Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Light in One's Eyes

"She shook her finger in a blind man's face, he say, I once was blind, but now I can see..."

- from "She Moves Me" by Muddy Waters

I. As the years go by it becomes more and more difficult to remember what exactly motivated one in the first place to begin the habits or patterns of behavior that now define one's identity. The patterns define the soul, the soul becomes a meeting place of habits, the soul can not see itself in the habits that construct it, and the ego refuses to answer the questions that forgetfulness prompts. The ego, as well, refuses to see itself as a construct of repetitive behaviors. That antiquated notion of free will whispers from its corner, to which it has been exiled by life's stale todays and tomorrows. The body, anxious only to provide for itself, to feed itself, to pleasure itself, to reproduce itself, has placed the soul in a gilded cage, it keeps the soul fed on literature, dead men's dreams, dead men's desires. The body holds out a dream of a half-glimped tomorrow to it and the soul takes that dream as its own, coddles it, whispers to it in the dead of night, hides it away beneath closed eyelids in the heat of the day. The soul is a lie, of course, even though it nourishes itself on lies. It feeds while dead. The body, of course, is also just a lie. The soul is the lie that keeps the body dead, as it convinces the body it is alive. So the soul has its revenge: as the body shows it to be a fiction, and tears its dreams away, the soul blinds the body to its own process of dissolution. This is the decay that the body calls life.

II. Questions: This identity that the body and the soul follows: what is it? A puzzle piece that I have learned to call my own? And where does it fit? And if I can't find where it fits, am I even justified in looking anymore? If none of the pieces fit, is there even a puzzle? If my role has not been defined for me, must I define it for myself? Would I even let an outside power "define" it? And would this rebellion, away from definition, be just another part of that identity which may or may not have been handed to me? Was I created to be self-contradictory? What is the purpose of the struggle within - to match the struggle without? Or does it go deeper? Or is it even not this profound - is it instead much simpler, so simple that it escapes those who always look for meaning in profundity?

III. To keep myself humble I reenact the satiation of the wealthy. That is: I imagine the jaded sangfroid of the world-weary, those who have used up their allotment of experience on sensation. I have to imagine, learning what I know of their lives through fiction, because I have been forever exiled [with my notions of free will] from their Elysium, their fertile playgrounds. No, it is only sterile where I am, a clinical, disconnected series of dry as dust introspective flights over nothingness. I imagine the rich as satisfying their every want, of course, and only becoming bored by discovering that their creativity for novel pleasures dries at it ages. I bow, representing the bourgeois, hat in hand, ready with my neverending hunger [I have a stomach, I am mortal, I carry the taint of Earth, excuse me, masters] to enlighten them as to what new tortures for their nerves civilization has discovered. I am kept around because I am their surrogate body, my appetite for their wealth matches my ingenuity in delineating novelty. From pleasure we move to pain, shouldering morality aside. My masters register its passing with a sigh, a toss of the head, the emptying of an ashtray. At last they reach the truth that their body is a lie. I can not follow them into the region of the soul: I can't afford to keep one. I have to keep to myself that my boredom matches theirs, of course. They're just different species of the same disease - my affliction being so much more fruitful, but so much less civilized, than theirs. While their boredom languishes behind stifled yawns and attempts at orgasm, in adultery and fraud, mine begs to reproduce. Not content to wander the world on its own, it must impress itself on nature: it must recreate nature in its own image. It will not be satisfied until it can hold up a mirror to nature and be bored with the reflection. It will not be satisfied until it makes of nature a mirror that reflects its own empty fecundity. What is left then but suicide? Perhaps the accumulation of capital? "But," says my soul, still convinced it is alive, "you will only finish by becoming your master, you will take their place and suffer the disease of their class in return!" Yes, but what better fate for a soul that hates its own nature as much as it hates nature itself? Instead of suicide, say: a life of misery and mortal damnation, self-inflicted, ending in sterility, uselessness, a pitiful failure that hides itself in shame when a more noble [and aristocratic] tragedy walks by? "Your fate can not even rise to the status of a tragedy!" says my dead soul.

