Essays (and About)

These essays are how I learn — how I learn to be honest, which is oddly enough never ending. I mean, there’s no limit to how honest a person can become; it’s not merely “telling the truth”; language that is too positive, that attempts to rest in positive conclusions, only reaches a certain shallow depth of honesty.

From my point of view honesty is mainly subtractive. Usually we have to dislodge ourselves from dogmas and unconscious certainties that keep us from seeing a broader and more profound picture. It’s not a “total destruction” of the temples of old thought; but a fairly precise subtraction, like the subtraction of slivers of wood or shards of stone from a carving, which creates greater clarity and precision. However, in this case, the subtractions change the vision radically, not reductively,  not towards some more and more perfect version of an older idea. But with each subtraction of certainty, entirely new vistas become possible. These vistas, however, are no longer positive and conclusive, but metaphoric and shifting.

In other words, I’m not trying to communicate concepts or ideas. We’ve all heard Korzybski’s “the map is not the territory”. If we understand that as a positive or conclusive concept then we don’t really understand it at all. As a concept it’s merely another “map.” To really understand what he means the statement has to initiate a full stop, which is an action, not an idea or concept, not another map. Almost every essay runs into the limitations of thought and initiates the action of negation, rather than the positing of ideas or concepts.

So a “negative geography” is the “pathless land”, the territory that can’t be mapped.

In short, these essays end up more like fictional experiments or linguistic experiments, not so much strictly analytical. This is what makes them seem odd to most people — they seem analytical on the surface, but they’re a strange stew instead. I’m trying to dig into an uncertainty each time, rather than present some static, dead knowledge that has already been learned. So the essays try to participate in what’s being discussed, partly in hopes of killing the certainty (and delusion) of a lab-coated know-it-all standing somewhat intellectually removed from the carnage of confusion. Off with the narrator’s head! I like to think of them as linguistic acid trips.

I’m sorry these essays seem so unfriendly to readers in some ways. I was focusing on disentangling the blockages to self-transparency, and therefore a bit more focused on an idiosyncratic Other to whom I could bare myself without fear. So it seems complex.

But I think I’m only magnifying attention to what we’re already doing. I’m not inventing complex theories, I’m exposing the hidden complexity of everyday logic.

Jiddu Krishnamurti, David Bohm and Samuel Beckett (among others) are significant to me.

The Manifesto can serve as my “About” on a philosophical level, and I wrote a 10 page comic caracature of my childhood, called Beam Me Up Scotty: The Autobiography of a Space Cadet, .

Contact me by commenting on any given essay. Or you can email jhs11@cornell.edu

I have another site called Subtle Mud (poems and stories mainly), and this is that site’s About.

I’d like to be remembered as the man who mistook himself for his dog, whatever that might mean.

Man who mistook himself for his dog
The Man Who Mistook Himself for His Dog

The essays (and stories) below are mainly from this site. Some are older. I kept the oldest merely as a historical record of the development of this inquiry, not because I like the earliest examples).

