I wrote and recorded this song today to capture the mood I am in.
Greetings friends. I am reconciled with my wife, moved back home, and love her more than my own life. I’ve been doing well at my job – it was iffy for a while! – and over all life is beautiful once again. I’ve been working on this essay intently for a week, and can no longer stand to look at it. The theme is that we must read life and realize that style resonance is the basis of finding our place in the world. As usually, my ideas are all over the place – this is the allistic style – but I try to subordinate them to the key them. I will return to this essay in four months for the next draft, so your feedback is helpful
Take care, Caretakers!
Daniel Christopher June
I cannot engage an author whose style and tone do not resonate with me. An author who is my own I recognize immediately – the same with people. Nietzsche I can read forever, always gaining more, feeding on him as if it were leaves fallen from my own limbs. Emerson and Whitman are the same. Deleuze I could not get three feet into without feeling sick. The style interrupts itself nonstop, in the French postmodern style, so thick and congested with allusions and quotations that within seconds my head is spinning and ears clamoring. I can’t read a sentence of William Gass without disgust. Yet anything written in the American Renaissance breathes well with me. Its all in the touch of the clause, the assonance of vowels, and the smile on the author’s face. A style shows me my own. The soul beneath the words chose them and gives them to me like a Valentine.
Style is emanation of the innermost. Those born from the same spark as us resonate to us, style to style. Every man is like a god, each who has some bird, plant, or animal sacred to him – “the eagle, which is sacred to Zeus” – so that we find from our innermost name the corresponding analogies in nature. The unique shape of our soul requires an external system to fully express and fulfill it: we seek a circle of friends, but a circle of a certain shape and orbit, perhaps bent a little this way, perhaps bent a little that. The soul finds its shape scattered here and there throughout history, as if a trickster god had reached into his heart at the beginning of time, and scattered diamonds of his soul throughout the mix of things. Sometimes, it takes decades to fall in love, to let an idea sink deep into the soul and permeate the soul. The soul must want it deep down. Then the tempo is within our heart. We can only fall in love with our own. The strange becomes beauty, once we know how to see.
Style is easiest to see within an epitome. We all come to epitomize our soul first of all in some symbol, some gesture, some mannerism or nickname, to stand for the general tendency, and second of all, in some crowning story, which evokes and overcomes that general tendency. “Every dog has its day.” We each shine best through some event we couldn’t predict, which retroactively defines us. The tiny circle of the soul, if blown as wide as the solar system, would show a thread as nuanced as a key, and thickly rich. We can best fulfill our nuanced need when our desires are intellectualized, exploded, and personally touched. There is the stereotypical me, the abbreviated, easily mocked, easily gossiped, easily exchanged type of me, that is currency among friends and acquaintances – and here a nickname will do. And then there is the apotheosis of me, as I engage that nickname, both justifying and overcoming it, my self-overcoming. In other words, there is Daniel normal and Daniel exceptional, and both refer back to the self-same inner being. Only a best friend would have the fine taste to know my subtleties; for the rest, knowing these two will do.
An epitome is like a character sketch: confusing data is graphically simplified. Likewise, the language of science is math, logic, geometry. Any set of data can be graphed in a coherent manner. Chaos theory is based on simplifying data sets: there never was any chaos to begin with. Let the universe speak in my language, and I will listen. Speak to my needs, and you interest me. The epitome graphs my complexity into the perfect gesture.
Our epitome is present in every breath. Style is a matter of breath. The mind breaths. The focus of I breathes in sentences; each sentence or fragment of thought resembles wind floating images; each is syntactically chopped into breaths. We can only think for so long before we must stop and breath. And we can only stay on one topic before we can’t learn any more. You cannot study chemistry dawn to dusk, for the topic will exhaust our interest. Interest is like a field of fluid, like a glimmering fog of white, that doubles what we focus upon; when it is gone, we lack the energy to handle such things. Every friendship needs a vacation; every object needs a break. We think together if we breath together. As thought is deeper than talk, it takes longer to think with a friend than it does to talk with him.
The breath of focus is our style of thinking. It is the music of thought. Music itself is the objectified form of emotion, and our emotions structure themselves like a kind of symphony. The breath of focus is our fundamental style; it metaphorically embodies our values, those ordered feelings of importance, so that when we hear a person talk, we immediately know if he is of our own. When we read a writing, the words brush by like air, but slowly they get the water moving. Every word has emotional resonance, and slowly we are feeling the tone and attitude of the author. This attitude presents his ultimate values; if they resonate to ours, we will love him; if they don’t, we won’t. We can tell merely by how long his clauses are, by how he stacks them – how many, and in what order, with what contrast – we can sense his soul, for every part of him exudes the shape of the whole. Attitude is a filter. The world is too thick: we must use our attitude as a sort of engine of thought that only allows certain objects to become conscious.
The world intensifies to our appraisal. Our friends slowly confirm our suspicions, they become more and more stereotyped, until we have divine a secret habit of their thinking; then they are caught. We can now bring that person to his crisis, by confronting him with his own automatic habit, his nickname, his casual gesture, and forcing his mind to react to it. If my friend habitually lies regarding her past, I can confront her with that past. Like wind over water, I pull from the lake a river, I open a path to the sea. I know her heart by how she talks, but her mind by her eyes.
Intelligence resides only in mental endurance. How long can an intense focus last? Sometimes I can say the right words to the right person and I see her life forever changed. So much preparation went into those words: my whole life went into them. I fed her my soul. It takes decades to understand a simple idea, and though I might hear a cliché a thousand times, a proverb becomes providential when it dawns personally on me. Pain requires much interpretation to symbolize. We can cope with any problem once we have appreciated its parameters, are no longer surprised by it, know what to expect, and can thus abbreviate it into a rational story. It must fit our life story, be part of it, feed the same river, the same great Uroborus.
