I Left at Dawn for the Eternal City; It Seems that I Have Misplaced Several Days
Revised and expanded excerpts from the Reality Sandwich Forum for "Transparency is the Only Shield Against Disaster."
"Ensouled by a Cherub's spirit, philosophizing along the rungs of the ladder of nature, and penetrating through everything from center to center, we shall at one time be descending, tearing apart, like Osiris, the one into many by a titanic force; and we shall at other times be ascending and gathering into one the many, like the members of Osiris, by an Apollonian force; until we finally come to rest." --Pico Della Mirandola, from "Oration on the Dignity of Man." Translation by Charles Glenn Wallis
Cultures sit down on chairs around the table of my solar plexus; an argument is about to start
Hi Bogomil and Revolutionrabbit,
Bogomil, you wrote, "But I do know that language (and other symbols) should be a subordinate tool of whatever amount of reality our peculiar universe contains. Not the other way round. That's why mystics fundamentally agree (no matter what their experiences are later called)..."
Please allow this "mystic" to disagree! Sorry, I could not resist that. But seriously folks, perhaps most mystics "agree" because they simply cannot write; they speak in vague and uplifting generalities, and are incapable of or uninterested in translating the full complexity of their experience into language. Rumi and Blake are two notable exceptions to this rule -- you could no doubt point to others -- but, when these exceptions to the rule occur, they also tend to strike us as almost unimaginably peculiar; we look at their historical period and think, "Where the hell did he come from?" Their vision can seem to originate from a point beyond the clockwork of the time-cycle.
In order to bypass the intellect and the lower aspects of the Psyche, to return to the more archetypal levels of creation, and then move further outward or upward beyond form altogether, too many saints and yogis have let go of the very powers that we are here to develop as human beings. As I understand it, these powers have to do with our unique capacity for language, and for our role as "messengers" between the worlds. You may argue that the word "angel" means "messenger," and that this particular function is their job and not ours, but angels -- at least according to many traditions -- exist only to transmit a predetermined set of instructions from "on high." They are the sub-contractors of the active powers of creation, who are themselves -- in spite of their great intelligence and strength -- more fixed than we are in their roles.
Said Pico Della Mirandola, "Therefore the Elohim took up man, a work of indeterminate form, and placed him at the mid-point of the worlds...They stored within him every sort of seed and the sprouts of every sort of life."
Too much "mystical" poetry is what I would characterize as "devotional"; it makes reference to states and experiences that are nowhere "embodied" in the language of the poetry itself. The results may be quite effective if seen as a "finger pointing to the moon," but the mystic has not yet discovered the "skillful means" for bringing the reader along with him.
After crossing to the "other shore," the poet finds that the moon is but one stage-prop out of many, all of which are syllables that have never left his mouth. But again, he must return out of the depths, with pen in hand. He must re-cross the ocean with no vehicle but his body; to do otherwise would be to violate an oath, or to not respond with orgiastic laughter to a dare. Convinced of the superiority of his one-directional transcendence, the mystic comments on the poet's youth -- he whose near death experiences were once the life's blood of the lineage! For the poet refuses to exterminate his "ego."
Having once "inhaled" it is now unacceptable to "exhale"; a different actor must be chosen to do each.
I have often felt that this split between the planes of consciousness was perhaps a fairly recent development -- if the actual length and breadth of human history were to be kept in mind. It does not seem to have been there for the poets of the "Rig Veda" or the "Mahabharata." In Homer's time -- during which, according to Plato, the art of memory was already in decline -- the poet still seemed fully capable of performing his shamanic function. The poet was a "messenger," yes, but his job was not to carry any one set of instructions; his body was an echo chamber, in which thousands of voices all competed to be heard. The World Economy was an engine that an earlier race had designed; in need of tune-ups, it was kept in good repair by his displays of arcane temperament. Bad luck would attach to the killer of a poet; thus he was free to direct his criticisms or insults to the gods -- for who among them might not have grown complacent in his/her habits, or been careless in the welcoming of a Guest?
There was no accident that could not be interpreted as a sign. Place names were 8-directional crossroads. Stories were living serpents that uncoiled into the depths of the nonexistent. Nouns were weapons. Verbs were calls that waited for a response. Each object was an "invitation to the voyage," and there was no event or action "here" that did not lead "there" to its counterpart. Trained to navigate each turn of the Memory Theatre in a blindfold, before his eyes were taken out at birth, if the poet did not know where to go he would not have been able to access the information that he needed, or to share it with his audience.
Trailing light from an alternate sun that had existed before the Deluge, the authors of the "Rig Veda" did not separate "speech" from "action." In "The Origins of Sacred Speech" we read:
"Brhaspati! When they set in motion the first beginning of speech, giving names, their most pure and perfectly guarded secret was revealed through love.
"When the wise ones fashioned speech with their thought, sifting it as grain is sifted through a sieve, then friends recognized their friendships. A good sign was placed on their speech.
"Through sacrifice they traced the path of speech and found it inside the sages. They held it and portioned it out to many; together the 7 sages praised it.
"One who looked did not see speech, and another who listens does not hear it. It reveals itself to someone as a loving wife, beautifully dressed, reveals her body to her husband.
"One person, they said, has grown awkward and heavy in this friendship; they no longer urge him forward in the contests. He lives with falsehood like a milkless cow, for the speech that he has heard has no fruit no flower.
"A man that abandons a friend who has learned with him no longer has a share in speech. What he does hear he hears in vain, for he does not know the path of good action.
"Friends have eyes and ears, but their flashes of insight are not equal. Some are ponds that reach only to the mouth or shoulder; others are like ponds that one could bathe in.
