Archive for July, 2010

Sigils In Rubble

Posted in Intention on July 19, 2010 by lushangxinku

“…now the world stands, visible through your body,

and is transparent through your transparency…”

-Octavio Paz, from Sun Stone, 1957

"The Mysterious Affairs of the Murderous Attacks" by Johann Knopf

“The Mysterious Affairs of the Murderous Attacks” by Johann Knopf

This account, recorded on pen & paper in 1910 at Wiesloch Aslyum in Germany, was done by a locksmith diagnosed with a “paranoid form of dementia praecox.”  It survived as a part of the Prinzhorn Collection (1918-1921), a treasure of artworks made by people in European psychiatric institutions compiled by the German art historian and psychiatrist Dr. Hans Prinzhorn.

In my dream, there is the burned-out rubble of a house.  Cindered chunks from which smoke has long since left lay pell-mell and scattered across the lot of the former home- a few planks from the frames of walls stand, riven by flame, ash and dust, a stark vigil against the slow crumble that will certainly soon befall them.  In the night air, these wall-stalks permit some new harvest, with random roadside weeds standing behind them in a sort of lit but blurry inverted silhouette.

The harvest is an ordering, a movement towards interpretation of whatever may be left- an almost imperceptible tuft of ash billows out as the first burned timber creaks and pops and is raised up, only to be laid back down, just so.  What follows is a cacophony of pops, crackles, and hollow rolls as whatever is left of this ruin is meticulously ordered into some symbolic map of what once was there, or what is wished for now to be there.  Some distant part of me, the dreamer, has set these motions in place, and decides the eventual new order of the rubble- every stick and pile used to its utmost, to form sigils, secret hanzi- like characters unknown to my waking mind, with a complex asymmetrical purpose, a deliberate interpretation of object, event, import.

Eventually the whole rubble pile is sorted out thoroughly into some sort of message to the sky, or to one standing above.  And within the dream, I sigh deep down, somehow knowing that the chaos and destruction have been used in a new and gratifying way.  A sense of understanding, a delicate engraving upon the surfaces of an event now past.

Waking from the dream, I get up from my sitting position on the old couch and brew some coffee.  I think of the order our minds impose upon things, like lines of exacting graphs placed over something which never knew such angles.  Stacking, sorting and arranging- redefining.  Whereas this pile of ashen timber spoke simply and clearly of the mysterious event- the burn- the unseen hand that arranged and stacked this residue of an event had a way of announcing the inferiority of immediacy.  It reminded me of a conversation with an old friend, in which I was admonished for using words deemed “judgmental,” when in my heart it seemed I was merely seeing into the guts and inner pulses of the event, bearing witness to what had clearly happened.  It was as if I had been shot, and, stumbling through the doors of the ER, shouted “Help!  I’ve been shot…” and while I clutched the wound, leaning in feverish shock against the swaying wall, the receptionist evaluated not the wound, but the implied judgment of my words.  “No- it’s horrible that you say you’ve been shot- that casts judgment against another person.  You must therefore say that a wound has occurred.”  On the floor now, writhing in pain, I grind the words out in gasps, “Someone shot me.  I’ve been shot- please help,” and the receptionist, like some demonic Nurse Ratchet immune to the immediacy of suffering, indoctrinated out of being able to recognize events for what they are, trained into thinking that using any language whatsoever that holds people responsible for what they say and do is a violent language that should be excoriated from all use, stands over me with her hands over her hips.  “No- to say that someone shot you is not being fair to that person- they should not be cast in a violent light.”  And so interpretations insist on clothing the transparent in the outfits deemed most appropriate.  Immediacy becomes cast in a lewd, unseemly light, and events themselves are trapped from being owned or involved with the people who obviously brought them about.

Of course, fussing over deliberate avoidance of clear symbolic representation reflecting an obvious event seems excessive to me- let the flames own the consumed wood, I say; they were there, they took part and are responsible, even if it could be argued that it is the nature of a flame to do so.  And though, now off burning somewhere else, they may grimace, wince or shrug, or deny with anger that they ever consumed a home deliberately, as I speak to them it is not my given task to rescind the role that they played, the unadorned truth of the burn itself.  I have this inner conversation often- does the frank, immediate account of things done and said reflect some fault, some deficit of compassion on my part?  Should I fear the discomfort of people unused to accountability, ownership of what is done or said?  Is there some essential nature to kindness itself which requires an amnesia so extensive as to deny the role flames played in the burned-out shell of a house?  Is the onus on a gunshot survivor to refuse to say aloud that they were shot by someone, as an expression of liberation from the role that the shooter played in the event?

Just like the random order that the invisible hand in my dream cast upon the rubble and timbers, and just as the German locksmith tried to establish his own meticulous record of an event in some delirious new symmetry, the presentation of immediate events is secondary in meaning to the immediate events themselves- sometimes beautiful, orderly, kind, liberating- but secondary.  And so the immediacy, the pure occurrence, the essential stark transparency of a realm like a naked emperor in an imagined cloak, speaks more clearly to me than any nuanced, tiptoe interpretation of the embroidery of this imagined cloak, or any praises of it.  The tough nature of this conviction is that the witness to the naked emperor may bring upon himself scorn or disapproval; it may seem that he is being unkind by letting birds scatter as they will from branches, without placing them in careful snowflake-order through re-interpretation.  But the echoing events of this world of which we are not separate, reverberate through time like rung bells- passing them off as a phantom internal ringing of arbitrary ears, changes nothing.