Pain invades us; trauma forces energy into deep layers. This must be processed. We can only formulate what we can control. And once it can be said, it can be done, overcome, handled, defeated. Energy from our needs emerges within different layers. When the time is ripe, that energy emerges and demands full focus. We can only focus for a while, the god is on for a bit, intensity times duration, before we must rest again and turn our energy to another organ. Only what I haven’t done in months can I do with enthusiasm. This is why all great artists are continually creating, working on many things at once, many related projects, capturing every tone and mode of inspiration. And yet I must relax from my art and fall into the arms of love.
The deep layers require personal touch. We need intimacy, as we need love. Love is the pleasure of intimacy. The inner spheres of our heart must be touched to release and receive energy. Lacking an ability to touch heart to heart, hand to hand, eye to eye, mouth to mouth, genital to genital, hope to hope – always like to like – we would resort to trauma to get our intimate needs touched. Would we have criminals if they knew how to lover?
We do what we care about. Caring is enjoying intimacy, to focus on and personally touch. Will against will is the nature of competition, and so fighters and warriors are intimate. Care is about emotional investment. Philosophers must humbly give their philosophy to philosophers, and speak in riddles to the rest: a great poet writes only for poets, and leaves the hacks to write for the masses. Narcissus could not be tricked by an audio reflection, he wanted eye for eye and gaze for gaze.
When the inner layers swell with energy and wish to express themselves, we unconsciously arrange an intimate encounter, we prepare to engage a touch. This is falling in love, or dallying a flirtation, or initiating a friendship, or discovering a new favorite author, or playing a new fad, or whatever else.
Ultimately, when we need intimacy, we speak intimately. Words convey emotions, and we internalize and externalize emotions all the time, as the social energy, the stuff of life. It is as if reveres of different colors poured out from us and into others. For every person in our life, we pour some emotion, if not through our words to him. at least into our image of him, which finds voice whenever we talk about that person. Every word others say has an emotional resonance, which means something personal to us. Strong styles influence us. If one coworker is insistent upon exactitude at work, everybody else starts paying attention to the rules, at first ironically, then naturally.
We are each to the world a style incarnate. Style is personal, it is the personality made tangible. The personality is the sum of our communication habits, just as our reason is the sum of our thinking habits, our attitude the sum of our feeling habits, and our character the sum of our acting habits. Since attitude is a filter, we each do not see the world as others do. Our memories are formed from mental snapshots, some of them invented after the fact, as many people remember their childhood in the third person, watching themselves as if in a movie. Our mental snapshots represent the world to us, and thus we make reality by how we structure our memories. There is style in how we remember.
There are two extremes in the way we talk: A good literary style is either toothy or tonguey. A tooth style chops ideas finely, and says things not beautifully but exactly. A legal contract is toothy. A poem speaks with the tongue: any word can be used to talk about my desire, so long as it sounds beautiful where I place it. The tongue is the organ of desire, of consumption and expression. The tongue is a fire, and language is lust. We speak in order to make others desire what we desire.
Eating the styles of the world requires both tooth and tongue. Fine taste is knowing the words and terms necessary to appreciate small distinctions, having teeth. Perception requires conceptualization to capture nuance. We could listen to Beethoven all year, but not knowing the specific musical terms, we would fail to speak meaningfully of the patterns in his symphonies. Having the terms, we can listen to the music and get much more out of it. Knowing the systems and terms, we build expectations of the genre, and are able to set Beethoven within it. We come to see that each of his symphonies is a being in itself, that his complete work is a being in itself, that the world of his contemporaries is a being in itself, the complete genre of music is a being in itself – and all these compound as the spheres of being, as layers of consciousness. It takes good taste to see something in terms both of its own being and also its context. Good taste is also within its own context, since the taste still belongs to a being with needs, living within history. This is how it should be, because this is how it must be.
Good taste means being harder to impress, but when impressed, experiencing greater pleasure. Each of us is hyper-sensitive to only a few things. And what we taste with greatest nuance, there we are both picky and open to ecstasy.
To build good taste, to build a personal style which acquires taste in order to sustain itself – and feeding our own creative expression is the best justification for enjoying art in the first place – it requires a continual expenditure. Good taste consumes much energy. Time is limited. There are only so many hours in the day. I could exercise, I could cook, I could read all sorts of books, learn all sorts of instruments, volunteer my time, go to church, attend symphonies, see concerts – there is no end to what I could to, and its all nonsense. What I must do matters. What I must do I do because I have certain needs, and those needs require expression.
Bursts of energy come to the surface of consciousness unexpectedly: I never know where I will find inspiration. I suddenly find myself eating this food, befriending that person, reading such and such a book, and I attack these things with such passion that each of them feels most necessary, feels as if for the moment, this man, this book, this drink is the full world, and my sacred duty is only to fully indulge this one thing. That is the secret of my genius. To love one thing with my full strength when I am ripe for love: of that I am never ashamed. My projects come to me with a certain unpredictable fascination. They silence all other interests, and I enjoy them with the full tenor of my passion. My entire style of energy is passionate. My energy builds like sex, bursts like an orgasm, and rests like success.
Style is based on breath and circulation – tempo. Our style is more in what we do than in what we wish we did. Philosophizing requires an excessive mental energy, which would otherwise be spent in business and love. Let a friend complain that he wishes he had more time to learn the guitar. I wonder if he means it. He may plan on starting lessons as soon as he gets his promotion. Yet whether he gets it or not, I think he won’t start the lessons. We each make time for what is important to us. If we want to do something, we would do it. And the karma of our desire is that we always get what we want. Whatever we think we want, our actions show what we really want, and we never fail to get it.
