Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Gaze, and a Dream That Ends All Life

"I have only one friend, and that is echo. Why is it my friend? Because I love my sorrow, and echo does not take it away from me. I have only one confidant, and that is the silence of night. Why is it my confidant? Because it remains silent."

- Kierkegaard, Either/Or Part I, Diapsalmata

I. Why choose tragedy? The gaze, the way of viewing life, which changes every item of experience into a potential memory, which distorts the world for me that others see, which shapes the world as I would have it be, that world that something deep inside wishes to see - even though I might not understand the reasons for its wishes - even though there comes a time when the view must change…why the dark side of reality? Which items will become memories? Which items, which events, will be available to me years down the road when I am breathing quietly, at rest, letting my mind wander [it seems] aimlessly, searching through the entire field of experience [or what my mind chooses to offer at that time as experiences] in order to glean pleasure or pain from what has come before? And on those nights, when I might be searching for pain, to increase my anger, to bring a resolution to a sticking point, to cement a conviction stubbornly, to drive something home that I know, on some level or another, to need to realize consciously - what memories will awaken? Or if I am searching for something else - how will the gaze defeat it? There is the me who realizes the need for something to emerge into consciousness, there is the me that hides it away from the light, there is the me who watches the entire game with a studied detachment, there is the me who knows the outcome of the realization…who knows the future either way. At every nexus, every meeting point of consciousness, there are important choices to be made. Yet, at the beginning, there again is the me who has already filtered my experiences to shape my memories in a certain direction - guided by…what? Another self? Another state of consciousness? Another self at another time - a past self? A figment of consciousness that neither understood itself more or less than this consciousness does, but somehow differently? A meeting of another mind, another self, another time, to create another experience of consciousness? And that self has set traps for my self now, it has set my memories to only reflect and gather what it determined its reality to be. I am trapped inside a mirror revolving around inside other mirrors - why can't I remember something outside of the mirror world? Does anything exist outside of myself? Why is the world reflected back to me as it seems to be? Why do I see the world in the way I do? What were the first experiences that shaped this consciousness that is carried like a virus - that bleeds out into the world, that takes what reflects its own inner nature [which it just might be mistaken about] and then presents these to me as the one true reality? Why must this seduction take place - why must the mind use the world to convince itself of its essence? It is incestuous…no, even worse, onanistic, it seeks to breed with itself - a spirit moving over the dark waters of existence - yet produces…nothing? A tightening spiral, one could say, an increasing sense of vertigo, a serpent's coil growing ever tighter. A consciousness constricting itself. So the memories are self-created, so they feed off themselves, so they create only what they want to see, so they learn only from their own reflections, so the consciousness is a Narcissus, a dream from a dream, gazing at itself in a succession of mirrors which it creates out of itself - is this all? Are there truly other selves inside? "They also serve who stand and wait," said Milton famously, in regard to what he assumed was his position in life. They also serve, these other selves, who hide in the shadows and simply watch the dream unfold.

