Thursday, December 21, 2017

Brisbane Winter

The sky is cloudless and radiantly blue. There is no breeze at all and the sunlight is clear and palpable; a gentle, loving caress, innocently sensual, that energises and comforts and infuses a simple joy.
To walk on such a day is an end in itself. Lazily I make my way to the ferry at Orleigh Park, the noise of the cars a minor distraction to the shining world around me.  Soon I am sitting on the lawn of the Great Court talking with my old friend Gerry, a 39 year old philosophy PhD whose startling fashion sense creates more life in this place than the rest put together. He sometimes wears a mirror as a necklace so that others can see themselves in him.
There are ten or fifteen others here too, but only Gerry is known to me; he has organised this friendly get-together for the Philosophy Club. As the cask white begins to flow so does the conversation, and the tentativity I was feeling quickly vanishes, replaced by an eager appreciation, a thirst for the new people I am beginning to discover. And it is a thirst for myself too because I am feeling more alive, drinking from the wellspring, speaking from the heartmind, revealing myself, unburdening myself, offering myself and receiving freely in return. This is university now, for it is now that we are entering original territory. This is the real stuff, the living stuff: kindred spirits engaged in the dialectical dance; the mutual catalysis of the libidinous energies; the wild jazzy joy of the escalating pursuit, the pursuit of escalation.
Security intervenes. Drinking alcohol is prohibited on the lawn. We acknowledge then ignore the lone ranger and he seems to forget about it. As if this were a tacit carte blanche Gerry and I start charging at an advertising billboard promoting ‘UQ Careers Day’. The plastic sign trampolines us back and it’s addictive so we continue until the sign loses its tension, but it doesn’t break or fall down. We run out of wine and what’s left of us go the bar, Gerry and I ending up in a conversation that is hamstrung by too much alcohol and I give up trying to explain how mysticism and rationality can live very happily together within a broader metaphysical framework. Gerry is an ardent ‘to the death’ rationalist, and I love him for this loyalty. He lives his philosophy, which is why he is more free and more alive than most, relatively unaffected by the stultifying bureaucracy and the mediocrity it encourages.
I say ‘relatively’ because Gerry is caught as well; he is free and he is caught and hell if this is a contradiction then remember that all higher truths are paradoxical. He is a seeker but he seeks now with the translucent blinkers of technique and jargon and no little hubris, and one day these blinkers may scab over completely, but I don’t think so. Gerry is caught in the no-man’s land between the old and new worlds and the subtle offerings of his own unique understanding are the only guides he has out of there, as is the case for all of us who decide to make the journey. Gerry knows the transformative power of ideas - he is a living example of them - and he and I are fused in this perspective. We came together because we found and spun on the Situationists, whose ideas provoked an existential rebellion in France in 1968. That is philosophy. Stuff that rips your guts out as you recognise your own needless complicity in the horror of the banal, when the infinite potential of life lies there right in front of you waiting, wanting to be exposed, actualised, lived. If it doesn’t rip your guts out then why bother? I don’t want a hobby, I want passion. I want life swollen with urgency, a force of nature, magma bursting forth, undeniable, elemental, free of its geological prison. I want free of my geometrical prison, this Euclidean world of Cartesian alienation and I am free of it, free and bound, just like Gerry but in my own different way.
It is these moments, these irruptions of life, that I want to cultivate now. My own freedom and that of everyone are the same thing, this is why I am bound. No man is an island; a peninsula, perhaps. But to retreat to the private reality of the mad, the recluse, the   I want to rip through the veneer of public reality, and keep ripping ‘til the whole thing is tattered and good only as a sentimental keepsake, a museum piece. 
The day of the party and I know that it will be my last here in this wonderful place. Another share house lived, loved and done; my mind looking forward now to the filming of the Pirsig documentary in the US. Confusing to feel such affection for a place simultaneous with an impulse to leave, but the moment is all and tonight the moment will last for a long, long time and that is enough.
I partake of the fungal sacrament and I play DJ and I dance and my wonderful sister is there dancing with me. I am fluid and supple and bursting with joyous energy, love and laughter. There is no ‘me’ now, or rather there is the real ‘me’ - the simple, still ‘me’ behind the ‘me’ that is a distracting tangle of ideas and memories. Jesus! - To dance! To just let go and let rip, how can Heaven be better than this? Who needs Heaven when you have dance and music and friends that burst your heart and blow your mind and rupture your guts. The night is still young as I drift around from pocket to pocket, always drawn back by the music and I am drinking more water than anything and I know that things have just started and I am filled with the wild joy again, a joy that explodes beyond my control as I see that someone has brought a dog and I see it like it is God itself and the love dwarfs me and I grab the dog and dance with it and roll around with it and kiss it and I know her, some ineffable understanding fills me and I feel that she can understand me when I say wordlessly, “I know, I can see you now”. She is purer than us and I roll around laughing with love. I am soon dancing again and then find myself in my bedroom doorway.  My bedroom is filled with cross-legged stoners and I am now unable to finish sentences because everything is too funny.
Uncontainable exuberance slowly gives way to languid contentment as I drink more beer and smoke a little and the night gently saunters toward conclusion. My housemate Lorna and I slow dance to Nina Simone as the sun comes up, both giggling softly about what a great night it was.  This house which has seen so many beautiful times like this, I will miss it. How can you not love a place like this? A place that is charged with the sweet memories of so many. A house for one and all.
A house, a home... the question of our times. Is housing not a human right? What is a human right anyway?  We have the right to do as we are told and that’s about it as far as I can tell. I want to write a story about home: about ‘home’ the eluder, ‘home’ the cruel flirt, ‘home’ the ever unattainable, ‘home’ thy name is Caprice! A Kafka-esque tragi-comedy with a happy ending: home as an inner destination and an outer manifestation of this re-connection.   The ‘Myth of the Fall’ resolved, superseded.... the world itself reborn as a living home for all. But most of the time I just want a home of my own.
