Essays (and About)

These essays are how I learn. How I learn to be honest, I suppose, which is strangely enough never ending. I mean, there’s no limit to how honest we can become; it’s not merely “telling the truth”; language that is too positive, that attempts to rest in positive conclusions, only reaches a certain shallow depth of honesty.

From my point of view honesty is mainly subtractive. Usually we have to dislodge ourselves from dogmas and unconscious certainties that keep us from seeing a broader and more profound picture. It’s not a “total destruction” of the temples of old thought; but a fairly precise subtraction, like the subtraction of slivers of wood or shards of stone from a carving, which creates greater clarity and precision. However, in this case, the subtractions change the vision radically, not reductively towards some more and more perfect version of an older idea, but with each subtraction of certainty, entirely new vistas become possible. These vistas, however, are no longer positive and conclusive, but metaphoric and shifting.

I often plead otherwise, but I’m irrelevant. Nevertheless, the Manifesto can serve as my “About” on a philosophical level, while my actual biography, as boring as it might be, has been pounded into fragments and recombined as elements of fiction and essays here and there. The best preserved fragments of my life are found in the fictional biography, Beam Me Up Scotty: The Autobiography of a Space Cadet, which is a comedy that makes light of darker elements of my history, while leaving out all the better parts of my life, and only barely skirting the central fear of my life.

That central fear is what has driven me to write these essays, many of which I’ve more or less outgrown since I began this project. I like the last two parts of the Manifesto better, but the confusing first part was my best attempt till then to clarify the central fear. I did a better job maybe in What Is Real? (although it’s far too complicated to enjoy) and in An Honest Fairy Tale, but all three clarify an element of this fear.

I still like many of the essays, but Negative Knowledge and the Eruption of a Metaphoric Mentality may be the most concise presentation of this so-called negative vision so far.

But I like darkly comic fiction best — The Oven Mitt is my favorite; and I like A Fly Fable.

Contact me by commenting on any given essay. Or you can email jhs11@cornell.edu

I have another site called Subtle Mud (poems and stories mainly), and this is that site’s About.

I’d like to be remembered as the man who mistook himself for his dog, whatever that might mean.

Man who mistook himself for his dog
The Man Who Mistook Himself for His Dog

The essays below are mainly from this site. Some are older.

