Private Castalia

I imagined him once (or is it her?) a year ago, a half a year ago, whichever, when things were less evolved than they are today, steeped in Hesse’s concept and discovering in an apartment moist with human anxiety a way to emulate the concept in reality. Being or Nothingness he would call it, an homage to his decision to overstep Aquinas’ final dilemma by using the very symbology the latter rejected (language) to a suitable, if not dramatic, end: an event shared between disparate personages, effigies themselves of Hesse’s Castalia. Each one would become a node, lit (in what sequence, or does it matter?) and accepting connection from others via the internet, in essence raising an intranet of individuals, a new network, but for what reason? Do we look to Hesse’s message or do we accept BoN‘s message, which recasts Hesse’s in mystical tenor? Taking “Joe K” as his nom de plume he raised more questions among his chosen intellectual aristocracy than he proposed to answer.

Initially I heaped scorn on the writer; what a hack, what a crackpot to be dumping loads of currency into such a narrow, futile self-publication and forcing it upon professionals buried in responsibilities of their own; how uncouth. The available threads on the topic ring similarly, with posters admitting to reception of the book but setting it aside, or else reading through it once and banishing it in favor of the elements in their lives which clearly carry water: their research, teaching, personal projects, or perhaps a balanced equation of these which secures them (in the most sovereign sense of the word). Fine! People have to eat and be happy; let them. None of his Castalians seemed to have the time to examine his content, either. Instead, in perfect academic fashion they worried themselves over how and why, with a little where thrown in for sufficient rigor.

How did he find me? How did he go about manufacturing these little books? Why was I chosen? Why wasn’t I chosen? Where did they ship from? Where did they land? Admittedly, I found myself wondering these things at first, but I am no scientist. I deeply respect the method and it’s ceaseless chipping away at humanity’s ailments, but my way, that of ignorance and lizard-brained passion, denies me the luxury of that brand of patience. I gave up the questions which assailed periphery concerns and instead decided to address the thing itself, or in this case the symbol of the thing itself.

Thing is, I’m his mistake, and wouldn’t mind too much being dry spot on his ankle. Here goes.

The book, to me, is at once a blowgun dart and a net, a prick on the neck and the fiber optics of a global electricity. In each salvo that goes out, a new set of professionals is awoken to its existence. If the poison works at quarter strength, they go online looking for answers and find the Metafilter thread, Murilo’s Blog, the Google repository, and all my garbage. They’ll reach a comfortable level of confusion and leave it at that. Should a susceptible person be struck while in the proper attitude, the poison works at 75% and they are given to following the narrative over the course of years and are actively concerned with “what will happen next”. They post on the threads, etc. They take the whole thing personally and react as if directly addressed. These types are nearly what our Joe K is looking for.

I haven’t come across anyone who’s shown signs of being wholly infected, outside of myself. Probably my unfathomable naiveté is behind it; I strongly suspect ignorance of the world is it, or else some other flaw in perception. I see the book as a call to action, as if someone has nominated himself “fisherman” and is seeking something I cannot comprehend. I’m having trouble with this because the GBG theories are perforated too well for my liking. The Game itself, as I understand it, is a contest run over a given period of time where participants must connect intellectual concepts in graceful fashion, the most artful/desirable/well-wrought of which is decidedly named winner. If BoN is to be taken as a real-world manifestation, an allegory to the Glass Bead Game, the mystery to be solved really is in distribution, at least for now. It’s like he’s asking, “who will play with me?” This admission begs another compound question: are we to take the sections of the book as pieces to be connected or are we to look at who these recipients are, how they identify as people and in turn how they manifest as living symbols for their work? Is this book a divining rod for polymaths, or is it trying to create one using Frankenstein parts?

My initial work was to seek out the works cited in BoN and study each of them in terms of the latter and try to come to some conclusion based on all of that. I’ve done a little, and am bored with it. What interests me more than any of the junk in the book is that I’ve shared an experience in common with people all over the world I never would have otherwise. A constellation has been erected, but of what? A fugue of voices is assembled, but what is the theme? Receiving? Surprise? It’s true that all of them could be considered Castalians in a way, but I can also see all of them as symbols to be connected. Hesse doesn’t seem to honor his characters that way, but then again his version of the academy didn’t seem to promote the specialization that today’s does.

If the author is attempting to connect a cast of people as a Glass Bead Game player would connect a host of concepts, he has failed. He has only served thus far to tap successful folks working in related fields (some more closely than others, but the fact remains that we’re dealing with relative personnel homogeneity in terms of the <ahem> roomful of classical thinkers) and unless relationships have developed which I’m not aware of, this experiment feels ill-conceived. Is a polymath the golden nugget here? Is that why the fascination with Douglas Hofstadter? Is he really a polymath? Does one exist in any of the sciences? If so, are they an academician?