IV. There is nobility in hatred, says the devil inside. No matter the result. If there is only sterility, at least there can be murder. If there is only helplessness, at least there can be crime. If creativity is dead, at least there can be pain. If all sensation is useless, there at least can be errors in logic. In action without the constant correction of the soul there will be a taint of life itself. Those who live after the fact must kill their fathers in order to see the world as it really is. The devil inside, as is widely known, has the ability to lie.

V. The light in one's eyes, however, is the guide that blinds. This light that we are constantly striving for - this search for meaning, this hunger for knowledge that drives us [What knowledge? What is hunger?], this weariness that seeks peace, the boredom that seeks war, the strength that seeks to test itself, the vigor that asks to exhausted yet again and then resurrected, the cycle of pleasure and pain, the desire to make the outside the inside and the inside the out, to reverse the mirror [to paint the world with one's blood] - what is it but a means to an end, an end that is another's means? I live for those who come after me, even though I might hate them in the abstract. Misanthropy teaches caution to the innocent, prudence to those who come in contact with it, it loves by pushing away, it instructs by its unwillingness, its failure. I can hate my fellow man, but they learn to better their lives nonetheless by watching me suffer. That is: I love them by hating them.

VI. There are those who say we must return to the notion of fate in order to give meaning to the universe. Not only so that the completely random and chance occurrences of life fit into a pattern which we can then cling to as a Father Figure, extrapolate from, experiment with, drape around ourselves as an architecture of togetherness - a language of connection, family, meaning - and Nature, but so that those who define themselves by standing in opposition can have something to destroy. The builders and destroyers are a symbiotic relationship, but so are the atheists and acolytes, the wealthy and the poor, the quick and the dead: the ones with souls and the ones who know their souls are dead. Why even define ourselves though? We think of fate now and we laugh - but what part of the soul laughs? The child inside or the man who stands on his two feet and is willing to let experiences resolve itself into experience, reality into reality? Is the laugh just a way to distract ourselves? Are we even in a position to let reality parade unmasked through our lives? Can we perceive it this way? Can we stand and let life itself wash over us? Or is every supposition, every theory, every question, every smile, every laugh, every word…just another looking away? How do we filter fate? How can we understand life itself when it is lethal to the touch? Do I define myself so that I don't have to look reality in the face? Is my personality a barrier to self-realization, or is it - in its innermost secrets - all that I could ever hope to become? What can I call the part of myself that strives to overcome my own identity - my own soul?

VII. There are times when the identity that I have been given - that I return to as a nesting animal returns to its young, full of fear and care - wears itself thin in spaces, and the inner eye can look through the veil in order to see what the world is supposed to actually be like. Encountering another personality, I take its habits, its needs, its personal history, I assume its thoughts, I feel its beliefs. Where does my identity go when this process is occurring? I am not sure. Can identities be stacked on top of each other, bleeding into each other, shrugged off and on as easily as one chooses clothing? Criminals say: of course, but they often lie. There is the fear, of course, that I will not be able to return to the identity that I call my own, even though I am not sure it belongs to me. How can it? Did I create it? Or was it just given to me? If I created it, what is this "I" that created it, before any identity existed? If it was given…what forces, exactly, were responsible for its creation? In an offhand manner, facetiously, I say to myself: "why, the world!' as if that answered my question instead of just opposing one question with another. There is a part of me that wishes for an essential nature of identity that would be akin to the exoskeletons of arachnids…tarantulas, shedding their bodies and laying in peace, so tranquil, so close to death, yet ever growing, not looking at the body that was before and confusing it with the new one that grew beneath. At one point, was there a split between the two bodies where they could not be separated, where one joined the other so completely that they formed a double, a set of doppelgangers inside of a single form? And does the tarantula become confused as to which body it can call its own? No, say the biologists, because one dies at the moment of severance. The dead is given to time, to the past, to what must be forgotten. The new body, the new identity, is the residence of something that is neither a body nor a soul but which transcends both [while partaking of both] and remains the structure upon which a soul is ensconced and a body is draped. However, what is this structure at the exact moment when one body is dying and another is being born? And where is the soul at that instant? It is the notion of time that upsets the framework of this transition, that creates spaces that must be labeled: life, death, becoming, transcendence. The tarantula, then, as much as the serpent, is an emblem and living symbol of resurrection.