Without my parents I wouldn’t have a home at all, I would be screwed. Okay, more screwed. Yes your parents clinging love can fuck you up, but I will choose that trauma over absence or indifference anyday. My relative freedom is borne of their relative bondage I know it and they know it and now it is time for me to face up to that. Shane, their only employee, is gone and they are 60 and thankfully it is good honest work here at the nursery. But my life meanders. The work with the plants is enjoyable and I love the veg garden but I have nothing to do at night, or more accurately I am too lazy to make something happen. So I smoke more and I drink more and I betray what I felt when I got back from the States and god I need a place of my own. Doesn’t everyone?
When I got back from the States I wanted to explode into the world. Three weeks of guerrilla filmmaking and over 2000 miles of driving and so glad to return from the land of the Giant, until I land and am treated like a criminal. The airport staff are interrogative, smileless and there is no “Welcome back”, there is nothing, and they are nothing - ciphers, automata. Someone tells me that they are installing electronic fingerprint scanners and god knows what other anti-terrorist bullshit. It is all such a stupid waste. Yes, the Giant is here too and he is behind all this and I am angry but at least I know this now. I know that he is in me and is in us all, this phoney, sadistic guardian, and we keep doing this shit to ourselves because he is still hidden, pulling the strings. But I can reveal him now and that is all that is needed to be free of him.
Yes I know him now. No need for Illuminati, no cabals, no bad guys required. The Giant is the natural operating logic of stratified society that once was a necessary survival mechanism but now is a tyrannical anachronism. It is the whip and it is the lure: punisher and seducer. It is the life force that binds us together become twisted, malignant;  it is all our insecurities, vanities and fears, reflected back and magnified through mass media and education; it is the super-organism to which we are all expendable; it is the hive mentality suppressing intellectual independence and we are workers and drones and we keep pushing and rushing because if we are let to rest we might just work his little ruse out and evolve past this adolescent phase. “Economic growth above all!” - the moronic mantra of the suited ones, who are unconscious, who are in thrall of the Giant, serving self but really only serving it.
And the Giant is war because war divides and war is terrible, fearful and male, and war is bloody good for the economy. I exploded against the hypocrisy of rich white Americans blandly protesting against war as if they weren’t complicit, as if they didn’t owe their wealth directly to it.   America the beautiful indeed, such grand and inspiring landscapes, but the Giant is a cancer eating away at the healthy living tissue of the world: all-consuming consumption.  The threat of violence ubiquitous as those innumerable flags and enormous cars with their enormous insane fixed grins, baring their grilled teeth at the world. In short, the unholy trinity of wealth, blind nationalism and popularity; and what is popularity but the worship of mediocrity, of kitsch, the only artistic sin.
Yes the Giant is everywhere now. We are all complicit in our own suppression, walking blindly, willingly into servitude. There is only one way out:  Unchain! Release the self from its self-imposed bondage. Let it fill the world, unite with it, re-enchant it. One and the same: the mystery is in the flesh and the rocks and the trees and everything. It is all alive, it is all you, it is all me and there is nothing to fear but ourselves, for the Giant lives only in us. He is part of us, a natural part, grown monstrous and insatiable, ever isolating, dividing, judging. He is a coward and he is scared what will happen if we reconnect with each other, with it all - what need of him then? But his resistance betrays his desperation. He is dying even now, it is inevitable, it is the law of nature - what arises must pass; and what grows quickly, dies quickly.  
But what is death?
Death is regeneration.
Death is evolution. 
Released, re-integrated into the realm of the living... and now a new phenomena, a higher version of the unifying matrix from which the giant arose, for this is as all things a cyclical process. A helical process.
A return, and a venture into new territory. The old wisdom rekindled to fire the forges of creation once more. The result; is it yet knowable? Is it yet conceivable? Perhaps we get glimpses already.....can we call it ‘a new culture’?
Every time I am away I miss the trees, especially the gum trees. Stark sculptural majesty, hardy strength, shining trunk, dappled branches. Australia is the gum tree and it is this as much as anything that makes it feel home to me. And yet a place held me and turned my head. I felt something in Spain that doesn’t exist here yet - culture. It is not the Aboriginal culture that is dead here; they will always have it because it lives in the land and it lives in them and it is beyond the reach of white ignorance. No it is we, the new ones, whose culture has been stolen, and we don’t even realise. We are lost, adrift on a sea without meaning, for our myths have faded. We have forgotten what myth we don’t read the signs anymore. The Aborigine feels no shame; you are pariahedout of ignorance my friend. You have more than anyone who dispossesses you could ever have. Stand tall because you are men and women still and keep the myth alive for this is living knowledge. Look upon the self-obsessed white as you would a child and envy him not, pity him instead, and maybe one day he will come to you for help.
Most probably associate ‘culture’ with opera, ballet, literature or theatre but these are artefacts of culture...the fossil record. Some such stuff may still hold some mytho-poetic power but it is only a tease, a taster of something that once was our daily bread, wine and song... our very belongingness. Now all we might feel is the poignancy of this loss, this absence... if we are alive enough and the art is good enough.
Culture originates in the land: that is where it is, that is where it springs from, that is what it is energised by. Culture is connection to place and to memory and the memory is in the place. Brisbane is shrouded still, it has not been revealed, unveiled. It is a shameful memory that is all the more shameful for it being shrouded. Expose it: The massacres, the injustices, the stupidities, and through facing them atone and reconnect with the place. With the river that we need to clean, with the people that we need to value, with the trees that we need to love. For then a new culture - a hybrid culture, with hybrid vigour  - will grow from the shallow alluvial soils of West End and New Farm, and from the once red hills of Red Hill, and from the once rainforested Paddington, and from the river that is the heart. The oldest culture anchoring the newest. 