"When the intuitions of the mind are shaped in the heart, when Brahmins perform sacrifices together as friends, some are left behind for lack of knowledge, while others surpass them with the power to praise.
"Those who move neither near nor far, who are not real Brahmins nor pressers of Soma; using speech in a bad way, they weave on a weft of rags, without understanding..." --Translation by Wendy Doniger-O'Flaherty
Like their human counterparts, the activating powers of creation cannot go forever without praise, which serves as a kind of food. Starved for feedback, these "friends" that we have forgotten may for no good reason turn against our cause. If they are mad, so be it; they are only "imaginary", so who cares what they do? Taking masks out of their skeleton-filled closets, and brandishing in each of 10,000 hands their hallucinatory weapons -- their Tuning Forks and their A-Ankara Bolts -- they then appropriate the blood that we have been too myopic to give. Strands of DNA unzip -- both "ours" and "theirs"; a "hair's breadth of a difference" can thus lead to a World War. Out of vast technology a bumper crop of death.
Fear spreads its hypnotic field across the architecture of the vacuum, a dark cloud mass, prompting "interspecies" hatred, and disrupting any sense of how the 2 halves of a symbol interlock. We must stare into the sun. We must set fire to the "conscious dreaming apparatus," which has made the 1 sphere pregnant. We must share our wealth -- as tiny as it may seem to us -- with the birds that terrorize the back-side of the mirror. Out of 1 race the masters of Kundalini have spun many. We must dare to celebrate their feats of reptilian camouflage. Focused praise is best -- from a knowledgeable equal.
As I have said, the art of memory was already in decline in what we now view as the "ancient world" -- which is little more than a comma in the long sentence of devolution; since then, the general tendency has been to "point" at the Beyond. We can ask for help -- which is sometimes slow in arriving. For the role of language is no longer "ex nihilo" to create.
It is only over the past century or so that some significant few writers have made a Promethean effort to push beyond these self-imposed limitations. You will notice that I said "writers" and not "mystics" -- for I believe that writers and artists have inherited -- or perhaps "appropriated" -- the role that was earlier filled by shamans, prophets, saints, and yogis. There is much work to be done -- and someone has to do it! A partial list of my models would include Arthur Rimbaud, Rainer Maria Rilke, Paul Eluard, George Seferis. Pablo Neruda, Jorge Luis Borges, Octavio Paz, Henri Michaud, Paul Celan, Czeslaw Milosz, and Zbigniew Herbert. These writers would probably not be on anybody's list of saints, but I believe that they point the way to the reclamation of our primordial capacity for vision.
But why should it be necessary to coagulate the ocean?
As the Great Year turns to 3 minutes before 12, what sense does it make to tamper with the 2 hands of the clock?
Mini-death precedes Mega-death.
"To be enlightened is to be present at one's own funeral." Beyond death, a shockwave flattens the atomic cities of the gods, leaving nothing except a seed from which will sprout the non-existent.
Of what use is art in the face of an invasion by the absolute?
A powerful breakthrough can bring with it the sense that any language will be inadequate. How can language give form to a reality that is beyond imagination? I would argue that the limits of imagination are in no way fixed, and that the very difficulty of the task is what will catalyze the ecstatic transport of our speech.
This dilemma, of course, cannot help but bring to mind the dilemma faced by writers in post-war Eastern Europe, when the trauma of the Holocaust was at first thought to make all literature irrelevant, as though any metaphor were an insult to the dead. Ironically, this turned out to be one of the most fertile of all poetic periods, in which writers dared to play with the Unspeakable; from out of the depths they radically redefined the relationship between silence and expression, between memory and the external world. Wrote Paul Celan, ‘Burnt fumes of Beyond leak thick from our pores." Celan does not "point"; he instead "embodies" -- as an alien voice bears witness to his fate.
Out of silence -- an echo; out of nonexistence -- a glyph. Statistical "renormalization" had cut the zeros from large numbers. There was space to move. The cost of antigravity was enormous, and of memory, even greater.
Already, the Apocalypse had happened. It was possible to begin beyond the end.
Deniz Ozan-George, Untitled, acrylic, 2009
No weapon can cut emptiness in half
You wrote, "I could not agree more with the concept of transparency shielding one from disaster. It reminds me of advice given to me by an acupuncture teacher when I inquired if being too ‘open' was the reason I was picking up ‘stuff' from my clients. He responded that I was ‘not open enough.'"
Those clients are just bad, and you should probably stay far away from them. Of course, you will have to become independently wealthy first! A small detour -- to be followed by a new Golden Age of hermetically sealed harmony and contentment, in which all citizens will belong to the Democratic Party, vampiric oligarchs will be cured by Bach flower remedies, and no one will ever say a harsh word about another.
Of course, the acupuncture teacher was probably correct in saying that until then we would do better to keep all things in our field of vision, and to confront -- as best as we are able -- all undesirable energies head on.
The sentence "Transparency is the only shield against disaster" is one that just popped into my head, but I immediately understood what its implications were. There is a refrain from an old spiritual that goes, "I went to the rock to hide my face; the rock cried out "No hiding place! There is no hiding place down here.'" At times, when I have managed to access an expanded state of energy, and have attempted to move up what I call the "vertical axis" between worlds, it has seemed as though every carefully encoded secret has come bubbling to the surface, forced out of the body, the intellect, and the psyche by the power of an energy that desires to return home.
