Sunday, January 31, 2010

Eritis Sicut Deus: What is the Monkey?


At one point in my life I was obsessed by ontology. Obsessed in the in the same manner as the young man with Yorick's skull. I needed to move on to epistemology. From questions of Being, my own most especially, to knowledge. I mean, if I hadn't done it yet, then I might as well figure out what I could figure while I was here. Funny story:

Gutei raised his finger whenever he was asked a question about Zen. A boy attendant began to imitate him in this way. When anyone asked the boy what his master had preached about, the boy would raise his finger.

Gutei heard about the boy's mischief. He seized him and cut off his finger. The boy cried and ran away. Gutei called and stopped him. When the boy turned his head to Gutei, Gutei raised up his own finger. In that instant the boy was enlightened.
- The Gateless Gate

After meditating upon the un-meaning of Gutei's finger in the Gateless Gate, I came to the realization that, with regard to my issues of ontology and epistemology, it was the problem of the McGuffin.

From Hitchcock:
It might be a Scottish name, taken from a story about two men in a train. One man says, 'What's that package up there in the baggage rack?' And the other answers, 'Oh that's a McGuffin.' The first one asks, 'What's a McGuffin?' 'Well,' the other man says, 'It's an apparatus for trapping lions in the Scottish Highlands.' The first man says, 'But there are no lions in the Scottish Highlands,' and the other one answers 'Well, then that's no McGuffin!' So you see, a McGuffin is nothing at all.

It functions as a device to initiate the action, to keep it going: letters of transit in Casablanca, the statue in the Maltese Falcon, a briefcase in Pulp Fiction. In itself, it means nothing and, as Hitchcock indicates, if you inquire into it, you are missing the point entirely. The film Detour is a beautiful allegory for what occurs if you do ask. What is important to keep in mind is that if there hadn't been a McGuffin, there would never have been a story.

What is the monkey?

The monkey is a negative McGuffin. It is whatever keeps you from realizing the truth of your nature. A negative McGuffin is something that turns the story away from it's true direction. Think of a rabid shaggy dog. Things just start going around in circles, never getting to the point. Think of a monkey. The Liar's Paradox. Godel's Theorem.

We all have our own particular names for the monkey. When I was a teenager and taking those first steps into the Wilderness of other religions, I had a hard time penetrating into what the Buddha meant when he spoke of attachment and suffering. What immediately came to mind was Peter Lorre in Twenty-thousand Leagues Under the Sea, refusing to release the gold and jewels and sinking with them to the bottom of the ocean. At the time, love and attachment were almost synonymous. A few years later, under the spell of Walden and Thoreau's "possessions possessing us," I began to believe that it would be enough to merely maintain an awareness of attachment / possession - attempting the thread the eye of the needle by splitting the Buddha's hairs. It was around this time that the Monkey began to climb up my spine. I believed that as long as I was aware of the "Monkey on my back" that I would be immune to the various daemonic possessions and the sufferings of attachment. Soon enough, the Monkey was a member of the house. Not long after, I experienced my first "destruction of the room."

Inscribed on one of the books the Rheinhold Monkey is sitting upon:  Eritis sicut deus.

From: Eritis sicut deus scientes bonum et malum. Genesis 3:5 and a student's inscription, via Mephisopheles,  in Faust's yearbook. Translation: You will be like God, conscious of Good and Evil

Of course, that apple is a McGuffin.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Watching Myself At the Stop Sign, Laughing Inside.

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Late at night dreams. Old scenes. They are watching. Again. When you are hitting the rock hard, they are always watching, listening, waiting, gathering evidence against you. The neighbors with their infra-red scopes and parabolic microphones, the silent helicopters hovering above studying heat signatures, the undercover cops that look like housewives and midget cop-kids in the back seat of the white SUVs, the goddamned white SUVs everywhere. The tiny cameras in the corners of the rooms that look like spiders, blacked out faces in the a/c vents, the trap doors under the beds, the hands reaching up through the box springs. The shapeshifting shadows, demonic forces licking at your face. Through it all: the voices whispering, the teeth sliding against each other.

