“You expect less from your natural parents, and they become easier to bear once you have discovered the other family tree on which the life of your soul depends.” ~ James Hillman
I can’t remember when my grandmother bought me my first tom-tom drum, but I remember clearly when she first taught me a basic beat: 1 2 3 4, 1 2 3 4, 1 2 3 4, 1 2 3 4 …
When I would drum, a mood came over me. I felt as though the trees and sky and the creatures of the earth and sky were observing me with affection. By the time I was 7 or 8 years old, an aunt had blessed me with a mini drum kit. I had found my Mojo, but my mother was distressed. She was not at all happy with this tendency I had for drumming. One day, I had my drum kit set outside in the driveway, away from the house where I would not disturb my mother and sister. That day, my mother backed her big old station wagon over that drum kit, and it was never replaced. I would set up about 3 empty 50 gallon drums, and use cut up mopsticks as my sticks, but I would not sit behind a drum kit until I was 28 years old, when I was living in a big old house surrounded by woods and fields, beating on a full Tama set like a chimpanzee.
I no longer have access to drums; but I have discovered, while walking in the woods, that the woods offer plenty of material for drumming. Drumsticks are easy enough to make – just snap a stick in two. Different sounds come from different things … it is all about the mood. You just catch some kind of mood and drum into a trance. It helps to be alone since the presence of another is very often inhibiting.
For whatever it’s worth, it appears as though my daimon seems to be quite attached to the places I used to explore as a child. Whenever I return to those places, it is as though the trees respond to my presence with some wind, or the sunlight feels especially tender on my skin. I experience the privacy and sanctuary the woods offer me, and I try to carry some of that with me as I return to the web of concrete, pipes, wires, beer, and bread.
As a child, I used to correspond with my paternal-paternal great grandmother (my grandfather’s mother, my father’s paternal grandmother), Amy. She was old when I met her, but she outlived her son Carl, my grandfather. She was an uppity and opinionated woman who wasn’t trying to be liked, and I loved her. I still wonder about the details of my great grandfather’s suicide. How did these dynamics affect my father? Is that why his work ethic is so rigid? Is he still impressing Amy, his grandmother?
That I can simultaneously love her as a precious human character and disagree with her world-view shows the complexity of our life-world. She has memories of Older Tongues – a language of long words and deep philosophical concepts. My father never bothered listening in on his grandparents arguing in German. He said, “ahh, the words are too long …” and let the Old language go.
Amy lived to be nearly 101.
I always addressed the letters to Mrs. Amy Hentrich or even Mrs. Hentrich.
One time I addressed the letter to Amy Hentrich, and she was insulted. She scolded me about how it was disrespectful for a young boy to address his great grandmother by her first name. I regret never having asked her what her maiden name was. It never came up in the letters – I was so consumed with what was going on with me, I never bothered to ask her – or maybe her cold, stern Germanic “respectfulness” kept me from intruding. After all, as a child, I was showing off my penmanship, and wanting my great grandmother to know I loved her. I treasured trips up to Reading, Pennsylvania to see her. She would put me to sleep with her wrinkly soft thumb by gently brushing my forhead or temples. She had a great sense of humor and wit – that’s how she expressed personal warmth and affection. She was cold to the world, but warm to those she loved. And whether she was being cold or warm, she was usually quite funny. She was always funny, even when she was very grumpy. Discussing things she and I both liked, like fat steak fries (potatoes), she would smirk, look me right in the eyes, and say, “How ’bout it?”
My father was the “apple of her eye.”
I wonder, if I go blind, how will I “write”? I could still type … but I like to scribble … I would have to drum. I would have to sing.
My great grandmother treasured her eyesight and was always reading. I wonder if she was well-read? She was into those steamy romance novels … not philosophy. I never met my great grandfather. My dad knew him well. I never inquired too much into Great Grandfather’s suicide, but have been rather fascinated by that exotic kind of death. My father was only 10 years old when it happened.
The relations are reciprocal: Children teach their elders as much as the elders teach them. She acknowledged me as a Being with a Mind, which charged my spirit-mind with visions of The Universe With A Face: the face of my great grandmother Amy. Amy’s spirit was also charged by the written communications, and sometimes my letters would be quite long. She most likely was impressed by my honesty and the grasp I had on my emotions, for I kept her well-informed of the unfolding of daily life in the 1970′s and 1980′s. My parents were porcupines with sharp needles, orangutans who both demanded independence and autonomy of volition. They are both stubborn and spontaneous and unpredictable. They both live in a world of confusion and chaos, as do we all.
