Footnote to “Ritual”: Matter and Meaning

 

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This is a footnote to The Epiphany of No Purpose and to Ritual.

“[T]here is a universal flux that cannot be defined explicitly but which can be known only implicitly, as indicated by the explicitly definable forms and shapes, some stable and some unstable, that can be abstracted from the universal flux. In this flow, mind and matter are not separate substances. Rather, they are different aspects of our whole and unbroken movement.”
― David BohmWholeness and the Implicate Order

A Place for Words

I’m hoping the word “epiphany” carries a bathetic meaning. I hope it signifies a “ludicrous descent from the exalted to the commonplace.” But in this case a descent from the high horse of a ludicrous certainty to the banal wisdom of uncertainty. Being dis-illusioned in the best sense.

The epiphany doesn’t have a pedagogic purpose either. It’s only a moment without resistance to one’s folly. A receptive mentality. But not a proscribing or self-help mentality. Therefore without ulterior purpose. Banal in its own way. At least from the standpoint of conventional wisdom, which tends to picture a dumb blankness in the absence of words and ideas.Read More »

Ritual, Part II: Bewitching, Initiating and Ritualized Languages

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This continues from where Ritual, Part I, left off:

“The illusion that the self and the world are broken into fragments originates in the kind of thought that goes beyond its proper measure and confuses its own product with the same independent reality. To end this illusion requires insight, not only into the world as a whole, but also into how the instrument of thought is working. Such insight implies an original and creative act of perception into all aspects of life, mental and physical, both through the senses and through the mind, and this is perhaps the true meaning of meditation.”
― David BohmWholeness and the Implicate Order

The Reductive Bewitchment of a Literal Language

The literal mood of language is necessary for carrying out almost any practical work. It’s dominant in following a blueprint (a legitimate authority), or in honing a craft. And it plays a subordinate role in art, teaching techniques for working in any medium.

In its “proper” context this language could be described as “positive”, “practical” or “technical.” In a utilitarian context the connection between the useful thing one describes (such as the word “hammer”) and the hammer itself is so close that almost all awareness of the meta-level functionality of words recedes (or never develops).

The witchery begins when a literal language spills over into conventional life; when it’s used to talk about ideas – about opinions, goals, and identities. Then opinion posits itself as a literal description of material reality. Fixed. Truth. Not mere opinion.Read More »

Ritual: Part 1

Stag at Echo Rock

“His sickness was only part of something larger, and his cure would be found only in something great and inclusive of everything” (from Ceremony, Leslie Marmon Silko)

I enjoyed moving-up ceremonies in elementary school at the end of each school year. Every grade stood in a separate line in the gym. And then the principal commanded everyone in each grade to step forward. There was some magic in that step. It instantly made us older and wiser.

But after a few years ceremonies all began to feel like empty gestures. Stepping forward and serving Communion and so on felt too superstitious.

Then in college I read the the book Ceremony, by Leslie Marmon Silko. It was about a Laguna Pueblo Indian man named Tayo, returning home from World War II, unable to cope, heading for ruin. Read More »

Conversation with Pat Styer About the Role of Words, August, 2009

Beckett International Airport

I recently had the pleasure (along with my brother Brian) of meeting Tony Dias at the train station in Old Saybrook, CT. 

It was a good talk. And at first I thought we’d walked into a Beckett play.

My brother and I thought we’d arrived early. There was a sign at the intersection that seemed to proclaim the correct address, 355 Boston Post Road, but the name of the cafe was wrong. I told the bartender I was looking for the “Old Saybrook Cafe” at 355 Boston Post Road. He’d never heard of it.

So we kept waiting next to the misleading sign. I was reluctant to call Tony on my brother’s cell phone because I didn’t want to seem impatient. I have some inhibitions of that sort that I claim to find amusing.Read More »

The Epiphany of No Purpose

A minor epiphany hit me about three weeks ago.

An unobtrusive assumption came tumbling from the apex of a small inverted pyramid of beliefs and hit solidly enough in passing that I took notice. What came loose was the belief that doing things – even writing this rambling note — requires a purpose; purposes which are ulterior to the enjoyment one takes in the activity itself; as if it isn’t enough to do something for its own sake.Read More »

Death’s Good Intentions

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This is a picture by Abulena Panduri, used without permission. I hope she doesn’t mind.