To use the old distinction, not quite coherent, not quite convincing, between drive and desire, a drive is the expression of life—what we need; and desire the basis for mind –what we want. My drives are like Uroburos, the tail biting serpent, the river that comes full circle. My beginning and end are in writing. I write better to improve my life, and live a better life to improve my writing. As cycling productivity is a central virtue to me, I find it necessary to ever return over the same old ground, to cycle through my documents, through my writing, through my possessions, editing them constantly. What clothes don’t I need to own, what books, what letters? I seek to carve away all distractions, all clutter. A great circular river runs through my life, and will continue to cut into history long after I die. For it lives within my writing, and my writing is my immortality in this world. The key to life, the purpose of life, the meaning of life, is to create the perpetual goal, the Uroborus, the continually intensifying drive of constant engagement. Writing this book is my Uroborus. I spend decades on it, I am never finished.
How long can an intense focus last? As meaningfulness is a slowed down and pronounced breath of focus, so the most meaningful moments come from intense focus. This cannot be sustained. And even when it can be prolonged, it can’t be on the same object. William James said we could only focus for a matter of seconds on one thing, and this is true even for adept meditators. The brain consumes most of our blood, the mind consumes most of our energy. Yet it is lazy and wants vacations. All friendship wants spaces and vacations, even marriages wants token departures and fake divorces, to maintain and sustain the intimacy. Intimacy is the shortest touch, and yet it is worth all the coldness and distance, and even requires much coldness and distance.
Intimacy requires engagement. Engagement is a mirroring of language, a coupling of attitudes, a doubling of beliefs – “what I assume you shall assume!” We can only engage our lover for a moment, and must turn away again lest our heart cover itself in shame from too much touch.
Every relationship requires more than love of style. Love is never enough. If love is the core of our marriage, the skin and muscle of it must be the contractual aspect of two people sharing responsibilities, filling traditional roles, divvying up chores, working together, talking constantly. Commitment is the ripeness of romance. To commit to a lover, to solidify the emotional intimacy with the intractable promise of duty, requires a mature self-respect, as one capable and willing to hold to a promise,; as one, therefore, who deserves love in the first place. It isn’t even love until it is more than love. Yet as sharing a secret initiates the friendship, as sharing a guilt inaugurates the love, as sharing a privacy is the basis of all deep relationships, the duty is hollow without the internal core of love. Duty protects the heart. Intimacy is all important, and yet intermittent. The shared shame of lovers is their greatest pride –shame is the cloak of pride! – for lovers boast endlessly of their love, and protect it jealously, ruthlessly, and immorally, as they should. The primacy of the we-form, of “us the couple,” this is the breathing of a shared style, a new being, a group identity. Style is a manner of breathing. Lovers breathe together, conspire together, they are ever enemies of the public, and thus the public needs them.
Intimacy requires engagement, conversation. Almost all conversation, no matter how practical, is really about establishing attitudes. Each tone of voice resonates to some inner layer of my heart, so that intimacy is possible only if you can speak it, if you can sustain that tone when my defenses go up. Nothing can approach me which is not already part of me. Do you speak to me of God or the All? Well I adore the All. Yet the worldview of the all is merely one more view among many. So she is omniscient, what is that to me? I see things as I need to see them, as I choose to see them, and that is good for me. Wondering what Eternity thinks would be pure projection on my part. Even if she told me herself, I would be under no compulsion to concur, because I am my own universe.
We each need a metaphysical myth about our place in the universe. A fantasy is a story the needs tell us. It represents both what we want, and what we think others want of us: it aims to unify us with the whole. Fantasies are social, not selfish. Possibilities make for the hottest fantasies. If I never intended to date let alone meet my favorite female singer, I am still a little sad when she marries, as if a door had closed for me. Fantasy and art serve similar functions, for beauty is the symbol of value, is the pleasing face we put over the pleasing thing. All gaps and inconsistencies in the world are really in our way of looking at the world, science and intelligence is never complete. The mind alone has gaps; the mind alone needs fill them: and for this we need art. Fantasy ensures that the emotions circulate.
Friendship means mirroring the best in those we love. It requires great sympathy to know how to mirror a man’s soul back to him. Polite gestures are one thing, and we can all talk about the weather. But to know his soul intuitively, to say the very same words to this man as we did with that one, and yet with this one, with our tones, pauses, and gestures, reflecting his soul back on itself, so he becomes more himself, so he reveals his intimate parts, so his internal circle expands to make his nuances tangible, this requires mental acumen. Behind all sanity, each man is mad; behind his normalcy, he is peculiar. We structure our madness to fit in with the everyday. We want to be paid for our abnormalities. When we sniff each other out, to our own we say “no one had to tell us these truths. Twenty years of sitting tried to take them from us. The innocence I keep protected in my madness resonates when you are near, as if I remember a far away perfection. Who are you? Perhaps a bit of song reminds me the same. I call you elusive. Only in the innocence of sickness am I able to be fully honest to you for then I lack all shame. Was not the shame of nakedness called evil?”
We are friends and mirror beauty to beauty. How do we mirror the innermost? The unconscious mirrors what you hope to find in it. If chakras, then chakras, if Atman, then atman, if Id, then Id. It is a clever demon, taking the shape of what we expect. It knows how to make us believe that this strange thing is normal and to be expected. Consider our dreams. We don’t feel surprised, no matter how bizarre they are, but marvel only in the morning when we grope to remember them.
Perhaps the essence of my strangeness will be one day distilled. I seek to say amidst these thousands of pages only a few of the ever same things. Perhaps each man should be viewed by his mythic fantasy. Mine is to deify myself, and leave this scripture for my lovers, who are of my same soul. This book is my body. We each have a key fantasy. Zizek identifies the Lacanian analyst’s fantasy – and Zizek’s as well – to show how “the undeniable fact that a person is in love can be denied and taken from him through analysis,” the desire to eat the patient’s desain, his soul, by unearthing his core fantasy. No psychoanalyst can do this, but that doesn’t matter, because Zizek wants it. Fantasized that he had decentered man the way Copernicus and Darwin had, and Derrida voyeuristically imitated him and wanted to do this, by decentereing centeredness itself. They all failed in this, yet what matters about them is that they wanted to do it, just as the crazy youth who boils his blood as a sacrifice to some demon is indeed dangerous and untrustworthy, though demons don’t really exist.