Student life and other contradictions: An inquiry into the value of modern education.


oppression reigns because men are divided not only amongst themselves but within themselves. What separates them from themselves and weakens them is also the false bond that unites them with Power”
Raoul Vaneigem
 The Revolution of Everyday Life

From your first day at school you are cut off from life to make theories”

Taisen Deshimaru

Zen Master 1914-1982

LIFE is the continual exploration of the relationship between the individual and the world. Institutional schooling inverts this process. Our education system progressively alienates the individual from her-Self.

Education begins as playful adventure, but this is just a confidence trick. Creativity and curiosity soon falter under the increasing weight given to obedient imitation and the spirit of competition. By the time the child reaches high school education has already become a chore.

Obedience and imitation require nothing original from the child - nothing that originates from her-Self. By definition they require the exact opposite: the docile appropriation of others’ ideas and behaviour. The quasi-penal atmosphere of the classroom belies the primary purpose of schooling: submission and indoctrination. Education is how the status stays quo.

This gradual removal of the child from consideration of what is best for them is simply the gradual removal of the child from her-Self.  The more time spent in educational institutions the more advanced this process of separation becomes; a process that finds its logical conclusion in the automaton. And so it is that our schools, colleges and universities transform the originally inquisitive and exuberant child into an apathetic, joyless functionary – another cog in the economic machinery.
Modern education literally sucks the LIFE out of the student.

learning nothing

The university has become an institutional organization of ignorance.”

Situationist International and Strasbourg Uni students, 1966
On the Poverty of Student Life

Men are born ignorant, not stupid; they are made stupid by education”

Bertrand Russell

I might have gone to uni, but at least I know I’m dumb”


Reared on a diet of junk knowledge that becomes even less nutritious as she enters university, the student is mentally weak. Atrophied critical faculties and a profound historical naivete leave her disorientated, unable to critique or conceptualise the information she is force-fed. An ever-expanding mass of technical information is presented to the student as serious knowledge, together with the understanding that academic success is defined as the general acceptance (by academia, not the public naturally) of the student’s own esoteric ruminations. Hence to succeed is primarily to imitate. And to imitate is to add to the mountain of (largely irrelevant) technical information that, being abstract, literally draws the student out of direct connection with the world.

The aesthetic sense operates only in direct connection with life. Although this fact is obvious to anyone who has ever seen a pretty girl, the academic world - lost in its subjective/objective universe - is still trying to work out why beauty and value seem impossible to grasp intellectually. It is obvious that beauty isn’t measurable, like size, shape or colour - it is not objective - so only one category seems to remain: beauty and value, we are told, must be ‘subjective’, which is another way of saying ‘relative’ or simply ‘not real’. But aesthetic experience is as REAL as it gets.

Beauty and value are not objective yet they are real, more real than both subjects and objects. Aesthetic experience takes you out of yourself (eg losing yourself when dancing); it provides an intuitive knowledge – Quality – that is obscured upon self-consciousness. The ego occupies awareness at the expense, or at least the dilution of direct experience. Then it proclaims what it obscures to be imaginary – replacing aesthetic reality with its own static conceptual projections (the first and major division being – ‘me’ and ‘world’). Egoless experience is neither conceptual nor logical; it just is, for without an ego there is no one to do the reflecting. But we are told that if something isn’t logical it isn’t real. Even though logic – being an abstract concept - isn’t real itself! Distanced from direct experience in her conceptual cocoon the student drifts into squareness and, in time, nihilism.

Squareness and gullibility are the hallmarks of the student. Being a mediocre exponent of Reason, the student’s relationship to rational knowledge is based on faith - the university as Church of Reason. Ever naive, the student dismisses the possibility of engaging with the world in any manner other than that of compulsive and lousy analyst. Consequently she becomes more and more cut-off from her own desires and passions, more and more cut-off from LIFE. The Chinese say, to know and not to do is not to know”; therefore it can be reasonably assumed that most students and nearly all academics know nothing.

expert knowledge

An expert is someone who knows more and more about less and less until eventually they know everything about nothing.”

The academic is a creature of self-conflict. Clinging to a vestigial self-importance (stemming from a time when university was a prep school for the ruling class), they cannot escape the fact that they now manage only an assembly line. Testament to this contradiction is the false modesty with which most academics carry their meaningless titles.  When most doctors of philosophy couldn’t tell you what the word means, it becomes very difficult to take this hollow honorific seriously. The technician usurped the intellectual a long time ago.

With the continuing proliferation of technical knowledge comes the continuing creation of new expert disciplines and, of course, new expert academics to fill them. As the pie gets bigger each academic’s share becomes proportionally smaller, until none of them seem able to say (or at least agree on) what type of pie they are dealing with, or why. Isolated from other disciplines (and the public) with their jargon, academics run together in gangs dependent on field; and within these fields they run in 'sub-gangs'. Perpetually partisan, the academic somehow remains convinced of his own impartiality. He is an example of false consciousness par excellence.

What the academic as technical expert illustrates most clearly is the fragmentation of knowledge. Unaware of the need to reassemble these fragments into a coherent whole, the academic instead concentrates his attention on a single splinter, until it becomes the whole world to him. And so the splinters multiply and so the need for their integration grows, and from this situation a tragic irony ensues. The child’s natural bent towards this integration, towards a truly philosophical understanding, is stymied in favour of specialisation. When even philosophy (the study that is supposed to link all others) succumbs to this overly reductionist approach we are left completely adrift, unable to find a base, an anchor, from which we can begin constructing a good ‘map of reality’. A good” map being one that helps us realise a better life.

