What Is Real?

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“All is a Question of Voices” (Samuel Beckett)

I don’t know what is real. I know only stories. Reality itself is obscured behind an interpretive film. But if there was a way to remove these perceptual “cataracts” I’d blind myself, because I can’t make sense of reality without a story. Story and reality are impossible to separate. But I need to find a way to distinguish them. Otherwise I’m delusional. And this delusion has real and deadly consequences.

Stories create every objective thing and Other I encounter. Nations and races, for example, are highly selective distinctions that settle over the world like transparencies over a drawing. And when these fictional separations are conflated with reality, real national and racial divisions erupt. These divisions are not facts of nature, but what physicist David Bohm called “artifacts” of the story, of my own imagination.

There’s something electrifying here. Against a fact of nature I’m helpless. But my own agency is revealed in artifacts of the imagination. It suggests that much of what passes for human nature, including aggression between groups, is not inevitable.Read More »

You Say You Want a Revolution?

 

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“If we surrendered to earth’s intelligence we could rise up rooted, like trees.” —  Rilke

This was published on Counterpunch, September 5, 2016.

“What we choose to fight is so tiny!
What fights with us is so great.
If only we would let ourselves be dominated
as things do by some immense storm,
we would become strong too, and not need names.”

— from The Man Watching, by Rainer Maria Rilke

As CJ Hopkins pointed out in Counterpunch, “… we are not yet capable of conceiving a credible alternative system [to global neoliberal capitalism], or a way to get there.”

Or maybe we conceive alternatives, but the canopy of globalization has grown so wide that it stunts their growth. The media’s floodlight shines only on a sucker’s coin of allowable alternatives: Regressive Revolution — a rabid demand for the nation to be “great again”; and Patriotic Reform — a “gentler” allegiance to American exceptionalism. Both sides of the coin bank on what no longer exists – a sovereign nation.Read More »

Alchemical Writing

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Feeling the Bones

Sometimes I wonder why I can’t stop all this burrowing into the bones of thought (as I like to think I’m doing).

But that’s when I forget what I love. I love feeling those bones, the hidden, labyrinthine structures supporting our simplistic surface consciousness. And I love encountering my own shocking assumptions, the ones I didn’t even realize I had until I started fumbling around among those bones.Read More »

A Revolution on the Periphery

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This essay appeared in Counterpunch.

I think there’s a close relationship between peripheral vision and the somewhat famous “overview effect”. The eye, after all, is an extension of the brain. Both peripheral vision and an overview imply a perception of context, which limits the distortions of self-interest.

What’s more, peripheral vision is too quick to be resisted by the ego. It’s only an immediate sensitivity to what is happening. Therefore it precedes wishful thinking. As soon as we “take sides” for or against what is noticed, then our focus has already narrowed. Therefore a peripheral vision engenders something of a suspended state (ala David Bohm). It allows contradictory ideas to sort themselves out.Read More »

Direct and Indirect Meaning (Being and Constructing)

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The first 14 essays tried to “come to terms” with the limitations of language. By extension this included all of thought and imagination – the whole category of construct-making.

How can we discover the “limitations” of something that covers the whole of experience? An all-enveloping fluid from which we can’t leap free, like lucky fish?

In Part II of “Imagine the Limits of the Imagination” I suggested that this can be done by considering the category of “odd words”:

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

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 »