, the most permanent qualities of her mind; how, since every casual glance is an act of necromancy, each face that we love a mirror of the past, how could I have failed to overlook what in her had become dulled and changed, seeing that in the most trivial spectacles of our daily life, our eye, charged with thought, neglects, as would a classical tragedy, every image that does not assist the action of the play and retains only those that may help to make its purpose intelligible. But if, in place of our eye, it should be a purely material object, a photographic plate, that has watched the action, then what we shall see, in the courtyard of the Institute, for example, will be, instead of the dignified emergence of an Academician who is going to hail a cab, his staggering gait, his precautions to avoid stumbling on his back, the parabola of his fall, as though he were drunk, or the ground frozen over. So is it when some casual sport of chance prevents our intelligent and pious affection from coming forward in time to hide from our eyes what they ought never to behold, when it is forestalled by our eyes, and they, arising first in the field and having it to themselves, set to work mechanically, like films, and shew us, in place of the loved friend who has long ago ceased to exist but whose death our affection has always hitherto kept concealed from us, the new person whom a hundred times daily that affection has clothed with a dear and cheating likeness. And, as a sick man who for long has not looked at his own reflexion, and has kept his memory of the face that he never sees refreshed from the ideal image of himself that he carries in his mind, recoils on catching sight in the glass, in the midst of an arid waste of cheek, of the slping red structure of a nose as huge as one of the pyramids of Egypt, I, for whom my grandmother was still myself, I who had never seen her save in my own soul, always at the same place in the past, through the transparent sheets of contiguous, overlapping memories, suddenly in our drawing room which formed part of a new world, that of time, that in which dwell the strangers of whom we say “He’s begun to age a good deal,” for the first time and for a moment only, since she vanished at once, I saw, sitting on the sofa, beneath the lamp, red-faced, heavy and common, sick, lost in thought, following the lines of a book with eyes that seemed hardly sane, a dejected old woman whom I did not know.
-pp 814-815, Moncrieff translation
The quote and found photo mentioned here. The substrate is the cover of a San Francisco City College notebook, and bears CCSF’s slogan, “The Truth Shall Make You Free.” I am not convinced of the validity of this claim; however, it has arguably never been put to the test. QED.
Weirdy, Beardy, Bottle o’ Wine!
Not to put too fine a point on it, but a cross with arms of equal length by itself SAYS without language that immanence and transcendence are perfectly balanced – that you cannot fall away in the direction of transcendence, and you cannot fall away in the direction of immanence — you are trapped, forever, here and now. When you get the ratios just right, it is no longer a symbol, it is a portal into eternity, a portal into timeless presence, shining in the glinting afternoon garden light of a golden moment which is somehow forever unchanging and forever surprising — world without end, amen.
The other night me and my
socialite girlfriend very socially adept woman who I love went to hear one of Kent Nagano’s several farewell performances. After 30 years or something as musical director of the Berkeley Symphony, and effectively putting Berkeley on the national map for classical music, I can understand that homeboy is kind of dragging it out. I would too, and it’s not like anyone’s going to be able to fill his shoes, so hopefully he’ll keep having a few farewell concerts a year for another 30 years, as far as I’m concerned. But anyway, it was a Charles Ives piece, and it was jaw-droppingly good, which is no surprise and not worth blogging about that’s for damn sure. But the point is, it was at First Congregational Church in Berkeley, which Berkeleyan concertgoers apparently refer to as “First Congo.” Which is funny. And, not only did they have the above awesome sign on the wall, but it’s also a church, right? And so it looks like this inside:
There’s this huge, SYMBOL, over the musicians, hanging there on the wall. And I had this thought, which I honestly think is kind of a dumb thought, almost a facile, kind of teenage thought, probably too obvious to bother mentioning — which is probably why I’m digressing so much getting around to it — but it hit me like a thunderclap: That symbol is so manifestly a symbol of domination. It is so succinct. It says, without words, without even recourse to any kind of visual analogy, that there is something hanging over you. Something up there that you are beneath. Something that transcends you.
It really made me feel kind of claustrophobic and breathless, hanging up there, that long-legged symbol of oppression, weighing on me, on all of us. And I thought, what a dumb, stony, shallow idea. But then I thought — that does explain why turning it upside down is such a big deal…
But, I mean, the Yezidi don’t turn the star and crescent upside down. And maybe there are Satanic Taoists who turn the yin-yang upside down, but nobody can tell! It’s a secret! And what’s that about; I mean, what does it even say about a religion that their symbol can be turned upside down?
