aphorisms

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The blessings and curses of technology, whether we applaud or despair, need to be understood. Especially important is what technology does to our thinking, our consciousness, relations to others and to ourselves. While we may think of robotics and computers or satellites as the current metaphor for what is high-tech, the fact is that ordinary concepts such as the idea of history, how we listen, how we judge beauty and age and the quality of life, are heavily influenced by technology.

Technology, in my view, is what extends the human body. Obvious technology, like the telephone, extends us beyond this place, outside of what is here, beyond the visual and auditory range of ordinary experience. The accompanying fact of human experience is that we do not talk to one another in the same space. “Telephonese” is a special language by which we imagine one another visually, believing that there is someone on the other end. The result is that we create a social network which stands outside of the communities of those with whom we live and work.

Obvious technology, such as writing, takes some dynamic stuff such as talk, which is a muscular vibration of air waves, and makes it appear to be permanent; outside of the time of talk, outside of you talking to me. Writing permits us to talk to everyone, even to those who are not yet born. Before writing, in the pre-literate human society from which we derive, the notion of history was also negotiated through actual people, and their memories of others, up to five generations.

Now, with writing, we have actual records of several thousand years from some here-and-now of experience, to eras, to eons, to foreverness. With photography, we have two-dimensional images of what the three-dimensional. With movies and video, we create actuality out of 35mm and video, HD, and we relate to the community of others by means of movies and television.

Sitting alone or alone in theaters with others around us, we relate to some general stories or concepts. Now with some history of movies and of videos we can study the nature of aging, and be thrust into history through the power of visuality. We see through lenses, see by artificial light, and sleep when it suits us – not when the sun goes down. We listen to radios and stereos, amazed sometimes by what we hear, but we are not sufficiently amazed to study electronics.

We do not often remember that our music is all played on high-tech instruments: that the violin string is ordinarily under several hundred pounds of tension, that the modern violin bow is not so very old. Having been 35,000 feet in the air, traveling at speeds 100 times faster than our bodies can move, we have seen the earth from afar, and it has changed our vision!

As long as our bodies seem relatively still, we do not thrill to the speeds of cars, trains or planes. Yet they have altered the size and scope of the earth. We can now imagine the entire globe, but we do not have very good ways of imagining all of its peoples. We thrill more to the animals of the natural kingdom, and seem to worry more about “all” the world’s people.

Technology: wonderful, musical. Real as the pen that I use to write, and the glasses through which I look to see. Sitting here alone, I abstract from my experience to yours, and we meet in the courting of the printed symbols, to remake them into our minds’ workings. We are together in some sense of understanding, and increasingly alone in our experience.

Here we are: all together alone.

A cold, alien chill shoots up our spines. What chill, what alien that it is a chill, frightening, threatening being? How, alien? Who am I that something not me can enter being, unwanted, unwelcome?

The body, full of spots of hot and cold and not so hot and less than cold, is alive. Food we take in our mouths becomes thermal energy, reconstructed by the body to provide heat against the colds of day and night, animating us, we move and think and be. What colds, what hots are us; which alien?

Alien? Alien! Some external notion, ever suspected or thrust away? Persons, sickness, retches, the colds of total shiverings, all me? What alien? What me? Some feelings of body I read and like. Others I don’t seem to like? Me? Alien?

Who I am, who am I not? Other persons: bodies, minds, they affect me, taking over thoughts, creating desires, fears, angers, loss of concentration. I want…I don’t…want. What edges, where is the me which is not anyone else? What love, what hate…them, my self?

Mothers’ work! All of us, all our flesh conceived by others, still imagined. The me I love, the me I love less, not so separate.

The me I am, the me which is other which is else, spinning webs of self-trap, imagining that I am hermitted in life. What family, what friends, where does love begin and fear end? What is lust, sickness, that I fear my own feelings and call them alien?

Kill the aliens; kill the fear?

The problem: my chill and rear.

The solution…?

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Attending the first of a series of meetings with the general title of “aspects…” I was alarmed at once by the lack of thought and study which had preceded it, and by the sense that the organizers thought they were engaged in doing something which would surely shake the earth. Some of the best and weightiest of minds had grappled with this area of inquiry and of life’s experiences, and here some lighter weights sought to exert and to insert their presence onto the world’s literatures.

I, a mostly outsider, mostly hoping to find some thought and talk, showed up a few minutes early. The room, a chemistry lecture hall which rises from about the sixth row, was virtually empty except for the two gatherers and a few others. A silly sense of consternation reigned, especially since the organizers had expected a full house based on a previous discussion series a few years earlier, on the subject of “Structuralism.”

They had wanted – it appeared – a full room, rather than the most interested, possibly most thoughtful half dozen. Even unprepared they wanted to play in a large arena, as if their mere presence and selfness would carry the day.

After several minutes of re-forming, a geologist talked about aspects of change, geologically speaking. The talk, well-prepared and delivered, talked about geology as a theory of change, itself. It was quite straight-forwardly descriptive. It was not informed by any such theory out of some deep and I sense hopefully mystical sense of what is change which seemed to lurk in the organizers’ wonderings.