 Viewed as a whole the authoritative declarations and counter-declarations of the academic body are reminiscent of the Blind Men and the Elephant. Absorbed in the analysis of his discrete little parcels of information, each technician is certain that his is the one that contains the Truth. Yes, academia is a farce - a tragicomic farce. The hilarity implicit in the elevation of the technical and trivial is offset by frustration over such wasted potential. This pretentious technical myopia is piss funny yes, but when is the joke going to end?

 3. reasonable desires

To learn without desire is to unlearn how to desire”
Raoul Vaneigem
A Warning to Students of All Ages

Gnothi se auton” (know thyself)
Inscription at the Delphic Oracle in Ancient Greece

It is a rare student that knows himself. Academic success - requiring obedience, imitation and abstraction - comes at the price of personal desire and Self-knowledge. The student doesn’t know what he wants; only what he thinks he wants  (which is usually based on what he thinks others want). How else do we account for why students study what they do? It certainly seems to have less to do with subject matter (who reads a textbook for fun?) than with career pragmatism. And what is career pragmatism but trading immediate enjoyment for the future reward of a job (if you’re lucky) based on what you had to force yourself to endure in the first place. Career pragmatism is the logic of the masochist.

You say, in all honesty, that you want to be successful, rich, and powerful; but these are just the wants of social status and sexual desire. Status, celebrity, wealth and sex are desirable alright - they are desirable for all. They are innate/instinctive drives. Biology and Society are a part of us all and, relied on exclusively, they homogenise and automate us. We can escape the limits of these forces through Reason: recognising these compulsions and checking them when we feel they are not a good idea. But Reason is a faculty that needs to be developed. We are not born rational animals. Our intellectual capacity develops in parallel with our language skills and relies on a careful observation of how the world operates. Reason is, at bottom, an understanding of cause and effect.

Science is Reason’s most gifted child. Science seeks to formulate principles or laws that account for the operations of the natural world. The scientific method is simple:
1.      Observe phenomena
2.      Formulate a hypothesis to explain the observed phenomena
3.      Test hypothesis
This simple schema allows us to see exactly where Science and Reason fit together with Art. The formulation of a hypothesis is an entirely creative and intuitive act; it is Art. In other words Reason, if not grounded in Art, does not work.

This simple point – a truism to any good scientist[1] - has some obvious repercussions for our beleaguered student. If Science is not grounded in Art it loses its direction – the source of its hypotheses. Art is the domain of the Self; it is direct intuitive knowledge. Separated from his-Self the student is a stranger to Art, intuition, creativity and authentic desire. In other words, Reason divorced from an intuitive connection with the world falls back into relativity and nihilism. It serves only the goals of biology and society. Reason becomes a tool for justifying the status quo rather than a means of challenging it.  And this is what has happened.

The development of Reason and the development of democracy are historically contemporaneous. The idea that man should be free to do what he wishes as long as he doesn’t impinge on the freedom of others is not so new, but it, like the idea of democracy, is reflected only faintly in the world around us today. We have regressed. Social rather than intellectual values predominate. Instead of freedom we have increasing corporate power, surveillance, war, laws and more prisons than ever before. Instead of democracy we have the rule of the ill-gained dollar: kleptocracy. The causes of this historical turn are to be found in the conflicts within each of us - ‘History is abstracted from biography’[2]. Society is part of us just as we are part of it.

This regression is due to the divorce of Reason from Intuition, of Science from Art. Without Quality, Reason cannot escape relativity and leads only to nihilism. This partial Reason separates the student from his-Self and joins him with the structures that stunt his intellectual and aesthetic development, replacing his unique desires with the ubiquitous fame, wealth and sex routine.

Authentic desire is not an instinctive drive, nor does it reinforce the sense of separate self. Instead it arises in those moments when there is no sense of separate self - the ‘I’ recedes and there is only experience of what is. Rather than being a property or intention of the individual, authentic desire contains the individual. This is why, when referring to the highest desire, we say I am in love” - it is not so much me that loves, rather it is through losing the sense of me that love arises.

Many scientists would dismiss love as merely an emotional state - an epiphenomenon associated with the biological imperative. Many philosophers would hold that love is illusory because we cannot truly know another. In both instances the terminal rationality of these poor folk separates them from the ‘immersive’ experience that comes through loss of separate self and is the only path to love. This is why ecstasy is such an important drug for the student and academic. Ecstasy[3] melts the ego and immerses the individual in the experience. Ecstasy relieves anxiety (which arises from self-consciousness) and curbs the analytic reflex that distances the individual from the present. Used in moderation it has undeniable medicinal (as shown by recent use in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease) and aesthetic/spiritual potential.

The seamless union - or interpenetration - of individual and world is the Self. The Self is the present. As Pirsig says in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance:
The present is the only reality: the future exists only in our plans, the past only in our memories”[4]
The Self is real; the separate self (the classical 'subject') is a conception - a projected idea. The Self is undivided experience. It is that state in which there is no distinction between what is experienced and who is experiencing it - no division between subject and object.

Descartes’ 'I think therefore I am' only reinforces the conceptual nature of the subject. Intellect produces the subject (I) - the separate self. This is what intellect does. By differentiating ourselves from the world we are able to analyse it objectively - et voila, science! But are we always so engaged? Are we always self-conscious? Does everything think?  No, of course not (for one thing thought requires symbolic language). The subject/object split is how intellect works, but it is not the ultimate nature of reality. The absurdity of this continuing assumption goes unchecked only because the great majority of those that pursue questions of a philosophical bent think too much. Their ever-present self-consciousness convinces them that 'they' are permanent and fundamental, when 'they' are really only an idea.