I shared my heartache with my great grandmother through writing. We had a relationship as mental creatures. Her letters to me opened a mysterious universe of an inner life, and this was my daimon exercising its communication skills. She created a writer, and I helped her grow as a spiritual creature because she was honoring me as a presence to be read. When does a child or young teenager get a chance to verbally express its take on things to an extreme elder and be taken seriously?
And with great grandparents, even more so than with grand parents, we were pals. There was no pressure to fulfill her dreams or any pressure to be anything other than what I was. She talked politics. She talked religion. While she protested her son (my Protestant grandfather) marrying my Catholic grandmother, in her last decades, she was concerned for the poor; she said the Catholics do more for the poor, and she was starting to have a change of heart about religious matters. None of the hog-wash seemed to matter. In the end, it came down to, “Did you feed me when I was hungry? Did you give me water when I was thirsty? When I had no shoes, did you give me some boots that fit me?”
All creatures, especially larger primates like humans, demand dignity. We are easily shamed. We each deserve respect and dignity regardless of whether we “pull the cart of civilization” or not. Give us this day our daily bread – a little wine now and again, some fish and potatoes. Give us shelter, with enough liberty and space to play musical instruments and dance. Grant us a tent within a shelter, a sacred sleeping chamber for snuggling in blissful slumber.
Amy used to confide in me about how she worried about men who had capital and then lost it. She said that is who many of the homeless men are in the cities – wealthy men or fairly comfortable men with families who lost their edge and fell into the abyss of alcoholism and self-destruction, becoming less than an animal and dead as a man. For a man (inclusive of women) is a social animal, and in the industrial world, a human animal without income or credit is living in a nether region between the realm of the spirit and an iron will to survive, to grow down into the sad reality of Free Market Capitalism.
Something strange and dangerous is happening in Amerika. Organization imposes an ethic of conformity on its employees. Businesses test for levels of conformity. There are monotonously similar ideas of success: a house, a wife, a good job with some company, perhaps even a gigantic monster multinational corporation like Coca-Cola that destroys environments in India and elsewhere, to enable one to own a car (maybe two or three), and raise a family (at least 2.3 offspring) …
The real difference between people is the degree to which they are other-directed or inner-directed. In parts of Europe, especially England, even in parts of India, China, and Japan, and certainly in the “United States” itself, the character of the last few generations of youth is formed mainly by television and cinema. The so-called “good characters” are socially well-adjusted. The so-called “bad characters” are curmudgeons or are obviously self-centered.
[note: curmudgeon = “a crusty, ill-tempered, and usually old man”]
Colin Wilson wrote:
Our problems are fundamentally psychological. They spring from the fact that the complexity of our society tends to create a defensive attitude in many people, the sort of acknowledgment of defeat that a schoolboy might feel on looking into a volume of higher mathematics. The result is a sense of diffidence, a loss of the feeling of being self-determined. This diffidence gnaws into the nervous energies. It narrows the individual’s conception of his own abilities and values.
The powerful forces of our age are mass media. In America, they worship success. In England, they worship royality. Revolt for its own sake is not enough. It fails to get to the core problem: the increasing other-directedness in modern society and the disappearance of the hero, the inner-directed man in literature.
[diffident = “hesitant in acting or speaking through lack of self-confidence”]
The hero of our age would have to be a sort of metaphysician, perhaps even an angry grump like Arthur Schopenhauer. The hero cannot accept the status quo. A wife, a house, and a bottle wine is not a heroic life. In the cinema, the so-called hero always gets the girl. Maybe the hero of our age will have to defy that image and fail to jump through the hoops necessary to be an “acceptable catch”. Or the new hero could be a disgruntled woman who doesn’t give a fuck about “catching a so-called good man.” Wasn’t the original woman in the story of the Garden such a disgruntled, independent woman? She was replaced with submissive Eve after the patriarchal Hebrew scholars wrote down the stories they had stolen from whoever it is they had destroyed (the oral peoples … the original peoples).
Anyway, Goethe himself had no illusions about successful love. Goethe analyzed the peculiar psychological complexities of the new hero in Faust. The result of knowledge seems to be a disillusionment that involves the whole universe: a feeling that, if a man could shed all his illusions for a moment, he would not want to live. There is no doubt in my mind that I am inner-directed. I have a deep and complex Vision, and I can not contain the helpless rage I feel against the stupid oversimplifications upon which society bases its judgments. Isn’t this the central preoccupation of existentialism? Existentialism is an attempt to map and explore the complexity of the human condition.
Existentialism itself began as a revolt (against Hegel), and revolt is essentially NEGATIVE. The writer’s responsibility is heavier than that of the politicians and church leaders, for what is in question is a revolution in thought itself, not a five-year plan or some recipe for “getting right with God.” It is a fallacy to believe that action can get closer to life than contemplation (or writing). The aim of philosophy itself is depth and vital intensity. People can’t get away from existentialism – even if they never heard of it, they experience it. It starts with our feeling of the world’s hostile strangeness.