Then I got to thinking about it — this is after the concert now — and started wondering about the equal-armed cross, as found on the Swiss flag for example:
Or the symbol of the Red Cross:
Or as so beautifully painted by Kasimir Malevich:
As used, obsessively and gently, by Joseph Beuys, to set us free to be artists and to set art free from itself:
It even shows up, as a homage to Malevich, in the work of those greatest and silliest and most slept-on of contemporary image-manipulators, Irwin and NSK:
Anyway, I’ve always really felt drawn to that symbol for some reason, after first encountering that painting of Malevich at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam when I was 22. I actually joined the Red Cross as a secret homage to Malevich and Beuys. But that night was the first time I wondered why — what makes it so powerful, why would an organization like the Red Cross choose that symbol, which somehow evokes the compassionate praxis of Christianity, without carrying too much of its ideological baggage?
It is probably not too much to point out that it is the most succinct mathematical statement of union — normally assumed to be a ligature for the Latin et, “and.”
This is its first appearance in print with that meaning.
Finally, it put me in mind of a strange book, which I confess I’ve never read, called The Symbolism of the Cross, by René Guénon. Guénon was something of an iffy character, though probably not the crypto-fascist he is sometimes made out to be. That reputation seems to be undeserved, and is a classic example of leftist mission-creep — because Guénon had a student, an Italian called Julius Evola, whose politics were literally to the right of Mussolini, Guénon himself and even such benign propounders of the Philosophia Perennis as Huston Smith are sometimes tarred with the same brush, in willful ignorance of the fact that Guénon disagreed passionately with his younger colleague’s political activities. I mention this because 1. this kind of doctrinaire muddy-headedness gets in the way of a more nuanced analysis of the ideologies and implications of the whole discipline of comparative religion, and, 2. a very similar kind of personal/political argument by implication has been applied to Beuys by certain critics, and is self-consciously invited and manipulated by NSK — Malevich so far as I know has remained free of such critique, his leftist credentials unarguable.
You can safely ignore that paragraph. What I am told this man says in his book, anyway, is that the horizontal bar of the cross is time
The vertical bar is eternity,
and they meet in this moment. Which is why we place the rose right there.
What it says.
This is from Bathory’s mid-, or heathen-, period, and thus would technically be considered “viking metal,” rather than “black metal” — but Target hasn’t put up a sign about “viking metal” and so we’re going to have to temporarily set aside such quibbles. Starting out sounding rather like Flying Saucer Attack, ghostlike psychedelic delay feedback, it develops into a terrifying thrashing monster. This song was covered by Black Metal gods Emperor for a Bathory tribute; their version, while awesome, fails to improve on the original.
Ildjarn is or was a black metal one-man-band, recording and releasing a large number of songs on four track during the nineties. This is from his two-cd retrospective, “Ildjarn is Dead.” His present whereabouts are unknown.
Finally, a track from the scariest band I know of, Deathspell Omega. This is from their watershed album, “Si Monumentum Requires, Circumspice,” which means, “if you are seeking His monument, look around you.” Their recordings subsequent to this one have taken black metal, and thus music in general, to previously unheard levels of dissonant strangeness and lyrical complexity and comprise a profoundly argued theological meditation on the nature of absolute evil. In an imaginary world where people were paying any attention, this record would one day be regarded as the most important black metal recording since Mayhem’s “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas.” It is probably not a good idea to listen too closely.
A couple months ago I attended a memorial for a well-known architect in Marin, one of whose posthumous landscape plans I now have the honor of realizing. The sermon moved me a lot, mainly because the minister spoke openly about this man’s alcoholism, which had grown somewhat crippling (I guess) towards the end of his life.
But another element of the memorial was the repeated reciting of a quote, which had apparently been inspiring to this man, and (evidently) also to various members of his family and the officiating minister (who had been this man’s client, and currently lives in a house he designed):
Make no small plans, for they have no power to stir men’s blood, and probably will not themselves be realized
This quote turns out to be attributed to an urban planner called Daniel Burnham which… well it isn’t really fair to hold his occupation, or his pot belly, against him. But over the weeks since then, I’ve been thinking about it–
And it starts to seem to me that, inspiring as this statement may be, sometimes, I am not at all sure I agree. In fact, it occurs to me that small plans are exactly what we as a species could use more of. I mean, I don’t know about you, or Daniel Burnham, but I honestly would really, really feel good if I could just make the world around me — say, an area 30 feet in circumference — a little more beautiful, a little more whole. I would feel a sense of accomplishment if I could make just one or two people feel a little more hopeful, a little calmer. Maybe if I could be nice to my girlfriend for a couple weeks solid, let’s say. That would be an accomplishment.
I don’t know, I don’t mean to sound flippant, or (god forbid) unambitious. In a way, also, it seems to me that big plans are all too often a kind of poison. That, behind the cover of their “stirring men’s souls,” they are really just a way of camouflaging the same old selfish little plots, the same self-aggrandizement.
Also, I’m not convinced at all that big plans are how you get at big results. I mean, for one thing, the reality in which we are immersed is a tangled mass of contingencies, random factors impinging on one another endlessly, non-linearly, in ways which our limited minds are simply not adapted to make sense out of. It seems to me there’s something to be said of human-scale planning.