Undivided experience is fundamental. Before any abstractions based on sense data and metaphysical assumptions are made there is only the flow of perceptions.
The dissenter: But who has these perceptions? -Who can have them but me?”
This is where the stumbling block is.
Remembering that the present is the only reality what can we say about it? What is the present like? The present is simply a continual flow of perceptions: sights, sounds, smells, the meanderings of consciousness. ‘I’ only begin to exist when intellect is applied to these perceptions - this is when consciousness becomes self-consciousness. ‘Me’ and my senses are ideas that come after experience, as all ideas do. Experience is immediately apprehended (phenomenal); senses and ‘me’ are postulated (conceptual). The phenomenal is beyond doubt; the conceptual is abstract and always provisional.

This is not easy to grasp straight away. If you doubt that ‘you’ – the separately existing self - are actually just a creation of intellect (albeit a very useful and socially convenient one that I have been employing throughout this whole essay) think back to the first 18 months of your life. Why can’t you remember? Because experience – the flow of perceptions – had not yet been organised. Patterns had not formed yet. As we develop we start to register recurring patterns in the flow of experience. Probably emotions (hunger, pain etc) at first, then maybe ‘mum’ or ‘dad’ and ‘me’ and pretty soon we learn to attach words to these patterns. After a while we learn more words that refer not to concrete objects or emotions but ideas, one of which is ‘me’ as the self-conscious separately existing subject – the ego. These are the beginnings of intellect. It is at this point that ‘I’ start to exist.

So if the subject/object division is not the nature of reality what is? Well first and foremost it is ultimately ineffable – beyond intellectualisation. The logic of this conclusion is simple: If reality is experience in the present, and ideas are concepts applied retrospectively upon this experience, then ideas always refer to what has past and are therefore essentially unreal. Or to quote Pirsig: you can’t be aware that you have seen a tree until after you have seen the tree”[5].

So we – as classical subjects – are unreal. Strange as this sounds, this is precisely what Buddhists have known for thousands of years. From here the Buddhist concept of maya (veil of illusion) - the way we consciously experience the world disguises its true unity – follows logically. As does the problem of ‘self’. Clinging to the notion of self as an autonomous, separately existing entity is the primary cause of dukkha (Buddhist term for suffering/being out of kilter). It is more accurate to see ourselves – according to Buddhism, physics, psychology, ecology, phenomenology and Pirsig’s Metaphysics of Quality – as sentient elements of a connected Dynamic reality[6]. Dynamic because reality is not static: reality is continuous and flowing; ideas are static and discrete. Ideas can never capture reality.
It is this dynamic reality, ‘this cutting edge of experience’, that is the domain of aesthetic and moral value, which is why they are dismissed by so many of the exclusively analytical. They convince themselves that these values don’t really exist even though they use them everyday. What other ‘reason’ is there to do anything, to believe anything, other than that is has value. It is this sense that directs our lives and when ignored or overridden leaves us miserable and frustrated. The awareness of value - of Quality - gives rise to (a proportionate degree of) desire.

This primary apprehension of value can be lost or obscured through the intellectualisation of experience. Trying to understand value with reason is to put the cart before the horse: Reason (truth) is a subspecies of value (good). ‘Truth’ is a term we use to describe statements or explanations of very high Quality. Once the reflective path is taken it is the beginning of the movement away from value and desire, towards rationalisation and confusion.

This intuitive sense of value (the source of so many colloquialisms: ‘gut feeling’; ‘feel it in my bones’ etc), and the desire it causes to spring are the guides to a happy life. This presents a challenge for the student because the majority of his education, especially at high school and university, is of low value. It is only his ‘talent’ for rationalisation and Self-denial (and the fear that grows out of self-consciousness) that prevent him from walking out of class, mocking the teacher as he does so. This dismissal of value is practised so regularly during a young life that the student puts himself in danger of forgetting how to desire altogether. He develops a perpetual inner monologue that makes it hard for him to separate thought from feeling. And so he continues letting others tell him what to do and what to want, mistaking the voice of ‘Cultural Reason’ for that of his own desire.

But the Self, no matter how diligently we repress it, is indomitable. From time to time it fights its way up through our rational monologue into consciousness. Sometimes subtle, sometimes visceral, it is that sudden feeling that dwarfs the authority of any logical conclusion, though it often seems like the essence of logic itself.  It is the song that makes the hair on your neck stand up; the person whose mere presence in the room changes your psyche more poignantly than any drug; the wave of fury that washes over you when you witness injustice. Have you not noticed these moments? - These guideposts to excellence, beauty and happiness. Ignore them at your peril.

Your desire, which springs from the Self, is your connection with the sublime - a spark from the divine fire. It is the source of the highest knowledge or gnosis as the Greeks used to say. It is the reason why the consummation of pure desire in the act of sexual intercourse is referred to as ‘knowing another’ in the Bible. Self-knowledge is prior to rational knowledge - it is the ground from which rational knowledge emerged. This is why rational knowledge is useless, irrelevant, if it doesn’t remain grounded in Self-knowledge. ‘Ungrounded’ knowledge is the stuff of scholasticism and trivia; it is the stuff of university.

4. benign violence

Tat tvam asi” (that thou art)
Hindu saying regarding the identity of consciousness and universe

Disobedience, in the eyes of anyone who has ever read history, is man’s original Virtue.”
Oscar Wilde

The student is a masochist but doesn’t know it. Unable to be himself because he doesn’t know how, he asserts what he thinks is his individuality but is in fact an amalgam of those behaviours and images he is surrounded by. Unquestioning, he swallows and internalizes the dictates of authority, unaware that he hamstrings his own authenticity. The student’s lack of control over his own life; his disconnection from his desires and passions; and his oblivious acceptance of his emasculation as natural, make him a caricature: the supercilious slave.  He becomes someone who knows himself only through what others think of him - all form and no content. This was the genius of Bret Easton Ellis in American Psycho: to show that ‘success’ in the Eighties (and not much has changed) was to sever all connection with the Self - to imitate perfectly and consistently until there is no real you left, just a shell. The violence of this separation - this evisceration - is mirrored in the main character’s greed, disgust and, ultimately, his propensity for sadism, murder and mutilation. Violence begets violence, and violence has many forms.

