Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Digestion of Experience

"The beauty of the world is the mouth of a labyrinth. The unwary individual who on entering takes a few steps is soon unable to find the opening...if he goes on walking, it is absolutely certain that he will finally arrive at the center of the labyrinth. And there God is waiting to eat him."

- Simone Weil

I posit the world as an eater, and so I immediately reference, both consciously and unconsciously (my references striking sparks across touchstones I've never recognized, or which I don't remember), all of those symbols and signs and old wives' tales about eating the world or being eaten by it. "As if," says the ironic pose, "it were even possible to separate the two actions, as if one isn't constantly being eaten as one eats, and eaten from inside by what one eats." But my experiences lately have taught me that it is possible - or even probable - that world can almost always be too large and complex (too rich a diet, to simplify) for even the hardiest and most slack, loose-lipped and akimbo-limbed, sangfroid, world weary, sophisticated and jejune (I am tempted to say blasé, but that would be seeing it only from the outside), man of the world to chew on and reduce to liquid...that man that all men seem to want to become. And all of these experiences stretching open the mind's "stomach", the mind's eye, one's eyes in this case never larger than one's stomach, and agonizingly tearing the edges of virginal perceptions: one's ability to recognize experience, swallow it, reduce it to its component parts, accept it (without regurgitating its sensations, motives, causes and effects, consequences), scour and eviscerate its subtle or overt "meanings", and eventually digest it...which means to absorb it into one's personality, to "transcend" it. Are there experiences too large to transcend? Too painful to forget? Too large for one's amateur, novice, virginal mind?

But I feel I should say that without such experiences the mind grows weak...and so to be too much of a sophisticate and to lie back in repose, secure as an obscure deity in boredom and ashen, gray-eyed ennui, is to lay one's own corpse out on the trundling path of execution, of obsolescence...to sleep, in this case, as one walks through the world is to invite the vultures down. One such bird of prey, metaphorically of course, is just a new experience...something so wretched or original that the mind can not handle it, it can not be processed. Thus life kills through life. The mind, choking on its own reality, its own perceptions, its own unavoidable existence before it (transfixed on the cross of this new experience) automatically settles deeper into bad faith, or at the very least shuttles through the requisite damage plans of suicide. One method after another crosses the consciousness. Shall it be hanging this time? Pills? A shining, brand new store-bought handgun in a hotel room, swiftly cooling blood across starched sheets faintly smelling of cigarettes? Or does the mind turn back towards the world and slowly, almost delicately, take itself down from the cross? How much vanity can one afford when one's life is on the line? How long can one live screaming?

Without new experiences, then, the mind grows so enervated and effete, so tired and self-satisfied (feeding from its own refuse), that any strong or novel events cause cataclysmic shock waves to ripple through its stagnant, rotting structures. Braces and beams are ripped away, foundations buckle and crack, walls bow and sweat, windows shatter. These are clichés...and so, in the ironic pose, completely without value. What value does a "window" into the soul have anyway? What are the "foundations" of one's life? Belief, habit, prejudice, bias, self-soothing reflections that one holds above the rising flood of skepticism? What does a personality look like after it has been reduced to the bare, surface twitching of animal life, freed of all habits, lessons of this world, all judgments, all knowledge of the self - perhaps all memories? Is this "purity" only a second infancy?

But the man of the world, then, to glide through the world on the dark wings, ever present, of ease and style...ease, of course, coming through experience and boredom (a soul eventually bored of its own suffering), style coming from the exaltation of the surface over the interior, as an ironic mockery of the inability of the inner to penetrate the outer and vice versa, which is to say: a smirk, wink, and graceful bow towards the uselessness of particulars, the emptiness of life, the dead air between all souls asphyxiating any satisfactions of inner desire. Style is the constant turning of the inner towards the outer as an ironic recognition of the chasm between the two, and the fact that in all attempts at communication through symbol and act (or mimicry), all meaning is lost. Is ease only gained through suffering? Is ease the result of a soul so smoothed by the cicatrice-action of disappointment and disillusionment (as if illusions suddenly appear synonymous with life itself) that it glides through the world untouched by further experiences? Is this a goal? To live as a scar? To reduce the impact of life upon one's emotions, desires, needs, loves, etc. in order to lessen suffering? Is this bourgeois wisdom? Why ease? If suffering is equivalent to living, to experiencing...does ease equal death? How exactly does experience lessen suffering - is there a ratio? Does experience increase suffering up to a certain point, and then past that decrease it? Is there an exact point where the increase in suffering meets an essential adjustment in the psyche (the sum total of all adjustments possible in the face of suffering, or at least the last one) and then, past this, only slips past the scarred self?

