Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Broken Mirror

(A meditation on mediation)

She left the web, she left the loom,
She made three paces thro' the room,
She saw the water-lily bloom,
She saw the helmet and the plume, 
                      She look'd down to Camelot.
Out flew the web and floated wide;
The mirror crack'd from side to side;
"The curse is come upon me," cried
                      The Lady of Shalott.
--Alfred, Lord Tennyson 

We forget that with “progress” comes change.  This is facile, so I must elaborate. 
To remember, one must forget.  A memory, when vivid, when consuming, obliterates for a little while the present.  Memory is safest when it lurks unlooked-at.  But memory is aggressive, and it is jealous, and it does not like to compete with the present.

Our words for memory, at least in English, are telling. 

We piece together parts of the past into a present comprehension, a presence. We Re-Member scattered fragments we Re-Collect, and when we present these pieces to another we Re-Count them (as in Account, but also possibly Countenance), we Re-Cite (from citer, “summon,” as in incite). 

The opposite of Memory is not Forgetting.  It is the Present, the Now, the Moment.  Forgetting (For: Away, Wrongly: Get: to learn, obtain;) is not the anti-thesis of memory, it is the failure to Re-Call (again-summon) the past in a present moment.  There is no question about Forgiving (Giving-Away) and Forgetting.  Forgiving is the act one does when Forgetting fails, when a wrong is recalled, recounted, remembered from recollected scattered fragments of a past that exists only in memory.

But we must Forget in order to Remember correctly.  Time must pass out of mind in order to recount (to give account again) for the past in a new way. 

We must forget the present in order to remember what we have forgotten. 

Before writing, there was only speech.  Before books were everywhere, there was only story and the teller of the story, the Bard, the Grandmother, the friend.  A change occurred, and we forgot what is forgotten when knowledge can be had in books.  I am a writer, and I love my books, but because of this I do better by not forgetting this.  I cannot see the face of he who reads my words.  I must trust my own art and my own suspicions, and I cannot adjust, I cannot maneuver, I cannot change the cadence or the rhythm to entice the bored or distracted intended.  Word-Art now requires an act of abandon, a suspended waiting for a response. 

We rely on the other for understanding.  If I speak and am never understood, I am alone.  An increasingly good friend remarked recently on his pleasure that I’d read writing of his thought otherwise un-read, and I understood his pleasure: no one wishes to write into a void, to speak into a silence. 

To remember what we have lost, we must forget what we think we have gained. 

After the book came suddenly, in a great breaking-open of nature, much more.  We’ve had millennia to adjust to written word, we’ve had only 120 or so years to understand the phone.  The missive we’ve had for almost as long as the book, envoys of words (evoyer—to send away) to another.  With the letter, we know only how our words were understood by the response, and over-land this could come months or even years later before, until Empire formalized communication (to impart, make common, to share; rivers are routes of communication, as are words) by building roads. 

Only 20 years to adjust to phones which travel, messages which move without human hands.  Only a bit more than a decade for words to show up in a pocket as if from a thief, and less than that for Facebook and Grindr. 

What have we forgotten to remember? 

Caitlyn and John Matthews chide Tennyson for confining the Lady of Shalott to her tower:
Here the Maid of Astolat [Elaine of Astolat, who fell in love with Lancelot as she nursed him back to health but was never able to tell him while she lived] is translated into an enchanted maiden who is doomed to weave whatever she sees in her mirror, but never to look upon the world of Camelot in person, let alone enter it herself. (Ladies of the Lake, pxxx).
I take no issue with their feminist analysis, but I think we should forget in order to remember what exists now. 

A friend and former lover recently had a very public suicidal episode.  Splattered all over facebook were updates stating “OH GOD SOMEONE HELP ME” (capitals his) and “SO MUCH BLOOD.”  I do not dare for a second, nor should dare anyone else, doubt the extra-ordinary nature of his pain (or of anyone else’s) which led him to such a public cry.  The pain is the same, whether it is on display or not; few self-respecting extroverts, who loves people and realize their identities through them, would seriously consider a “public” suicide undignified.  But it was not just public, it was Mediated.

Mary is sometimes known as the Mediatrix, the mediator between mortals and God, just as the Christ is known as the Mediator between mortals and The Father.  In the same way, the Church became the mediator, not just between humans and the divine, but between life and meaning.  And when the power of the Church fell away, this Mediation continued.  To mediate (to be in the middle) is to connect, but also to intersect and divide (as in median).  Media is the form communication takes, but what comes between is also a barrier of communication.