It is difficult for us to recognise the violence that has been effected upon us from an early age. Just as the crab doesn’t realise what’s happening as the water in the pot slowly heats up, so the child’s gradual slide away from desire and fun and LIFE is near imperceptible, except when viewed retrospectively as a whole. You have been taught to disregard your own feelings, desires and judgement, letting parents, teachers, police and politicians ‘guide’ you instead. And guide you to what? The Promised Land of boredom, anxiety, fear, drug addiction, environmental, physical and spiritual decay - woo hooo! Do you really want to be like your parents? Like John Howard? Like every living-dead, suit-wearing fucker whose only pleasure seems to lie in taking you down with them? You are a product of an intrinsically violent society - you are intrinsically violent - and the only way to stop it getting worse is to get off the train now and try a different track - your own track.

5. serious fun

I have never really been sincere or enthusiastic except when I used to indulge in sports and, in the army, when I used to act in plays that we put on for our own amusement. In both cases there was the rule of a game which was not serious, but which we enjoyed taking as it were.”
Albert Camus
The Fall

The economic organization of everyday life is the organization of a living death. Not content with the systematic drudgery that is work and school, remnant areas of autonomous and spontaneous activity are gradually infected with the spirit of seriousness that permeates and sustains the commodity-spectacle.

What was traditionally the bastion of working class camaraderie - sport - is now part of the machinery that long ago crushed it. Sport is now serious business. Just look at all the money that corporations pour into football teams, or the seriousness parents devote to their kids’ weekend sporting endeavours. Vicariously competitive, they too often alienate the child from his-Self, his parents and the fun of the game. My uncle used to say that soccer was working man’s ballet, and he was right: Sport can be an Art and often still is. But ultra-competitiveness and the spirit of seriousness are antithetical to Art - to the game. They are the stuff of anxiety and stress, not creativity and play.

Any activity can be an Art, but it is things that are art. The stuff of passive consumption is ‘art’ - just another commodity produced for the commodity-spectacle. ‘Art’ on the other hand isn’t a ‘thing’ at all; it’s an interrelationship - a symbiosis between the individual and the world. It is that state in which the individual is relaxed and focussed and part of what they are doing.

The Situationists[7] aimed for the ‘realization and suppression of art’, by which they meant the realization of Art as LIFE, and the suppression of culture (art) as a centrally organized and/or passively consumed commodity. Their name was derived from their aim: to create open-ended participatory situations, with the perspective of the situation or experience being primary. Instead of subjects experiencing objects, we have an undivided situation of which the individual is an integral part.  Feeling part of an experience, being immersed in it, simply defines those things we like to do. Sex, sport, surfing, dancing, motorbike riding, fishing - it doesn’t matter. The immersion and immediacy, the Quality and loss of self-consciousness - this is why we do them. Art is spectacular, Art is participative; art is a thing, Art is an interrelationship; art is serious, Art is fun.

Fun is the only revolutionary weapon. Fun destroys the hierarchical society that seeks to control (ie destroy) it. Fun ridicules the ‘dogmantras’ of bureaucratic pseudo-revolutionaries who are preoccupied with the serious business of being boring. Fun emanates from the Self, connecting the individual with others and the world. Fun is the stuff of creativity and spontaneity; it is the enemy of the spirit of seriousness. The rallying cry of the liberated student will simply be: if it isn’t fun why do it?”

Ignoring anyone and anything that doesn’t help satisfy your desires or engage your interest is the revolution. All these square ‘leftists’ and ‘rightists’ are missing the point - all -isms are wasms. Ideology is the screen that separates us from our-Selves. Refusing the boredom, frustration and alienation implicit in spectacular life is the daily revolutionary act from which all others will issue. Joie de vivre!  -  Living as well as possible is the only point to life.


Happiness is a new idea”
 Paris 68 graffiti

These past few weeks have witnessed the truth of what the poets have been telling us since the beginning of time: there is no adult world. Youth is reckless, generous, valuable, but the world of wise, mature and organized adults for which youth is supposed to be a preparation does not exist”

Peter Lennon (commenting on the Paris revolt of May 1968)
Paris in the Sixties

The secret to fulfilment, happiness and a better world isthere is no secret. After wrestling with the enormous absurdity and frustration of modern life you eventually say: Fuck it! This deep thought is depressing me too much. I just want to enjoy myself”, and ironically you solve your dilemma. You rediscover what you already knew as a child - that happiness is your purpose - and realise that, as an adult, doing what makes you happy is the most revolutionary act imaginable. Oh, and for those solemn souls who think such selfish anarchic pleasure will destroy the world, haven’t you ever noticed that happiness is something that only grows when it is shared?

Someone quite famous - Nietzsche probably - reckoned you had to go through nihilism and come out the other end to understand life. Seems the mad bastard may have been right. Rejecting every value, belief and direction that doesn’t emanate from within your-Self is necessary to ‘clear the decks’, so the speak. With this reversal of perspective education becomes a matter of using that which resonates with that within you and ignoring the rest. That is, education becomes part of the Art of living - it becomes part of LIFE.

And what is good, Phaedrus, and what is not good - need we ask anyone to tell us these things?”[8]
Robert Pirsig
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
 Gavin Gee-Clough
Part-time navel gazer.