Our fantasy is an invisible anchor and support for our context. Democracy requires a unique fantasy, as is exemplified in Thoreau, who enacts the democratic desire. Thoreau’s basic trope in his prose is to mock those who think conventionally. He mocks the farmer who scoffs at vegetarians for lacking meat in their diet to build their bones, while his grass-fed oxen at the same time pull his plow and break the ground. His basic trope, shows the average man stupid. Is he quite an American, having this contempt for the masses? Yes, in a democracy, most men must think themselves better than average, while yet affirming the democratic rights of the average. Thoreau lived the philosopher’s life, the same as Diogenes – own as little as possible. The religion of Christians was to look forward to the future possessions in heaven where “there are many mansions awaiting.” Thoreau did not wish to live the simple life in order to earn the right to more possessions. He was Greek, and not resentful Christian. He wanted to be different now, a sort of God on earth
The democratic problem is how to objectify the people. You cannot walk through a crowd of individuals. To walk comfortably through a crowd, you must abbreviate people into objects, and not even look at them. They become the same as rocks and trees, and if they push into you, push back into them with a compulsory “excuse me,” and no further reception of them as persons. Whitman would look on each man and woman as an individual, and lusted for each accordingly – for to take a person intimately means to love him – and so his manner of incorporating the masses was to catalog them non-hierarchically. Thoreau and Whitman are opposite ends of the democratic fantasy. How do they combine?
It is the power-fantasy of every democracy to be popular enough to sway the masses; rather than the dream of being a tyrant or monarch, one wishes to be a celebrity, a rock star, a movie personality. Nobody quite wishes to be president. Just as every Absolute survives by allowing exceptions, so all things survive through a tinge of hypocrisy, a conversation between being and seeming. Whitman wished to greet every fruit-peddler as his equal, and yet called himself a “Kosmos.” The American fantasy is summed up in the phrase “all men are created equal,” which implies that to be more than equal, you must be the creator. It is right that our religion of Mormonism differs from the other Abrahamic religions in identifying God as an advanced man and man as an infant God, with Adam as God of this Earth. The democratic principle, which unifies the nation into one mind, also intensifies the political importance of the individual, who amounts to so little, and therefore requires the balance of spiritual transcendency. The spiritual ambitions of Emerson and Whitman exemplify how a person must believe if he idealizes democracy.
Myths place us in the universe and reconcile us to our world. We each need a myth that tells our own origins and how we escaped them. The myth of origins is the basic motif of fairy tales: who are my real parents? Peasants, or royalty? How do we transcend our context? Superman the comic book hero became great by escaping his context. Born on a foreign planet, he was stronger under our sun. So must we all. What we are born into, the difficulties of our childhood, our family, or situation, give us great strengths which, when applied to adult life, make all the difference. Odin, when he was imagined to be a king, was a travelling king, and came from the East to settle in Europe. This Norse God was great because he escaped from his origins.
To escape our context, to flee the womb, is the heroic gesture. It might rightly be said that boredom and the desire to avoid it are the pivotal drives of the human race. Its not just that we talk, but that we want something to talk about. Our instincts, like Odin or Superman, have escaped their original context, and so they are no longer natural, they are supernatural. It is the same the way we read the Iliad, though none of us worships Zeus, for this literature has universal appeal even though we may yet find the myth silly. A book is world literature when it needs no context, but adapts to every context. And so we would rightly call the supernatural that which exceeds its original nature: the man at his apotheosis, when man becomes God.
Each citizen in a democracy must also be a god, to balance the whole against his own thing. Each of us must have a thing. When we say of our neighbor “his thing is tennis,” or “chess is his thing,” what is this thing? It is the activity that makes us feel most alive, though philosophically minded, philosophy pure isn’t my thing. Writing is. This processing of experience into crystallized words becomes my defining gesture. We each have such signature gestures, we each have our element, our place, our medium. For that thing, we can focus at long intervals. Focusing is like muscle tension, which can only last a moment, yet we can repeat it again and again, for hours and hours. For us it is easy, as hard work is easy, and we cannot resist it.
We breath out the structure of the world. A structure is habitable. I don’t think any man could live long, even in a jail cell, without kicking a hole in the wall, or setting a doll on the pedestal, or in same way personalizing it. We own what we can control, and we control best what we create. A man can buy a house but must make a home. We own a thing by talking about it.
A house is the body of the marriage, the embodiment of the institution. When the novelty of sex matures, it must cast off its petals and grow into a mutual daily dance. It must materialize in love tokens and shared space. When we share an importance, we can work together for it. Commitment is the second leg of optimism. It is the principle of stupidity, to love something, to do something, ever and always, even if painful, even if foolish. A married man doesn’t ask if he could do better. He regards love as absolute, and agrees with Dante that the betrayal of the beloved is the sin worth the worst in hell.
Don’t marriages fail? The moment of pessimism is to expect as natural the worst; commitment is committed even in pessimism, for optimism must be willing to accept the truths of pessimism. Just as every philosophy is a philosophy about all other philosophies, and every religion has dogma regarding the other religions, so every mood has a theory of the other moods, and must think selfishly if it is to be useful to the whole. Commitment makes our union the thing, and refuses to give up on it. Only through such battles and struggles do we grow intimate again, until I have you inside me, and you have me inside you, and we look more and more alike, our gestures and body language become the same, our speech and thought becomes similar, and in the final gesture, we will share one center.
How committed should we be? Style is framed within asymptotal extremes. What do we do in extreme impossible conditions? The very idea of it frames what we do in every day things. It was said in the Sermon on the Mount that “whoever looks at a women with lust has committed adultery,” and then later that divorce was not permissible unless the partner had committed adultery. So since we commit adultery daily, our spouses can justifiably divorce us. It would have been better to say that divorce is taboo, not to be permitted, that the union of two souls is eternal: with this mythological morality we might be able to build a lasting institution. And yet you and I must stage divorces and struggles to save ourselves. All ideas require a break, all loves require a vacation. There must be an absolute balanced with its internalized exception.