  • A Fly Fable
    • And the Amoral of the story is that we see the world and everyone we know through the old and distorting plate glass of language and thought, rarely meeting actuality in the flesh, contending primarily with only these tinted reflections of reality, stuck for millennia now between the frames of fight and flight. But lo and behold
  • Why this Shit Matters
    • Till now, there was an implicit hypocrisy in talking about problems from the writer’s high horse, and then immediately falling off the horse in a pile of horseshit when the writing was done. But here is a way to write actively, by dissolving reductive visions and changing your mind. In a sense, constantly falling into the shit and enjoying it.
  • Negative Knowledge and the Eruption of a Metaphoric Mentality
    • 2nd in a series on the relation between story and reality. This takes me very close to the edge of a radically new way of relating to reality.
  • An Honest Fairy Tale Retold:
    • My sister’s life as a fairy tale.
  • An Honest Fairy Tale
    • 1st in a series of essays taking a deeper dive into the relationship between story and reality.
  • Story (comedy): The Oven Mitt
    • These are psychopathic times. Empathy is falling. Guilt is fake empathy.
  • The Delusions of Me, Myself and AI: On the Origins of Our Crises:
    • An attempt at writing a two-voiced essay. To survive the age of AI we’ll be forced to change the nature of thinking and learning.
  • Funnel Vision
    • One way to describe meditation. And perhaps trigger it.
  • Extinction and Responsibility
    • Even if it becomes clear that extinction is unavoidable, we can still have a meaningful relationship to everything.
  • The Radical Derelict
    • I could have held up the Dude in The Big Lewbowsky, or Hobbits, as examples of lives well lived. But I discussed the bums in Cannery Row. Same thing.
  • “And I said, with rapture, Here is something I can study all my life and never understand!”
    • A coherent relationship to reality is never knowing anything for sure.
  • What Is Real?
    • Tough to read probably, but one of my best efforts. This is the question that is chasing me, or perhaps the question I’m chasing. Never to be answered, only to be asked in ever more profound ways. Took me a godawful 14 months to write.
  • Death Is the Mother of Beauty
    • Do I dare not only look into the heart of darkness, and finally face what is monstrous in me, but do I dare face what is beautiful?
  • You Say You Want a Revolution?
    • A focus on systemic solutions presumes the need to organize human relationships from the top down. Old fragmentations are then built into every new system. There’s another kind of revolution that sidesteps this problem.
  • Alchemical Writing
    • I want to delve into the hard bones of our certainties and feel them transform into a fluid of shifting perspectives. I want writing to become an alchemical action.
  • A Revolution on the Periphery
    • We are going through a revolution, but it’s not grounded in politics and it’s not something we can champion. It’s something we have to stop obstructing in so many small ways.
  •  The Meaning of Confidence: A Brief Appendix to Direct and Indirect Meaning
    • When nothing that I know about myself is real, when everything is only a story, whose narrative lines are always being bent by ferocious headwinds of fight and flight, by a desire for admiration, where do I find a foundation upon which to live a confident and humane life?
  • Direct and Indirect Meaning (Being and Constructing)
    • Is there an unmediated intelligence — that is, a direct intelligence of the things around us that does not require language whatsoever? An intelligence that is not judgement, conclusion, idea, thought, story, theory, any of it?
  • Limited Infinities
    • Within the frame of a painting, a book, a movie (maybe), a garden, something infinite can emerge. But if these disciplines become the method by which we find meaning in living, then they become limited infinities.
  • Four Elements of a Kaleidoscopic (or Ritualized) Perspective
    • If we could appreciate the beauty of theory then we might recognize when it’s in play, and not confuse thought with actuality. Not get stuck on dogmas.
  • Matter and Meaning
    • Meaning is not an abstract realm, not something separate from the material world. It’s not a heaven or a hell floating free of base matter. Matter itself is the beloved body of meaning.
  • Ritual, Part II: Bewitching, Initiating and Ritualized Languages
    • A proposal to look at thought as having negative, neutral and positive modes.
  • Ritual: Part 1
    • Beyond the rocks of dichotomy there are no final answers. Something better. A kaleidoscope of ever-more far-reaching questions. They restore movement, a new beginning. A long delayed initiation. A new sense of ritual.
  • Conversation with Pat Styer About the Role of Words, August, 2009
    • What is a fact? It’s a slippery fish.
  • The Epiphany of No Purpose
    • In a moment of comic bathos we simply relent to the bald fact that we know almost nothing but second-hand knowledge (i.e., bullshit). Then the whole slip-knot of self-induced, low-burn misery which passes for thinking softens into a forgiving and innocent laugh.
  • Death’s Good Intentions
    • One of the most beautifully balanced pieces of negative knowledge is this one by David Bohm: “A change in meaning is a change in being.” This can initiate a collapse or a leap or whatever we wish to call it. A discontinuity, a death. When fundamental meanings change, we live fundamentally differently.
  • Leaping into the Deep End
    • I’ve been groping towards the idea that we need a different kind of knowledge, one that doesn’t leave us stranded back on the bank next to dreamy Narcissus.
  • A Proprioceptive Mirror
    • It takes an elaborate system of metaphoric mirrors to show us the missing “half” of our vision of the world. And in the end the reader has to make the intellectually short, but disconcerting, leap through the looking glass. Where we end up is Nowhere — in a place that language and even the imagination can’t reach.
  • Imagine the Limits of the Imagination 
    • This and part Two are some of my best efforts. A long time coming: “I think this offers a clue to what imagination can and can’t do. It can imagine the limits of its own domain, but it can’t imagine what lies “beyond.” It’s customary to raise imagination on a pedestal, projecting unlimited powers to this dimension of existence. And I think this glorification of imagination actually does it disservice and can quickly devolve to sloppy, new age thinking. And by failing to appreciate the limits of imagination, we also accidentally fail to appreciate its real potential.”
  • A Moment to Drift
    • I don’t think we can positively aim at being unself-conscious or free of fragmentation. I think it happens in an almost slapstick manner, by running headlong into fragmented habits of thinking without recoiling in a fragmented manner.
  • Manifesto
    • Why I feel the need to write.
  • Identität in einer Landschaft des Widerspruchs
    • (Identity in a Landscape of Contradictions)
  • Der Knoten der Identität (The Knot of Identity)
  • kampf-flucht-und-verwandlung: : Eine Choreografie der Entfremdung
    • (Fight, Flight and Metamorphosis: A Choreography of Alienation (in Kafka’s Metamorphosis))
  • The Title Goes Here (satirical philosophical essay/story/nonsense about the double-bind)
  • Beam Me Up Scotty (humorous fictionalized biography dealing with the Self)
  • Intro and part I Negative Geography (2000)
  • What is the sound of one entity yapping: or the Thermodynamics of Thought (1995) — “Is there a sound addressed not wholly to the ear” wrongly attributed by me in the essay to Eliot. It’s William Carlos Williams.
  • Original Negative Geography
    • First version, written as satire (1985), after listening to a Derrida lecture at Cornell.
  • Madness-Sin-and-Boredom: Life as a Wraith
    • College paper that was precursor to Negative Geography (1983):
Jeff Shampnois

 

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