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The Alien Suggests

The Alien Suggests

The Alien Suggests

Go camping. Go together. Share a tent, a fire. Build the campsite with one another, for one another.

Wake up to the sounds of brooks and rivers nearby. Pause and listen. Walk in the forest together, or by yourself when the dawn appears. Climb the mountainside for kindling and a peak at the sunrise over the distant hills. When you face forward, spin, take in your 360s, your panoramas.

The old metal coffee pot is on the grill. Share it with friends. Leave your phones at home. No TV. No news. Swap the virtual for the real. Swap bad fictions for the real.

Laugh and sing with one another, like you did when you were young and unafraid. Like you did before you fell for the lies and distortions and myths of the modern world – the lies, distortions and myths of the reaction to that world.

The canoes are safe. The river flows just right for them, as if it were made for those canoes. A mix of solos and small groups on the river helps the focus on the wake you create, on the rhythms you endorse. The hawks play at making ten above you. They play at a language all their own but every bit as real as yours.

There is no one in the forest until you pull your canoes up to the shoreline and disembark. There are beings there, already, but they hide from you at first, then make themselves known. Walk softly. Let them be. Listen for the language they toss to the wind, and the wind itself.

Across the universe we evolve to feel our own worlds are beautiful – to us. But it’s been my impression, since I first set my “eyes” on this one, that yours is uniquely so. My evolution should counter that impression, should render it impossible. Actually, it should, in all probability, make me see ugliness and bleakness and death here, not life, and truth, and sparks one might call “divine.”

But that is what I see and feel, when I follow you on your climbs, and in your boats, and when you sing and laugh beside the campfire. Truth and beauty and other explosions of aesthetic bliss surround me, become my panoramas too.

Camp, make love, not war!

 

_____

*All photos by Douglas Pinson, with constant help (and frequent nagging) from his alien friend.

Todd McGowan’s Universality and Identity Politics

Todd McGowan’s Universality and Identity Politics

Identity. It is to die for, sometimes. But we’re driven to form them – against. We become Not-our-parents, Not-our-siblings, Not-our-classmates, but never purely so. And rarely without a multitude of complications. There is always a mix, a set of contradictions that includes conformity with, too. They flow in and out. And while we develop our identity forms, we paradoxically become less in sync with our many selves. Our perceptions of the way others see us shape these forms even when we fight against. This, that, or them. The fight itself, or its passive acceptance, can mean we’re out of sync. There is no winning here. There is only contradiction and paradox.

And when/if we put on the clothes of identity politics – a most misunderstood and misused term (like socialism, anarchism, and universality) – we most likely need enemies. We need far more than just Not-our-parents and Not-our-siblings. We need walls, and borders, and a baleful amount of “othering.”

In Todd McGowan’s brilliant book, the above (and more) is hashed out, theoretically, and pragmatically, with a host of references to historical periods, movements, thinkers and systems. He builds his case step by step, using an almost Hemingway-like method of keying off the previous sentence to amplify and extend.

It’s a relatively short book, but provokes a great deal of thought, on moral, ethical and social grounds, and unlike so many contemporary attempts to assess the present via the past, there are no hidden agendas here.

Light bulbs will flash. Surprises fill the pages. You likely won’t see things the same way again.

More on this in the days to come. Happy New Year to all.

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A Belated Update on This Life

A Belated Update on This Life

Some well-deserved recognition for a must-read book:

Professor Martin Hägglund wins the prestigious René Wellek Prize

Martin Hägglund’s This Life has been awarded the René Wellek Prize for the best book in the field by the American Comparative Literature Association. The Wellek Prize is generally considered to be the most prestigious award in comparative literature. Past winners include Umberto Eco and Edward Said. In their prize motivation, the awards committee offered high praise for This Life:

Songs for Chasms, Saints and Sinners

Songs for Chasms, Saints and Sinners

Sleeping Venus
Sleeping Venus, by Giorgione and/or Titian. 1510

There is always a gap, a canyon, an endless space between what we want and what we attain, and that’s by evolutionary design. It also can make for great poetry, literature, music, and art. Deathless prose. Immortal landscapes. Notes that reach stars and permeate them. It’s at the heart of metaphor, perhaps its very cause. Ruptures, craters, schisms and riffs are what keep us at it, relentlessly charging ahead, with the biological imperative to pass on our genes to the next and the next. We’ve been doing this for at least 3.5 billion years. Perhaps as long as 4.5 billion.

The object of our love, desire, and lust compels us to reproduce, re-enact the Grand Play of plays. This spins out through time and space, on singular and plural plains of Being. Spins out. Smashes against. Rising and falling, again and again, until we breathe our last.