Friendships are Parallel Universes

Almost a year ago, one of my truest friends died. Pat Styer. I never met her in person. It didn’t matter. We spoke the same fundamental language. It wasn’t about agreeing or disagreeing. It was about playing catch with a perspective that few in my circle at that time seemed to find worth picking up. What she said broadened my own vocabulary. And whatever I said, she received without distortion. It was as if we were learning something that could only be discovered between us.

I think every relationship (whether with a human or a dog or a cat) gives rise to someone new between us, creates a context of understanding that will never be duplicated with another. We move between parallel worlds. Each infinite, but limited to our mutual contexts.Read More »

Leaping into the Deep End

Duke at the Saw Mill swimming hole
Our dog Duke at the Saw Mill swimming hole, Butternut Crick, circa 1967, near Morris, NY

“The sense of danger must not disappear:
The way is certainly both short and steep,
However gradual it looks from here;
Look if you like, but you will have to leap.” – W.H. Auden (Leap Before You Look)

Narcissus is the “Dreamer”: In Honor of Ta-Nahisi Coates

I’m privileged to be a dreamer. I live in a cloud, which rises from the smoke of guns and bombs. My world is made possible by war. We are all here. Our collective voice is the Web and the media. The voice is growing harsher. It’s Narcissus reacting to his suddenly uglier image. He squirms in discomfort. What does he do when he comes face-to-face with his own vainglories of racism, war and hyper-rational control of nature? How will he peer through the dream, and turn away from his beloved?Read More »

Part 2 of Imagine the Limits of the Imagination: A Proprioceptive Mirror

The Man Who Mistook Himself for His Dog
The Man Who Mistook Himself for His Dog

The Three Oddest Words

When I pronounce the word Future,
the first syllable already belongs to the past.

When I pronounce the word Silence,
I destroy it.

When I pronounce the word Nothing,
I make something no nonbeing can hold.
— Wislawa Szymborska

This is a continuation of part 1.

There are two very different ways of reading the phrase “imagine the limits of the imagination.”

One way is to assume that we’re trying to imagine what lies “beyond” imagination. This sets up a double-bind: trying to think beyond thinking; trying to speak about silence. It’s like asking that creature from part 1 (who can only hear) to describe a world of sight. It can’t be done.Read More »

Imagine the Limits of the Imagination (Part I)

From Supernatural Magazine
From “Supernatural Magazine”, used without permission (please forgive)

I want to write simply, but the pathways of habit, belief and assumption that I’m trying to describe are entangled. I’m not interested in trying to dis-entangle each strand. I’ve never been able to untangle a hose let alone a mind. But there’s a difference between thinking your way out of a mental entanglement and letting the entanglement unravel of its own accord. I can’t think my way out of a wet paper bag. But it’s easy enough to fall out of one.

It’s a lazy man’s way of learning. Keep going along the usual twisted pathways, but be alert enough and precise enough in the description to at least “embarrass” the habits of thinking into “thinking twice.” This is a small part of what Jeppe means by “refiguring,” and an aspect of the plasticity that Tony refers to. And it’s a small part of what I tried to describe in the manifesto as “second sight.”Read More »

A Moment to Drift

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One Last Preparatory Post

It’s been interesting to reflect on the change I’ve felt after posting that long introductory “manifesto.” I’m tremendously grateful to the people who read the thing closely. (Special thanks to Tony Dias, Jeppe Graugaard and Brian Shampnois). It feels like a great privilege to have found even one person, let alone a half-dozen, who rigorously engaged the piece. And I suspect that the ideal size of this pool of perceived readers corresponds to David Bohm’s ideal pool for dialogue – between 5 and 25. I can’t realistically picture more than that without the voice becoming vague and almost political in character (as if I were making a public speech).

I never used to think I needed anyone to read anything I wrote apart from the one person to whom I was writing. But that person’s attention has been wavering of late (it was my dog). And I know now that the quality of attention I’m able to put into this thing is dependent on the quality of attention of the reader. And this is a strange thing to realize: I can’t say certain things unless I know there’s someone there who understands what I mean.Read More »