But I think what I’m really getting at is, that since everything is connected — since that’s the actual nature of the reality we find ourselves immersed in — small changes have significant, and often unforeseen, consequences. If one person takes responsibility for an area 30 feet in circumference, and attends to it thoroughly, mindfully, lovingly… I’m just not convinced that’s not the biggest, most ambitious plan anybody ever thought of. And I think part of its magic is precisely that it doesn’t “stir mens’ souls” — that it’s beneath the radar, invisible, subversive. And, I say, you know for sure that it’s going to be realized, because you realize it, starting now, with your own breath and blood; and it only grows as you grow.
It all put me in mind of another quote, this one from Christopher Alexander’s A Pattern Language, which I kept over my desk years ago, next to a photograph I found in the street of waterbirds taking off in flight, partly obscured by the photographer’s thumb:
This is a fundamental view of the world. It says that when you build a thing you cannot merely build that thing in isolation, but must also repair the world around it, and within it, so that the larger world at that one place becomes more coherent, and more whole; and the thing which you make takes its place in the web of nature, as you make it.
An arrangement entirely of plastic bags. Remember that funny guy in “Smoke” who goes around fetching down plastic bags stuck up in trees? He compares them to “flags of chaos.” And so they are.
I’ve started an mp3 blog, which is called “Ice Cream Sufferah.” It lives here.
I’m not entirely sure why. Apparently for “fun.”
Because I work outside all the time, digging in the dirt and trimming plants and telling people what to do, sometimes to relax all I really want to do is sit at the computer and make spreadsheets and set up websites. Bass-ackwards I know. But there it is.
Also, I used to love making mixtapes, both as courtship and friendship. Digital media have sort of put a stop to that. It’s hard to figure out how to give an iPod playlist as an anniversary gift. But doing this sort of satisfies the same urge. I find myself thinking of what would be the perfect next song in the sequence. So, in the same way that R4mr0d Inc is a way of thinking out loud, in the way that my thoughts are — verbal, visual, even three-dimensional sometimes — Ice Cream Sufferah is an unending mixtape for everybody, with visual and informative elements.
I make no promises or threats about how long I’ll keep this up. Listen if you want, and tell me what you think.
I’ve been rereading the new expanded edition of Laurence Weschler’s Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees — Over Thirty Years of Conversations with Robert Irwin. From it:
…I’ve never been comfortable with the argument from certain spiritual quarters about enlightenment. I don’t doubt that those people devoted to Zen and yoga, the krishnas, and all of them, do attain an altered state of consciousness, that they are in a different place, and in a sense a nicer place. But this is not an enlightened world. And the world always draws you back.
The fact that I can go off and stand there by myself just thinking for two hours or two days or two months doesn’t negate the fact that in two minutes I’m going to have to drive a car, listen to the news, buy a Coke, and every one of those things draws me back into the world.
There’s a tendency to think that the ordinary has been weighted down by all the biases which ensnare it, but in another sense, it was never part of those biases. The presence of something, anything, everything, is untainted. The ordinary, could we but see it, is just as extraordinary as the highest consciousness imaginable.
I find this passage fascinating for a number of reasons. Setting aside the interesting capitalization — which could be Weschler or an editor — of “zen,” a form of Buddhism, but not of “yoga” or “krishna,” a name of God, it remains that:
1. There actually are proponents of spirituality, including practitioners of zen and yoga, who straightforwardly encourage emigration to some kind of other, better place, or the attainment of an altered state of consciousness; so Irwin’s statement is not absolutely false.
2. However, that is certainly not true of many zen students or yogis (I don’t really know about Krishnas, so I’ll leave them out of it). Many of us would certainly propose something that sounds more-or-less like what Irwin says here; that actually awakening is awakening to what is all around us, that this ordinary mind is itself Buddha-mind. So his statement is partly a mistake.
3. And this is a very common misperception. It comes up in all kinds of ways, but it’s a type of statement you often hear from artists, for instance, or scientists, aesthetes or hedonists who mistrust spirituality because it seems, somehow, to imply a turning away from the whole fucking wet mess of earth into some kind of transcendence. Similarly, spiritual people are continually accusing each other of having mistakenly allowed transcendence to slip back in to their teaching by a side door, of being cryptodualists of one kind or another. This sort of disputation is interminable, and in a way it’s the entire history of non-dual teaching; one thinks of zen masters eternally bashing each other with whisks, leaping beyond each other in something somewhat like a dialectic.
My question is, why? Why is this such a common misperception? Why such an inescapable pitfall?
