A Hidden Optimism: Going On from the Last Essay

From Funny Times

In the last essay I seemed to compare people to primordial mud. Of course, I wrote it as a comedy, which is to say, the entire essay is excessively optimistic about people, and is only making a generously indulged joke on behalf of a gifted species at the verge of developing into a new form of life and intelligence. But if people approach it pessimistically (I don’t see how they can, given the parameters of my essays in general), then it would be received as ridicule. But I was writing this in resonance with Beckett’s approach. He also tempts people to read him pessimistically. But everything he wrote was a double-entendre. A different kind of humor is revealed when you discover his hidden optimism.

These essays presume several optimistic things (and I don’t expect agreement and I’m not looking for debate, only the willingness to entertain the angle of vision as long as it lasts):

1) that human beings are troubled, but gifted animals; and

2) That human beings are at the verge of realizing a new form of intelligence, a new way of being.

Hence, the metaphor of a primordial awakening.

This is an interesting thought experiment in how things look to differently imagined readers. If the cartoon depiction is seen as an attempt to fundamentally summarize human beings as undeveloped, lifeless dolts – if it’s read as an attempt at a Literal depiction of human beings – then it will just annoy a reader. The humor will be received as if it were ridicule. The reader will feel insulted by the depiction, and not find anything funny about this at all.

If the reader realizes that all of these essays presume the capacity to change radically and abruptly, and that human beings have the real potential to lose the ego at any moment, then it’s not ridicule. (By the way, this potential to lose the ego but not the image came as a pleasant surprise, while writing the last essay: A distinction can be made between Self and Image or Ego and Image. And this is probably what was most gratifying in writing that otherwise unremarkable essay: Till then I could never entirely see how we could operate with passion in the absence of some form of true belief, literal conviction. But when I started to recognize writing as one of many areas in human life where we are already operating momentarily in a non-literal mind (already stand-up creatures fully emerged from the relatively inanimate soup of mere reactionary thinking) – other contexts being the various arts and sciences (sometimes), and maybe sports at rare levels, and on and on – then it became possible to distinguish a probing mentality from a true believer’s mentality).

This is the beginning of a distinction that can be elaborated upon and experimented with from here on out. This is an exciting distinction, because it shows how it will be possible to respond with passion and conviction in the absence of certainty.

Another thing I need to follow up with at some point is the notion that “going on” can be read in many ways. Not only as a kind of Phoenix rising from the ashes, but also as a realization that thought’s reactivity (at least in this transition zone of the shore that we seem to be reaching) continues – this is a great relief to me, because the effort to quiet thought and move into a silent mind (never my priority, but a puzzle that has bothered me) is no longer an issue: Now I can see that thought, image, drama, they all still have a place, but our relationship to them changes and eventually reduces their centrality of importance, which quiets them (but that’s later). Right now, this new relationship to thought and image and drama and Self isn’t possible unless we hit upon that “alchemical frequency” (or proprioceptive mentality) that certain contexts of life (such as writing) make easier. To wit, we aren’t becoming ideals, this is not Utopian. This is falling from our high horse and laughing and learning. It’s a great relief to know that the burden of trying to “change ourselves” is bullshit. We just need to be honest about all the ongoing bullshit.

In other words, what a relief to realize that our own thoughts need not be seen as enemies (this has become increasingly clear over the whole course of essays, but it keeps feeling new and remarkable, the more I look into it). So I love the metaphor of this chaos of inner noise (these reflexive thoughts) finding a place of their own in this metamorphosis that’s approaching — the idea that these things function like subordinate cells (or mitochondria) for the development of potentials, no longer the center of a short-sighted life, but a subordinate quality of a new intelligence itself, whereby everything we know has to be placed in a somewhat cartoonish frame so that an essential insight can be distilled. And we know they are only cartoons or reductions, so they don’t cause us to lose our sense of balancing humor.

When thought is seen as being subordinate to intelligence in this way, then it’s possible to “keep going” in the face of a relentless (and less intelligent) brain. Oh, I can’t be too clear about this right now, but I want to go deeper into what it means to face our own “ongoing” chaos of thought, why it doesn’t involve any form of repression, why it requires the release of an ancient (especially European) tendency towards control and punishment, and why this feels like a window opening into a vast new field of freedom (and what that word might come to mean).

I also want to follow up by looking at the possibility of a radical and abrupt shift in human understanding, and why the simplification of “the human predicament” to a cartoonish lynchpin tying us to illusions (identified as Literalism) is not escapist, but the unfoldment of a hidden potential that is just in time for what’s coming.

The other thing I want to get into soon – and this is a fast-scrawled summary of issues on the tip of my pen – but this whole notion of human potentials is very interesting and needs subtle clarification. Language and thought play a significant role in unfolding various hidden potentials in human development. Not as arguments and theories (solely or primarily), but as explosive forces (negative bombs of a sort, poems included), that bring down the various iron curtains blocking us from crawling ashore as something fundamentally new.

So many human potentials (different rough trajectories of development) exist simultaneously, and whether or not this or that potential is active is a question of the moment, always. Therefore we can’t really say who we are in a conclusive sense, because it’s only a rough summary of our past, not the still fuzzy potential that is starting to crawl out of the comparative swamp of typical, circular thought. But we know a negative thing that make us optimistic by default: we know that we’re not who we think we are. We are larger than any thought or depiction, because a thought can’t contain our full potential. Knowing this, the cartoon laughs at itself without feeling ridiculed.

Seeing the metaphor of the last essay in this more optimistic light is a different kind of humor. It’s not ridicule, because a secretly generous regard keeps the critical image from being taken seriously. It’s saying that what we face now is our own species’ version of an emergence from a lower form of who we thought we were. The unflattering depiction is a disguised compliment. It means we’re about to grow into a new world that makes the old one look very primitive.

I’m not arguing this is True, mind you. I’m just saying that everything in these pages is soaked with that implicit optimism. And I’m saying that Beckett was also an optimist because his humor could only be felt if you were looking at thought from that bemused angle that doesn’t take itself seriously, or literally. In order to bear witness to the intricacies of self-deception, as Beckett did, you have to realize the inherently optimistic vantage point that sees through ego and thought. This frequency is unnamable. It’s “us” only in a metaphoric sense. In other words, a greater reality awaits us in some weird sense. That’s not an argument, that’s a confession of the hidden optimism, where it comes from, why it’s there, and how this might change the color of everything, including how you read a cartoon.

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