A part of me wants to believe the message has something to do with everything we write and work on being chaff compared to The Great Wheel, or God, or Collective Consciousness, Allah, Science; whatever you want to call that thing in which you have faith. The only mathematics I have to reinforce this theory is that of Fractal Geometry and its inherent self-similarity as explained by Benoit Mandelbrot. I believe that this knowledge is what Thomas Aquinas, Aldous Huxley, and other psychonauts have discovered through various methods of accessing other consciousness.

I don’t know, people. The books are still coming in sputtering waves, unchanged from the first set that went out a couple years ago. I wasn’t supposed to get any, but instead found a box of seven copies seemingly representing a break in the distribution chain. You all know who you are and what you do. It might be fun if someone could set up a sort of role-call, a free social networking site for recipients of the book so that we can readily see who’s received it, what their field is, where they fall on a global map, etc. I am not the person to make this happen, but someone among the recipients ought to be decent enough at programming or web stuff to be able to put a network together. A support group! Ha!

Well I’ll keep thinking, I suppose. I don’t believe I’m anywhere near the truth of the thing but probably am giving someone a good belly laugh. Cheers to that. 🙂

Notes on Aldous Huxley’s “Doors of Perception”

Dr. HuxleyP. 22 – The suggestion is that the function of the brain and nervous system and sense organs is in the main eliminative and not productive.

P. 23 – But in so far as we are animals, our business is at all costs to survive. To make biological survival possible, Mind at Large has to be funneled through the reducing valve of the brain and nervous system. What comes out at the other end is a measly trickle of the kind of consciousness which will help us stay alive on the surface of this particular planet. To formulate and express the contents of this reduced awareness, man has invented and endlessly elaborated those symbol-sytems and implicit philosophies which we call languages. Every individual is at once the beneficiary and the victim of the linguistic tradition into which he has been born – the beneficiary inasmuch as language gives access to the accumulated records of other people’s experience, the victim in so far as it confirms him in the belief that reduced awareness is the only awareness and as it bedevils his sense of reality, so that he is all to apt to take his concepts for data, his words for actual things. That which, in the language of religion, is called “this world” is the universe of reduced awareness, expressed, and, as it were, petrified by language.

P.24 – Most people, most of the time, know only what comes through the reducing valve and is consecrated as genuinely real by the local language.

P. 29 – However expressive, symbols can never be the things they stand for.

P. 29 – (To a person whose transfigured and transfiguring mind can see the All in every this, the first-rateness or tenth-rateness of even a religious painting will be a matter of the most sovereign indifference.) Art, I suppose, is only for beginners, or else those resolute dead-enders, who have made up their minds to be content with the ersatz of Suchness, with symbols rather than with what they signify, with the elegantly composed recipe in lieu of actual dinner.

Picnic

P. 32 – Or consider Watteau; his men and women play lutes, get ready for balls and harlequinades, embark, on velvet lawns and under noble trees, for the Cythera of every lover’s dream; their enormous melancholy and the flayed, excruciating sensibility of their creator find expression, not in the actions recorded, not in the gestures and the faces portrayed, but in the relief and texture of their taffeta skirts, their satin capes and doublets. Not an inch of smooth surface here, not a moment of peace or confidence, only a silken wilderness of countless tiny pleats and wrinkles, with an incessant modulation – inner uncertainty rendered with the perfect assurance of a master hand – of tone into tone, of one indeterminate color into another.

P. 33 – What the rest of us see only under the influence of mescalin, the artist is congenitally equipped to see all the time. His perception is not limited to what is biologically or socially useful. A little of the knowledge belonging to Mind at Large oozes past the reducing valve of the brain and ego, into his consciousness. It is a knowledge of the intrinsic significance of every existent. For the artist as for the mescalin taker draperies are living hieroglyphs that stand in some peculiarly expressive way for the unfathomable mystery of pure being. More even than the chair, though less perhaps than those wholly supernatural flowers, the folds of my gray flannel trousers were charged with “is-ness”. To what they owed this privileged status, I could not say.

P. 40 – How was this cleansed perception to be reconciled with a proper concern with human relations, with the necessary chores and duties, to say nothing of charity and practical compassion? The age-old debate between the actives and the contemplatives was being renewed – renewed, so far as I was concerned, with an unprecedented poignancy. For until this morning I had known contemplation only in its humbler, its more ordinary forms – as discursive thinking; as a rapt absorption in poetry or painting or music; as a patient waiting upon those inspirations, without which even the prosiest writer cannot hope to accomplish anything; as occasional glimpses, in Nature, of Wordsworth’s “something far more deeply interfused”; as systematic silence leading, sometimes, to hints of an “obscure knowledge.” But now I knew contemplation at its height. At its height, but not yet its fullness. For in its fullness the way of Mary includes the way of Martha and raises it, so to speak, to its own higher power.