Everybody knows. Everything. You try to reason yourself out of the Fear. You know, since they all know, I might as well go all the way. Hold nothing back. Later, after the fiending, after the come down, when the low-key hunger to find more starts gnawing at you, forces you out of the house, you see it in their eyes: that self righteous smug superiority. Everyone acting like nothing happened. But you know that they know.

How it goes for the crack addict. You learn to live with it. After a while, the gallows humor, the trench mentality. Fuck it all. I got nothing to hide because I got nothing to lose. And, usually by the time you get to this level, you don't have anything left. You sold it all for the next rock. But the Fear never dies. It just gets stupid.

Now. Where I am now. It is all in the little things. Devils and details. I am watching myself again. Some part of me is watching, at least. A better part. It's like this: I'm riding down to the gym on my bike, come up to an intersection, no cars, no light, just a stop sign, I stop. When I take off my shoes, I place them side by side. I try to leave no trace of myself anywhere, no mess for anyone else to clean. Doesn't matter if I am in a coffee shop or a bar or a restaurant. I try not to waste anything: food, paper, water. When I am brushing my teeth at the gym, I wet my toothbrush, turn the water off.

This isn't an obsessive compulsive thing. It is that I want to do things the best way. The Best Way. Arete. This dawning ethos within me is most manifest in these trivial acts. Everyday, I sense myself watching myself, judging my actions and considering better ways to do them. In every aspect of my being, these changes are taking place.

Living in the World of the Rock, I became hollowed out. I saw myself constantly through other's eyes. And I was so far from doing anything The Best Way, that I surrendered to the drug. What morality there was defined good as more drugs, never enough, and the time and space to do them.  Evil was the absence of drugs. That was it.

After a time, you pretend to be good or nice or caring only to get more drugs, to get money for more drugs, to get more time to do drugs, to find a place to do drugs, to stay there and do drugs by yourself. And you build fucking cathedrals of lies and rationalizations to maintain. Lovers, friends, family, landlords are all ushered into the Cathedral of Lies. As long as it will allow you to maintain. To keep doing drugs.

You don't give a shit about stopping for a stop sign - unless it means you can get more drugs. You don't care where you take off your shoes. You leave trash wherever. You don't clean up anything. Leave the water running, oven on, whatever. The only best way is the best way to get high. And the highs just keep getting lower and the world you come down to just keeps getting darker.

So, yeah, I'm not laughing like a clown or anything as I stop at the intersection on my bike, or as I am standing there with a mouthful of toothpaste, but I take moment to beathe in and look back into the eyes of that part of me that is watching once again, watching me, wondering if this is The Best Way, knowing that it is.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Monkey In The Corner

Think about this all the time as metaphor, even allegory:

This is your life: a room filled with all the objects of memory, furniture of past and present selves and...  a monkey.

When all is well, you are in your room. You keep everything in order. And you've got this little place in the corner where the monkey stays. You attend to the needs of the monkey, feed him, change his bedding, etc.. You are happy. The monkey is happy.

But there are times in your life where you become preoccupied, distracted from attending to the room of your being. Starts off innocent enough. The memories pile up on the desk. You leave ideas hanging on the furniture of your selves. Particular pieces of furniture get shoved aside. The bed stays unmade. Chairs face walls.

And the monkey doesn't get fed and attended to.

You return to the room of yourself one day, open the door and a screaming insane monkey attacks you. You take cover in the corner. Everything is turned over, torn up. The monkey has covered the walls in shit. The monkey sits there laughing his crazy monkey laugh, screaming at you, masturbating onto your mirror, taking the most delicate aspects of your self and fouling them as he stares at you. All you can do is cower in the corner until you can get out the door and escape the room of your life.

You escape from yourself. But you know the longer you stay away from the room, the crazier the monkey will be when you return. You just don't want to deal with it. You stay away. You avoid the room of your life, of who you really are. Maybe, you think, that mother fucking monkey will die. Maybe then I will go back.

But you know the Truth: the monkey never dies.

Sooner or later, you've must return to the room of your Life. You must get the monkey back into the corner. Straighten up the furniture of your selves. Get the memories in order. Clean the shit off the walls, the cum off the mirrors. You've got to make friends with the monkey again. Let it know that you are in control and that it, not you, belongs in the corner.