  • “That’s the Show, Waiting for the Show”: This “subject” is precisely what the “system of thought” (Bohm) is currently designed (you might say) to avoid. Thes subject lies behind our field of attention, which means it requires a different kind of perception to notice what we’re hiding from ourselves.
  • Practicing a Prismatic Approach on the Mind/Matter Dilemma: Every spin of the prism reveals different spectrums of reality. It’s not “wrong” to see things as scientific materialism does, merely impoverished. The spectrums of reality that materialism reveals are helpful, but not enough. There are other spins of the prism that reveal more about reality.
  • The Limits of Post-Modernism: Professional thinkers (academia) hit a dead end with regards to Meaning and Big Questions. Here’s how I “keep going” through this impasse and find meaning in the absence of certainty.
  • The Immaterial Origins of Life and Intelligence:  We can spin the prism and see things the other way around far more coherently. Higher forms of intelligence encompass and precede the material and mechanical world, preceding and encompassing the intelligence of thought and language, too, just as water vapor encompasses and precedes the more material form of rain. We may only notice the rain of matter first, or the rain of semi-material thoughts and images, and assume that the material plain is the originating source. But there are nested hierarchies which go unnoticed, out of which the more material worlds of matter, biology, imagery and language condense, like rain condensing from invisible air.
  • Coils and Spirals (story): This is a surreal comedy that touches on the difference between life’s expansive spirals and the narrowing forms of rational and machine-driven thinking that end in inanimacy. But I say this in retrospect. In writing I didn’t think about any of this, it was just a humorous way to express something vaguely felt.
  • The Stupidity of Greatness and the Absurdity of Conflict: Even the resolution of this simple question depends on finding a view wider than the widest view of the question – not merely a wider interpretation, but an awareness that encompasses the limits (and therefore valid extent) of every interpretation that is encountered
  • Notes on the Difference Between Open and Closed Views of Evolution: A fissure is forming between visions of evolution as a destiny, an almost perfectly formed human potential, predictable as a linear or logarithmic change; and visions of evolution as a creative field without precedence, a chance to respond in a new way, an utterly empty field, groundless, horrifying too. A fissure between the story of humanity merging with technology, and the mythic story of technology as Temptation, a temptation to tie our fate to a singular power or conclusive ground. 
  • Conversation with the Devil:  The fictional devil says, “I knew a woman who lost her fear of truth completely for a while. She would sit quietly at the end of a work day and see through every trick I tried to play on her mind. She looked right through me. I was dead to her for a while. But I waited until the moment she made a mistake. It was not a mistake that most humans would notice. She didn’t think it was a mistake. She tried to describe her way of looking at the world, in hopes of helping other people she knew who were suffering from mistakes she no longer made. She could see perfectly rightly that she had stumbled into a frame of mind that did not require protections from evil. She was out of it. So the only thing I could think of was to feed her unusually clear insights, help her as much as I could to do good, yes, do good! I had to betray myself a little to get her back.”
  • A Non-Dogmatic Structure of Thinking: I’m identifying this essay as the last in line, having completed its 35 year task, which was to ride language to the limits of language, not in some superlative sense, but to the dropping off point, where territory begins and map stops. A clear recognition of this limit is what I was driving at on a rational level. And I wanted the chance to explore how thought and language change after fully realizing this limit — change into a suspended balance of negative awareness of limits and sparks of metaphor. I’m still going to write here, but I think I’ve done as well at alluding to a different orientation to thought as I’m going to manage. The last few essays have begun to balloon in size again, because I’m not editing things very carefully anymore. And this indicates to me that I need to put an end to this attempt and switch gears somehow or quit entirely. Doubt I’ll quit, but it’s possible. Nevertheless, this essay describes the structure I was trying to find. Less clearly maybe than Neg Knowledge & Eruption of Metaphoric Mentality, but from a better overview perspective I think).
  • Story: The Problem with Guardian Angels
  • The Greatest Paradox:
    • Yes, we can change, because the problem is a mirage of thought. Nothing serious hinders us. But No, we can’t change ourselves intentionally. We can’t organize or pursue this or teach this, or provoke this change, because intention is the excitation of an imaginary exit from the problem itself. (This and “optimistic despair” get to something I couldn’t reach in the past, but both feel a little bloated and the voice isn’t authentic enough here. Signs of coming to the end maybe).
  • An Optimistic Despair
    •  So many academics wrote about Beckett as if he were heavy-footed and somber. To do this they had to ignore or diminish the relentless, light-footed humor gymnastically tripping over every page, especially in the trilogy. That humor came from seeing the situation prismatically, as both a recognition of despair and a recognition of the simple resolution we kept tripping over and never recognizing. The laughter is as deep as the sorrow, because they are inseparable. (But all in all this essay is too wordy and too hastily written, live and learn).
  • A New World Is Only a New Mind
    • What is the nature of a real break in the momentum of thinking? It’s not only a break in the chain reaction of resistance, and a release of the tension wasted in trying to maintain a monument of Self. It’s also the birth of a true individuality, where there is never (never) any established path in learning, where a person sees through their own habits and prejudices as they form, freeing perception from any positive certainty that begins to take root. (This doesn’t, however, imply that cultural traditions are worthless. The unprecedented occurs in that zone of learning where we leap from one solid ledge to another. A leap has to occur which can never be tied to the bedrock of tradition (but it pushes off from there).
  • Abrupt or Gradual Change
    • But it also left me alert to the potential for drastic shifts in awareness; to realize that there is a possibility of leaping like an electron from one orbit of consciousness to another discontinuously, without any gradual transition.
  • Cliff Diving
    • I feel the reality of our larger life now in this utter uncertainty, like wings that beat the empty air but are beginning to feel the pull of the air’s hidden fullness.
  • And Now I Don’t
    • Thought covers the world in a transparency, which is not reality. And as a kid nobody wanted to look at this problem and why it was bothering me, because it was too outlandish to understand. (Only in March, 2022, did I learn that this particular fear I experienced as a kid is called “depersonalization/derealization”, and I might talk about that some day from that perspective).
  • Technical Note on Why the Last Essay Wasn’t Really About Writing
    • The same interplay between a “You”, “I” and “Me” is constantly happening in our heads the way it happens on the page (where the footprints of thought can be pursued more easily).
  • I See You Now
    • Maybe I could summarize all this by saying it’s the imagination of a sympathetic ear that creates sympathy; and the imagination of honesty that lures an honest mentality into existence.
  • The Need for Comedy and Illusion
    • The damn voice is always chattering, saying, “oh the sky is beautiful today!”, and the very statement helps to create the impression (of myself and for myself) that I’m enjoying life, when in fact, at this moment at least, I’m straining to merely be quiet enough to notice something other than this constantly chattering Self, that hydra-headed pain in the ass.
  • Everyday Schizophrenia
    • I suspect that this world is an endless onion of parallel realities, and that a change in the way we connect the dots opens up the possibility of walking into those worlds. The danger lies only in being wholly submerged into any of them without maintaining a negative awareness of the limits of each one.
  • Truth and Distortion
    • It’s impossible to comprehend anything without some distortion of actuality. Because in order to understand anything, I have to ignore and lose my comprehension of something else.
  • A Minor Pop of Sound and Fury
    •  Like some great wrestler, the human species is flipped 180 degrees on its back, where it submits to justifying the repression of its own young as a way of maintaining the inorganic life of the system itself.
  • Story: Kingswit
  • We Are Like Squid
    • A prismatic perspective changes the nature of a conversation. When we realize that thought is not actual, but fictional, then answers, and the deceptions necessary to defend those answers, both go extinct. They become archaeological artefacts of a world that has ceased to exist.
  • The Predator Is Real:
    • But the point is, a real predator has coalesced around these qualities. But our description of it is only metaphoric.
  • Defeating the Predator:
    • Beware Inorganic Beings of all shapes and sizes! Should the human being perceive the trap in a burst of lightning, you’re toast. We are on the threshold of life even as we approach the edge of suicide. The time has come to be honest like never before. This is one of my best efforts.
  • Why Am I Writing:
    • I’m addressing that wider, peripheral mind that knows a deeper, non-verbal form of honesty, and which belongs to everyone. It’s everyone’s potential I’m addressing. I’m talking to that impersonal (non-defensive) honesty, which is the seedling of a truer life in me and you. It grows from a shared ground; although each person becomes an idiosyncratic expression of that ground.
  • Story: When I was Seven Years Old I Was Abducted by Aliens
    • The size of the world seemed to pull from me a deep breath after years of imprisonment, as if I were not merely 7, but ancient, and I laughed in a way that cleansed me of every ancient worry, which I could also describe as tears of joy, as if some secret fear had been demolished by the mere encounter with a world so gigantic.
  • The Schizophrenic Crisis: 
    • I’m not looking at schizophrenia for the moment as a sickness, but as a more or less inevitable development or consequence of a species that refines thought to such an extent that it becomes confused by its own images and beliefs and mistakes them for reality itself.
  • Might Makes Right: 
    • Interestingly, these drowning people desperate for certainty almost seem to act as agents of necessary destruction, choosing saviors who can magnify their own fearful anger, multiplying the self-destructive violence that hastens the empire’s fall.
  • The Limits of Ken Wilber:
    • To me, Wilber’s emphasis on inclusion and transcendence betrays an overly “positive” focus; almost as if he were inviting the ego to imagine its own infinite expansion, and to ignore the discontinuity of extinction that is inevitable and necessary in any real change of heart and mind.
  • Starving the Tree of Racism:
    • It’s helpful to distinguish covert and overt forms of racism, and how an unconscious Literalism lies at the root of all problems, including racism.
  • Story: A Fly Fable
    • And the Amoral of the story is that we see the world and everyone we know through the old and distorting plate glass of language and thought, rarely meeting actuality in the flesh, contending primarily with only these tinted reflections of reality, stuck for millennia now between the frames of fight and flight. But lo and behold
  • Why this Shit Matters
    • Till now, there was an implicit hypocrisy in talking about problems from the writer’s high horse, and then immediately falling off the horse in a pile of horseshit when the writing was done. But here is a way to write actively, by dissolving reductive visions and changing your mind. In a sense, constantly falling into the shit and enjoying it.
  • Negative Knowledge and the Eruption of a Metaphoric Mentality
    • 2nd in a series on the relation between story and reality. This takes me very close to the edge of a radically new way of relating to reality.
  • An Honest Fairy Tale Retold:
    • My sister’s life as a fairy tale.
  • An Honest Fairy Tale
    • 1st in a series of essays taking a deeper dive into the relationship between story and reality.
  • Story (comedy): The Oven Mitt
    • These are psychopathic times. Empathy is falling. Guilt is fake empathy.
  • The Delusions of Me, Myself and AI: On the Origins of Our Crises:
    • An attempt at writing a two-voiced essay. To survive the age of AI we’ll be forced to change the nature of thinking and learning.
  • Funnel Vision
    • One way to describe meditation. And perhaps trigger it.
  • Extinction and Responsibility
    • Even if it becomes clear that extinction is unavoidable, we can still have a meaningful relationship to everything.
  • The Radical Derelict
    • I could have held up the Dude in The Big Lewbowsky, or Hobbits, as examples of lives well lived. But I discussed the bums in Cannery Row. Same thing.
  • “And I said, with rapture, Here is something I can study all my life and never understand!”
    • A coherent relationship to reality is never knowing anything for sure.
  • What Is Real?
    • Tough to read probably, but one of my best efforts. This is the question that is chasing me, or perhaps the question I’m chasing. Never to be answered, only to be asked in ever more profound ways. Took me a godawful 14 months to write.
  • Death Is the Mother of Beauty
    • Do I dare not only look into the heart of darkness, and finally face what is monstrous in me, but do I dare face what is beautiful?
  • You Say You Want a Revolution?
    • A focus on systemic solutions presumes the need to organize human relationships from the top down. Old fragmentations are then built into every new system. There’s another kind of revolution that sidesteps this problem.
  • Alchemical Writing
    • I want to delve into the hard bones of our certainties and feel them transform into a fluid of shifting perspectives. I want writing to become an alchemical action.
  • A Revolution on the Periphery
    • We are going through a revolution, but it’s not grounded in politics and it’s not something we can champion. It’s something we have to stop obstructing in so many small ways.
  •  The Meaning of Confidence: A Brief Appendix to Direct and Indirect Meaning
    • When nothing that I know about myself is real, when everything is only a story, whose narrative lines are always being bent by ferocious headwinds of fight and flight, by a desire for admiration, where do I find a foundation upon which to live a confident and humane life?