This is a mini-version of the "Apocalypse" that can erupt out of the "collective unconscious" at the end of a historical period or an astrological cycle. Some degree of physical destruction may or may not be involved; the new world might look almost exactly like the old. Space, I believe, is the ultimate destination of this energy-the space of the 5th element "Akasha," a form of emptiness that is also a kind of 10D encyclopedia.
Something gains in power to the degree that it is hidden. If we can acknowledge and then integrate an energy or a piece of information, then to that extent we become free of their capacity to wound us. This was one of the ways that Zen Buddhist monks were able to gain such authority in Medieval Japan. They appeared to be somewhat humorously indifferent to death. The warriors that they were attempting to teach thought, "These guys are even crazier than we are!" And then stopped trying to kill them.
Deniz Ozan-George, Untitled, acrylic, 2009
The brow of the universe bears no eclipse
You wrote, "Did I detect an inclination towards a Richard Bach's attitude (Jonathan Livingston Seagull): Existence is either a school or for entertainment...? This is a simplistic assumption, against which I would propose a hardcore Gnostic option: If the universe/cosmos is 'error', there's nothing to learn or enjoy except finding an end to ignorance (of reality), i.e. finding 'gnosis'...Which leads me to the next step; how do we find 'gnosis'/realization/knowledge? You make it seem easy by assuming Samsara = Nirvana (and later returning to this by stating that there's a hair-thin line between 'error' and truth)..."
And a bit later on in your post, "'Everything is OK' is a highly debatable point, not centering on the inconvenience of terminating the 'ego' or even fear of death, but on the existence of suffering...When my cat takes a mouse, the mouse suffers in a direct and very un-academic way."
I do not believe that I said specifically that "Samsara = Nirvana," but, if I did, I was not the first to make this correlation, which is anything but a recent New Age nostrum. Perhaps the most succinct statement of this idea can be found in the "Prajna Paramita Hridaya Sutra," more commonly referred to as the "Heart Sutra," which announces, "Emptiness is form and form is emptiness."
This is not an elitist statement, since it virtually eliminates the difference between "self" and "other." It is also one of the key concepts upon which the elaborate superstructure of Mayayana Buddhism is balanced. As you probably know, monks in Mahayana Buddhism take a vow that they will not cross over fully into Enlightenment until they can take all past and future beings along with them.
"All life is suffering" is the first of the four "noble truths" propounded by the Buddha. This is followed by "The origin of suffering is attachment"-i.e. "attachment' to any "dualistic" point of view. If there is no difference between the "self" and the "other," then empathy for the sufferings of others is not a question of personal virtue or of adherence to any external system of morality; it is instead a matter of the clear perception of reality-one cannot help but feel, and to then "help" in whatever way is most in keeping with one's nature.
I wrote, "A hair's breadth of a difference separates discovery from destruction." This is, as you have noted, a "poetic" statement, and thus is open to any number of interpretations.
One way to read it is in the context of the second "noble truth"; as we move "outward" into the world of society and nature-which I will refer to here as the "horizontal axis" -- or upwards and downward on the "vertical axis" that connects the various "worlds", we have only a limited control over the phenomena that occur. Things happen -- both good and terrible. What we can control is our own interpretation of the event.
Each experience can be viewed as either an "obstacle" or a "door." It is up to us to figure out how these apparently contradictory viewpoints fit together. The challenge is an alchemical one. I do believe that the relationship of the "little mind" and the "big mind" can best be understood as a "koan." The "koan" presents us with an almost opaque ultimatum -- with a question that is meant to torture us, and which can only be answered by a sudden jump between levels. The challenge is not to "create one's own reality," but rather to return to the primordial depth of consciousness from which all later versions of "reality" arise.
It is in our simultaneous awareness of all apparent oppositions--up and down, good and bad, obstacle and door, life and death--that the "hair's breadth of a difference" can be found.
Brian George, The Origin of Language, 2003
"There was Earth inside them, and they dug"-Paul Celan
You wrote, "The reason that I deleted my first comment is because it seemed unnecessarily critical of your article. I suppose I favor a more pared down style of writing and believe that complex ideas can be made comprehensible to others... Also, your writing emerges from personal experiences which are very unfamiliar to me. Maybe a better way to put this is that the experiences that inform your writing are outside my experience and/or frame of reference."
Much thanks for the mature reflection and generosity of your response. I can hardly hold against you the sense of difficulty that you describe, since it is one that I have frequently experienced upon encountering authors whose thought process does not quite match up with my own -- even when, shortly afterwards, they may turn out to be writers who are essential to my growth.
"WOH!" I say, "I'd better come back to this a bit later;" and then a bit later I look at it and think, "This certainly seems challenging, and the author is exploring a number of key issues that concern me, but it would demand an investment of time and energy that I am just not willing to make. It would take too long to learn to imitate this author's way of moving."
To me, this is almost always the key issue-not to "figure out" what a particular sentence might be saying, but to find a way to get inside an author's mind, and emotions, and cultural context, and memory, in order to imitate his/her way of moving through the world. On those occasions that I have been successful in this effort-and these occasions have become more and more frequent through the years-I find that almost any complex exploration will begin to explain itself from the "inside out."
Yesterday, in an email to Bogomil -- who had expressed a similar degree of confusion about the essay -- I wrote, "As I mentioned in a number of my posts, my style reflects the influence of the writers who were my models. I have no particular interest in being universally understood. The average well-educated person with a spiritual bent may or may not be able to figure out what I am up to; this does not mean that I am myself in any way confused.