II. From the act we suppose an audience, and from an audience we suppose an act, even though the audience is made of one identity, one individual mind. The dream of life is the audience's interpretation of the act. The dream of life, then, is a dream that destroys life. In this sense I mean to understand that life, the concept, has many meanings all revolving around the idea of perceived existence, the perception of possible experience, but I choose only two right now to consider in relative depth: the life that is presented to me through personal experiences and then the life, the actions of reality, the world outside of my consciousness, that moves without my being directly related to it - or even perceiving it in any way. The first is simply a set of ideas, a loosely aligned set of concepts, the second a set of abstractions removed from the first, which I can never prove really exist. How could I? How can one prove that something exists outside of one's own experiences of their qualities of existence? I refer to the concept available to me through language. I can not prove the second meaning of life, as the experiences of "others" to actually exist. It doesn't exist to me immediately in any case. It is available only to me through the interpretations of these others, the interpretations translated into language, spoken or written and communicated to me, which then become part of my experiences - although my consciousness of course shapes even this. There are already many levels of "filtering", then, between the felt experience - the immediately experiences - the interpretation, the translation into language, the understanding on my own part, etc. At any level errors may take place. Especially in the translation of felt experience into communicable concepts, and then into language, there are many opportunities for the item of experience to lose its integrity through subjective evaluation. I can not trust the experiences of others in any way. Their dreams are not mine. Like two sleepers laying side by side, we dream separately of what we would believe is the same world. Their dreams of life are not my consciousness of life, I can not feel things the way they do, what is "important" to them will not be important to me, the way they "see" experiences will not only be alien to me, but when they relate these experiences to me it will be twice removed from my consciousness - having been filtered through their consciousness first [and what it considers "important"] and then filtered through their own understanding/interpretation of their experiences. In fact, there are other levels of filtering taking place here [as many as there are "levels" or self-reflecting moments of consciousness within the conscious self], but I feel I can safely gloss over them…because they are so obvious, aren't they? The dream of life - the experiences that the consciousness gives to us - are the destroyer of life in the abstract, of that life that pulses always on the edge of our perception, the larger world of experience, that if one could only glimpse…but to look outwards is to see one's self, as much as to look inwards is to see what the world has wrought on the inside. Its image is burned there.

III. If the world is tragic then we are tragic because that is what the world has taught us to be. If we would fight against fate it would just be another form of tragedy, the fight for opposites reflecting not in a life that opposes but a death that proves the rule. If the world is not tragic at all, our tragedy is self-imposed, societal, economic, psychological. That is the standard form the logical argument would take, and from there proceed to: if it is self-imposed it can be altered, switched, changed in form, even...corrected?. This presupposes a personal aversion to tragedy. Which is "correct", though: a fate and life that is tragic, yet in harmony with a tragic existence, an operation of essential laws that always brings about tragedy, or something else…a life that seeks to not be tragic, in averting at every instance what it perceives to be tragic consequences? Would this be "unnatural"? The concept of an "unnatural being" or an "unnatural mode of existence" posits, a priori, a definite law of life. If life itself is tragic by necessity, by smooth motion from cause to effect, as a clicking of the gears, the mechanisms of the universe, the laws of human survival, existence, then to avoid this fate - is that to go against nature? Not only nature in the abstract, but the nature of the human, or one's individual nature? Is there even such a thing as "human nature"? An individual's "nature" - a consciousness that follows strict rules according to how it reacts to its own experiences, its past, its memories, and its understanding of itself? However, if there is no such idea or concept as human nature reflected in the actual world as we experience it, and there are no real laws of fate to calculate, if all the laws of the universe are relative, dependent on one's vantage point or location or knowledge, how does one argue for or against a universe that is based in tragedy? If there aren't any laws, if there aren't any "meanings", if all human concepts are relative only in reaction and position to our own lives, our shared history, is this a world that we would be able to live in without fearing it to be…some kind of tragedy? The understanding of tragedy itself is relative. That is the only answer. There isn't any form of tragedy except that which is put into position by the human understanding of the world itself. One places this filter upon experience in order to understand the causal relations of existence…and yet, how does this filter, this selective process of storing some experiences and rejecting others, how is it colored by experience itself? Is it shaped by experiences that one can not control - that are activated by "others", by the world itself? Is there a definite break in consciousness between the period when one can not control one's experiences and the period in which the filtering mechanism has already begun shaping future memories to feed a certain state of consciousness? And once…this state of consciousness [which, seeing exist day by day, we gather together into the concept of "personality"] has been reached, codified, given a shape, given individual existence, how does it maintain itself and its understanding of the world [including its moral judgements of its own experiences, that mirror complex of conscience] as the "dominant" state of consciousness other than by selecting what experiences it will allow to be offered to its own awareness? It feeds by shaping experience to increase its power over consciousness itself. How can it be removed? Can it be…altered significantly only by the same powers that created it? Experiences that are so "traumatic", or powerful, that they cause a different state of consciousness to be born out of the necessity to filter, again, the experience into some kind of coherent "meaning"? What if these experiences are powerful and yet not open to interpretation, to any kind of meaning the self can place over it? What happens to one's personality? What happens to the self as the experience worms its way, again and again, into consciousness, trying to find a niche in the current personality where it can be interpreted and "explained" away? What happens to the self when the experience is of such a nature that no mind could interpret it? Are many of these experiences even allowed, at any time, into consciousness? To deny the possibility of this, these experiences which the conscious mind can not even process adequately [but which still act under the surface, or in a limited capacity, or in an altered form] is to suppose that a human's conscious mind could "interpret" every single item of experience possible: every phenomenon possible in the universe. I don't know if this can be claimed without ridicule.