Is true freedom pure chaos? Cioran said that being oneself is chaos. Some of my heroes were not exactly well-received by their contemporaries. It is said that Van Gogh was never an easy person to live with; fits of nervous depression made his temper uncertain. He took in a woman off the streets who was pregnant, thereby scandalizing all his friends who abandoned him as lost. And so it freakin’ goes, I guess.
The alienation of the worker in mass-industrialized capitalist societies has grave consequences for “the arts” when the production even of something like “literature” has come to mean mass-production. There is no demand for my philosophy. Discouraging truths do not draw the crowds. My philosophy doesn’t fit the factory mold. Hence, there is no audience for my philosophy.
Perhaps writing books that will never be published, like reading books just to inspire contemplation, could serve as a way to demand the right to DO NOTHING. So the journey is a metaphor for character development. It does not matter what copyrights we own. We go through LIVES. It’s not entertainment. We are living and breathing Unwritable Books.
A man crying out is not a dancing bear! A sea of sorrows is not a stage.
Life is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing.
The Hebrews, perhaps through establishing the aleph-bet (the base substance of the alphabet, the syllables … the Greeks added the vowels which changed it dramatically), wrapped the old gods and spirits into a unitary abstraction and banished them to the sky. That was something happening in one small corner of “the Old World.”
Under Hebraic dispensation, the spirits of the earth were “False Gods.”
Under Christian dispensation, the spirits of the earth were “demons.”
Mo matter what Jews, Christians, and Muslims call the spirits of the earth, they are still what they have always been, and those who seek them out still find them. Elsewhere in the world, in Africa, Australia, the Americas, the old gods and spirits continue to interact with those who seek them out. (Quinn)
William Blake anyone?
The voice of the Devil
All Bibles or sacred codes have been the causes of the following Errors.
1. That Man has two real existing principles Viz: a Body & a Soul.
2. That Energy, call’d Evil, is alone from the Body, & that Reason, call’d Good, is alone from the Soul.
3. That God will torment Man in Eternity for following his Energies.
But the following Contraries to these are True
1. Man has no Body distinct from his Soul for that call’d Body is a portion of Soul discern’d by the five Senses, the chief inlets of Soul in this age
2. Energy is the only life and is from the Body and Reason is the bound or outward circumference of Energy.
3 Energy is Eternal Delight
I’ve been thinking about “anti-intellectualism” lately, and I’ve discovered what might be called the anti-intellectual intellectual. I think (alcoholic) Ed Abbey was such an anti-intellectual intellectual:
“I hate intellectual discussion. When I hear the words `phenomenology’ or `structuralism’, I reach for my buck knife.”
“How to Overthrow the System: brew your own beer; kick in your Tee Vee; kill your own beef; build your own cabin and piss off the front porch whenever you bloody well feel like it.”
As I sit before this keyboard, I reflect upon these words of Emile Cioran, who, by the way, never devised any philosophical “system,” but merely jotted things down without any theme.
“Why can’t we stay closed up inside ourselves? Why do we chase after expression and form, trying to deliver ourselves of our precious contents or “meanings,” desperately trying to organize what is after all a rebellious and chaotic process?”
I have been wondering the same thing. That’s why I’ve just resigned myself to working things out in the privacy of my own very personal notebooks, without feeling responsible for being understood by any audience but myself. Writing “on public record” – which the Internet is – brings into the process the problem of the internal censure aware of being judged as a persona. Why bother expressing ourselves to the populace? The contents of our minds may be precious and fleeting and leading up to some kind of transformation when suddenly we stop the flow of our ideas by trying to organize what it is we have been contemplating and investigating, or, even worse, wondering if by stating how we really feel, our audience will think we are “weird” or even “dangerous” and “antisocial.”
What we choose to focus our attention on becomes privileged. While reading some of my favorite writers and thinkers of the past and present, I am continually disturbed by my own prejudices against the “humanistic” view. I love reading Erich Fromm until he writes something that exposes his own attitude that our “animal nature” is somehow less than or inferior to our “human nature,” or even that “primitive” [Natural World] Peoples are somehow less “advanced” or less sophisticated than modern industrial man, even when it is clear, even to the author himself, that the civilized state of our psyche is one of anxiety and alienation.
Many theorists believe that our collective anxiety is caused by industrial civilization and our alienation from the deepest aspects of our lives. So many of the great thinkers that contribute to my understanding of “reality” – otherwise men of obvious genius – have believed the lies of scientific rationalism and “progress.”