My work is not really meant to be read, so much as it is meant to be reread. For many of my friends, there has been an "Aha!" moment, when a piece which had at first seemed quite obscure has suddenly snapped into focus. I try to write in a way that rewards continued engagement over time." Based on a close reading of my experience with those writers who have challenged me, I really do see literature as a potential branch of yoga -- as something that can be addressed not solely to intellect -- in which certain sentences and images and concepts and metaphors can be approached as if they were "koans."
You wrote, "The main point I made was that I could not reconcile the call for transparency with an article I could not comprehend. It was not the context -- I am familiar with many of the other thinkers you cite -- but the meaning." There has perhaps been some misunderstanding about this concept of "transparency." The transparency of which I am speaking is not the transparency of a government bureaucracy, but rather the transparency that will allow us to see from one dimension to another--from center to circumference, and then back again to center.
Have I fully achieved this type of transformation in myself? No, not at all, but I have had any number of experiences that suggest what the implications of this mode of transparency would be. The goal is to make the human Body/Mind the equivalent of space-not physical space, but rather the space of the "Akas(h)a" -- the non-existent fullness from which opaque worlds erupt, and in relation to which all forms are not other than hallucinations.
In my poetry, I often choose to personify this "concept" of "Akasha" as a goddess-as an infinite library with the capacity to act. Curiously, a reference to the destruction of the World Trade Towers appears in a poem called "Descent," which was written in 1992. This is section 4 from my book "To Akasha/ Part 2; The Gate that Opens Out of Nowhere onto Nowhere."
The relevant section reads, "The World Trade Towers for a 4th time fall. Their shadows stand. The holder of "hegal" has launched the 53rd Kirugu. The master of the Abzu, Enki, sails towards Gaia in his magur boat. There were wheels inside of wheels. Today it came. Each saw the event that long ago they spoke of. Industrial strength sacrifices flash and then repeat before the large eyes of the watchers at the circumference of the Zodiac."
This poem ends, "You have guzzled "soma" from the 1st man's skull. You are a piece of coal -- transduced. The triune power of 10 thousand suns. A single seed. A green leaf on a blackened branch. You are the reclamation of the man of light. You are the shadow of the lightning void."
Brian George, Head, Split Open, 2002
The alchemy of the word
You wrote, "I think that transparency between people is basically the same as transparency between an individual and ‘awakening.' It is as multi-leveled and seems as difficult to achieve. Interpersonally, no doubt our chemistry precedes us and sets the framework for our conversations. Beyond that, however, lay our plodding attempts at verbal/ written communication. I always ‘hear' Brian grappling with this in his work, as he interweaves directness with obliqueness. The balance shifts, but clearly Brian trusts allusion/ symbolism/ (even) ambiguity more than specificity and opts for ‘voice' over syntax. This naturally limits the broadness of his potential audience and mediates the response of interested readers."
My key models have been "Modernist" or "High Modernist" writers--such as Rimbaud, Rilke, Borges, Mandelshtam, Seferis, Milosz, Paz, Michaux--rather than contemporary or "New Age" authors. These writers tend to work in a dense and challenging style. When they write in prose, which about half of them do, the prose tends to be only slightly less difficult than the poetry. I am actually trying very hard to be clear. One small paragraph in "Birds of a Feather and the Playthings of the 12"-my last RS essay-took about 9 hours to write. Nonetheless, it is probably true that my work is not so much intended to be "read" as it is intended to be "re-read", and lived with.
In their sockets, the blind eyes of my duplicate roll -- to space turning back. His tongue cleaves to the roof of his mouth. Most often sealed, his lips are the doors to a library that may, at certain intervals, open. The strength of one's intention is the key.
Always, I prefer to be working at the cutting-edge of my understanding, but I have also reached an age at which the tone of my work is somewhat retrospective; I am attempting to synthesize and master the past 25 or so years-worth of what Eliot described as "raids on the inarticulate." At the moment, my favorite composer is Franz Joseph Haydn, who I regard as a kind of undiscovered continent.
No self-respecting avant-guardist would see Haydn as a role model -- but I do. A few years ago I would have laughed at the idea. Thus the "classical" and the "experimental" aspects of my work are held in a precarious -- and each day to be renegotiated -- balance.
Acts of metaphysical violence have removed the seer's eyes; the obscurity of the sign serves to reactivate his vision. As was done to him let him also do for others. Into the eggshell of the head we must reinsert the Macrocosm. The swelling will be temporary-but some pain may be involved. "If we do not expect the unexpected then we will not discover it," said Heraclitus, "since it is not to be searched out and is difficult to apprehend." --Translation Richard Geldard
Brian George, Head with Lightning Bolt, 2002
“Speak—but do not split off No from Yes.”—Paul Celan
Email to Amely Greeven about her essay “My So-Called Quarter-Life Crisis”:
Sorry to take so long in getting back to you about "My So-Called Quarter-Life Crisis." It is a magnificent piece of writing. Breezy but incisive, logo-like in its frontality—a play of electric surfaces that opens onto unexpected depths; it whisks me along like a video game in which I am fully inside of the game. You wrote, “Granted, I lived in a shoebox with bars on the windows, but as a writer who could translate the trends of Generations X and Y, there was rich land up for grabs on the new-media frontier.” I am of course familiar with upbeat lifestyle that you describe, as well as with many of the generational dilemmas that you face, but, being a dinosaur, I most often tend to regard such things at a remove of several steps.
The strength of your narrative voice is that it allows me to be simultaneously on the inside and the outside of this "world.” Because of the retrospective clarity that you bring to this period of your life, I am allowed to approach it as a kind of 3D contemplative object.