The organizers, hoping that some theory of theory of theory would emerge, seemed disappointed, but capable of being informed. Left with the problem, not of change, but of publicizing the series, they will regroup and look for larger audiences.

I, inspired somehow by an underlying spirit of the meeting that the problems associated with change are central to most everything, swallowed my cynicism and became curious. It was this experience which moved me toward the study of Heraclitus who thought “all is change,” and toward the idea that the paradox of change and permanence are central to most everything else…

The end of a long summer’s drought, a seemingly gentle rain woke me early. Steady fall, the love of the sound, like ocean’s washings lulling my sensibilities. Now, a year past the mundane worries of new roof’s imperfections, my mind is given over to the morning’s review of my recent world, much filled with life’s major events: marriage, sickness, impending death of some older members of my family.

Rain steady, the backdrop to a Vivaldi string sonata melding as planned into the droplets: gently wavering. Now, teaching, a telling to a group of world students, who is the great behemoth of the West; where we may be heading. A love of teaching…to those who want to understand. This year, a clear resentment that we are involved, even deeply responsible for: the world’s killings, for some sense of injustice, for increasing terror and terrors – all in the name of justice.

Rain, like lullabies driving me by easy steps, into a wondering about life’s visions: for me, you, all of us, and in what name? What God; what gods, of life, of death, I keep thinking that we are telling ourselves to betray some trust, sacred in the hands of humanity. Rain, steady, bringing to my mind words like: inevitable, fate, destiny. These thoughts, usually more harsh, ebb and flow with the loves of being and of being, with you.

A rainy day, soon to take a long walk around the lake of my city’s living, abandoned to the very few who will love with me, the sound, the wet, the fogs of rain-altered vision.

Big words claim too much attention (Joubert).

In high school, a Freshman English teacher whom I remember mostly for her protruding teeth and slightly sardonic teaching mode, talked frequently about little words and big words, placing a pseudo-monetary value upon them: one-dollar words, five, then twenty, up maybe to fifty-dollar words.

I wanted, I recall, to know them all, ordinary to obscure, simple to elegant. But I hated using a too-big word when a cheaper one would do as well. A question of who I am, of audience, of a too-cheap impression, a trying to take on a mantle of faked elegance, where ordinary seemed more genuine? A friend, I remember, now a physician-professor at an important university, used the highest priced word he could find to do the job. I felt jolted, cheated, trying to make something appear better than it was, the words overtaking the content, the form calling loudly: “Here I am!”

I, who have spent much time with words: translating, writing, reading Thesaurus’ entries moving from one skein to others, want the words to do the job, to work, to attract, to scream even when screaming is useful – or necessary. But too big words proclaim themselves, stand out, want to be re-read, repeated, to grow…

Big words: claim too much attention.

My appearance is not what or how it appears.

Aha! What you see is hardly me. I walk in certain spheres and people see this middle-aged man, which is me, yet not me.

In fact, in some places, like hospitals and colleges people say hello to me as if I am someone they know and have known. I fit, somehow, right now, smack in the middle of some stereotype that people have for what I should look like, and I do – to them. And so they say hello to me as if they knew me and know me. And I say hello back, as if it is precisely natural and correct. The appearance, the I to whom they say hello, is not exactly the I who thinks ‘I am.’ So some sinner, I, shrug and remain polite, and do not challenge, saying, “You don’t know me, really.” And I feel a bit peculiar.

Closer to home, the where of where I live, where I am known in deeper actuality, I am seen as an appearance which is more closely dialectical. The ‘who’ you see, my dears, is me, almost. Some residue, some particular strangeness in me, alone almost, is the eye which is not. A plastic disc, iris painted in the detail which was the me when it was new some years ago, is the eye into which you pierce, looking for my soul. What looks back is no more than a moistened reflection of the ambience of the room’s light.

Where I am, then, in the midst of all this looking? I see very clearly, that you see the I you think I am. For me, you see, the fact of my experience is my reality.

Carlos Castaneda said – somewhere – that the most difficult thing in life is in believing what is happening in the moment; in this moment.

Both as participants in our lives and observers of it, we all live in two modes, each with its own sense of being and of time.

Unless we sense the context, know the script of what is going on, then we stand aside, watching. Like the watchful m/other when her infant is asleep, our observing self is content beyond the time of doing.

This is usually useful, because the world of happenings and doings and occurrences is mundane; almost a sleepwalking, once we know who we are and where we have been.

Occasionally, however, something happens at a distance, or in the background, and we fail to report it to ourselves because we don’t believe it; because we are not in its time, in our own time of each moment’s doing.

We live entranced, captivated by our selves’ observers, playing out its particular surety, not noticing and…Not believing what it does not see exactly. Not seeing because one self’s observer is already committed to one’s own belief.

Life is like a course of lectures, the observer seeking the content of each lecture; no longer noting what is a lecture, nor yielding life to any thought behind the lecturer’s presentation.

These happenings which we do not note, what happens to them? Do they bump our observers’ eye, push however gently at our life’s constellations?

Do we wake up some day to find our selves outside of…ourself?

Should we struggle to see and to believe what it is we see, in each moment…and if we do…?

 

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