Every Breath A Thoughtograph

Posted in Intention on July 12, 2010 by lushangxinku

“Our cells vibrate; there is music in them, even if we don’t hear it.  Different animals hear some frequencies better than we do.  Perhaps a mite, lost in the canyon of a crease of skin, hears our cells ringing like a mountain of wind chimes every time we move.”

-Diane Ackerman, A Natural History of the Senses, 1990

Thoughtograph of Prince Katzura, Nagoya, Japan, 1913

Thoughtography is the ability to create an image using thoughts alone.  In this instance, from a book called Clairvoyance & Thoughtography, by T. Fukurai (President of the Psychical Institute of Japan) c. 1913, a man by the name of Kohichi Mita was claimed to have burned this image of a Japanese Prince onto one of a dozen photographic plates placed 2 meters away from him, and proceeded to name the exact plate out of the dozen onto which the image would appear.

The basic assumption of solipsism, as I understand it, is that existence and reality are totally confined to me; when I cease to exist, the known universe will automatically cease with me, and in the meantime it is all an illusory construction of my mind, a simulacrum of my own projected creation.  As I awaken, don my work clothes and walk to the bakery, every sense perception is a manufacture of my whimsy, my thoughts creating all existence around me.  Hinted at in Stone’s novel of historical fiction about the life of Van Gogh, on a day in which he feels well, the street he walks down is electric with sunshine, glowing with promise, the churning light swaying in ecstasy.  Then after one of his many romantic rejections, he walks down the same street, experiencing the same weather even, but it is crowding and stifling, menacing with the scorch of confusion, the oppressive heat of a soul entrapped in sorrow.

I hear more and more of this during the last few years- a dangerous assumption that we in fact create, and are responsible for, all that happens to us, all that transpires, based merely on our state of mind at the time.  This assertion is usually applied in a positive way, granting a dubious promise that we can have love, money, and success in everything if we project thoughts into some sort of carefully attentive ether that will respond with material results.  But if this extreme view were to be true, then the opposite swing of the pendulum would also be true.  If everything that happens wonderfully is our job to cajole from this mysteriously attentive ether, then it follows that every horrible thing that happens is our fault, our responsibility.  The 3 year old Tibetan child buried alive in an earthquake brought it upon himself; the rape survivor was asking the universe to do this to him or her; every single random trauma that happens in human existence is the experiencer’s fault- a simple problem of not having the right mindset.  Is this really an acceptable theory that explains  the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune?

Part of the problem that leads to this runaway solipsism is the compartmentalization of our natural response to things.  Once human emotion itself becomes dubbed a mood disorder, it becomes a sort of moral duty to police feelings with all the intensity of riot containment.  The toxic gas canisters hurled at these powerful, churning emotions take the shape of pills which alter our brain and body chemistry.  Instead of rubber bullets, face shields and batons, we attempt to overrun this inner crowd with repeated intimidations, rationalizations, wrecking balls of radical non-acceptance of how we honestly feel.

Surely the realities we experience are, to a certain degree, a matter of perspective.  Looking across the vast spectrum of scale, we can see that our sense perception is limited in many ways.  We are too big to perceive the music of our own cells, too small to perceive the music of vast, giant stars.  To some, solipsism is so ingrained that every sentient being is devoid of its own separate identity; a tool to be used for our own benefit.  Serial killers and sociopaths for example have the curious conviction that other beings are not really alive at all, not like the individual perceiving them.  People and other sentient beings therefore become like lumber; easy to turn into their own private version of ash.  People become a template for self-worth through domination and subjugation, in fact in some cases the dehumanization of the Other becomes absolutely crucial for self-acceptance at all.  Hierarchy itself becomes a new art of thoughtography- instead of seeing a fellow human, one sees one’s own projected image of “lesser,” “lower,” “higher,” “better,” “holier.”  These selfish cartoons poison our days with conflict; thoughts which lead to the violence of assumed division.  Yet to the person who has convinced themselves of this as necessary, as innate or ingrained, no amount of the sheer mystery, the delicate awe of the present moment can pierce such a thoughtograph.

I can sit here, telling myself that the vast, open sky, the baffling, ineffable nature of artistic creation, and the daunting labyrinths of the heart are all my progeny, a collection of pictures strung together by my own mind.  But I prefer a more subtle challenge: if every breath is a thoughtograph, let these thoughts be mirrors, as still as the surface of a quiet lake, or a dewdrop on a leaf.  If my thoughts are grounded enough, still enough, they will mirror the rest of existence the way that Dogen Zenji spoke of the moon being reflected in a dewdrop, in 12th century Japan.  Distortions and projections may be diabolically easy; inner crowd control by arbitrary force may be tempting.  But it is my conviction today that the illusion of solipsism may dissipate under the glare of a mirror unobstructed by the fog of my human breath upon it; and that I may practice daily a way to reflect not my thoughts upon a world, but a world upon thought.  Then everything as it is will be a thoughtograph with no thinker, and as long as my own breath continues, I can stroll unchallenged through a perception wide enough to include all sentient beings, undivided, in fact, inseparable.