I made a big and interesting mistake in trying to ascertain who you are in the essay “I See You Now.” Even the title sounded threatening. But this is what Negative Geography was built to handle — a place where I can stare back at my own footprints in the subtle mud of language and decipher where I go wrong.
And some of these mistakes reveal ancient confusions, ancient in that they are not entirely personal mistakes, but self-injurious reactions to transgenerational traumas as Mate tends to describe it, stretching back through human history beyond reckoning.
From one angle, this is the kind of mistake that our parents wisely warned us against — staring too long into the image reflected in the water, because we’ll drown in confusion.
However, I’m no longer susceptible to this fear. I think it’s because I already drowned a long time ago and now I’m beginning to crawl back to the shore like some kind of primordial shape, picture a mud puppy if you need to.
The first surface mistake was in devaluing the deeper personal and impersonal relationships I have with many of you. You aren’t some abstract conception of an Other; you are not merely mined for your value and then discarded, which is what I described. But the image I hold of the person listening is mysterious to me still, as if I’m picturing a mind that is still forming; but one that is partially revealing itself in many of you; and sometimes even in brief exchanges with strangers on a bus; with everyone who carries that charge of honesty that can change a life; and all this feeds the image of a wider mind that is listening, a real mind, in flesh and blood. And I made the mistake of accidentally discounting the fact that this potential is visible in real people reading, and is not abstract and disembodied.
So this led to the the second surface mistake — a failure to acknowledge how important these ongoing dialogues with you are in everything I write.
The underlying error, however, is solipsism. But solipsism is not merely a fancy way of describing a self-centered outlook.
Is it too small a story to say I do things independently, as if I were an outside agent? Is it more reasonable to say that it’s the environment that thinks through me and through every tree, bird, person or breath of wind, each an energetic and idiosyncratic manifestation of earthly intelligence?
This body becomes an aspect of its surroundings the moment the assertion of my differences ceases. if I’m not constantly thinking about myself, I dissolve into the world itself.
It requires a story to create a sense of independence. Relax for a moment and I disappear. But disappear only as something alienated from earth and others.
You could tell the story that the woods “inspire Me”. But that’s a story that misses something large. Inspiration IS seeing that tree’s connection and inseparability from intelligence. Intelligence arises between you and me, between trees and me too, and the little stream below where I sit carries the voice of my own intelligence.
This may sound fanciful, but it’s a more practical vision, a more factual one. Less dependent on an imaginary being who somehow “sits in” this body, who carries the name “I”, a little director I used to call “Zingryo” as a kid, sitting on a throne behind the eyes. He is “me”, and when he thinks about himself he is thinking about an Other of sorts, as if this Self he is thinking about were somehow still outside him, always one step removed, as Beckett observed.
Goofy as it might sound, I’ve been trying to do something for 40 years that is almost impossible. I’ve been grinding my teeth on this thing against all good advice, pouring all my energy into what probably looks like an obscure and meaningless (or maybe just confused and confusing) thing.
The Buddhists say that the truth can’t be spoken; that words are a distraction from what is real, because language is a virtual reality that convinces us that it’s not virtual. So language is essentially a delusion, which can never help us encounter what is real. Reality is found off the page, not on it.
And the same goes for thought and feeling and imagery. It’s all a kind of curtain that pretends to be showing something beyond the curtain, where in fact nothing at all is found. We make up everything.
Look, the Buddha knew his shit. And I’m not disputing what the Buddhists say above. In fact, it was my starting point, not as an idea or belief (because I’d never heard of Buddhism), but as a terror. If for some reason you suddenly learn that you’re trapped behind a film of language, feeling, thought and imagery and that everything you experience is imaginary, then there is no “getting off the page” into reality. It’s like being stuck in a hall of mirrors. It’s not a choice.Read More »