Where I am: back in the room, sitting in a chair holding a huge knife. I am calm now. But it still feels like I have just finished a marathon. I am up, alert, weary. Sitting here with the knife watching the monkey in the corner. And he's acting all nonchalant and casual, grooming himself and pointedly ignoring me. But I know better than to take my eyes off him for an instant.

Every so often, he kind of glaces my way. I know what he's thinking. He's thinking: sooner or later, you are going have to sleep. You are going to get tired. You are going to forget than I'm even over here. Sooner or later, you are going to let your guard down, forget that I even exist. He is thinking: all it is going to take is just one second where you nod, look down, get distracted, and then I will fucking eat you alive.

But what the monkey doesn't know is that I have gotten wise to his ways. What the monkey doesn't know is that I found a way to fasten a little bell to his tail.

Where I am: sitting here, typing these words now, waiting, and knowing that it will happen, waiting for that first little ring of the bell, that little "ding" when he starts to sneak up on me, waiting by writing constantly, ready to write more, waiting for the monkey to attack so that I can begin cutting him apart, take off a leg or an arm, teach him a lesson, make sure he never leaves that corner again. Me and my monkey are going to get along just fine from now on.


You know what the Monkey represents, don't you?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Purity and the Practice of Death

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Keep returning to Plato. Allegory of the Cave. Reinterpreted idosyncratically. The Chains beside the Fire. The Shadow World. The Black Houses on the Eastside. Chained to a glass tube. And the Fire. Dreams opening inside of the Smoke. And time like a tolling bell in the distance. There was a Monastery in the Desert... distant bell ringing... throw another rock in the fire... breathe in smoke, wait, wait, wait and the bell ringing becomes a single tone extending infinitely in all directions... a sphere of timelessness... not eternal... just a moment paused... free of all desire... then, the tone wavers, echoes and falls off... the silence of the Desert... Time wraps around you, fills you and overflows you... the Fire of Unattainable Desire burning white hot now... in the distance, a bell tolling.
At first, when any of them is liberated and compelled suddenly to stand up and turn his neck round and walk and look towards the light, he will suffer sharp pains; the glare will distress him, and he will be unable to see the realities of which in his former state he had seen the shadows; and then conceive some one saying to him, that what he saw before was an illusion, but that now, when he is approaching nearer to being and his eye is turned towards more real existence, he has a clearer vision, -what will be his reply?
- Republic, Book VII
The Jungian Imago is born out of Platonic Forms. Within the Dantean Cave that is my self, I catch a glimpse of the Other, the Imago. Here is the core of my arete. The idealized image of self. A Form that transcends name and face, this particular form of flesh. This Imago is the skeleton that steps out of this body at death. Clothes itself with flesh at birth. The Skeleton of my Self abides.

The truth rather is that the soul which is pure at departing draws after her no bodily taint, having never voluntarily had connection with the body, which she is ever avoiding, herself gathered into herself (for such abstraction has been the study of her life). And what does this mean but that she has been a true disciple of philosophy and has practised how to die easily? And is not philosophy the practice of death?

That soul, I say, herself invisible, departs to the invisible world to the divine and immortal and rational: thither arriving, she lives in bliss and is released from the error and folly of men, their fears and wild passions and all other human ills, and forever dwells, as they say of the initiated, in company with the gods. Is not this true, Cebes?

Yes, said Cebes, beyond a doubt.
But the soul which has been polluted, and is impure at the time of her departure, and is the companion and servant of the body always, and is in love with and fascinated by the body and by the desires and pleasures of the body, until she is led to believe that the truth only exists in a bodily form, which a man may touch and see and taste and use for the purposes of his lusts-the soul, I mean, accustomed to hate and fear and avoid the intellectual principle, which to the bodily eye is dark and invisible, and can be attained only by philosophy-do you suppose that such a soul as this will depart pure and unalloyed?
- Phaedo
The imperative is Purity. After Purity, Simplicity. After Simplicity, Grace. To embrace the Imago, the Skeletal Self, the way leads down the Path of Purity. Stepping away from the Fire, from the Rock, from the Smoke, awakening from the Dreams of the Pipe was merely the beginning. Again. Circling around this Spiral Path. Again. The Slut of Time playing her tricks.