We share a style; style seduced us to love, and style grows from our love. And so each work place has a style, a city has a style, every level of consciousness has a style that we fall into it. How we respond to the world’s styles situates us. A network of relationships emerges out of every system. Wherever there are people, each has a special relationship to every single other, either directly or indirectly, so that in a thick system, a man fills many roles, many masks, many personas. We directly internalize our closest friends, and are swallowed into the larger we. Us-together is a mind that thinks through us, and my individual consciousness is merely one part of a larger brain, conscious itself, and also in turn part of a larger consciousness.
All things are written; we can read each by the same method. The critic sees a style and divines its logic. All things contain sets of logic; interpretation can isolate a strain. Having insight into essentials, rather than trivialities, lets one use history, let’s one make it his own history, merges history with autobiography, as all history finally matters when it tells me my own story in a sense alienated enough for me to be objective. When I am quoted back on myself, I feel strengthened, my fire is fed. Emerson held the myth that all poetry is written in heaven before time began, and this is the effect the poet feels when his poem is perfected: not a letter could be changed. This is only an effect, just as God is only an effect; we tell stories, we make myths, and this let’s us get our work done.
All things, and especially created things, have a logic to them. Perhaps a poem, perhaps a novel, perhaps the full list of a writer’s books can be taken as one whole to analyze. Each is philosophically thick, for the philosophical is a dimension of all experience. Logic is a set of dynamic relationships that bind identify and causality. No matter how many logics can be invented, there is always the full and growing logic of the all. When the absolute grows, the new redefines the old, and yet the old is eternal and inspires everything that comes after. Is it good to be first? It is just as good to be second, third, or last. Every individual is the center of his universe.
Therefore, use the world. It will serve you. The world, the full spread of your arms, through men and women, is rich and full of hundreds of thousands of years of work. Filter your truths through many minds. Proverbs and clichés have been so proven we are sick of hearing them. Works that have been translating a million times, retold a million times, readapted into countless novels and screenplays, these might at last be interesting. I grow sick of novelty. I prefer the ordinary.
Know a philosopher by his terms. His terms reveal how he sealed his wound. The philosophical concepts he seeks fit his attitude. What does he consider worth thinking about? He values only those ideas that channel his emotions into the right circuits. All his great concepts are little more than tubes and pipes. A coinage is from personal necessity, it is the emblem of a crisis. The style of a man sinks from his lips to his thoughts, from his thoughts to his feelings, from his feelings to his needs, his inner necessity, the basis of his being. The good reader learns all.
I’ve worked on this essay for a few weeks now. My eyes finally gave their last light for it, and I won’t be able to edit it for a few months. Nevertheless, is has propelled me into a new space for what is up and coming. Its about how to interpret the world from a set text. When you take something as sacred, and imagine it speaks to all life’s problems, then what must you do mentally to make it work for you? And what can be taken as sacred in life. The true thrust of this essay with the subsequent two essays I’ve been working on is the idea of Interpretation as a basic process of daily life.
Daniel Christopher June
You can’t interpret a text until you already know what it means. Just as you can’t formulate a question until you know the answer, so you can’t know what a book means until you know what it must mean. All reading is reading for. Since we read, talk, eat, think always within context of the needs which necessitate these, there can be no disinterested reading. Don’t look at, look for. And know what you are looking for.
What is the limit of interpretation? Pick up an ad from the paper. Perhaps a pizza restaurant is offering coupons. Put on your critical glasses. What is the limit of meaningful things you can say about the pizza ad? With unlimited time and interest you could fill encyclopedias over this skimpy ad. The photographs required skill, the execution of which perhaps reveals the university that photographer studied at, his nationality, perhaps more. The pixels of the paper historicize it, suggest the price of printing the ad, indicate the technology involved; moreover a chemist could discover when and how it was made. The style of the ad, what font they chose for their name, what name, would tell us what the restaurant owners think of themselves, how they want to appear; the ideal customer might be depicting eating the pizza. And such a catalog could continue. But then the coupon uses monitory units, and these represent our economical system, as well as perhaps the psychological and intellectual canniness of a marketing team which chose the amount to offer, the expiration date, etc., presumably to boost sales both in the short term and long term. The fine print on the bottom of the coupon implies a legal system. The significance of the context of the ad appearing in such and such a paper on such and such a date might fill volumes. And we could then hit the add with all the prefabricated interpretive models they teach at the universities: a feminist reading of the ad might look for how sexual relationships are represented; a Marxist reading might wonder who is placing the ad, and what class it is aimed at; a Freudian reading might ponder how it manipulates our unconscious desires; etc. And so the ad can be infinitely interpreted, though it has limited meaning.
All that is boring. What matters to us in our day to day lives is not in analyzing junk in the paper, but in analyzing our boss, why is he angry? how does he feel about me? is it safe to ask for Tuesday off? what will land me a promotion?; analyzing our wife? why is she angry? or what will make her happy? or at least keep off my back after dinner so I can get this project done?; analyzing our kids? are they developing correctly? are they acting appropriately? are the making the right friends? are they hiding something?; analyzing ourselves – and this is truly endless! – am I overweight? why did I say that thing that I now regret? why don’t I exercise? should I be more bold with my friends? should I be less bold with my coworkers? Interpreting life is the chief business of the mind. And knowing how to interpret gives power.
Imagine there were a bold hero who wished to stand for his people and to kill a wizard, and the wizard in turn wished to turn the hero back against his own people. Now imagine that the wizard was a mind-reader, and the full extent of his powers is in the placement of his words. The hero storms the wizard’s quarters, and the wizard casually looks up from a tome. No matter how the hero attacks the wizard, the wizard speaks the right words, perhaps some evocation of a repressed memory, or a threat that wouldn’t phase anybody but hits the hero at his hidden weakness, or some temptations that just happen to appeal to him. Being omniscient, as only a mirror can, the magician would assume that no matter who barged down his door, if there were any possibility that he could turn the hero back against his hometown, he would have the right words. Would the hero not be doomed?
