Archive for the ‘history’ Category
We exist in a social and intellectual world that is deeply schizophrenic. As the tradition of the Marxists reminds us, society is constructed and constrained by class, economics, and control of the means of production. Thinkers from the Frankfurt School extended the idea of limits and constraint into the realm of the academic and aesthetic, speaking of “instrumental rationality” and “the culture industry.” Philosopher Michel Foucault showed us how our very bodies and minds are disciplined and ordered by dominant knowledge forms, forms that further shape our most basic institutions. His project of trying to intervene into this normalizing process with his deep quasi-psychiatric analysis and treatment of post-Enlightenment society met with mixed results.
Postmodern thinkers like Derrida and Lyotard have added further complications, undermining the notion of grand narratives and even the fixed meaning of text itself. At times it seems we are left in a chaotic, endlessly confusing, frustratingly relativist world. Few still revel in this intellectual morass without any even vague guideposts, much as it at times does provide for dynamic and playful aesthetic outbursts.
And thus we are left with life. Life constantly ordered, organized, constrained, systematized, analyzed, institutionalized, disciplined, proscribed, described, and, sadly at times, senselessly destroyed.
But, despite these factors, life is a constant reminder of the small, essential truth of vitalism. It remains, sometimes only in slight, subtle ways, sometimes only in fits and starts, ultimately unpredictable in any universal sense. No ordered, mechanistic, technocratic system, regardless of its ferocity or scale, can completely consume life’s endlessly unpredictable and dynamic process of becoming.
Power is a heady and dominant notion in our world, but life is, in its essential nature, beyond the constraints of power. To believe in life as life, to accept some small segment of the idea of vitalism, is to, in the final analysis, “fight the power.”
N.B. The original draft of this text is about fifteen years old…It was recently rediscovered and necromantically re-animated and re-purposed as a blog post.
Much of what gets posted on this blog is essentially ephemera — random thoughts, idle speculation, little morsels of meaning, and the occasional snapshot. But I do also produce more cohesive work in my “real life” as a historian and philosopher of science. Believe me, in the age of the corporate university, that’s a lot less glamorous than it sounds.
Anyway, without further ado (well, maybe a bit more ado) here’s a link to a semi-popular piece that I wrote last spring in the literary e-magazine Berfrois about breathing, mindfulness and their simple transformative potential.
So take a deep breath and dive right in!
L. Sprague de Camp
They say the men of magic are all dead.
No more does the diviner in his swoon
Perceive the future in his mystic smokes;
No more the reckless sorcerer invokes
A demon fell to serve him. Xaltotun,
Imhotep, Merlin, and the rest, it’s said
Are gone from modern life.
But yesteryear, one who, the tale relates,
Was called MacGregor Mathers, Kabbalist,
Had built his Order of the Golden Dawn,
Donned robes, and struggled with the Devil’s spawn –
The wizard Crowley, skulking Satanist –
And, exiled, played at four-men chess with Yeats,
A ghost, and Mathers’ wife.
Then, too, in London sat, with cigarette
In hand, unkempt and testy, azure-eyed,
The uncrowned empress of the occult world –
Huge Helena Blavatsky. Round her swirled
A horde of chelas who, though daily plied
With dicta from Mahatmas in Tibet,
Were locked in frenzied strife.
And what bewhiskered Alchemist of yore
Made gold from lead with such astute address
As Mrs. Eddy, Hubbard, and their kind
Turn doctrines full of gibberish refined
To fortunes from the dupes that they impress?
With such, as in the mystic times before,
The world will long be rife.
From Anne McCaffrey, ed., Alchemy & Academe (New York: Ballantine, 1970), 41-2.
[N.B. Synchromystically, this is the 666th post on this blog...]
“Burroughs posits an information virus (or ‘virus’ [like]). (Not so, KW says.)
If that plasmic energy is alive, and it is (or it carries) information, then we have living information. Logos? Information plasma which enters through the optic nerve primarily — or auditorily. Signals that control our brains, open GABA blocked circuits. Like pressing keys on a typewriter.
Once having entered the person’s brain via the optic nerve it now modulates brain functioning so that the person subliminally transduces messages (including instructions) and hence is a ‘cell’ in the brain, responding to sentient override — lifted out of the blind forces of the Yin realm, his actions integrated with that of all others like him. It’s like a beehive, a colony entity, and is immortal, replenishing and shedding continually. Member-units (v. Schopenhauer on the fruit flies*).
*In The World as Will and Representation, vol.1, Schopenhauer uses beehives and ant-colonies as an example of the “will-without-knowledge” working in nature.”
From Pamela Jackson and Jonathan Lethem, eds., The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2011), 360, 907.
A Windy Afternoon on Gordon Beach
My notebook pages flutter in the wind,
in harmony with the cresting surf.
It’s almost summer – the sun is warm.
Its heat keeps me comfortable amid a stiff cool breeze.
The sky is piercing blue, but clouds gather
on the mountains across the Strait.
My thoughts echo this meteorological moment;
unstable, mercurial, transient.
The surf is an undisciplined mind,
unrelentingly crashing against the shore.
of pointless splash and foam.
There’s a pulse in the salty air –
unimaginable storehouses of flow
lie just under waves.
I could sit here forever,
if not for the sound of my conscience.
Even the regular, solid chunk of dying waves
cannot drown it out.
Will there come a time
when I can just let go?
When all there is
is wind, wood, and the stormy sea.
Is it now?
I see thick, heavy clouds
looming over hazy mountains.
The Strait a dappled tapestry
of sparkling light and whitecaps.
Green rollers veined with a champagne froth
Fronds of wild grass wave in the wind
as a crow flies by.
I look at the stones before me.
Worn smooth, in time,
by that unrelenting flow.
I think, like those stones,
we are all worn smooth.
I close my notebook,
and its pages cease to flutter.
Why so many thoughts of her? Do I still love her? Or do I want to be her? The whole glossy fashion magazine life – the right brands, the right places. Somewhere between lululemon and YSL is Nirvana. There was – is – a regal grace about the woman that’s really sexy. The pinnacle of a plug for United Colors of Benetton extolling the virtue of temperance.
I imagine her also in a luxuriance only dreamed of in some Arabian legend of gold and wishes granted. Delighting in massage after massage at the hands of big strong men while little Asian ladies give the eternal pedicure – a kind of state of permanent blissful grooming.
In my thoughts, her Adidas tennis skirt is always hitched up revealingly, instantly recalling the après game, set and match. Her soul served in a chilled vodka (Absolut?) and cranberry cocktail, sitting on a mosaic-covered table overlooking the town of Santorini – bathed in sun and the snazziest French produit de soleil. She is certainly a tart du tropique.
Then there is the innate mastery of arts gastronomique. She will always be rosy and smiling, filled with Paris, fine wine and enough chocolate mousse to choke une cheval. Her lovely long blonde hair forever bathed in the candlelight of a bustling Parisian restaurant. Dinner at Chez Janou, for the rest of time.
Well, anyway, cheers to you madame. On avait l’amour, si meme pas pour longtemps.