I do not think we should see the woman in the Tower, staring into the mirror and weaving what she sees as being imprisoned.  She can leave at any time, and does.

That is, she can at any point look down upon Camelot, can look upon the face of her beloved.  She is in no windowless tower.  It is the moment when the life she sees in a mirror sings nearby, out her window.  The Real of the Other, rather than the image of the Other, stands outside, singing.  The mirror is before her, but the Real of the reflection is just outside her, and she cannot bear her confinement.  But she confines herself, for the mirror, the loom is in her Tower.

I think on this when I’ve been in front of a computer too long.  I am no ascetic prophet—I’m writing this to be read on the internet, after all.  But, too, I am pained to be aware of what I have forgotten through this, what I cannot easily forget in order to remember.

What is seen in the mirror is shadow.  A screen is a barrier—it keeps out insects and debris (i.e., life) from an inside that is destined to a dance of insects and debris.  A veil is a screen between the face and the viewer, but veils can part, screens can only tear or break. 

I suspect we are all half-sick of shadows.  The curse is mortal existence.  Life, the Real, the face of the lover, the Other all exist “out there,” and are only dimly reflecting in the mirror.  From the loom of our imagination springs all manner of brilliant tapestries, yet they are only reflections of the Real.  We cannot merely ‘like’ life to live it, any more than we can hope to find in the mediated mirror the true recognition of the Other which forges our own recognition.

Thursday, March 21, 2013


(For you, Anam Cara)
Strands of sunlight streaming through the windows of my room, illuminating long shadowed corners.
A hot mug of strong ceylon, mildly sweet and milked, thick like coffee, a draught from the well of life.
Ancient music filtered through speakers, reminding of what was and shall be.
Wisps of incense rising through the light, filling my mind with scents of elsewhere.
A kind cat companion playing just outside my door amongst the tentative sprouts of my garden, life dancing in life.
A lingering chill, clear air breathing like a contented sigh from the quiet mountains.
The presence of gods, whispering patiently, awaiting their revelation.
And an anticipation which challenges all my words:
I do not know enough languages to paint for you the serene thrill of an impending presence, a long-awaited visit, a kind haunting of a living soul soon to manifest. All poetry fails, all prose is just prattle.
Not long.
I am happy.
I am alive.
I have always been very proud of my ability to dream fantastic worlds, to envision things more brilliantly illuminated than any light I've seen. Yet sometimes, all dreams prove pale.

Ancient wells overflow in torrents of rain from unseen worlds, and I didn't realise how dry this world had been. Forests overtake vast wastes, mirthful fecundity when I'd been thinking only of a little shade. Overwhelming symphonies scream from the stars when I'd thought only of some simple tune.

I shake my head and smile at how little I'd dared, while Brigid tosses more wood upon the hearth, and laughs.
What is love then, without sorrow? What rain could give more life to the soil of the soul than the tears of parting? From which springs could flow such waters to cleanse the heart, to make it ready for the next embrace?
It is spring. Winter has kept safe all which needed to sleep, has culled from the ground all which needed to die. Now comes to us the awakening, mists falling upon us from the worlds above, from which our lives are seen outside of the time we know.
I have known such joy because of its shadow.
I have known the winter which precedes this spring.
It is as it must be, world without end.
I am all gratitude.
I am all love.

Friday, March 15, 2013


"Or say that the end precedes the begininng
And the end and the beginning were always there
Before the beginning and after the end
And all is always now."
--T.S. Eliot, The Four Quartets, I

Almost a year after I last took up marshaling words against the vast abyssal Other, I find myself here again. Older, more solitary--different, or resolved, recollected into something I seem to have always been seeing. 

There are two different things people mean when they refer to deja vu.  The first, which seems to be the general experience, is the sense of having seen or done something before, and any consequences of such a sensory suspicion are typically ignored or not bothered with (one wouldn't want to be insane now, right?).  I used to be interested in the myriad explanations for that feeling, though I never found them quite descriptive of what I meant when I say I've had an already-seen, which is the second sense: the suspicion that the current experience is being remembered later.

The first suggests only past, while the second is more contorted.  I'm always happy to find another who experiences it the second way, who describes it similar language or, upon hearing mine, nods in pleased consent, the relief that one feels when someone feels the same way too.  And more fun when someone uses the self-same words I would choose. 

To expand for a moment--there is this sense that time has somehow bent, folded in, that past and future are being experienced at one, and at that moment, one feels somehow right, as if what has just happened was meant to happen in the past or, because it is remembered in the future, had to have happened.  Further, there's this sense that you've done something "right," like you are on a correct path. 