Friend of mine sent me a booklet once, Caigamos Abajo. It is an allegory of sorts. About Desire and Time. This is the Slut of Time:

He imagines this timeless sphere of ecstasy. A fragile shimmering bubble. But endless in duration. Outside of time. It  cannot be called an instant or a moment. But it is lodged within the memory – to such an extent that even the remembering of it dissolves the edges of time. But this memory corrupts. Every time-bound moment is polluted with the possibility of not-being-enough. A little more, a little less, not quite it, too much. Waiting for the next instant to unfold into the timeless possibilities of the eternal present. She is time. And she binds him down with desire. Seduces him to believe that it will all be there again in the next moment. He happily sacrifices his most sacred memories on an altar of the future. For her.

Here is the Big Lie. The Lie of the Mind. Here is the etiology of my Fall. The Great Secret of my Addiction. I know that as I attain greater Purity, these lightly coded allegories will become sharper and more vivid. The Skeleton is dancing in the Sun. Shadows of Bone and Skull flicker through the dim light of my world. The film is slowing. And I can finally start to discern the shapes of the frames, what lies between each instance of this projected illusion once again.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Fragment of Arete: Star-Dust Caught

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Felt it the other day for the first time in a long while: a fragment, a shard from the broken whole of who I once was, a particle of ἀρετή, arete. Something so broken, so reduced, that there is no more breaking it into something less. But it is enough. Enough to make my Faustian stand. And here, Mephistopheles laughs.

From the immovable point of arete: everything. Archimedes bathes in my blood: give me a lever and I can move the world. I am sure it seems ridiculous. An elephant dancing on the head of a pin. But I have something to build up now. A single square stone at the core of the Cathedral.

Arete doesn't have an easy definition. Even the Greeks, as Aristotle famously stated, had trouble with it. Essentially, it is self-excellence. It is often translated as virtue. The trouble here is that, in our culuture, virtue is most often conferred upon one by others. One is virtuous more because of how he is seen by others, than how he sees himself. The language of virtue got tangled and wound tight around Christian qualities of humility and selflessness. To the Greeks, virtue, arete, was generated from within the person - or even thing. A bone could possess arete the same as a man.

The famous example is the Wrath of Achilles. Because Agamemnon stole Achilles concubine, Achilles refused to fight. His refusal led to the death of many of his friends, most especially his beloved Patroclus. Regardless of how right or wrong the Greeks believed Achilles' refusal to be, they still saw him as possessing arete. He was acting according to his beliefs. He was exercising self-excellence.

I remember sitting around a fire in the Chama River Canyon in New Mexico reading Walden. When I reached the chapter on Higher Laws, it seemed as if every word was a stone of truth being sunk into the depths of my being. I was a bell being rung over and over. Thoreau writes:

If one listens to the faintest but constant suggestions of his genius, which are certainly true, he sees not to what extremes, or even insanity, it may lead him; and yet that way, as he grows more resolute and faithful, his road lies. The faintest assured objection which one healthy man feels will at length prevail over the arguments and customs of mankind. No man ever followed his genius till it misled him. Though the result were bodily weakness, yet perhaps no one can say that the consequences were to be regretted, for these were a life in conformity to higher principles. If the day and the night are such that you greet them with joy, and life emits a fragrance like flowers and sweet-scented herbs, is more elastic, more starry, more immortal- that is your success. All nature is your congratulation, and you have cause momentarily to bless yourself. The greatest gains and values are farthest from being appreciated. We easily come to doubt if they exist. We soon forget them. They are the highest reality. Perhaps the facts most astounding and most real are never communicated by man to man. The true harvest of my daily life is somewhat as intangible and indescribable as the tints of morning or evening. It is a little star-dust caught, a segment of the rainbow which I have clutched.

There it is: to follow your genius. This spark of a flame within, this fragile mote of arete, genius, restores me like nothing else. How long has it been? Too long. Far too long.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Who Remembers For the Dead?

