Friday, December 21, 2012

Zoetrope: the hole destroys both being and itself

The other night I woke up from a dream and wrote this down:

dreams by a flickering light
contained within the circle
of the zoetrope


Thoughts have since gathered around these memories and constructed a scene. Imagine this world being contained within the interior of a zoetrope. What we are is a series of fragments, a set of static images, Hume's "bundle of perceptions." However, outside of us, on the exterior of the zoetrope, is a being, a presence,  that perceives our world, through the spinning slits of the device as having connection; the fragmentary, static images now flow in a seamless meaningful sequence. Our world, from that perspective, is a dance. If they were to stop the spinning of the zoetrope, they would see the thousand separate instances of our existence that appear, at best, strange, and, most often, as banal and pointless. Only when the world is in process, when there is a presence of, what might be called, the transcendental perceiver, is there any sense, any meaning, any magic... beauty to what we are.

All that is limited by form, semblance, sound, color is called object. Among them all, man alone is more than an object. Though, like objects, he has form and semblance, He is not limited to form. He is more. He can attain to formlessness. When he is beyond form and semblance, beyond "this" and "that," where is the comparison with another object? Where is the conflict? What can stand in his way? He will rest in his eternal place which is no-place. He will be hidden in his own unfathomable secret. His nature sinks to its root in the One. His vitality, his power hide in secret Tao.
- Chuang Tzu. The Way of Chuang Tzu. Translator/Editor Thomas Merton.

What persists between the slits of the zoetrope, between the thousand separate instants within? There is the Myth of the Persistence of Vision which assumed that the eye is overwhelmed by the speed and number of images. The images accumulate within the organ of sensation, piling up, so to speak, and bleeding over into each other, so our perception of them is of a unity. But this has been shown to be a myth.1, 2 Instead, there is conceptual presence that connects the thousand separate instances into a meaningful flow. This conceptual presence is a transcendental ground upon which meaning is structured. These are the dreams from the interior of the zoetrope. Given that, that the ghosts in the machine are merely dreaming their own meaning, the question becomes: is this enough? Is this castle of memory, harmony and hope enough to stand against the stark brutal and violent reality of the howling world we are within?

Once Zhuangzi dreamt he was a burning skull, a burning skull howling and screaming around, suffering with the horror of self consciousness and the pain of raw being. He didn't know he was Zhuangzi. Suddenly he woke up and there he was, solid and unmistakable Zhuangzi. But he didn't know if he was Zhuangzi who had dreamt he was a burning skull, or a burning skull dreaming he was Zhuangzi. Between Zhuangzi and a burning skull there must be some distinction! This is called the Transformation of Things.


The wheel spins and meaning is spun like thread from the dross of the world. A thread soaked in blood and tears, fragments of bone and tissue. This turning churning maw of existence with it difficult and tragic meaning.

There's no such thing as life without bloodshed. I think the notion that the species can be improved in some way, that everyone could live in harmony, is a really dangerous idea. Those who are afflicted with this notion are the first ones to give up their souls, their freedom. Your desire that it be that way will enslave you and make your life vacuous.
- Cormac McCarthy

Between the slits of the zoetrope, there is screaming and fear: the gods are eating the flesh from our living bones.

In the Chorus, which precedes the bringing in of Antigone after she has tossed a handful of earth on her borther's naked body, the praise of human greatness of combined with anxiety: "Many are the wonders and terrors, and nothing is more wonderful and terrible than man." Deina is a wonderful and terrible phenomenon ("miracle"and "wonder" have both these meanings); man is deinotaton, the stranger, the alien and the alienated. Strongest and most ingenious of all creatures, he is "alienated" from the nature he has harnessed; he can also be alienated from the city he has built, he can even be alienated from himself. Hypsipolis and apolis, "high in the city" and "stateless." His fatherland is no man's land. His rapacity is boundless; he can change the future. Only for death has he found no remedy. Martin Heidegger was the first to analyze this anxiety of human existence is the Chorus of Antigone as being part of man's condition:
Everywhere journeying, inexperienced and without issue,he comes to nothingness. Through no flight can he resist the one assault of death, even if he has succeeded in cleverly evading painful sickness.
How close this is to Hamlet's soliloquy:
What a piece of work is man! How noble in reason! how infinite in faculties! in form and moving, how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension, how like a god! the beauty of the world! the paragon of animals! And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me - (II, ii, 299-304)
If awareness is a "hole in being" in the Sophoclean theatre of cruelty, the hole destroys both being and itself. There is much that is strange, but nothing stranger than man.
- Jan Kott, The Eating of the Gods