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, non-linguistic. “Truth” doesn’t disappear, but changes at this juncture from positive certainty to negative discovery. Truth changes shape but doesn’t disappear.
Sometimes I wonder why I can’t stop all this burrowing into the bones of thought (as I like to think I’m doing).
But that’s when I forget what I love. I love feeling those bones, the hidden, labyrinthine structures supporting our simplistic surface consciousness. And I love encountering my own shocking assumptions, the ones I didn’t even realize I had until I started fumbling around among those bones.Read More »
“[T]here is a universal flux that cannot be defined explicitly but which can be known only implicitly, as indicated by the explicitly definable forms and shapes, some stable and some unstable, that can be abstracted from the universal flux. In this flow, mind and matter are not separate substances. Rather, they are different aspects of our whole and unbroken movement.”
― David Bohm, Wholeness and the Implicate Order
A Place for Words
I’m hoping the word “epiphany” carries a bathetic meaning. I hope it signifies a “ludicrous descent from the exalted to the commonplace.” But in this case a descent from the high horse of a ludicrous certainty to the banal wisdom of uncertainty. Being dis-illusioned in the best sense.
The epiphany doesn’t have a pedagogic purpose either. It’s only a moment without resistance to one’s folly. A receptive mentality. But not a proscribing or self-help mentality. Therefore without ulterior purpose. Banal in its own way. At least from the standpoint of conventional wisdom, which tends to picture a dumb blankness in the absence of knowing.Read More »
“The illusion that the self and the world are broken into fragments originates in the kind of thought that goes beyond its proper measure and confuses its own product with the same independent reality. To end this illusion requires insight, not only into the world as a whole, but also into how the instrument of thought is working. Such insight implies an original and creative act of perception into all aspects of life, mental and physical, both through the senses and through the mind, and this is perhaps the true meaning of meditation.”
― David Bohm, Wholeness and the Implicate Order
The Reductive Bewitchment of a Literal Language
The literal mood of language is necessary for carrying out almost any practical work. It’s dominant in following a blueprint (a legitimate authority), or in honing a craft. And it plays a subordinate role in art, teaching techniques for working in any medium.
In its “proper” context this language could be described as “positive”, “practical” or “technical.” In a utilitarian context the connection between the useful thing one describes (such as the word “hammer”) and the hammer itself is so close that almost all awareness of the meta-level functionality of words recedes (or never develops).
The witchery begins when a literal language spills over into conventional life; when it’s used to talk about ideas – about opinions, goals, and identities. Then opinion posits itself as a literal description of material reality. Fixed. Truth. Not mere opinion.Read More »
I recently had the pleasure (along with my brother Brian) of meeting Tony Dias at the train station in Old Saybrook, CT.
It was a good talk. And at first I thought we’d walked into a Beckett play.
My brother and Ithought we’d arrived early. There was a sign at the intersection that seemed to proclaim the correct address, 355 Boston Post Road, but the name of the cafe was wrong. I told the bartender I was looking for the “Old Saybrook Cafe” at 355 Boston Post Road. He’d never heard of it.
So we kept waiting next to the misleading sign. Iwas reluctant to call Tony on my brother’s cell phone because I didn’t want to seem impatient. I have some inhibitions of that sort that I claim to find amusing.Read More »