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I can feel the forgetting. Fog of time. And I can feel how it all gets fixed in the memory. How it was. No questions. No doubt. From the sun to the fire down in the cave, what happened becomes a shadow on the wall. Hieroglyphic. Written in stone.

Distant now from everyone and everything that I once knew, I can feel the razors cutting it down. Tying it to the mast. Memory has no mercy. Take it all down to the root. Rarely is there any "we'll save what we can and cut away more later if we need to." And just like that. Gone.

I can still feel it all. In my mind, it is still out there, connected to me. Everyone has forgotten. No one remembers it except me. 

Sitting here in the middle of this Desert. Lone, not lonely. Morning fog shrouding the trees. Who remembers for the dead... these memories... these ghosts?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

A Blue Flame Burning Around the Bones

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I am an old man. Lived more than a full life. Could've died at 45 and been a happy man. There are those days, yesterday, where it just doesn't seem to be worth the effort. As I have grown older, these days come more often. But time keeps on happening. And I endure. Often this "endurance" feels like I am tied down to a chair in the middle of the desert watching the birds of appetite circle overhead. Just a matter of time.

I often imagine a scene out there. I fall asleep. The vultures land. Approach. Start in on me. I still don't wake up. But am aware. Out go the eyes, tongue, nose, ears, face. The birds slowly reduce me down to the bone. Yet, I am still aware. A skull balanced atop a skeleton sitting in a chair in the desert. The birds have their fill. Fly off. I endure beyond the birds of appetite.

Point is: I keep waking up. Closing the mouth so I don't drown in the shower. Putting food in the hole to keep on going. Stopping before crossing the busy street. All these acts that imply I want to keep living. So those days where it doesn't seem worth it, where thoughts of death swarm around my brain like black bees, those days are a lie.

There is a distance between the thought and the act. Unless you are sitting there with a razor at your throat or a gun in your mouth, thinking you want to die, then you are inside of a lie. In the best and worst of ways, it is all drama. If it gets to the point where you are expressing it, then the truth is that you are not going to kill yourself. You are just going to sit around being pathetic and making it so everyone around you wants to kill you.

Of course, there is another suicide. You kill your self, not your physical body. You let the name and face die, fall away, until you are left with what?

Here is where I am. A skull balanced atop a skeleton sitting in a chair in the middle of the desert. My name means nothing. My history means nothing. I see this in my mind, a blue flame burning around the bones. And I want to see the skeleton get up and dance.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Invisible Man Has No Shame

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Riding the bike down to the library, pass a cop car going the other way. He slows and pulls a u. Comes back up behind me. I do the invisible thing. He drives on by. And I laugh in a way that I haven't in a long time. Juxtaposition of Burroughs and Kafka. The Invisible Man has no shame.

Was a time, traveling to Morocco on the ferry from Spain, you'd get off in Tangiers. Walk down the plank, just outside of customs, see them waiting: guides, touts, taxi drivers, hustlers, money changers, thieves, pick-pockets, scam artists. They see you coming from a long way off. Got you marked down to your shoelaces. Everyone, even the Arabs, has to deal with them. Story goes that when Burroughs was living in Tangiers, he got so he could walk right past them. No problems. Cause of this, they called him, The Invisible Man.

Down on The Corner, 12th and Chicon, I used to think about this a lot. Waiting on 13th in front of a house, cop rolls by on Chicon. Thinking: be motherfucking cool. Saying: you got no guilt, no shame. Car rolls upside of you: you are just looking around. Nod. Fuck it: smile. You got to sell this: you are innocent. Pure as snow, Dumbfuck Whitey on the Eastside, waiting for a friend, no crack, no jack. Whatever. They have to feel that you have no guilt. But what you got: a handful of Rock. Inside, you are black neon burning. You make all of this invisible. You become an Invisible Man. I know this sounds like a crock. Hard to explain unless you've been in it, day after day. Becomes a reflex, survival instinct, a chameleon changing color. You feel it kick in.