Look around. Think about what you have. All you have. And think how often you ignore it once you get it. Think about how its former centrality, its utter necessity, obsessed you, drove you nearly mad. But now you couldn’t . . . care . . . less!

The best moment of love is when the lover leaves in the taxi.

— Michel Foucault

Our mind creates bridges of desire, then torches them once we cross. And if we live long enough, it recreates that desire as echo, as memory of memories, with new colors, new sounds and smells and feelings that we impose. Layers of illusions that double those bridges. Re-tracings of pathways we never actually took. Tracking back over ground and haunted words that never existed. Everyone is a poet, an artist, a dreamer of metaphors to some extent.

The role of biology in this doesn’t diminish our creative bursts, our heart-paintings, our love-chants. It grounds them in permanence so they can be fleeting, forever. Next to the flow of life from star to star, this ground is our greatest gift.

 

Self-Reliance in the Age of Pandemics

Self-Reliance in the Age of Pandemics

Into the Wild, 2007. Directed by Sean Penn. Based on Into the Wild (1996), by Jon Krakauer.

It was never the case, at least not in the modern world. Outside a few. Outside a few lone souls, able to live on grass and berries. Able to hunt and gather, make their own shelters, their own clothes, treat themselves when they got sick. Pull their own teeth. Make and fix their own modest tools. Having next to no layers between themselves and the earth. Right there. Being there always. Right on top of the earth, like mother and child.

And they better be beyond lucky. They better not fall and break their ankles, legs, hit their heads, catch pneumonia or worse. They better, in a word, or two, or three, stay perfectly healthy.
It was never the case, outside those rare few souls.

Humans are social animals. We need one another, obviously. And in the modern world, the degree of need and interconnection is beyond complex, far beyond ancient ideas of kin and village, with steeper hierarchies today than in any past worlds, arranged for us, not by us, prefabbed for us in ways both artificial and arbitrary — Potemkin-like — it’s a wonder this isn’t foremost in our thoughts at all times, as we make our way through life.

It is true that we brought some of this dependency on ourselves, as we spun out in all directions, expanded our sense of what was important to us, our sense of what we need each day, which meant a removal from the first ground of our being, a removal from the earth and any chance we may have had to truly be self-reliant to a point. Even back then, even at the dawn of things, it wasn’t possible, except for those rare few.
We listened too much to Sirens. We listened too much to ghosts in three piece suits.

We gave in. We gave up. Division of labor, division of expertise, division of the spoils, the allocation of resources decided by the few for the many.  Those Sirens and those ghosts. We’re close now to peak dependence, at the same time our personal agency, our personal control over our own destinies, may well be at an all time low. May well be peak inverse.

Year by year, generation after generation, we’ve been led down a pathway toward an existential crisis, a series of these crises, an acceleration of that series, for a host of reasons and rationales. But if we need to boil all of that down to just one, to just one reason why, to just one answer voice cause meaning provocation, it’s money. It’s “I think therefore I buy.”
For much of humanity, possibly most, almost all, our management of our consumer choices, our thinking through what, when and where we buy things . . . inanimate objects . . . stuff . . . makes us who we think we are, and this, in our mind’s eye, makes us believe we’re self-reliant. Because we can. Because we can buy stuff.

Not make it, grow it, maintain it, fix it, replenish it. Buy it. But in the Age of Pandemics, we’re quickly learning we can’t necessarily do or count on that any longer, and it’s time to ask ourselves why and how and beyond just that. It’s time to question the system we inherited and its effects, the one that spun us out this far from our home in the first place.
 

Integration at Four O’Clock

Integration at Four O’Clock

Bridge of Shadows

I wonder about the ideal all too often. I wonder if we were ever, as a species, supposed to attain something even close to an ideal. But that doesn’t stop me from wool-gathering, looking at clouds, staring at the darkness in my coffee cup, etc. That doesn’t stop me from questioning, endlessly, the way things are.

How should we raise our kids and ourselves? Because, of course, all the while we think we’re raising them, they’re raising us in a sense, too, and all the things surrounding us shape what we do, and are sometimes shaped by what we do, and so it goes, on and on and on. There is no No-Spot from which we can become who we really are, minus them, minus the environment, minus all that has ever arisen before we reached this place and time. And in the so-called Modern Era, it’s harder than ever before to separate the Dancer from the Dance, as Yeats showed us, and he never had to deal with Smart Phones, Texting and whatever will follow all of that.

To individuate in a crowd. To individuate in a crowded room, house, state, world, not of our own choosing. To form a self amidst all the noise, the competing cries of Look at me!! The competing scramble for clean water, air and land. The soon to be competing rush, onslaught, tsunami of eyes, ears, voices and bodies, seeking dry land, seeking fire-free zones, seeking, in short, habitability.