I suppose the question really is...is there a limit to how much a person can suffer? And if there is, at the liminal point, this transition and boundary, this ending and meeting of territories...what is pain translated into? Does it only become emptiness, a numbing? Is life purified and pressed to extremes, accelerated and concentrated in all of its essential elements, only an opening of nothingness? Instead of the sophisticate, then, insert the image of a dead man being carried through life...floating, levitating, walking through walls and over water...

"Here are the souls who loved life with so much fervor that they lived it to its logical limits, they pressed experience to the breaking point, they drank every last bitter cup, they drained the world of its color and swallowed every sound until only silence was left."

I think of the man of the world as alien to awkwardness, and this is his ultimate attraction, I suppose, just being able to move through situations, scenarios, and conflicts without feeling he is in an unnatural state or needs to draw upon reserves of personality that he is not immediately familiar with, instinctively. One could say, then, that the man of the world is a completely instinctive beast, but in a world where his instincts make him an enviable creature - where his existence as a nexus of instinctive behaviors does not degrade him...but then again, this is just my own bias. The man of the world is a man who knows his place in reality, his station, his powers, what he naturally has coming to him, what he can and can not do. I am tempted at this point to call him a Hegelian, which makes me pity him as something obsolete. Is self-assurance obsolete? Perhaps the assurance that is predicated upon certainty and a collapsed, deflated view of possibility. The man of the world eventually can not even feel awkwardness, or if he feels it...he can no longer recognize it perhaps, he is alien to his own decaying instincts. Is the man of the world dead? Does he "control" experience? Is his view of the world so shrunken and microcosmic (yet not exactly representative of anything) that he can not even feel or interpret experiences that would cause him to feel awkward? Do they just slide past him, eternally? How does one "control" experience, anyway? Can it only be done by controlling perception?

Is control a "mastery" or a lessening of the awkwardness that comes from being totally overwhelmed by experience? Is the man of the world only a ghost, a spirit? Does he eventually close all the windows through which experience penetrates the mind?

Simone, faint over a pay phone, the sound of lawn sprinklers and cicadas behind her, summer in the valley:

"How is any of this possible? Psychosis as the way of this man of the world, perhaps. They say that psychotics are free from fear, but does that mean they are free from all emotions? Why would we think fear would be the most important, and why would freedom from that necessarily hint (even in the smallest way) at a freedom from everything?

"Perhaps because people respect fear, even at the very last moments..."

"There are those who say that psychotics can not feel love, does this say something about how much fear there is in love? How can people who are not psychotic know what psychotics feel? How can you ever know what another person feels, or can feel?"

"Tell me about digestion...you can even talk about bulimia or anorexia if you want. Spin out the metaphor in any way you wish. Just don't stop talking, I'm lonely here tonight..."

"Digestion, then...yes, experience is absorbed, filtered by the reason, understanding, and the net or network that is created...that breathes...between reason, consciousness, and memories. Consciousness is controlled by or learns from memories...and you know how memories are created. Experience is filtered by reason and consciousness, filtered by past memories, new memories are interpreted and fashioned by the consciousness, will, and one's personality...a personality dependent on past memories..."

"On past memories? So is this a sort of predestination? A Möbius strip - a consciousness feeding into itself?"

"Yes, predestination if you wish...why not call it manifest destiny? I feel like a Hegelian. The personality set in motion by first memories, further memories created - interpreted by and formed in response to these primal memories...there isn't a chance to look back, to take apart the weave, to unravel the skein and source...there is only self-awareness and a vanishing point which one can not get behind..."

"Personality is an arrow shot towards a target from one origin point...but what is the target?"

The phone goes dead.

U. Amtey
26 November 2004
Witching hour + twenty-seven, CST
NP: Kampfar - Mellom Skogkledde Aaser