P. 74 – Literary or scientific, liberal or specialist, all our education is predominantly verbal and therefore fails to accomplish what it is supposed to do. Instead of transforming children into fully developed adults, it turns out students of the natural sciences who are completely unaware of Nature as the primary fact of experience, it inflicts upon the world students of the humanities who know nothing of humanity, their own or anyone else’s.

P. 76 – In a world where education is predominantly verbal, highly educated people find it all but impossible to pay serious attention to anything but words and notions. There is always money for, there are always doctorates in, the learned foolery of research into what, for scholars, is the all-important problem: Who influenced whom to say what when? Even in this age of technology the verbal humanities are honored. The non-verbal humanities, the arts of being directly aware of the given facts of our existence, are almost completely ignored. A catalogue, a bibliography, a definitive edition of a third-rate versifier’s ipsissima verba, a stupendous index to end all indexes – any genuinely Alexandrian project is sure of approval and financial support. But when it comes to finding out how you and I, our children and grandchildren, may become more perceptive, more intensely aware of inward and outward reality, more open to the Spirit, less apt, by psychological malpractices, to make ourselves physically ill, and more capable of controlling our own autonomic nervous system – when it comes to any form of non-verbal education more fundamental (and more likely to be of some practical use) than Swedish drill, no really respectable person in any really respectable university or church will do anything about it. Verbalists are suspicious of the non-verbal; rationalists fear the given, non-rational fact; intellectuals feel that “what we perceive by the eye (or in any other way) is foreign to us as such and need not impress us deeply.”

P. 77 – “I have always found,” Blake wrote rather bitterly, “that Angels have the vanity to speak of themselves as the only wise. This they do with a confident insolence sprouting from systematic reasoning.”

Systematic reasoning is something we could not, as a species or individuals, possibly do without. But neither, if we are to remain sane, can we possibly do without direct perception, the more unsystematic the better, of the inner and outer worlds into which we have been born.

Francisco Silva de Herrerra

P. 78 – Near the end of his life Aquinas experienced Infused Contemplation. Thereafter he refused to go back to work on his unfinished book. Compared with this, everything he had read and argued about and written – Aristotle and the Sentences, the Questions, the Propositions, the majestic Summas – was no better than chaff or straw. For most intellectuals such a sit-down strike would be inadvisable, even morally wrong. But the Angelic Doctor had done more systematic reasoning than any twelve ordinary Angels, and was already ripe for death.

Erotic Dream

Dreamt last night that I’d met an old friend at her apartment, one I’d only imagined she’d share with a girl who I knew to be her childhood friend; their alliance was a production of my memory of her. We made niceties and I took off my shoes. The roommate was in a different room, her bedroom, on the phone and lying belly-down on her bed. I made to move past the girl I’d come to visit and she lusted after me, taking me onto the couch and sucking my neck with abandon. I enjoyed it some, but recall being slightly uncomfortable at being so attacked by someone I hadn’t spoken to in ten years.

When she pulled back I felt a tightness and a coldness which told me she’d opened my neck with her tongue. I looked at her and couldn’t kiss her back. I went to the bathroom to examine the wound and sure enough it was there, a little bloody strawberry. Had she been lapping blood?

Seeing me not aroused she threw herself onto her own bed and wept that she hadn’t had a man in so long that she was considering lesbianism for want of attention.

“You seem to know about hickeys,” I said to her.

“Lesbians know about hickeys,” she said, and I didn’t know how to reply. I didn’t know how to cheer her up. Where we were from anything that deviated from m/f missionary was culturally taboo, at least outwardly. It pained me to see her that way.

Jabberwocky

On October 12th I attended a lecture given by evolutionary biologist and popular science writer Richard Dawkins. Fresh out of a reading given by legendary fiction writer Dame A.S. Byatt and thus feeling fulfilled that way, I found a seat in the packed IU Auditorium in the second row from the front, up in the balcony. I understood previously Dawkins’ fame as popular science writer and the local Athiest kids had tagged up campus with chalk about a week prior to the talk, so I sort of had an idea about what his shtick would be. The place filled to capacity in no time and with fanfare, Dawkins strolled out onstage in a light-colored suit. He read from his newest book, The Greatest Show on Earth.

This is where I started to bristle. Firstly, I seem to recall a warning he gave, a cultural caveat regarding his being British and capering before an American audience, and that the following passages were how “we (the British) saw things”. Fine.  He then read this passage about how silly (logistically) the Noah’s Ark myth is, poking holes in it (ha) and generally receiving warm sounds from the assembly. I was disappointed because A.) after hearing a real writer read, I was disappointed in his scientist’s prose, and B.) was upset that unlike greater pop-sci writers, say, Carl Sagan for instance, or Jared Diamond, he spent the entire passage bashing a myth and may have offered a sentence in explanation, saying something to the tune of, “science is the answer”. Okay, fine. If you’re going to blow something out of the water (ha!) at least give me something to grasp in its stead. Destroying a defenseless myth seemed a little too easy, a little too expected. I began to wonder if the rest of the book was in that tenor, and whether it might be better suited for academic criticism than Barnes & Noble, perhaps available for free on JStor. People clapped when he had finished, their cognitive ability generally unapproached, and thus an atmosphere of anticipation (rather than appreciation) fell over us for the next segment: Q&A!!

