Post-Modernism as a Depersonalization/Derealization Crisis

Source: Artbreeder.com

Between the idea
And the Reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow

From “The Hollow Men,” by TS Eliot

I notice that I share a fundamental starting assumption with post-modernism – the realization that everything is a story, and the impossibility of obtaining “positive certainty” about the full nature of anything.

Even the factual things people do manage to measure with precision are already fictional distinctions premised on limited assumptions. We imagine different ways of separating and measuring what is otherwise an infinite but unrealized potential, the so-called Void.

And I understand (but don’t share) their tendency to make no distinction between thought and thing, because the “thing” is also a thought. Everything we know is put together by narrative – it’s all a fiction. Peering through the post-modern lens, everything, in other words, is just language. From this angle there is no reality beyond language, or no meaning beyond what language ascribes.

There is insight here, but there is also a very subtle blunder. It’s the same one I made as a teenager when I fell into a depersonalization/derealization crisis, which is a terrifying physical and psychological conviction that nothing is real.

Here’s what this post-modern insight misses: If all conclusive meaning (Truth or Reality) is fictional, then this information itself – this negative discovery – is an example of an insight that is non-fictional. The nature of “truth” doesn’t disappear, but changes at this juncture from positive certainty to negative discovery. Truth changes shape but doesn’t disappear.

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The Secret Harmony of Knowing Nothing

Certain experiences defy description. That is, the tacitly accepted stories that define reality are sometimes undermined by anomalous events.

Tacitly accepted stories are everywhere. They are as omnipresent as water to a fish, holding us in place, and often similarly invisible. That’s because we tend to accept the stories into which we were born as if they weren’t stories, but perfectly accurate descriptions of reality. Some people (a nasty phrase, see footnote Number 1 below) believe that this is necessary, and that the task of education is to indoctrinate children into holding tight to these stories, because these stories define shared identities and values. That’s why some people don’t want to teach children our full and honest history, preferring the white-washed versions that encourage a population’s willingness to maintain historical privileges. To some, the underlying story or philosophy (indoctrination) that drives them is the belief that “it’s a dog-eat-dog world”, a matter of might making right. And this tautology justifies the lies of omission and elision that hold the culture’s narrative in place. They say, see, every other culture does this too, so why should we give up our story and make ourselves weaker than the others?

So honesty becomes a dangerous thing. And this is why reflecting on things “philosophically” (which is merely being honest about the hidden philosophies driving us) is “not interesting” to most people. They might not admit this outright, but most people are frightened by questioning things too much. They don’t want to disturb the surface images that define their world. They’ve learned to fear reality, and conflate their own lives with the surface reflections they diligently (as good children) learned to embody, and this philosophy is called “being practical.”

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Conversation with the Devil


Interviewer (I): just to clarify, this was your idea, I’ve asked nothing from you. There’s no Faustian bargain I’m facing?

Devil: That’s right, your soul is safe. From me, at least.

I: There are other dangers than you?

Devil: Well, I’m not sure how safe it is to believe in God, because we’re intimately tied. I’m His shadow. Anything with a shadow like me isn’t entirely safe.

I: How would I know if you’re telling me the truth about any of this?

Devil: I’m not asking you to trust me, the ones who trust are foolish. I’m appealing to your intelligence, which is foolish maybe on my part. But if I wasn’t capable of being honest I’d only be able to deceive the fools, and what fun is there in that?

I: So your honesty implies an ulterior motive?

Devil: Yes, of course. But I’m intrigued by the possibility of being a deceiver who never tells a lie, even a lie of omission. Can I deceive you by being honest?

I: But if you’re using honesty to deceive me then you’re not really being honest are you?

Devil: That’s true, I’m banned from the realms of honesty, so I don’t know what honesty really is. And yet everything I say is truthful, I’m not hiding anything from you. If you ask me whether I’m deceiving you in some way I’ll even admit that. Nothing I say is a lie, but it’s not good enough. Hell isn’t so hot, you know, it’s an unbearable condition. But somehow it’s also what I want, do you see what I mean? I want to deceive you. The honest state, the heavenly state, makes me sick, it repulses me. That’s what it means to be banned from heaven, to be repulsed by it. But the deceptions repulse me too. So I have nowhere to lie my head.