Almost any sentence that the eye might fall upon has the luminous concision of a haiku, even while it may be proclaiming its own disposability. "So I hit the road. For several weeks, my mind skipped between tracks like a scratched CD. I wandered, zigzagging according to random opportunities—good snow here, couchsurfing possibility there." As I mentioned about the crop circle essay, a sense of psychic immediacy interacts with a sense of physical weight to render even the most casual of your observations significant.
Your style in this piece might be defined as “Post-Cynical.” You wrote, “When so much seems to be just a click away, you live your life half tuned in, scanning not just your immediate environs but the whole world for options that might be better or sexier. Always jonesing for something but unsure what exactly that something is, you're unable to commit to the present. I wasn't the only one, either. All around me, smart, vivacious people seemed stupefied by information addiction. The most successful entrepreneur I knew confided that his technology-dependent lifestyle made sleep impossible, though his machines snoozed peacefully at the touch of a button. New York City is unnatural enough to begin with. Having moved several more steps away from the real with a career in new media and e-mailbased relationships, I felt more and more like a brain on a stick."
The world-weariness of this statement then flips over into the sense of child-like wonder in the following: “The part of my brain that processed high-speed information was redundant in a place that stripped news to the essentials: forest fires in Red Lodge; wind from northwest… After work, I'd ride downstream, strip off my clothes, and sit in the rapids. That slipping I felt—it was the brain on a stick falling back into her body. Over dry summer days and gentle, smoky twilights, when the scent of distant forest fires lingered around the ranch, time slowed to its proper tempo. At 8000 feet, a task takes as long as it takes. ”
In the second half of the essay, I can feel your breathing deepen as you lengthen your literary stride, and I pause to note that my own breathing has deepened in response. I am picked up here and put down there; one place is quiet and another place is noisy. Then, again, we are back in the quiet place. As a means of commanding the attention of the reader, and then of cueing a shift to a different mode—to a parallel life, that is even now happening to a different Amely Greeven; to a fateful and yet oddly distant key—this is like the sudden dead silence or loud crash that you might find in a symphony by Haydn.
No longer are we familiar with the set of rules that only a few minutes before appeared to define the style.
Haydn puts us on notice that we do not know who we are dealing with; the creator is always larger and more complex than the apparently conventional world from which he comes. One world may change into another without notice; the listener (or, in this case, reader) should never be allowed to get too comfortable, and no detail should ever be taken for granted—not even whether the orchestra will be there at the end of the performance; which, at the end of the “Farewell” symphony, it is not .
Nostalgia for childhood gives way to mock heroism which gives way to tragic pathos which gives way to grandeur which gives way to irony which gives way to the sublime—all tightly woven into the flow of formal argument; tone and implication are often quite discontinuous, but, on the surface, only a limited amount has changed.
When I went to art school in the late 1970s, our teachers were forever telling us, “You have to learn the rules in order to be able to break them.” Haydn, being the “father” of the symphony and the string quartet, is actually inventing rules in order to be able to break them. Perhaps we could interpret this in terms of a superabundance of energy; this is the way a free and revolutionary spirit plays.
In Boston, over the next few months, there is a series at Emmanuel Church called “Haydn and Schoenberg”: most concertgoers and critics find this comparison bizarre, but it would have made perfect sense to Schoenberg. My own interest in Haydn comes only partly out of personal preoccupation; my sense is that he was living at one of the key turning points of history—at a moment in some ways similar to our own—in which many previously unseen and thus unimaginable potentials were emerging, with explosive force, into view. These potentials are most often present in the form of contradictions; great subtlety and tact will be necessary if we are going to give form to these contradictions—without losing the particular flavor of each term.
As much as I hate lists—tending to see them as a substitute for argument—I should probably present a few of the most significant oppositions. Let us start with these: the technological and the natural; the paranormal and the skeptical; the conscious and the unconscious minds; archaic revival and transhumanist speculation; the popular and the esoteric; “freedom from” and “freedom to”; the hierarchic and the decentralized; the individual and the “commonwealth”; the local and the planetary; the little and the big.
One persons “contradiction” is another’s 10D synthesis. As the vertical axis again rearranges the clock’s hands, Haydn shows us that the play of Thesis and Antithesis need not be understood as a conflict; our assignment—should we choose to accept it—is to translate the ultimatum of “Either/ Or” into the language of “Both/ And.”
Schoenberg is, of course, another of these key transitional figures, but he is far more difficult to talk about, and thorny; as great a prophet of the Apocalypse as he is—and he was one of the few to see the Holocaust coming in the decade before the First World War, as a tiny speck on the horizon—he does not “embody” the sense of “play” that seems to me so crucial to our future. It is this sense of anti-gravitational play—a playing with incompatible concepts; a playing with the “little mind” and the “big mind”; a playing with the weight of the world—that I am often so pleased to discover in your work.
Like Haydn, you delight in luring your audience into a false sense of linear development, only to shift—abruptly—between frames of reference. Here is one example:
“The more the routine of work engaged me, the more my wanderlust faded. It's easy to enjoy rudimentary tasks when you have to do them for only a few months, but in the ordinary things I found the most satisfaction, for each action had a tangible result, Cooking for 16 means creating meals from scratch that then get consumed. Built-in obsolescence doesn't work in Big Sky country: Things get fixed when they're broken.” Just as I am settling in for a meandering story in front of the campfire, I am suddenly projected headlong back to New York—where I am assaulted by a cacophony of horns and the flash of LEDs: “In New York, the adrenaline rush of maverick thoughts—New song! Breaking news!—is what keeps one pumped for action, poised for fight-or-flight.”