Or take the same parable from a theological angle. Imagine being trapped within the mind of either God or the Devil (Descartes was correct to present the possibilities as pragmatically equivalent). Now imagine that this deity were omniscient. Would any force be required to control you, or could the right combination of words bring you to it? The logical conclusion of any theism when faced with such gods is that we are all, inwardly and finally, also gods. There must be something in us that is not interpretable, predictable, calculable, for the mind to serve as a mind at all. For the ego to exist it must at least own itself; if anything in the universe owns, it is the ego, and behind that the needs that own through the ego.
And so the finally ineffable element of the universe must be the interpreter, not the methods of interpretation, since they can be analyzed, and not full mind, since the mind can be analyzed, but there must be a certain nothingness, the transparent eyeball, who casts no reflection in the mirror, and this entity we typically call “free-will.”
The Buddhist idea that such a thing doesn’t exist can readily be countered that it also doesn’t not exist. If it is nothing, it is still needed, still situated, and still agent. Though the ego owns itself, it doesn’t own itself for itself, but for the needs that create and necessitate it. We believe in free will because we must. We make choices because we must. We choose this or that religion because we must. Not that we need anything in particular, but we need something. The ultimate center of all life is in the necessity for its existence, in the needs that allow it. “Pure freedom” is meaningless. If freedom lacked necessity, it wouldn’t need to exist, and therefore could not.
The interpreter, or pure mind, offers us the sacred text – handy to have! We have a set of needs that, say what we wish, we can never escape, as a self can’t transcend itself, and the final reward for every action and word is that you will always be the one who did it.
So now we have a text. Sacred texts are lovely, they offer the believer powers he would otherwise lack. I don’t mean that any sacred text is empowering in and of itself (whatever that could mean!) but because it is possible for a believer to hold it as sacred. Not everybody can. Most Americans cannot hold the Quran or the Dhammapada, the Torah, or even the Gospels, as a final authority. If you cannot, there will inevitably be some thing that is taken as sacred – and what it is proves less important than that is it. By sacred I mean something indubitable, trusted at all costs, something one has faith in no matter what. To be able to have such a thing is useful because it gives unique opportunities for interpretation. The Jew who believes everything worth knowing is in the Torah can therefore interpret all the important things that aren’t in it as if they already were. The Christian can interpret every problem as if the red-letters of Christ had foreseen it and spoken directly about it. The Muslim can believe that his Quran in some way embodies Allah. Of course all this leads to a lot of stupidity, but is stupidity really so bad? Its when we think we are smart that we are easily tricked. Where we know we are stupid, and hold fast anyway, we can’t be tricked. Human stupidity has improved the species as much as human ingenuity. What better way to make a decision than to say “for better or worse, I’m going to do it,” and close your ears and eyes to reasons thereafter.
Emerson countered the worship of sacred texts with his “Nothing is at last sacred except the integrity of your own mind.” And to make the point extreme, he said that the integrity of this mind was worth hell, since if such a mind were demonic in the first place, better to be near your father. When a Christian or Muslim or Jew faces a problem, is it not also his mind, and not the scripture itself, that is sacred? Or has the Scripture replaced the mind? This would be true, it seems true, regrettably true, except that nothing can be properly called “mind” or “pure consciousness” that is a from habit or education. The interpreter must mediate between the scriptures, the sermons, even the very words of God made audible, to present the language as personally intelligible and so no man is mindless.
“Truth, beauty, and goodness” make up a philosophical triad. Goodness means good for life, for a particular life – nothing could be “universally good”— so we would do better to talk of goodness in terms of virtues and goods; virtues are what seek and gain good objects. Truth and beauty are also goods, are they not? Yes, though not in themselves, for they are qualities that characterize certain goods. An idea can be true or false, yet there can be no truth without an idea. Any sensual form can be beautiful or ugly, but there is no formless beauty. And yet there can be goods things that are not beautiful, and good ideas that are not true. It could be said that most of our important ideas are not “true” to most the rest of the world; the ideas of samsara and salvation strike me as superstitious, but even if I liked them, a dozen others annoy me. An idea can only be true for you if it works for you, and since you are part of a larger context, it must also work in the world. Truth is an interpretation of the facts, not the facts themselves. While we would say “the world is round, and always has been round, it is false that it was ever flat,” few people would dispute the facts, but many would dispute the interpretations. The world does seem rather flat. What an ancient meant by “the world is flat” is strictly true in that it worked for him, it described the facts, he was not lying, he was not deceived (nobody tricked him), and most important of all – it didn’t matter. And that is crucial. Nowadays, to believe such a thing would be wrong, but not before.
Facts are absolute, but getting at them and knowing how to interpret them takes thousands of years. Perhaps ten thousand years from now, every one of our scientific laws will be proven contingent, and all that will remain will be the process itself which discovered and formulated those laws, and moved past them. It is conceivable that our very method is so flawed that we have painted ourselves in a corner, and would have to back up to make progress. It seems unlikely, we should act as if it were unlikely, but it is at least conceivable. A good science fiction writer could make a convincing novel out of the possibility. And so? We still ought to believe in our method, and that ought is not contingent, but absolute, for we need to. Having this, acting from this, we are centered, we stand in the center, we can be happy and stable in our lives. Lacking this, being unaware of it, nevertheless, we still feel the need for it, and cannot resist it, only change its path from this direction to that, but always some direction, till the moment of our extinction, if indeed there is such a moment.
All knowledge derives from experience, indeed experience is knowledge, even derived experience, the experience of hearing stories, for hearing a story is also an experience.