  • Direct and Indirect Meaning (Being and Constructing)
    • Is there an unmediated intelligence — that is, a direct intelligence of the things around us that does not require language whatsoever? An intelligence that is not judgement, conclusion, idea, thought, story, theory, any of it?
  • Limited Infinities
    • Within the frame of a painting, a book, a movie (maybe), a garden, something infinite can emerge. But if these disciplines become the method by which we find meaning in living, then they become limited infinities.
  • Four Elements of a Kaleidoscopic (or Ritualized) Perspective
    • If we could appreciate the beauty of theory then we might recognize when it’s in play, and not confuse thought with actuality. Not get stuck on dogmas.
  • Matter and Meaning
    • Meaning is not an abstract realm, not something separate from the material world. It’s not a heaven or a hell floating free of base matter. Matter itself is the beloved body of meaning.
  • Ritual, Part II: Bewitching, Initiating and Ritualized Languages
    • A proposal to look at thought as having negative, neutral and positive modes.
  • Ritual: Part 1
    • Beyond the rocks of dichotomy there are no final answers. Something better. A kaleidoscope of ever-more far-reaching questions. They restore movement, a new beginning. A long delayed initiation. A new sense of ritual.
  • Conversation with Pat Styer About the Role of Words, August, 2009
    • What is a fact? It’s a slippery fish.
  • The Epiphany of No Purpose
    • In a moment of comic bathos we simply relent to the bald fact that we know almost nothing but second-hand knowledge (i.e., bullshit). Then the whole slip-knot of self-induced, low-burn misery which passes for thinking softens into a forgiving and innocent laugh.
  • Death’s Good Intentions
    • One of the most beautifully balanced pieces of negative knowledge is this one by David Bohm: “A change in meaning is a change in being.” This can initiate a collapse or a leap or whatever we wish to call it. A discontinuity, a death. When fundamental meanings change, we live fundamentally differently.
  • Leaping into the Deep End
    • I’ve been groping towards the idea that we need a different kind of knowledge, one that doesn’t leave us stranded back on the bank next to dreamy Narcissus.
  • A Proprioceptive Mirror
    • It takes an elaborate system of metaphoric mirrors to show us the missing “half” of our vision of the world. And in the end the reader has to make the intellectually short, but disconcerting, leap through the looking glass. Where we end up is Nowhere — in a place that language and even the imagination can’t reach.
  • Imagine the Limits of the Imagination 
    • This and part Two are some of my best efforts. A long time coming: “I think this offers a clue to what imagination can and can’t do. It can imagine the limits of its own domain, but it can’t imagine what lies “beyond.” It’s customary to raise imagination on a pedestal, projecting unlimited powers to this dimension of existence. And I think this glorification of imagination actually does it disservice and can quickly devolve to sloppy, new age thinking. And by failing to appreciate the limits of imagination, we also accidentally fail to appreciate its real potential.”
  • A Moment to Drift
    • I don’t think we can positively aim at being unself-conscious or free of fragmentation. I think it happens in an almost slapstick manner, by running headlong into fragmented habits of thinking without recoiling in a fragmented manner.
  • Manifesto
    • Why I feel the need to write.
  • Identität in einer Landschaft des Widerspruchs
    • (Identity in a Landscape of Contradictions)
  • Der Knoten der Identität (The Knot of Identity)
  • kampf-flucht-und-verwandlung: : Eine Choreografie der Entfremdung
    • (Fight, Flight and Metamorphosis: A Choreography of Alienation (in Kafka’s Metamorphosis))
  • The Title Goes Here (satirical philosophical essay/story/nonsense about the double-bind)
  • Beam Me Up Scotty (humorous fictionalized biography dealing with the Self)
  • Intro and part I Negative Geography (2000)
  • What is the sound of one entity yapping: or the Thermodynamics of Thought (1995) — I don’t like this, but including it as part of the trace NG inquiry has taken. “Is there a sound addressed not wholly to the ear” wrongly attributed by me in the essay to Eliot. It’s William Carlos Williams.
  • Original Negative Geography
    • First version, written as satire (1985). Sophomoric, but it gave me the idea of approaching things negatively. A joke turned serious. Not good, just for the record.
  • Madness-Sin-and-Boredom: Life as a Wraith
    • College paper that was precursor to Negative Geography (1983):
 
Jeff Shampnois

 

Various selves below:

 
Wearing the professional mask, circa 2013

Mad mask, picking blueberries, 2021


Oddball mask
Pathfinder mask, 2021

2021 photos courtesy of my brother Tom Shampnois

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