The Q&A section promised something closer to what I’d come expecting, anyway; a snapshot of one of science writing’s leading minds in action, volleying back and forth with the crowd and proving some mettle. Argument! Discussion! Illumination! Lines formed in the two aisles below me, at the front of each a microphone so that people from both sides of the Auditorium might get a chance to ask something. The first question was posed by a Turkish student and it went something like, “When will your website be legal in my country?” or “When will (X atheist event) happen in Turkey?”. He spoke eloquently and the room had a good laugh that Dawkins’ site is banned in Turkey. I should have guessed, however, (damn my stupidity) what the questioner demographics were. Here they are, as you, being significantly more aware than me, might have guessed:

  • 85%: Atheists
  • 25%: Scientists
  • 5%: Drunk Idiots
  • 25%: Post-Christians

The steady stream of Atheists was punctuated now and again in that half-hour or hour with a few earnest questions. By “earnest” I mean “knowledge-seeking”. One poor bastard, a Christian, (read: same thing as an Atheist standing up to speak during a Pentacostal snake-handling session) said something like, “Why don’t you expound on your beliefs via the Bible, or at least take the holy book into account” and was met with requisite heckling from the crowd and an uncouth remark from the stage which echoed something like, “and why would I believe a thing from a book written by a bunch of goat-herders”, to which the crowd, reaffirmed, gave great approval.

One young man, stunned and breathless, exclaimed, panting: “I may be an Atheist but you,” and here he stuttered, “a-are a god to me.” The crowd didn’t exactly love the sound of that, and neither did Dawkins. He looked very unhappy, shaking his head “no” and scissoring his arms before his body as an NFL official might as a forward pass is dropped, saying “No, no”. I can’t remember what question this kid asked but I do recall its tone, falling somewhere between self-affirming and and self-aggrandizing. So began the rise of the Atheist Church in that auditorium, and what a pitiful display it was. They disappointed me, the Atheists, or at least these Atheists; their questions rang hollow with regurgitated rhetoric, they themselves clearly desiring to hear answers they already knew and the ones they knew Dawkins would offer to their queries. Dawkins didn’t disappoint, continually defining aloud the thrust of his beliefs and thus, theirs.

I looked down the row to my right, and again to my left, recognized the glittering eyes and heard in the questioners’ voices the old, familiar, religious quaver. It occurred to me then, with no little irony, that these empiricists, the skeptical horde, desperately sought someone to turn to, to hold aloft as a paradigm to strive toward and there he was, standing before  and above them bathed in light and listening, listening to their endless questions…of course the analogue is too easy, especially in terms of stage performance logistics. I’m being a little hard on the kids, too, and I’m almost done. I bore in mind all the while that Dawkins had asked for none of this…perhaps. It’s wrong to say he’d “elected” himself Grand Poobah of anything, but when does a prominent figure in a given field/belief system become responsible for realizing (and in this case, remedying) his own exaltation at the hands of the assembled mob?

Another questioner, the last one I’ll mention, told a sad tale as a precursor to a question of psychological nature. Approximately: he confessed to having been brought up Catholic and five years back quitting all that (a man after my own heart!) and since has turned to Atheism. He couldn’t shake, however, the fear of Hell instilled in him by the good friars, nuns, fathers, or whomever. “How do I do it, Dr. Dawkins,” he said. Clearly he was suffering, this young man. “Well,” Dawkins began, “it seems you’ve become a rational adult…” and his tone was conciliatory, warm, and approached sympathy. The crowd sensed this and reacted like as a whole, as if the place housed a hive mind. Their movement was subtle, and impossible to discern at ground level. From the balcony, I witnessed a small lurch pass over them like a wave coming inward toward the boy questioner. He took a step back, either as an emotional response to Dawkins’ kindness or an unconscious response to the wall of crowed attention crashing about him. I was revolted at the “Atheist help group” tone the show had taken. So much back-patting and grab-ass, so much reaffirmation. It was religious, plain and simple. “Support” is a common reason people attend church. There stood a priest on a podium, doling compassion to the lost.

Dawkins stormed for awhile about how wrong it is for parents to force their religion on children, which I agree with but the wind had been taken from my sails. I endured a few more questions and got up to leave when it was over, deflated and amused for having discovered that this, one of the figureheads of Humanist/Atheist culture, wasn’t more than a shaman for people who disapprove of shamans.