Nov 18 1996 12:34 AM EDT
You must wonder, as I do sometimes, how much experience can flow under the bridge without my taking note of it. The fact is that the more pleasant aspects of life, such as considering experience in the light of experience and writing about it, seems to easily become so elusive that one can only remember the feeling of doing it. Water under the bridge. Two events loom in my current life, both in the recent past, both of doubtless different import, their relative relationship to each other still to be discerned.
Africa was a trip! After the repressive civilities of hobnobbing with the deconstructionist elite at the ICA in London it was a head snapping change.Excuse my reference to a personal mythology of mine but during the time of my travel in Africa I was aware that the time wave was in a configuration that means a general tendency for habit to make its imprint on things rather than novelty. How, I wondered can a trip to Africa unfold in a time of habit and reinforcement. As usual I did not reckon with the wily ways of the Tao. For when I finally arrived at where I was going, a place in the Free State called Rustler's Valley I had my answer. Here was a place that, for all of its being at the antipodes of my present home, is nevertheless more like where I grew up as a kid than any other place that I have been. What I mean by that is that both places are landscapes of wind cut sandstone with a wild visual aspect and a wild geological history. In the case of my own stomping ground I am thinking of the area around Moab
Utah and the four corners area. The differences had to do with the human component. Where I grew up there were Ute Indians, a few, still hanging on. In Africa there were !Xosha people. Some in beehive houses of wattle and adobe. But what really got me stoked was that since I had not been in such a landscape since I was a child, my reflex was to do there what I had always done in such situations, which was to hunt in the badlands for fossils and flints. "Evidence of early man" was always a paltry concept
where I grew up, early man arrived there only 20,000 years before me self.
But now in Africa, that is another matter. I went alone to the dongas, the dry arroyos, gullies I called them when I was ten, near the ranch where I was teaching, and found what I was looking for: flint cores, scrappers, stone tools. The archeologist at the end of the bar was happy to inform me that nothing gathered during my afternoon's walk was less than 65,000 years only.
Nothing less than! What a dizzying amount of time, and how strange to be in a place where as long as there have been human beings, they have been in that place, a million years does not put too fine a point on it. And the second matter on my mind is the fact that I have just yesterday turned fifty. There will be an unending number of these I just turned fifty posts over the next few years as boomer after boomer crosses the threshold. All very boring and I am glad that I was near the front of the line and got it all taken care of early. Still it is food for thought.
Experience is a form of intelligence. If one is not born
smart, still experience can mold one into a simulacrum of intelligence.
I am amazed at the panoply of swirling complexity that characterizes the
life of our culture here at the end of the century, aye, the millennium.
And I am grateful and amazed to find myself a part of it. And like the clueless
rube in the crumb cartoon, I continue to ask the question "What does
it all mean?" It is pleasant to talk to you like this, I am happy to
be back in the saddle, I think it we ever had a audience for these exchanges
that they may have long since drifted away. Maybe better that way. How goes
it on your horizon? What news, what insights, and doth a fair wind also
billow your sales?
11/17/96 10:40 pm
I see from the time stamp on your letter that you're either writing me from the future or the East coast. Either seems a fair bet, but not Hawaii where it's only 8:40 of the 17th. Dig the pace and flow of your letter which seems written in a whirlwind, and yes, we're sychronized on the event of returning to the pleasurable ease of writing of experience from experience, which sometimes seems but a memory. Or the hellish pleasure of banging out a novel in youth, before which all the world of literature would stand in awe, not understanding that joy alone would not substitute for decades of considered experience. To have the joy and the fund of experience at one and the same time, ah - that were a consummation devoutly to be wished! Still, sometimes . . .
I've just divested myself of a near nine month commitment to answer all email sent to my address, after finding it strategically impossible. Tonight I curled up on the bed with a good vampire book - but kept feeling twinges of free-floating guilt, the habit of answering mail during all possible free moments, yet to be broken. But the prospect of freedom from this self imposed labor is exhilirating. I expect an action-reaction phenomenon directly proportional to the effort expended. I was skimming leaves out of my modest swimming pool after a windstorm two days ago when I suddenly realized the moment had come to be delivered from this regime. I operate that way - rather than make decisions and act on them, I form desires and wait for the moment when they become possible, and then they are accomplished. It's one of my magickal actions. A way of engaging the mechanics of habit. Perhaps this is how best to make use of the state you prophesy for these times
Habit is the driving force of human endeavor. Hey, I like the sound of that. Comes across official, doesn't it? And not just a little bit true, I think. The trick is to get habit working in the direction of desire, rather than in service of entropy. You mention Tao, and I think Tao is just that. Habit. Not to sound like a fool by saying what Tao is, but it's the habit of wind to whip up when the sun sets, due to cooling. It's the habit of tides to rise to the call of the moon. It is the habit of wisdom not to form habits that do not serve the will. What is will? Desire, only. Is it possible to desire what you do not at present desire, because to desire it would act to further something you DO desire in a basic way? I feel our basic desires must ideally be served in a way beneficial to ourselves and others, since the vanquishment of basic desire is the diminuation of life. Those desires are not replaced by others, except in twisted, diminished versions. Initial desire is a byproduct of weaning. Very basic. Very binding.
Desire is the wanting of security first and foremost, secondly of wanting excitation, thirdly: the avoidance of hurt. When two & three get reversed, confusion of purpose arises and entropy grabs hold. Bear with me, there's no source for this, I'm making it up as I go along. What they call hypothesis. Habit can act to perpetuate the confusion of disordered priorities - or, skillfully managed, to re-order them. It is by such a visualization (another if you prefer, all roads lead to Rome) that we grab hold of and re-orient habit to a general purpose. If this is indeed the time of habit's transcendence over novelty, then we must appropriate habit in a novel way. End subject.
Have been reading in Whitehead at your behest and find him meticulously expansive. His catagories are somewhat arbitrary, but he would be the first to admit this. They are utilitarian for his purpose. As a poet I view them as tropes. Tropes are interchangeable, for the most part, but the trope of eternity is fundamental. Everything can, and probably should be, viewed under the trope of eternity. It's open ended enough to include all possibilities; mens aeterna est quatenus res sub specie aeternitatis.
I like the clause: "less than 65,000 years only" in your statement. That is sub specie aeternitatis, under the trope of eternity, in spades. We are only given eternity in hunks of the biblical three score years and ten, yet are able to glimpse it outside that limitation of sparse years through the measure of aeons. A capital invention! The eternity the mind experiences is a form of eternity - and forms of eternity *are* eternity. That's what the latinate is getting at. Why do we not generate such thoughts, so clearly expressed, a millenium or two on down the line? My tentative supposition is that time flows backwards from what we habitually suppose, but that's another piece of business entirely. It would not behoove one to act as though this were so, true or not. Which, as with many things having to do with time/space, is a condition of living in 4 dimensions. You bump into things otherwise, and bruise yourself walking through walls which are not constructed yet.
Really glad to hear you had a gas of a time in Africa. I've been no further South than Marrakesh, so can only imagine and combine dim movie/travelogue images. It would seem something in the blood must yearn for Africa, as it does for the sea. Weaning, again. Between the yearning for ocean and yearning for the cradle of civilization, it might be there falls another yearning - for Mu or Atlantis, or whatever that place we swung from trees in before the continental reformation. Assuming we're not from elsewhere. And if we are from elsewhere, there must be a yearning for that place, it's ocean, it's Africa. We humans are nothing if not cauldrons of yearning.
Good to have you back and hope it's good to be back. Corresponding with you is a pleasant habit.
p.s. Happy Birthday!!!