Camus, A, 2000. The Fall (Penguin, London)

Lennon, P. 1994. Paris in the Sixties (Picador, London)

Pirsig RM. 1991. Lila (Corgi, London)

Pirsig, RM. 1989. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (Vintage, London)

Vaneigem, R. 1966. The Revolution of Everyday of Life. Online at

Vaniegem, R. 1995. A Warning to Students of All Ages. Online at

U.N.E.F Strasbourg. 1966. On the Poverty of Student Life. Online at

[1] ‘The supreme task is to arrive at those universal elementary laws from which the cosmos can be built up from pure deduction. There is no logical path to these laws; only intuition resting on sympathetic understanding of experience can reach them.’ Albert Einstein quoted in Pirsig 1974 p117

[2] Pirsig, 1991,  p209

[3] The word ‘ecstasy’ comes from the Greek ekstasis, - ‘to stand outside oneself’.

[4] Pirsig, 1989,  p250

[5] Pirsig 1989 p249

[6] Letter from Ant Mcwatt.

[7] Radical group of philosophers and artists active mostly in France during the 50s and 60s. Instrumental in the student revolt of May 1968 that led to a general strike across France.

[8] Pirsig, 1989, p8

the poet

How can we measure the value of one life against another?
All we can do is try and understand the poetry of each unique life.
In so doing we honour both the one who lived and also those still alive.
The soul of a poet is freed once they complete their poem here on Earth.
The poem is a variation on a theme as old as history itself: love and sacrifice.

We live in history still. We are yet to reach the life abundant that Jesus came to announce so long ago. Until we reach this life we must be reminded again and again of its lack, for this is our birthright and destiny.

The poet is aware that only innocence is required to open the gates of Heaven – the innocence of the child within us all.

The poet calls on us to remember that it is we ourselves who lock these gates, and can open them.

The poet brings to light this tragedy that we all suffer through his suffering it more innocently and intensely.

It is the duty of the poet to sacrifice himself in his work so that the world may be enriched by his life and creative death. The poetic encounter revivifies - we come back to life. We fulfill the poet’s destiny by understanding their poem.

We are all poems.

in memory of Edward Wensley-Walker

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Henry Miller: the self-fulfilling prophet.

'These novels will give way, by and by, to diaries or autobiographies, captivating books, if only a man knew how to choose among what he calls experiences and how to record truth truly.'

'a man may be so much one with god that whatever he does he cannot sin. i am part of the freedom of nature and i satisfy all my natural desires. the free man is perfectly right to do whatever gives him pleasure. better that the whole world be destroyed and perish utterly than that a free man should abstain from a single act to which nature moves him.'
 Brethren of the Free Spiri, 13th Century

The immune response is a psychic mechanism as well as a physiological one. when i first encountered miller I felt an instant aversion to his writing, an immediate dislike of the man. What was significant, and revealing, was that this response was a confirmation...i had expected to react in this way before ever reading him. This is a clue to how the psychic immune system it operates unconsciously,,,which means that we can forget it exists.

So my own strange initial disinclination was perhaps not that strange after all. Although in our heart of hearts, which is to say our most lucid minds, we all know that the present state of affairs, societally speaking, is corrupt, ugly, murderous and beyond redemption, it is still an order – it still serves that indispensable function of organising the mass of humanity into some sort of unified action and common belief. That this action is nearly completely destructive and this belief is reduced to the belief in money and work is somewhat beside the point. Stability is the keyword, and stability is something upon which we all depend.

But there is also the need for change; and this need is becoming irresistible. This is why Miller is no longer banned. The stability Miller was born into was already obviously sick; it has now become terminal. The danger now is not change but stability itself. The status quo has been set for self-destruct.

Miller lived through two world wars, the cold war and vietnam, dying happy at the age of 88. He saw more than enough of the cruelty and stupidity of his fellow men (the banality of evil is also, we need to remember, the evil of banality). His liberation lay in no longer expecting anything more from them. The world as it was was enough for him – more than enough. He had no fight to pick with anyone, he was a pacifist through and through, but an active one. He became an expert at psychic ju-jitsu. The impositions and obstacles put in his way become simply more grist for the mill. He creates, from the 'flotsam and jetsam of his own dispersed ego', one giant rambling epic where the tragedy is always at the service of comedy...the world around him becomes a madcap mise-en-scene where the players caricature themselves....the whole story becomes a legend in which Miller at once buries himself and is resurrected.

And this is why Miller is so important,,,,that we have stories a many that deal with death and resurrection we have no doubt,,,our culture is founded upon this myth - it is the largely unrecognised coda of western civilisation,,,what miller did was to make the myth his own,,,,he impregnates its dessicated body with his own blood and sperm, he becomes his own saviour, he fulfils his own prophecy,,,no intercessor required. just as the buddha met on the road had to be killed, so all the holy cows,,,and this is where the trouble with the censors followed naturally....this is where the 'devil-at-large' became too much for civilised sexual morality....

but of course the devil is logically as much of god as anything else: the devil representing the earth, the body, the passions, and a total lack of hypocrisy....the devil is matter itself, the material world, which is not in opposition to the spiritual but its complementary pole. it is in the current, the vital current between the depths and the heights - between the unconscious and conscious - that life is measured....matter seeks sublimation just as the spirit seeks condensation,

This is why morality is always a tragicomic exercise in irony, always producing exactly that which it condemns. morality does not recognise any authority but itself, which is to say – reason. of course laws and lawyers for that matter are most positively reasonable in themselves, but the more we have of them the less reasonable the results.

reason alone is inadequate, reason cannot accommodate the unique...reason seeks general truths - laws, religious or secular. Reason categorizes, labels, sorts...but life always expresses itself uniquely....the truth is only ever 'true' when we experience it for ourselves, intimately.