VIII. So Tiresias was blinded, and in that instant became the bearer of a potential that would give him a name, a life, a history, a legend, that made him both more and less than a living person. Seeing two serpents entwined, he parted them with his staff, and was instantly changed into a woman. For years he existed as a woman, as an alien to himself, even though he knew his identity - his mind, his own history - as belonging to the man he once was. Much later, walking through the fields, he again came upon a pair of serpents, and enacting again the decisive act, the ritual, that first alienated him from himself [what he took to be his "essential nature"], he was changed back into a man. Was he less or more of the person that he had known before? Had his identity changed? What part of him remained through the transformations? What structure inside reassured itself as Tiresias, even as his own body, that traitor, changed around it? Or was he/she, for the time spent as a woman, not even Tiresias? Was he/she someone else? And yet this person remembered to part the serpents again - although it may be a mistake in interpretation to assume that this was a willful act, or that it happened because of Tiresias, on the inside of this woman's body, willed it to be so. It could have been mere coincidence, or a ritual on a universal scale, a small item that would be pointed to as indicative of fate. There are judgements, however, in almost all interpretations. Notice the obvious one, just mentioned, that Tiresias was the one who willed, who acted, who sprung complete, solvent again, from the destroyed body of the woman he had become. There is the assumption that if this was Tiresias inside of the he/she body, it made a judgement that to live as a man would be better, and so hoped the ritual would return him/her to a male body. How "better"? Or does this say, instead, something about the nature of an identity's identification with its own body? In the myth itself there are none of these ideas. There is only the relation of action, and an ambiguity that is beautiful to behold: a bare relating of fact, an appeal to the unembroidered [almost skeletal] notation of action and reaction, a record that is almost a mathematical equation in its simplicity and lack of adornment. For all of this, the myth remains powerful - like all truly effective myths, its "solution" escapes the realm of the cogent, the rational. Like the most meaningful myths, at heart it is meaningless. Like the "best" [meaning the ones that have lasted the longest, although there are conditions, of course] of myths it lays bare our own interpretive framework in the process of trying to interpret it, that is…in the process of clothing it with a meaning that may only be a reflection of our desires. It is a skeleton that can be fleshed by different interpretive traditions, different cultures…and yet where is the "meaning" of the myth created? In the interpretation or in the relation of the myth to the interpreting faculty? In something else? Tiresias, once a man and then supposedly a woman, then a man again, was asked by Zeus to decide an argument between he and his wife, Hera. "Which partner do you think gets the most pleasure out of love-making, Tiresias," the King of The Gods asked him, "the man or the woman?" Tiresias, having spent time as both of these sexes [and so, supposedly, had sex with both men and women - what would be more natural for him/her to do while he/she was a woman?], answered simply: "the woman!"…even though he supposedly had chosen to become a man again. Hera, becoming incensed at his answer [notice also the moral judgement there, or the moral supposition, and the judgement on the hypocrisy of women] struck him blind. Zeus, who could not undo the work of his wife [yet another meaning to be interpreted beneath that fact] gave Tiresias what almost every blinded person in Ancient Myth is traditionally given: second sight. So Tiresias loses the sight of the World by telling the Truth, and gains the Sight that rises "above" that world: that exists out of time, out of the current of events. This is one of the oldest myths known to mankind, the loss of worldly vision giving rise to a supernatural transcendence. It has been passed down through numerous traditions, and its origin is certainly not Greece. Perhaps the reader will recall the popular myth of the Norse god Odin's journey to awareness, where he hung himself upside down from the World-Tree, Yggdrasil, for nine days, stabbed himself the side with his own spear [know any other "deities" that were stabbed in the side with a spear?] and gave one of his eyes to gain supreme wisdom. The early Scandinavian tribes hung sacrificial victims [and also criminals] from their sacred trees, and impaled them ritually with spears in a frenzy of immolation. Odin, then is a sacrifice to himself, he dies ritually in one life to gain transcendence and to be born again, even more powerful than before. Like a tarantula, like a serpent, like Tiresias, like Christ. Like the identity itself? Does one identity have to be sacrificed so that another can rise from its ashes? What is the "real world" cost and psychological import of this sacrifice? What does it do to one's life? Does it lead to transcendence - and what does this "transcendence" equal in the world?

U. Amtey
18 June 2003