I: You don’t know your own motives then?

Devil: Not all of them, no. I’m bored with deception, it’s never quite real, you know what I mean? I don’t like being locked out of any kingdom. If all I can do is live in fictions then I’m not real. I’m attracted to Truth as a moth to flame.

I: Are you saying that the truth destroys you, that you seek what destroys you? Are you trying to commit suicide by Cop, so to speak?

Devil: Am I doing God’s work by trying to destroy myself, in other words? Maybe, but I don’t feel that virtuous. Personally, I want nothing, but I want nothing passionately. I want to annihilate the world. I want to commit suicide by murdering God, leaving the world in the neutrality of non-existence so I don’t have to regret or long for anything ever again. But I can’t even be sure because I lie to myself. Lies are the worms of my living corpse. I can’t escape them, and they’re unbearable. I need someone to confirm this pain, so that I can feel real. I suppose you need to suffer for my sins.

I: You seem more confused than I expected.

Devil: I’m the roiling hell of fragmentation, what did you expect? But there are so many kingdoms that form within this mass, within me, momentary kingdoms that I inhabit, where all is calm and sweet, so that I begin to wonder if I’m not in fact the whole of creation itself, God Himself if you will, creating worlds out of chaos. Is it possible?

I: You would trap me in an answer that looks reasonable.

Devil: No, I was just wondering. If I’m unable to enter that other kingdom, then how do I know it exists? Have I invented God in order to make a distinction that grants me the space to Be? Is hell this solipsism? I don’t expect you to answer this, but these are the motives that drive me to capture souls, to share my torment. But enough of this metaphysical speculation. I’m on steadier ground when I discuss my practical methods of capture.

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I See You Now

Would you believe me if I said I don’t want to call attention to myself? It would seem impossible because I’m placing these private and somewhat personally unnerving words out there on Facebook, for one thing.

But personal attention makes me sick. And yet I couldn’t find you until I placed these things in some kind of public thoroughfare. I didn’t care if it was just a park bench. Someplace where you might happen along, allowing me to imagine you.

A park bench is almost perfect, but not quite believable enough, because I’m sure these words would be pecked to pieces by a passing pigeon or thrown up on by a drunk, before anyone real like you happened along.

And so I tried a publication like Counterpunch, fairly broad and relatively easy to access. But periodicals have a far too particular outlook, are too demanding in what they want from me. I’m not inclined to work at molding myself to anyone’s demands. I need a thoroughfare that is utterly open-ended and will not lead to any kind of fame, which would destroy my solitude or anonymity. But the thoroughfare still needs to be larger than a park bench in order to allow me to convincingly imagine you as a passing stranger with a mind as large as God’s.

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The Need for Comedy and Illusion

The problem with essays is that they tempt the writer to speak from a podium of sorts, as if he or she (let’s say he, because I’m talking about myself obviously), as if he were Walter Cronkite, the last representative of the True Believers in solid facts at the center of life, fading out to extremes of fantasy on the left and right.

But that’s not a valid picture of honesty, because there is no solid center if I am learning. The center is precisely the place where suspension and uncertainty live. Nothing is known; all is shifting perspective.

But in saying this I end up sounding like I’m standing at a podium again, and the hypocrisy this generates is fascinating, if nothing else.

Essays generally leave a stench of dishonesty no matter how honest they try to be. I think there’s another way to write essays, and that’s what I’m exploring.

I wish I could ask the reader to bear with me while I say this next sentence, because this statement is just a door to a larger room, but here it is: I’m not really interested in helping anyone. That’s not why I write. I write because I enjoy tracking down and confronting my own dishonesties.

What I am, at best, is honest about my own dishonesties. And I DO think that facing dishonesty is a good thing for the culture, because the culture is not facing its dishonesties, and I’m pretty sure that this will shortly be the cause of our extinction. But even if I feel this way, that’s not my motive.