I love this next passage—it is like a premonition of the larger world to come; your “cool-hunting” urban past gives birth to the vast space of your Vedic future—“Here, energy is everywhere: The sky crackles with electricity before thunder rolls in, the river flows endlessly round a bend and out of sight. Even silence is a natural resource. In the city, silence carves out a negative space. It means a lack or a problem, an abnormal shutdown. Out here, quiet catches a horse, and quiet is what you cut through when driving at night.”
Brian George, Photogram, Primate in Lightning Tree, 2003
“The Poles are within us, insurmountable while waking…”—Paul Celan
Hi Dark Nerve,
You wrote, “It is fair to say that we could all benefit from developing a certain double-mindedness so that we can grow more comfortable with paradox—because paradox is the rule and not the exception. Our consciousness will remain limited to what we see, hear, touch, taste and smell until we begin to utilize our inherent gifts of telepathy and clairvoyance…
“We should not be too eager for strict interpretations of our place or purpose in the larger scheme of things. The strict logician refuses to open his senses to the divinatory aspect of human consciousness and is therefore unable to see and hear his way into other worlds. Because he finds the prophetic problematic, he seeks evidence to support his incomprehension…. The ultimate nature of the riddle of the universe will not be fully discerned by either the credulous or the skeptical. We must move beyond skepticism and superstition to even grasp an iota of the complexity of our role as humans in this vast universe. There are always unknown quantities lurking beneath the surface of what we call reality.”
I sometimes feel that we are standing side by side on a ledge, overlooking a vast landscape—exploding with life and pulsing with arcane geometries—which we are attempting, in our own small and yet inventive ways, to describe.
“Those would seem to be conifers,” says one, “but what are they doing so far south?” “Yes,” says the other, “and why does that road appear to lead to a constellation? Perhaps there is a buried megalithic complex where it intersects with that other road?” In a shift of focus, the first one then remarks, “Have you noticed how the sun keeps changing color? It started out as yellow, then went to black, and it is now a kind of Islamic green.” “I am quite familiar with this particular shade of green,” says the other. “It is the green of a hieroglyphic leaf on the World Tree; the green of the Tablets of Hermes Trismagistes.”
The sun rises and sets simultaneously. Many years pass in a fraction of a second. Says the first, “I feel certain that we are standing at 30 degrees latitude, and 33 degrees longitude—just west of the center of the landmass of Pangaea. Already, we can observe a few tectonic cracks, from between which leaks the light of a split atom.”
“We cannot stay here long—in this state of free-associative transparency," says the other. “But, then again, perhaps ‘space is the place,’ as Sun Ra said; it is always possible that there is nowhere else to go. Even now you can hear the chant of the intoxicated multitudes, as they praise the current that has taught them how to die. Their Kamikaze battle cries are not different from their laughter. ‘Space is the place’—first rising on a froth of drums and flutes, the mantra circulates around the 4 corners of Pangaea, before crashing against the ‘glass ceiling’ of a 64 cube tetrahedron.”
Meanwhile, small groups of critics are always eager to remind us of the laws and prohibitions that we have somehow overlooked. For example, “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me…”
“Do you not know that it is impermissible to comment on a tree?” says one critic, “Since no one tree can embody the full breadth or complexity of Nature.” “Similarly,” chimes in another, “it is best to avoid any self-indulgent talk about the existence of a ‘landscape,’ since a ‘landscape’ is just an abstraction made from individual trees.” And so on, and so forth—ad infinitum.
Who needs reptilian overlords when we are all so willing to subvert our own perceptions?
Such criticisms are quite often labyrinthine in their stealth, and can be just as easily phrased in the language of scientific reductionism, or of social justice, or of a popularized version of Zen Buddhism, but, behind it all, there is a Western distrust of direct contact with the Absolute that goes back many thousands of years.
Deniz Ozan-George, Untitled, acrylic, 2009
“Eternity is in love with the productions of Time.”—Blake
You wrote, “Obviously, there are a lot of layers to how (revision) works. How you hone your skills—it's a secret process, but it's also just a lot of tweaking the nuance. It took me many years to find that point where I would just be able to write off the top of my head.”
My own method is an altogether more cautious mix of adventure and reflection. A corollary to my openness to edge-of-consciousness intuition is that I must guard against any tendency toward “inflation,” against the sense that my every off-hand utterance is a breakthrough. To be on the cutting edge I must keep my cutting edge, and be willing—with the coldness of an alien doctor—to employ it on myself. There are plenty more images where the last one came from. An a-causal web connects one image to another; the correspondences may be tenuous, yes, but I must probe to insure that they are not frail.
Out of the 6 ½ billion people on the planet, I had thought that it was I alone who had been chosen to speak fluently! Has a spontaneously arising insight come from beyond the context of one’s culture—as an answer, perhaps, to a question that one has not thought to ask—or is it only a bit of random data spit out by one’s automated response system?
“Doing” must be counterbalanced by “not doing.” Worlds of information can be transmitted in a flash, but that split-second can take an hour or a day or a month or many years to fully translate into human terms. The process unfolds in what I call “Caribbean time.” Time moves as fast or as slowly as is demanded by the action; one’s mood in response to its passage is irrelevant, and, in any case, alters as one surrenders to its flow.
For 26,000 years I have turned an image in my hands; only lately has it been turned into a 3-dimensinal object.
A creative climax can be indefinitely postponed—without any damage to the organs of perception. Life is what happens when one is doing something else. As a parent, there is no moment when the force of gravity might not yank me back to Earth. A sentence begun in August of 1992 might not be finished until March of 2008. There is no way to escape from the geometry of the soul; a sphere contains our movements. What we search for runs from us; what we set free circles and inevitably returns. Bourgeois—and proud of it—my vision is far more revolutionary now than it ever was before.