The sacred integrity of the mind that Emerson spoke of may at last not be the only sacred text. Human needs could be objectified as a sort of personal sacred text as well, one each of us ought to take as Eternal and Immanent.
Beauty and Truth are the structures of objects: beauty gives us a sense of pleasure, truth gives us a sense of certainty. Ultimately, both beauty and truth are emotional experiences, possible under certain conditions. I can feel certain of an actual falsehood, but I can’t force myself to feel certain of what I don’t understand nor agree with. “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so” quoted Twain, and he was right. For here believing means “acting as if something were true,” but not necessarily feeling that it was. And this is how myth works. Jesus did die for our sins, if we take “sins” to stand for a mere idea that organizes a set of experience, ditto “Jesus,” ditto “died for.” The structure of the myth, much older than the historical Jesus, is an archetypal story that shapes memory. It doesn’t matter what you or I think of the story. It is enough for any of us that “somebody somewhere consciously believes this”; the rest of us unconsciously believe. Memories structure themselves into stereotypes, but the time we are most receptive for those archetypical stories are the age when they are given: childhood. Children can’t handle complex stories the way adults can’t handle simple ones. Each of us lives a mythic structure, we each have a personal myth, a self-fantasy.
All we need feel when we hear a story – and how we tell them endlessly, through art, through gossip, through serious conversation, it never ends! – is amusement.Being amused, we are hypnotized, and the unconscious is setting stories in place. Entertainment is never quite mindless, it just doesn’t require conscious focus.
And so we find Beauty at her old games again. Beauty the seducer! That is all she ever was. Beauty eases the mind to let the desires take over. When I enjoy an essay, I set down my pen. When I read the essay of some blackguard who rubs me the wrong way, I mark his essay with all sorts of diacritical grumblings.
Entertainment feels unimportant to the conscious mind – who would bother to quote it? – yet meaningful things feel most important. Meaning itself is a feeling of importance, a sort of pleasurable desire to engage an object with the critical mind. And so meaning is an aspect not of beauty but of truth. We want to contain the truth, master the truth, internalize the truth; truth is a weapon, truth is a tool. We prefer to be contained within beauty, as the man in the sexual act, the child in the womb. The religious feeling is the desire to be contained in something eternal, the same herd instinct that leads us to join clubs, groups fraternities, etc. The properly religious feeling is not the mystic alone with God, but the community praising together. What the mystic feels requires a stronger imagination, and therefore more discipline, to let the idea of God enclose him like a womb – and this is again the impulse to beauty, a variation of the aesthetic feeling, of surrender. Enlightenment, at least in the Western sense, is not about beauty, though they could be confused, both being variations of pleasure, but is instead the feeling of mastery, of power, of will-to-power, of having imposed an order on chaos, the feeling of being a God rather than being part of a God. Enlightenment is of the mind, but mysticism of the heart.
It is peculiar, is it not, that because the mind is a container, it cannot experience the outer as outer, but must again represent that outer from its own substance with a sense of its being “out there.” Just as a memory differs from imagination in a sense of it “having happened such and such a time,” so the world and the needs, are not part of the mind, and yet we cannot act as if they didn’t exist.
Myths spread themselves through our minds, the gods live through us, just as each of us lives within the matter of our body – matter is all there is, yet it has so many layers that worlds coexist on top of each other – and so we all believe in all the religions upon hearing them, we cannot doubt them, not in our memories, they take their place, they do their deed, because belief and doubt need not even touch noses, they are different functions over different materials. In the same way, thoughts think themselves throughout the centuries, thinking themselves through our heads, giving each of us a little fame, a little credit, for what in their eyes is their own self-unfolding. The great philosophers gave us questions, and knew the secret of how to keep them open. Their fame is deserved. The poets gave us metaphors. Poems are pure metaphor. An entire poem could be entitled, “variations on a mood,” so that each syllable, each word, each rhythm pattern, each disruption of that pattern, each word, each trope reflects back on that same poetical mood. Poems are concrete moods, their truth value matters nothing at all, only what they feel – and that is why most poets have mood disorders.
The poetical tongue speaks the metaphor mind. The metaphorical mindset sees an essence in a thing, for all things contain many essences, and to hold the essence like a cat’s cradle, till the next thing can take it from your hands, holding the shape of the essence. The essence is only known when it is seeen as something else. Nothing is fully itself until it becomes something else. This is the principle of metaphor, and the justification of human death.
The mark of genius is the ability to make metaphors. Yet we all do so constantly, automatically. For instance, we each need a set of entities to plug into, a circle of friends, a set of books, a series of activities, so that all our needs are expressed and fulfilled. From one perspective, these are all similar, a book, a hobby, a friend: you engage it, you give, you take, you release it. And each of us needs a certain array of objects; perhaps a father figure, a wife figure, an enemy figure, and lacking what we need, we would need a substitute. A good substitute requires only a good metaphorical fit. Combine this with the problem that each particular friend we have invites new needs, and we must balance this one against the rest, as with having an overbearing mother, so the man needs a certain wife, friends, or hobbies to compensate; and this in the same way as when, say, we have as sick kidney, and all the other organs must do their work to compensate.
We seek out essences in accordance with what is essential for our desire. Every bit of discourse is mere thread of sterile math, but so many threads add up, so many folds of logic, that it comes to mean many things at once, and we take it for language, rich and manifold. You can slice reality from any angel, each is essential and absolute.
Emerson read to collect the least part of the text “the inspired glimmers,” the few oracular moments, not knowing that the whole mess is oracular, according to what you seek. Every sentence is relevant to the system that made it, just as every person in a country makes up the national character. You cannot deconstruct a text using the text, because no part is single enough to be removed. The logic of the part is the whole, nobody can contradict himself, everything fits, and even the sense of a misfit fits in with there really not being one.