carl jung relates a story of how he found his faith for the first time. he was a student, a young boy of perhaps 10 or 12....he kept wanting to imagine a particular scene, something he realised was blasphemous, and this temptation finally overcame him to his great distress; unable to resist anymore he imagined a giant turd falling upon and crushing a cathedral - god shitting on the church, and through this wonderfully symbolic image jung experienced an acceding to the unconscious desire he found not sin and guilt but a liberating realisation, namely that god wants us to rebel in this way, that we must do this if we are to experience the divine directly and not merely give it lip service. this incident revealed to jung that his father, a protestant minister, did not believe, did not have faith,,,,that he didn't 'get it'. jung's father goes to his deathbed never truly believing that which he has spent his life trying to convince other people of.....

miller is not trying to convince us of anything, he is just giving himself, generously, and for his own delectation as well as ours...which is the whole point. Miller enjoys himself, immensely, even when he suffers....for he sees the reasons why his suffering was necessary, what it gave him, what it released him from....

i think kerouac, and the beats generally, owe a debt to miller....that they are of a new tradition that he - i believe - began. this is writing not as stylised architectural prose, but is rather a sort of visionary orbit around the mystery of the self, which, like jazz, is free from limitation.
the essential ingredient is inspiration....there is a compulsion, a natural rhythm and force to this rare form of writing...and its peaks reach the status of prophecy.

miller owes a debt himself to whitman and blake and nietzsche and many others, but millers innovation was to bring such genius into the realm of the novel.

As someone once said, what Miller did that no one else had done was to become the hero of his own writing. There is something strange and amazing about this. What Miller records is simultaneous discovery/creation of his own myth, which is simply to say his own liberation.

This is related I think to Joseph Campbell's idea of 'creative mythology' and also to the idea that life is like a detective story where you try and solve the mystery of your own absence...Miller, through the creative mythologisation of himself, solves 'the mystery of his absence'....he realises who he is, and this is what makes miller a religious figure.

It is this realisation which is primary, the writing is what gets the writer there, his path that in following makes of him the path (pathos = suffering).

As he says himself- 'I become more and more indifferent to my fate as a writer and more and more certain of my destiny as man.'

More Millerbits:

'nobody knows what it is to sit on his ass and be content, that happens only in the films where everything is faked, even the fires of hell. the whole continent is sound asleep and in that sleep a grand nightmare is taking place'

'unless the nightmare is strong enough to wake you up you go right on retreating, and you either end up on a bench or you end up as vice-president. its all one and the same, a bloody fucking mess a farce a fiasco from start to finish. i know it as i was in it, because i woke up. and when i woke up i walked out on it. i walked out by the same door that i had walked in – without so much as a by your leave, sir!
things take place instantaneously, but there's a long process to be gone through first. what you get when something happens is only the explosion, and the second before that spark. but everything happens according to law – and with full consent and collaboration of the cosmos. Before i could get up and explode the bomb had to be properly prepared, properly primed. after putting things in order for the bastards up above i had to be taken down from my high horse, had to be kicked around like a football, had to be stepped on, squelched, humiliated, fettered, manacled, made impotent as a jellyfish.'

'i am the germ of a new insanity, a freak dressed in intelligible language, a sob that is buried like a splinter in the quick of the soul'

'the learning we received only tended to obscure our vision. from the day we went to school we were made obtuse, we were wrapped in a fog of words and abstractions.'

'my understanding of the meaning of a book is that the book itself disappears from sight, that it is chewed alive, digested and incorporated into the system as flesh and blood which in turn creates new spirit and reshapes the world'

'men are lonely and out of communication with each other because all their inventions speak only of death. death is the automaton that rules the world of activity. death is silent becaue it has no mouth. death has never expressed anything. death is wonderful too – after life. only one like myself who has opened his mouth and spoken, only one who has said Yes, Yes, Yes and again Yes! can open his arms wide to death and know no fear. death as a reward yes! death as a result of fulfilment, yes! death as a crown and shield, yes! but not death from the roots, isolating men making them bitter and fearful and lonely, giving them fruitless energy, filling them with a will which can only say no! the first word a man writes when he has found himself, his own rhythm, which is the life rhythm is Yes! everything he writes thereafter is Yes, yes, Yes – yes in a thousand million ways. no dynamo no matter how huge – not even a dynamo of a hundred million dead souls- can combat a single man saying Yes!'

'If you're trying to improve your mind, stop it! there's no improving the mind. look at your heart and gizzard – the brain is in the heart'

'if i am against the condition of the world it is not because i am a moralist – it is because i want to laugh more'

.'.the man who is ridiculed because his solutions, which are truly profound, seem too simple for the world. no man wants to be an artist – he is driven to it because the world refuses to see his proper leadership.'

'this dissatisfaction which drives one on from one word to another, one creation to another, is simply a protest against the futility of postponement.'

'the truly great writer does not want to write: he wants the world to be a place in which he can live the life of the imagination. the first quivering word he puts to paper is the word of the wounded angel: pain. the process of putting down words is equivalent to giving oneself a narcotic.'

'it was revealed to me that i could say what i wanted to say – if i though of nothing else, if i concentrated upon that exclusively – and if i were willing to bear the consequences a pure act always involves'

'the world has not to be put in order: the world is order incarnate. it is for us to put ourselves n unison with this order, to know what is the world order in contradistinction to the wishful-thinking orders which we seek to impose on one another'

'One has to establish the difference of his own peculiar being and in doing so establish his kinship with the whole of humanity, even the very lowest. Acceptance is the key word, but acceptance is precisely the great stumbling block. It has to be total acceptance not conformity.'