Of particular note in this is that strange desire, tendency, reflex-- I ascribe meaning immediately to the event, while I don't normally bother with more mundane or more common events.  I immediately find myself taking note of my surroundings, giving more attention to what just happened, what was just said--that is, inscribing in into a tapestry of thought and sense.  To use something analogue, it is as if I've just hit "record," ultimately perhaps creating a memory which I will probably access later. 

I have come to name such experiences as Other, which has also become my way of understanding the world outside the world I understand, or, to use more religious language, the Divine or the Eternal.  But I choose Other specifically because it does not indicate agency--that is, it is not like the christian experience of God or miracles.  Rather, experiences of the Other indicate differences in perception, an almost intangible perception.  I do not mean extra-perception here, nor do I refer to the "paranormal," which I find to be a rather embarrassing attempt by rational people to understand what is outside the rational: to paraphrase G.K. Chesterton, it makes no sense to look for a ghost in a laboratory, because ghosts do not particularly like laboratories. 

I've used Other two ways here.  I'm attempting to expound upon something I started in a missive to someone, and found that I really ought to try to explain it better.  There is the Other of Lacanian and other psychology and philosophy, which is the subject that is not self, the other person, the abyss behind the material/objective existence of another person.  We can guess at what is within the mind of another person, be it a stranger, a lover, or an enemy, but we cannot know.  One can get quite good at anticipating the other/Other's thoughts and feelings, and friendships and loves require such an anticipation.  So, too, do certain careers requiring manipulation and coercion, for such is the social intelligence of the propagandist, the advertiser, the dictator.

In this first sense, the Other is an abyss we can only begin to plumb.  I have had many loves, and have known lovers and friends deeply, and yet have still been surprised and almost disturbed when I suddenly realize I don't know why an other did what he just did, uncharacteristic of what I'd grown to understand.  This I suspect is usually the result of laziness, or of the same intellectual shorthand we use in order to comfortably live in the world.  A familiar chair is stable, and most chairs (by nature of being chairs) are, and so we do not test every chair we sit on.  Familiarity is a sort of stability, an assumption that what we know about an other will be generally the same each time.  But unlike understanding the nature of "chair," the Other is an abyss, or a vast sea, fully unfathomable; though we can come to understand and rely upon certain characteristics (a vast sea is full of water and other things, has shorelines and waves; a friend likes certain things, dislikes others, find certain things funny, finds certain things uncomfortable), we cannot fully know it.  Part of the joy of a friend is learning of them, exploring their depths, discovering what can be known, and in love this is even greater.  But I am not them, and so I cannot fully know them (much less so than one can even quite know oneself.

In the second sense, the Other is uncomprehended, the different, the outside.  An uncanny experience is different from the mundane, it is unexpected, fits somewhere outside of comprehension.  It is fun for some to attempt to explain the Other, and some of these explanations fit well, though within the experience of the Other most explanations fall away, at least as they occur.  Later is when the explanation comes, to fit this event back into a narrative of one's life where it does not disturb anything.  We re-inscribe it into what we already believe to be true, or re-write what we already think to be true in order to fit this new thing into it.

Both Others--An Other and The Other--are the same.   Better said, the experience of love for an Other narrates all past and future in order to fit them in, just as the experience of hatred or trauma from an Other colors all memory and future longing.  The experience of the Other alters all other experiences and understandings.  Or, conversely, both The Other and An Other can be rejected, forgotten, uninscribed.  Love requires choice (letting down defenses, choosing to love back, etc.), and it is as easy to choose not to love as it is to love.  An Other can be rejected, just as The Other can be rejected, and usually without much real harm to the material existence of the self.  What is lost in that rejection, though, is the very point of accepting An Other or The Other. 

That is, meaning.  Even horrific trauma, once "processed," creates and is embraced by meaning, just as the loss of love or friendship creates meaning (the 'better to have loved and lost...').  The material goes on, the body keeps living until is stops, but everything in between, the interior spaces of existence, dreams and hopes and desires and time itself have no narrative, have no meaning.

And somewhere in that gap between our self and The/An Other, is the space of the meaning itself.  I suspect this is why it was said "how can you say you love God whom you have not seen, when you do not love your fellow whom you have seen."  This elaborates the last post, almost a year ago.  The realm of the Social is the realm of the Real, where meaning is created in the dance between self and Other, where thought, idea and belief become Real, or all that we can know of the Real.