Deep interpretation requires years of familiarity. Learn to sink into a text. It is like the goddess who went to hell to win back her murdered lover. Before she could enter, she had to remove her necklace. Then her dress. Then her undergarments. Then hell’s mistress, jealous of her beauty, adorned her in decay, pestilence, lice, old age. Imprisoned in hell, with no lover in sight, the goddess waited. Above, the heavens raged against hell, till in fear, the mistress of hell took off the decay, and added strength; took off pestilence, and added health; took of old age, and added eternal youth; returned the goddess’s clothing, and adorned her in a finer necklace; and frightfully sent her back to heaven. In the same way, we must read a text again and again, each time becoming more naked before it, losing our intellectual independence – the greatest of virtues! – slowly becoming sick with the text, in love with it, unable to leave. The text will never quite give us what we came for. But it will give us more of ourselves. In this way, even enlightenment should learn to submit. The friend is my best friend who makes me more myself, let him keep his money and favors.
Anything can be a reading, anything can be a writing. Anything can be a medium of meaning. Meaning is the sense of importance, a slowing down of the mind. It gets direction from desire. Desire pushes an idea to the center of focus. Meaning makes it feel like it should stay there. Meaning thus is a form of pleasure, or a pleasurable species of pain, unlike beauty, rather than relaxing the mind, tightens it.
Ultimately, what we need from the world, from our spouses and friends, is a few material things. Why all the talk? Because words are magic, and charge objects with meaning. Perhaps a jar of sand is a stupid gift, but when I learned you travelled five days to retrieve it for me, the story is the spirit of the gift, and sand the body. So much talk goes in to aligning two pairs of lips. All the talk in the world is merely to orient the eyes and situate the hands, and it is worth it. It takes a full heaven to animate each speck of dust. And so language condenses emotion into liquid words, speech is fluid desire. Speech is the oil of society.
Personalities are our speaking aspect, just as characters are our acting aspect. Personalities are strategies, and can be and interpreted as such. We talk certain ways to get certain things; talk plays a game to gain love and power, where even seriousness is a ploy. Without language, without the movement of a few tokens, without the conceptual gridwork of grammar for this infinite game of chess, we could never achieve the complicated arrangement of relationships that characterize this world.
Each man thinks in a private grammar; he is educated when he can reduce all his learning into his own words. Meaning is the heaviness over an object, a gravity in the center of our focus. How can something unknown be meaningful to me, unless it is packaged that way? I can tell that the foreigner has something meaningful to say, for intelligence shines from his eyes, and he sounds intent. The myth of Babel is rightly answered by the myth of Pentecost: poetic inspiration bridges confusions of language. By making poetical bridges, I have set the rainbow to heaven before you.
Sinking into your own hell, the innermost aspect of your moods – and maid Satan is the mistress of this mirror-womb-barrier who would strip you down – you will yet gain the artifacts you need. The Nameless is origin of all; named she is mother of manifestations. Only at this centermost, the gate before needs, in the face of the great mirror womb – or to speak directly, only by studying the way your memories are structured, can you gain the tools you need to return to life and interpret again the world.
Study Freud for years; you will gain all sorts of theoretical apparatuses. Scientifically they are useless, but logically they have place. Now study Carl Rogers for years, read all his books. He hardly gives any theoretical apparatus. Above all, he teaches a certain attitude, principles for an attitude, perhaps reducible to a single artifact, to be worn over the heart like a necklace, just one basic thing, that is worth just as much as the intellectual articulations of Freud. To gain a new heart is dangerous and difficult, for you may lose your love in the process.
Listen to what is meaningful, it will sink into your mind; pay attention to what is important, it intensifies an object by silencing all others. Importance talks quietly, yet silences the rest. The ego needs to be respected and praised, needs to own, but must be temporarily renounced in your descent into the hell of the heart. The ego neither loves nor hates, is fulfilled by neither, but the heart uses both. And so the heart is dangerous.
The ego feelings can readily be checked. All emotions are good and useful, but everything needs a vacation, just as a good marriage is made up of periodical fake divorces. There is the arrogance that pretends to be arrogance to hide how arrogant it really is. Let it admit it is ridiculous, so that it may grow proud. Learn to mirror an emotion back on itself, a logic back on itself, a word back on itself, this is the subtle power. Everything tends to do what it needs to do, and needs to do also what the whole needs. Stand in the center, make the slightest change, and the circumference will quake and rage. Then, return.
And so interpret kindly. What we call “corny, silly, optimistic, stupid,” at a deeper level we call “true,” but it would be better to call it “real,” since it resonates to our myth. We accepted those myths as the first inheritance from our family. Pragmatically, we do not need religious truths, but religious experiences. The myths do their work whether we literalize them or debunk them. For we hear them endlessly. Only some of us can take them so literally as to make them consciously indubitable. The New Testament is sacred in this country. To a literary critic, it seems peculiar. There are four repetitive gospels instead of one biography; there are dozens of repetitive epistles instead of one treatise: the book is shorter than the “Old Testament” yet repeats itself more. Well? The Upanishads seem even more repetitive, and the Quran’s Suras all speak in the same admonishing tone. Perhaps what makes something sacred is endless repetition, so that certain terms become more and more abbreviated, like Orwell’s “Newspeak,” with words that are meant to be readily said, readily felt, but never thought. Perhaps this can be a good thing, to learn to be stupid. And in this country, with our own scripture, with the Holy Spirit of Whitman, who speaks the groaning of our soul, and teaches us only an attitude, only how to pray; or the Oversoul, Emerson, who gives us endless wisdom, and the same variations on the same few themes; and the myth of Moby Dick by Melville, with its hyper-poetical diction; and of course the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Federalist Papers; with the Scarlett Letter and Huckleberry Finn: let us sink deep into these texts, interpreting them until we are quite naked inside them, emerging finally more than gods, but American Gods. And then we will be fit to write the next chapter in the open Canon of our worlds greatest Scripture: the American Religion. This, at least, is the reason I interpret life, friends, and books, and this has modestly become my life’s ambition.