I'd sit there, cops down the street, red and blue lights turning, unmarkeds circling like sharks. Should've been blood in the water. And I'd sit there smiling, immaculate, thinking about William Burroughs walking down the street in Tangiers.

Thing is: there is this huge shame connected with it all. When you are not invisible, you are a character straight out of a Kafka novel. Walking down the street, not holding a thing, Law Abiding Joe, and you feel guilty as hell. Just a matter of time. They are going to get you. No matter what you do. So you walk around like a beat down dog, carrying the weight of the guilt, hollowed out by the shame, resigned to go down at any moment.

You can get used to anything. Even this shame. Even this guilt. Like I said: the invisible thing got to be a reaction. The downside of transparency: it goes both ways. When it'd fade, the blackness would be darker than ever. After a time, it would get so that nothing mattered. In your head, you've been caught, tried, judged and convicted. Done deal.

How many times down in a House, watching the Fear creep around everyone's skull? Paranoia striking deep deep deep. Every hit it's getting stronger. White eyeballs showing. Behind the curtain. Under the door. For hours. Siege mentality starts to take hold. Constant gallows humor. Thinking: they are right outside with the dogs and the battering rams. Me loading up the stem, thinking: since I am going down anyway, I might was well finish off this shit before they knock down the door.

I lived like that for almost two years.

So I am riding the bike down to the Bellingham library. Cop car passes. The invisible thing kicks in. Automatic. Cop rolls by. And the laugh that burst out of me was so goddamned beautiful. I laughed because, first time in a long time, there was no shame. No guilt. Been a while since I have felt such... such.... freedom (almost forgot the word). A bone way down in the cold ashes of the burnt out fire: still warm.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Doggerel Rondel: Everything Is Hollow

Not much of a poet, but this got stuck in my head, kind of a doggerel rondel. I like it. Makes me happy to chant it under my breath as I walk around town.

It's a big old sky
Empty of stars
Moon up above
Looks like a scar
Everything is hollow
Been emptied out
Big old sky going out

Mind on fire
Once burned so bright
The inward gaze
Now hidden from sight
Everything is hollow
Been emptied out
Mind on fire going out

Mean old world
Keeps going around
Everybody's bones
Deep in the ground
Everything is hollow
Been emptied out
Mean old world going out

A time that was
Never again
A skull in my hands
Here at the end
Everything is hollow
Been emptied out
A time that was going out

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Butterflies Burning in the East Austin Fires

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A new year, new decade. Back to zero. What everybody tries to believe until next Monday. Another day of going through the motions. Another day where I realize how much I've lost. Threw a butterfly into the fire over on the East Side of Austin and now watch the hurricane ramifications start to turn within my life. Relationships like a neighborhood of houses. Neighborhood? Maybe. A few nice houses and a lot of rundown shacks, lean-tos, tents, bedrolls, holes in the ground. I can see now, looking out at the storm coming in from the ocean, there's not going to be a lot left in the aftermath.

The tired lines:

It's all my fault.
I didn't mean to hurt you.
I'm sorry.
Please, forgive me.
I love you.

Like when I was a kid and said my name over and over until it sounded new and strange, I'm not sure that I understand what any of these words mean anymore. Daniel in the Lion's Den scattering handfuls of thorns everywhere. Slight insurance against the empty gut of meaning. I contemplate silence, trying to get back to degree zero with the language. But I know my way is not back to some primal innocence but ever deeper into experience.

Hesse's Steppenwolf:
The way to innocence, to the uncreated and to God leads on, not back, not back to the wolf or to the child, but ever further into sin, ever deeper into human life.
The hope that won't fade is that at the uttermost depths of sin - not far from where I am, the way leading up and out will just... appear. My mind is filled with Piranesian Prisons, Escher loops, Ezekial  8:7. But the perspective in this architecture, like logic in language, is a trick to create verisimilitude. There is the felt presence of the underlying foundation - a door behind the screen. The solution is not going to make any sense. Just keep walking up the stairs that turn around down to the waterfall that flows back into itself until I can figure the crux of the trick. A false bottom, smoke and mirrors. It's either that or into Lucifer's mouth, digested down into the bowels and finally out as a pile of shit covered bones at the base of Purgatory.