IV. The search for powerful experiences begins. From what direction do they come? Or can they even be sought without the personality, once again, interfering in their discovery? Would this just be another way for the personality to manipulate itself, to manipulate its own history, its own consciousness: the personality manipulating the self by choosing a traumatic experience that it thinks will give rise to a new personality? How does one seek out experiences that are powerful and yet completely random - experiences that overwhelm everything, even the self's desire to manipulate its own consciousness? This has been the mystery of religion, transcendence, tragedy, war, hysteria, psychotic states, the irony of the suppliant submitting in order to conquer. In order to grow, to change, one must be open to experience that is not sought for, even though one believes one is seeking it. These experiences can come at any time, they can take any shape…and their sensation, it seems, is as dependent on position, location, and time as it is on the state of the instrument: the understanding, the sensitivity, and the "readiness" of the one who experiences. What is the use of an item of experience coming into being if it is experienced only by a self that can not feel it in any way? I am sure of this "law" as I am of the certainty of these experiences surrounding me at every point in space, at every time, even though my mind is not sensitive enough to register their passing. For those who are truly aware, it seems, the experience of being alive itself must be enough to feed constant trauma - but how many can claim this level of sensitivity? No, what most of us must hope for is a life that allows us to encounter experiences that will be powerful enough to change us, and so we seek out potentially traumatic circumstances at the behest of internal drives we do not completely understand, even though…when these experiences finally come [if they do] they are not in a shape one would recognize in any way. Otherwise…what is there? A personality, a single identity, that grows anemic feeding off itself. A personality that starves as it secretes more mirrors? Notice when I say this, that I mean…not only external experience, what the abstraction of "life" brings us, but internal, introverted experience as well - these two areas of experience are inextricably intertwined. A self is fractured just as easily by a dream, a memory, an emotion, as it is by an immediate reaction to an outside stimulus, and, in any case, one type of experience prompts the other.

V. Why choose tragedy? If it is the outcome of the world, of all existence, I want to be in harmony with nature, with the universe itself, even though I have beliefs [that come after biology] that contradict my intuition. If I strive to believe that the world is not tragic, then I will act at a tangent with the laws of reality, and my fate will be interpreted in the light of that hubris. Either way the end is tragic: acting in accordance with the world, we seek tragedy as a peaceful end, acting against it, forces out of our control bring it about quite naturally, in their own way. Either way we enact natural law - we cause natural law to fulfill its nature, one could say. We act in harmony with fate even as we struggle against it. This is possible because our actions can not escape the natural laws that not only prompt them, but guide their progress and resolution. It is impossible for me to violate the nature of reality itself. The true tragedy, then, as I have offered above, is not to view reality's laws and then struggle against them [that is only a commonplace], but to never experience reality in such a way that its tragedy is felt beyond the capabilities of the personality to sublimate it. The true tragedy is not to suffer, to act in a futile manner, to reach an end in pain, to see one's work fall in ruin or fail because of its uselessness, to enact - again and again - rituals that seek to force self-awareness even as they destroy: true tragedy is to know one's self intimately, to understand one's every action, to understand the rationale behind every desire one has, to have one's reason match one's intuition, and to always have experiences that confirm the way one's personality views reality. This is as good as being dead. Why choose tragedy? There is no other choice.

U. Amtey
26 June 2003