And I think it’s very clearly stated by the non-Zen master, non-yogi, Robert Irwin, when he says, above, “the ordinary, could we but see it, is just as extraordinary as the highest consciousness imaginable.” Because, what is so different, really, between this invitation to open ourselves up to the extraordinariness of the ordinary, and an “altered state of consciousness” which makes the world “a different place[, a] nicer place”? Could we but see it. This is the plaintive cry of both artists and mystics throughout history. And it’s an inescapable part of our own moments of awakening. The light hits the grass blades just so, and we are so moved by it, we feel plugged in to the physical world; it is as if we have never really seen the grass before; we want to burst into tears, it is, certainly, a kind of miracle. And we want, more than anything, to share it with somebody, anybody — to pull over a passerby and say look, look at these grass blades, do you see them? The way they tremble, with crystalline vibrant life, which we also feel in our own hearts?
And here, just here, a little twinge of pain enters in to our ecstasy. Because we know somehow that no one else can see it. This extraordinariness of the ordinary. Could they but see it. And, indeed, could I but see it. Because it is already time to listen to the news, to have a Coke (capitalised, like Zen, because it is a trademark??). We cannot stand and stare at the lawn forever. Soon it will be just a walking surface again.
Or will it?
Over on the upper right you should see a new tab called “UNTITLED: Poems 1982 – 2008.” See it?
These are poems by me.
For the last several years, in my “spare time,” I have been collecting together everything that remains of my former life as a poet, and, uh, so here it is. This includes my first, self-published book, Beneath the Fold, and two later books published by Stephen Ellis, Birds Nest and the long poem On Birdsong Summit. It also includes half an issue of :That: Magazine, a transflection of a poem by Stephane Mallarme, and a pamphlet published by the Oasia Press. Interspersed among these are a few handfuls of poems that were published singly in various small publications (I should mention ‘Aql, Dark Ages Clasp the Daisy Root, and I Am A Child), and others that have never been published. The antepenultimate poem, “Vespers,” took over a year to complete, and after it was handed to the publisher I had no intention of writing any more. The manuscript closes with two poems written in the last 11 years.
I think it’s funny to call a book of poems, “Untitled.”
I would have liked to make a table of contents, but unfortunately, because I ended up being kind of anal about the formatting, I would have had to do it by hand and I am currently too lazy. You can hunt around in the pdf and find your favorites. One of these days I am also going to write some explanatory notes, which are going to be, by turns, brilliant, funny, and enigmatic, and are going to explain nothing. Look out for those to appear here in another 11 years or so.
In the meantime, I genuinely hope that everybody gets lots of joy and sorrow from these poems. I’m sorry the bad ones are so bad, and the good ones, I really don’t know how they got that way.
This is a photo of John Wieners, poet, died March first 2002. Sometimes a picture really is worth a thousand words.
It’d be a little be a little after the fact, now, to write anything about who he was, or why he was important, or why he was important to me. Poet Tom Raworth has a nice memorial page posted here.
But I came across this photo on my hard drive — I no longer know where I got it, so apologies to everybody about that — and I wanted to post my favorite of his poems here. I have no idea where or if this was ever published; I copied it from an exhibit called “Early Morning Exercises” by Francesco Clemente, at Beaubourg, on (it says here) 4 November 1994. And I have never recovered from its effect on me, and never wish to.
My pillow a rock of stone
My bed a bench of board
These the treasure trove I hoard
Against the rolling morn
My symphony a choir of birds
Family the passing cars
And for friends the stars
And for company words.
The ancient art of flower arranging
is an arranging of all surfaces
all things flowering everywhere, self-arranging
in blind cascades of randomness
which wash us all away
Is there anything to add?
Up in the balcony I had a conversation with this guy about Derek Jarman’s “Blue,” one of my all-time favorite films, during which he was regaling me with stories of how Sigmund Freud only dreamt in audio… I was like, sure, Freud said a lot of things, you don’t expect me to believe any of them do you. But then that night, after coming home, bones and blood still, uh, throbbing, I had this dream…
I was watching a strange animal swimming in the water, and a voice was telling me,
“This species of shark is completely transparent; its skin and bones and internal organs. In addition, it blinds its prey by squirting clouds of black ink into the water around them.” And as I watched, it did just that.
Then I awoke, and somehow it was obvious to me that this is what TG are like. A nearly invisible predator which erases its own tracks, leaving only clouds of inky blackness in its wake. Unnameable, indefinable. Impossible.
And now? Ritual of homecoming, home-wrecking. The Endless Not is cut.
Onward. Assume Power Focus.
In celebration I include one of my favorite TG live shows (I’m sure you can find clips from the show in San Francisco all over youtube by now): 8 February 1981 at the Lyceum, London. This was, as it turned out, to be their last London gig until 2004. Parts of it were released on vinyl by “Casual Abandon Records” under the title, “Once upon a Time.” I hope you enjoy it. If you don’t enjoy it, I hope you listen to it even louder than you would if you did…
Cari Saluti, R4mr0dInc