It may boil down to the old stand-by: it’s complicated. But I don’t want it to. I don’t want to hang my hat on that potential cop-out. I want to find the impossible, and in more than just Art. In life itself. The impossible in life. Because Art without life is like life without Art to me. They need integration too. And more. Much more. They need a kind of — to risk a cliche for a moment or three or seven — nurturing that abides, that lasts, that is sustainable for the longest term. They need a natural synchronicity that becomes second nature for all inputs, for the teachers and students who switch back and forth between the two, forever.

The other switch is, of course, creation and reception, creator and audience. Can there be a human that only inhabits one or the other? Not likely. No one is so lofty, indifferent, or isolate. No one is so passive or parasitical. Unless. Unless damaged. And that damage generally comes about in course of, in the realm of, in the range of integration with the all.

And there’s the quandary of quandaries. The endless push/pull of Alone or Come with. The endless stream of fighting it or riding the storm. And all things in between. Perhaps the answer is there, at least part of it. Not in “the middle,” per se, which only exists in the abstract, within the frame, relatively speaking. The middle as in, what we see, all of what we see, our view of things, as we think they are.
A sad voice in my head, one among so many, shouts (with obvious impatience), “Integrate that!! Individuate that!!

On the day after. On the day after!!
 
 

Original Zen

Original Zen

I

Shadow Garden

When Einstein was asked
Do you believe in God?
He replied
I believe in Spinoza’s god

And who is that, one wonders?

All that is and ought to be
Now and forever
Blue waves without end
Stars and green mountains and red rivers

Dark roiling matter without end

II

The eternal reunions and disbursements of Nature
As it is and ought to be

Though we can’t see it
Blinded by this and that
Preset premade chain/anchor
On rational thought

III

Augustine poisoned us all
By saying we were all already poisoned
From conception on
By a toxin he felt and universalized

Save us from all individuals
Who seek to make their own experience
The law of the land
The world

 

 

The Impression of Peace

The Impression of Peace

Carcassonne. 2007. Photo by Douglas Pinson

It’s something we really don’t know much about at all. In our own lives. The absence of war. Even to the extent that we’re not involved, we see it elsewhere, hear about it, note its presence on the news, in books, in history, on film. It surrounds us, this absence, this lack of the presence of anything remotely akin to peace — again, whether or not we’ve ever experienced its opposite.

 

In. The. Air. It’s with us wherever we go. Perhaps it’s like the knowledge of an impending storm we know is ready to dump flotillas of hard rain on us from above. Dark skies. More than that. We’ve internalized this and it’s why we do whatever we can not to think about it and escape.

Escape into buying things. Stuff. Escape into, ironically, stories and films and documentaries and songs about war, violence, overwhelming aggression, death. In many ways, this escape is really an indirect confrontation with the thing itself, and acts as a prophylactic for us, takes us as close as we can go, while still being safely distanced from death and destruction. If we confront it this way, something inside us says, we won’t ever have to do so in reality. But few people are likely to ever be much convinced by those little voices, which spurs yet more escapism.

We find peace where we can. Everyone has their own way. I go to the mountains. Stay quiet, or listen to music through the headphones as I take in the landscape, the blue skies, the many-colored mountain ranges, the dark brown and green shadows dancing on their tops, close enough to me to make me believe I can touch them, though I can’t, without falling to my . . .

And I think tonight what this all must be doing to humans, even the “safest” among us — and I’m not by any means forgetting the millions who actually do experience its horrors, directly, immediately, and sometimes for year upon year. They, of course, don’t have the luxury of pondering things in the same way I do here. They’re too busy burying the dead and trying to stay alive themselves, to avoid quick or slow death and destruction to the best of their abilities.

What does the thought, remote as it may be, that war is right around the corner in time and space, in a myriad of forms, do to us as a species? And what would it be like to flip this on its head in a sense, to expect peace, to live within it, to know it intimately, close by, far away, the past, the present, the future? What would it be like to be human and see violence, war, murder, rape, pillage and environmental destruction as the mother of all aberrations? What things could we do with our short time on earth if that were our foundation? What art, music, literature and so on would we make?

Would a life of true peace and the deepest understanding of interrelated existence set the ground for the greatest explosion of creativity we could possibly imagine? Or would it be the death of the arts? Are they born out of the swirling tumult of endangered life and existential dread, as so many writers, philosophers, artists and musicians have claimed throughout history? Or would that art just morph into something we’ve never seen and, from the looks of things, never will?

I wonder. I truly wonder what would happen to the thing that means more to me than life itself. Would it survive if we could destroy the endless destruction that surrounds us? Could we make art in the midst of endless happiness as far as the eye can see?

 

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