When mutual friends were attempting to introduce me to my wife, intent on finishing up the revisions on my book “To Akasha/ Part 1; An Incantation for the End of History,” I had several times postponed our first date. This version was actually more like a first draft—it crashed and burned, and the second would take years to pull out of the wreckage.
Without the groundedness that I developed as a husband and a father, it is possible that I would still be working on the book! Luckily, I was rescued by a dream, in which I met my wife, Deni, and she escorted me through each room and hallway of the house that we live in now. “Here are 19th Century sewing hoops. And here is a large saw. And here is a photo of my grandmother from Istanbul. And here are the 3 washboards that you will one day hang in the kitchen.” In this dream, when Deni opened the front door, I was shocked to discover that she was pregnant, and, as the dream progressed, her age kept changing back and forth through the decades. I stopped what I was working on and came to my senses just in time. Thus it is lucky that I ever got to be a parent!
To oneself to become a parent, would be to in reverse order read the compound sentence of one’s biography—with each fluke of DNA to be determined in advance; it would be to interpret each happy accident as a curse, or, conversely, to accept each tragic accident as a gift. The naked and the dead trade roles as an ancient audience observes from the circumference. As Blake said, “Opposition is true friendship.” By the light of a dead sun, I plant seeds that must be fertilized by the black mulch of your comments. On the Tree of Knowledge the leaves will soon inscribe themselves with hieroglyphs.
And so, let us once again return to the dynamics of the RS forum, as this relates to the issue of language and silence, or of public and esoteric modes of communication; I sometimes wonder if participants have any real idea of how hard it is for a writer to keep everybody in happy—as those calling for his blood have told him that he must. With palms raised, I now step into the forum. It is certainly possible keep everybody happy—with a bit of help from one’s superpowers—but first I may want to bring about World Peace.
If I respond to a challenge with reasoned argument, then I am being overly intellectual or "professorial.” If I respond more intuitively or poetically, then I am being "free-associative" and self-indulgent. And then if I attempt to locate myself as a “moderate” between the extremes of intellect and intuition, and if I attempt to address a number of key issues in regards to the history of “free-association” and “pure psychic automatism,” then I run the danger of offending an old friend who is a master of free-associative technique. Near agreement can degenerate all too quickly into conflict. In defense of his archetype, each opponent is then seized by an incorrect type of madness. It is a no-win situation.
But such gaps in communication do illustrate the difficulty of using language as a means of getting to the Beyond. Great vigilance as well as great subtlety is required—a “tweak” here and a “nuance” there, as you say. I am reminded of Jung’s 4-fold division of the Psyche, most often presented as a cross; with intellect juxtaposed to emotion, and sensory perception to intuition. Jung argued that the key to wholeness was to always move in the direction of one’s weakness—turning awkwardness into insight and making a virtue of necessity—until all 4 forces could be aligned in the approximate equilibrium of a wheel. For better or for worse, this is the method that I attempt to follow.
Once brought into this dynamic state of equilibrium, these 4 forces can become a source of anti-gravitational power; transforming language from a tool of “description” into “vehicle” for primordial creative action—at last, we might be able to get from “Here” to the “Beyond.”
Brian George, Photogram, Egg with Columns and Instruments, 2003
“The Reichstag will again burn bright with dancing human UFOs”—B.G.
When I read your work, I sometimes feel that I have been picked up and transported through a mirror into the world of 1967; at the same time, I am very much aware that I am in a dream that a magician has conjured for my enjoyment, and that I might at any time wake up.
As I breathe in and out, and scan my psyche and my body to take note of my responses, I find that this experience brings with it a great sense of nostalgia—a kind of bittersweet nostalgia—which is very different from any kind of sentimental longing for the past. I use the word “nostalgia” in the way that it was used by de Chirico; it refers to a complex and multi-dimensional emotion, rooted in one’s perception of the infinite, which has to do with being seized by the vertigo of Time.
The vertigo of Time! As I say this, I think of those crude special-effect hypnotic spirals that you might find in a Hitchcock movie or in the opening of “The Twilight Zone.”
On the simplest level, there is the dizziness in the head and the sense of falling in the solar plexus that many of us feel when we think about lost youth. On the next level up and out, there is ache in the heart produced by loss of the “American Dream”—as embodied by the Golden Age of the 1950s—or by the sinking of the neo-Atlantis of the 1964-1972 version of the Counterculture. As we spiral out, there are even more expansive and almost incomprehensible levels, in which we feel that entire worlds and all records connected to them have been carried off.
You wrote, “We are learning to speak gibberish—this is no joke; the more we read everything under the sun, moon, stars, and galaxies, the more insane things appear…Speaking gibberish is not unlike speaking about history, or philosophy, or looking into the heart of ancient texts. Gnosis is total gibber-gabber, and the Gnostic is like a patient who has been let out of a mental institution, who then stands beside the highway, waving at cars…
“But there is a deeper dimension to this and I believe that this what Brian George is getting at; it's the lines between the lines of all this language that has been getting the better of us since the first word was projected into light, and then all the rest has been chaos masquerading as order…At the point where the gibberish begins to make some kind of sense, we will be speaking an alien tongue...Poetry is the opening of the way, or third eye, or 4th dimension…”
As you move from Lautreamont to Rimbaud to Breton to Bukowski to Lamantia, and then from the Beatles to the present to the Apocalypse and then back, I am escorted around each turn of the hypnotic spiral by your language—which must be regarded as the instrument of a perpetual revolution.