There is also the problem I call the “What good can come out of Nazareth?” effect: We may hold back our loftier ideas if expressing such ideas conflicts with our “social status,” “education,” or “our place in society.” Who the hell does the carpenter’s son think he is entertaining ideas reserved for the highly educated and elite rabbis and professors? Some folks are encouraged to become scholars. In the non-academic world, being a scholar often alienates one from one’s comrades.
And yet, as we gain insight into our own action, and thereby find access to the unconscious, we involuntarily exercise an influence on our environments. The deepening and broadening of consciousness produces the kind of effect which aboriginal peoples call “mana.” It is an unintentional influence on the unconscious of others. This is how I can justify spending so much energy on developing a philosophical and psychological approach to life: Every breakthrough and transformation “my psyche” experiences produces this mana that radiates through the invisible fibers connecting us together in the web of life of the universe.
I put a premium on honesty, and yet I’m too aware of how elusive authenticity can be. The subject-matter of existentialist literature as well as psychoanalysis in general, certainly does challenge us to observe our own internal motivations to see where we deceive ourselves about who and what we really are.
Enlightenment is not something we can force upon others. In this world of banks, wars, automobiles, and grocery stores, philosophy and the inner life of the individual gets paved over or abstracted out of existence altogether. The existentialists, although very diverse, all agreed that traditional philosophy was too academic and remote from life to have any adequate meaning for them.
There is no “system” of existential philosophy. There are existential thinkers.
One has to grasp how significant their own individual (inner) life-world is, important enough to study and interesting enough in itself to deserve their own attention. We are constantly in an “existential situation” in our everyday reality. We merely have to focus our consciousness to behold the “strangeness of everyday existence.” We lose sight of the strangeness of life, the enchantment, the mystical, when we lose sight of our individuality being-in-the-world (life experiencing world).
We can choose to unplug the TV and turn inward to contemplate the contents of our own minds. Objectivity can’t give the whole truth about Being. Rational, mathematical, and scientific thought are incapable of guiding us to genuine existence. We deal with matters of the heart in the Dark Night of the Soul.
I was inspired one evening when I happened to speak to a Mexican in Smalltown, USA who was interested in the metaphysics of Martin Heidegger, a student of Husserl. I was inspired since my mind was racing with trying to get a grasp on just how phenomenology (self-observation) influenced existential psychology, and why it is something so obscure. Why does everyone know about Jesus or Ali or Moses, but nobody studies Schopenhauer or Husserl?
And yet here, in the midst of so-called day laborers, a real living man spontaneously and informally wonders along with me why “the masses” are not equally interested in such fascinating ideas. Is there some kind of idiot-effect having to do with organized sports, the music industry, and the media which creates this culture of wealth-warped values? Why does education in and of itself inspire so much self-respect in African communities, yet, in our materialistic societies, money and social status seem the only avenues toward maintaining dignity? What is real education anyway?
Many people educate themselves, but this is something I imagine our rulers scoff at. How can we educate ourselves out of this crisis? Well, me personally, I am not looking to come up with solutions so much as I am simply looking to describe as honestly as possible what I am experiencing. I know that others are as complex as I am, and we can’t just be written off just because we are swimming in the muck. Shall the Oceans be ashamed at being polluted? No. Nor shall I be ashamed of being contaminated. Our crisis is a spiritual emergency.
Wouldn’t it help us were we to focus on reawakening primordial modes of consciousness, developing our animal intuition, and liberating ourselves from the awkward impossibility of genuine communication? I have a craving for mystical experience. Maybe this is what Wittgenstein meant when he pointed out the limits of philosophy. It is really more about the limits of languages or the limits of symbolic communication.
It is believed that five percent of people in any given population possess occult powers. There’s that 5/100 showing up again. Natural Man believed the world was full of UNSEEN FORCES: the orenda (spirit force) of the American Indians, the huaca of the ancient Peruvians. The Age of Reason has placed these spirit forces in our imaginations, but this does not mean the forces don’t exist. Most animals possess senses that we would consider “magic powers.”
“Why can’t we stay closed up inside ourselves? Why do we chase after expression and form, trying to deliver ourselves of our precious contents or “meanings,” desperately trying to organize what is after all a rebellious and chaotic process?” ~ Cioran
Do we give up trying to express ourselves? Do we just learn to keep things to ourselves?
Is it all the same whether we type our ideas on the Internet or speak our ideas in public or just contemplate in silence? Why burden others with the details of how we are processing the problem of being born? Well, maybe it comforts others a little to witness a fellow-creature reaching similar limits and conclusions.
Then again, maybe the TV got your brain.