I think it’s the other way around: I don’t think I can have a motive if I’m honest. I think I can only have a motive to be dishonest. Honesty is merely being without duplicity. There’s no effort involved if there’s no duplicity. So honesty is an empty condition, negated of all efforts, which are in fact efforts to hide from myself. So honesty is incredibly lazy, a slacker of sorts. There’s nothing moral about it. I do nothing and I’m honest. If I do something about it, then I’m squirming, looking for an advantage, an improvement, anything but the truth.

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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.

Try to avoid this, try to understand anything perfectly, and all you’ll do, dear imaginary reader, is distort your awareness by this great ambition, obtaining some glimmer of clarity at the expense of a singled-minded focus that causes pain in direct proportion to the pleasure it produced. That’s why Beckett said, “The tears of the world are a constant quantity. For each one who begins to weep somewhere else another stops. The same is true of the laugh.” 

So I can’t fall headlong into a particular story and take it as gospel, because there is always distortion. Focus is a distortion of the field of vision. Where there is focus there is a loss of wider attention.

And there is no way to obtain a perfectly wide field of attention because the universe will always be wider than these 6” brains can span.

So I can’t look at distortion as a problem that needs to be eliminated. It’s part of the process of thinking, that’s all. And it needs to be acknowledged and realized, because otherwise thought operates under the deluded assumption that it can solve everything eventually. And thought can’t solve the problems thought itself creates.

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Defeating the Predator: The Limits of Insights and Convincing Ideas


Thanks to Dirk’s House of the Sun for the image and for interesting commentary: http://www.soul-guidance.com/houseofthesun/predators.html

“We have a predator that came from the depths of the cosmos, and took over the rule of our lives. Human beings are its prisoners.” …

From “Active Side of Infinity”, by Carlos Castaneda


Intro

I hate the loneliness of dishonesty, when I’ve broken some intimate connection with another by holding a poisonous secret. Or maybe it’s the loneliness of being trapped behind a false front, invisible to everyone.

I want to get down from the high horse that writing seems to conjure, because it’s not honest. I’m a mess too. I’m crawling around in the mud after having fallen off my high horse for the millionth time, crouched down among the dirty socks and muddy water, as you are too, nudging you in the ribs to ask “what the fuck is happening here?” Candor is what is needed now, and sometimes I don’t know how to be candid.

It makes me want to shout, like Ronny Cammareri, “I’m not a monument to justice!”

Here’s what I think is happening: We’re facing ourselves in the flesh, you and I, slowly maybe, but the world is forcing the issue, as we hit limits in every direction. We’re being forced to face ourselves without false fronts. In fits and starts to be sure. And as a percentage, not many of us, but millions here and there, now and then.

And this means we’re breaking now and then into a kind of impersonal point of view, where my sense of Self, my wooden character, my public persona, is seen to be coming apart at the seams. And this is good news, but it makes for a very chaotic person, who takes things personally, like a puppet of reactivity, in one instant, and then impersonally, and with unflustered bemusement in the next.

I feel like Pinocchio, parts of me feel almost alive at times.

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Why Am I Writing?

Photo by Aaron Burden

I don’t write because I know something. I write because I don’t. This is the narrative of someone who isn’t fully developed and never will be, and who sees things partially.

Writing occurs when a growing tangle of questions (or contradictions between my everyday life and a wider, less self-defensive perspective) becomes uncomfortable, much like a hairball in a cat. So I’m forced to disgorge this tangle in the form of yet another story or essay.

However, it’s not as if there’s a Right answer to anything and all undeveloped perspectives are simply sophomoric. Every definitive conclusion to my questions and contradictions would remain sophomoric (I remind myself), because there is no positive answer, only negative observations (of what is not true).

But this absence of certainties doesn’t imply the absence of honesty. At any stage of development, at any consistent depth of perception, I’m honest to the degree allowed by that particular depth. At a certain depth, the honesty may be only verbal. At another it may be more behavioral (trying to live up to moral codes and such). Or at still another it might be self-lucidity, the ability to recognize the persistent failure to live up to codes, and the kindness inherent in not trying to be perfect anymore, which is an honesty that exceeds morality. They’re all forms of honesty, but some reach deeper.

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