Your language is a foreign agent, only sometimes comprehensible; it is a stone against which no philosopher can argue. It is the telepathic charge of the Lingam at the Yoni, and of the happy couple against the critics that man the Out of Doors Museum, on whose barricades the couple has now volunteered to die. Your language is a map that is the same size as the city. It is the “negentropic” songbird that Dada hijacked from the cage of Babel.
Your language is not bigger than the Zero; it has cut the head from Goliath, the champion of the International Monetary Fund. It is a slight-of-hand more powerful than any weapon in the universe.
Your language testifies to the value of the “transvaluation of all values”; it is a mustache drawn by the Mona Lisa on Duchamp. It is the key to the centrifugal catastrophe of Surrealism, to the spiral that drives each transported genius mad, thus turning One against All. Your language is a kind of “free associative” wound, by means of which the dead are encouraged to be healthy. It is a flower sprung from the fallout of Chernobyl, the chant that will levitate the Pentagon, a Molotov cocktail thrown against the “glass house” of the technocrat, whose plumbing it will illuminate, and whose data banks it will flush.
In the same way that the failed revolutions of 1848 gave birth the European Avant-Garde, your writing transposes the visionary promise of the Counterculture into the realm of symbolic action.
Deniz Ozan-George, Waterfall, acrylic, 2009
“It’s turtles all the way down!”
You wrote, “We all start from a basic set of assumptions, which almost always passively and unknowingly are considered axiomatic. Perhaps from sheer pressure of habit, perhaps from the idea that it's impossible to make a further examination of such 'axioms' and go beyond them. From a set of assumptions it's possible to build secondary structures, which inside the given frame can be quite functional…
"My criticism in the present context is that you present sets of secondary conclusions such as 'life is a school', 'bypassing the intellect', 'returning to archetypal levels of creation' and 'developing powers to act as messengers between the worlds' all based on assumptions/axioms, which you do not enlarge on. You just take them for granted.”
The concept that there are multiple “worlds” is one that can also be approached and understood in a multitude of ways. It can certainly be understood in an esoteric fashion—as parts of this essay would suggest—but it could just as easily be understood as a convenience of description; as a slightly archaic way of saying “frames of reference.”
Thus in science we could speak of the animal, vegetable, and mineral “kingdoms.” We could speak of the “world” of quantum physics or the “world” of astrophysics—the laws pertaining to each of which have proved to be maddeningly incompatible. If our physical vision were sufficiently wide and penetrating, we could speak of the vertically layered “worlds” of the ocean, the earth, the air, the Van Allen radiation belt, and outer space. In terms of our own day to day experience, we inhabit both the “world” of the intellect and the “world” of physical matter. These two “worlds” clearly “overlap” at their edges, but they are not exactly the same; if superimposed, a great many of the details do not match up, and must be forced by acts of metaphysical violence to coincide. One “world” cannot be fully “accessed” from another—at least not without transposing the entire structure of our vision.
Although fully “real,” the boundaries between such “frames of reference” are never other than provisional. With a shift of scale, we can see that all of these apparently separate “worlds” are just subsets of the planet Earth—a “blue marble” that revolves around a medium-sized star, which itself revolves around an as-of-yet undetermined center. A bit further out, and with another shift of scale, the Earth and the whole of the solar system would be no bigger than a point of light—a point that might look suspiciously like what I refer to as the “Bindu.” Frames of reference can be collapsed to fit one inside the other, or expanded to show the most microscopic of detail.
Deniz Ozan-George, Untitled, acrylic, 2009
Hallucinations erupt from the red ocean; it is dawn
In presenting this alternate view of the “Apocalypse”, of an end that opens the door to a perpetual beginning, I have used, as a convenient “frame of reference,” the concepts of the “horizontal” and the “vertical” axes; in turn, this provides us with a method of speaking about space—of moving up and down, as well as in and out. Each direction will lead us eventually to the circumference of a sphere—a sphere that can also be imagined as a point, as a pair of intersecting triangles, as a 10D torus, or as a 64 cube tetrahedron.
This sphere is both our destination and the vehicle that we must activate; it will take us from where we are to where we have never ceased to exist.
Let us “fix” the world—by letting space implode; in the eye of the storm will test the explosive power of the small. If we travel far enough and fast enough in the direction that we are going, we will at some point overtake our alternate versions from behind. To them, we will seem to be arriving from the future, or from a past whose depth subverts all current archeological theory. Who knows what each will think of the other’s odd appearance?
Once, the Great Year set up oars along the coast, to mark each spot where our surrogates had been buried, facing east. No trauma could remove the sun from before their eyes; however much tectonic plates have been—as if by accident—rearranged. Pangaea is a puzzle; there will always be pieces missing. For without such a catastrophe there would be no “primal schism.”
To the 1-inch city will return the storytellers—good to go!—from all of the cultures that a wave has carried off.
In one “frame of reference,” I am looking down and backwards at the Earth—at the fossil known as “Brian George”; he is little more than fuel. In an alternate “frame of reference,” I am standing like a new-born child on the Earth, feet bare, and with an ocean where my head should be; I am looking up and outwards at the clockwork of the Macrocosm—now once again translucent.
“Breath by breath”—I say to no one in particular—“we will sink our yogic drill-bits into History! By the power of our austerities we will renovate the Zero; one size will again fit all.” The music of the spheres becomes cacophonous, and then stops. As I stare, an atomic power plant half-materializes on a cloud; its warning signs flash, and lightning fills the air with the aroma of burnt ozone. The dark energy of omnipotence moves in for the kill.
Teaser image, Totemic Eye, by Brian George, 2002.Tweet