Conversations With the No-Self

Conversations With the No-Self

For December, welcome aboard new poetry, fiction and art from Uzodinma Okehi, Maurice Devitt, Eric Muller, and Dr. Ernest Williamson III.


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Paintings from Cave Chauvet

So, I was thinking. Or the Not-I was positing. Or the far-be-it-from-me was asking . . . just who are we trying to reach when we make art? Who are we avoiding? Is it cut and dried, black and white and obviously obvious? Or is it all just a complex web of interdependent actors caught up in a systemic communication loop not of our own making? Do we own the dialogue at some point, or never? Or do we just rent this space?

And, yes, I know. Such questions are, at least on the surface, sophomoric, asked perennially by actual sophomores in college since the beginning of the first Neanderthal university. Of course, in those bygone days, Neanderthal college kids had better access to some serious mind-altering substances, finding them with ease out in the forests surrounding their caves whenever they ventured away from the campfire — thus enabling true free-form cloud or navel gazing. It also helped that there were virtually no talk show hosts or reality programs to distract and divide self from self. Though, it must be said, soap operas existed back then as well, and were a constant source of humor and intrigue. Popular shows like “As the Boar Spit Turns” and “General Hostility” delighted kids of all ages, and provided ample opportunity for campfire critics to say yea or nay when it came to sacrificing or saving the actors involved. As Sir James Frazer noted in The Golden Bough, these early soap operas set the stage for the transition from actual human sacrifice to symbolic acts without loss of life, though old-school Neanderthals never got over the change.

“Back in my day, we used to throw bad actors into the fire where they belonged!! Nowadays, they shower them with lavish gifts, pigs, cockleshells and wine, while they send in stunt doubles to run through the fire. Sissies!”

That said, Neanderthals, existing as they did far closer to the earth, literally and symbolically, simply did not face the alienation and separation anxieties built into the modern world. Their experience of life was far more direct, far less mediated by layer upon layer of commercial and civic herding and nagging machinery. They could dream closer to their own true selves than we can today, lost as we are in the White Noise of competing norms. Lost as we are among the thousands of potential selves fed to us over the airwaves or in theaters from coast to coast . . .

How to get back to that unmediated self? How to redefine ourselves free of societal markers, cultural norms and other straitjackets? If we can someday resolve these dilemmas, these conundrums, with or without help from alternative, natural substances, our quest will become clearer and closer. I can’t imagine a time when the quest will ever be a done deal — nor would I want that day to ever arrive. I do, however, long for a time when impediments are radically reduced and our true No-Selves appear in the clear light of day.


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