Two in the morning.
I think I’m near to freeing my imagination from the throttlehold of religion. Biology is enough to live by. The only problem is where our ethics comes from. But the idea of a natural morality is nothing new, and I wonder what Hume meant by natural religion. Also, why did Blake react to this so violently? About seven years ago I worked on this problem, reading ebooks on my Kindle. But the scary part is how I drank beer like a fish at the time so I could scarcely function. My alcoholism was killing me. Can I say that my beliefs were working for me in 2015?
It was sheer desperation that led me to the doorstep of the Lutheran church two years later. It amazes me that there was even a thought process involved in my actions.
Maybe the real question is what gives us freedom of the will or the illusion of this. I wanted to read The Oresteia myself after reading Sartre’s The Flies, in search of the origins of freedom in Western thought. Or perhaps I’m just keeping my mind busy in order not to stray into alcoholism again. You can do worse things with your time.
Eight thirty five.
I slept well last night, though it was interrupted by a window. I plan to call my sister this morning to thank her for the birthday money and nice card.
Somehow, free will depends upon an idealistic scheme. Nature is definitely deterministic. If you consider that you are what you eat, you can actually reduce the self down to a bundle of impressions with no soul or identity… I was watching the birds, mechanical little things of pure instinct. A family of sparrows is upset by the invasion of a starling that threatens their nest. They know just enough to preserve themselves and ensure perpetuation of the species. But people are different. We can override nature and choose our destiny as individuals and as a group. Are we still related to the little perching birds out my back door? Science says we are. Religion says not really. And philosophy is the boondocks in between.
By the way, I reset my Kindle to start totally from scratch.
Eleven twenty five.
I want to do something for pleasure… but I’m feeling stuck. If I just ride out this hour, the mood may pass. Always at eleven o’clock I get this sense of limbo. It’s a time when nothing happens, and the restlessness drives me crazy. I feel deserted by my old muse and my imagination has flown away. Casualties of staying sober. Though it’s 72 degrees in here I still feel cold. There’s only me and stark reality. Two poets suggest themselves to my mind: Cummings and Wordsworth. A mourning dove has landed to peck the ground for seeds. Even the most realistic people can doubt their skepticism of a Platonic heaven. Their doubts have doubts. Ravel’s little piece for harp tinkles in my memory, teasing me like sinking Avalon: a shimmering illusion there and not there again. I hear a raucous flock of crows. Can we trust our senses? They give you the appearance but maybe not the reality. Perception itself becomes a problem. To get rid of philosophy, you have to will to forget it.
Four twenty five AM.
A solo on the Stick called “Soliloquy” by Larry Tuttle has haunted me for the past week, even though I don’t play that instrument. Thus it means something symbolic and deeper than the literal dimension. I intended to read “Alastor” by Shelley again but so far it hasn’t gotten done. As I was just waking up I thought of the snake eating its tail, a symbol of eternity, no beginning or end. The small hours of the night are a time of limbo without a sun to give it temporal reference. The black night outside offers no consolation but a dubious companionship— and here comes my dog, who heard me sneeze. And this detail does add a sense of grounding and being supported in spacetime. Perhaps it takes two perspectives shared to create reality, regardless that Aesop is not human. The clock meanwhile advances at a creeping pace. “I’ve been waiting for the hands to move / Time moves so slow / How come 24 hours / Somehow seems to slip into day? / A minute seems like a lifetime / Baby when I feel this way.” I think of the Jungian world clock, something from a dream; and the number 12 is the most perfect because it’s the product of 3 x 4. On the other hand, maybe Jung only jerked our leg, and it’s the commonplace that really has any meaning? Still, Ouroboros the serpent swallows its tail during this timeless time, looking a bit like the world in embryo…
Eleven o’clock at night.
I feel particularly human tonight as opposed to Christian or divine. I believe that American writers of the 19th Century helped declare our independence from what some people call “longstanding beliefs.” The old matriarch of my family holds fast to biblical ideas and attitudes and everyone else must take a stand for or against her. After many years of being bullied and beaten down by her and her loyalists, finally I am rejecting those ideas once and for all. The real battle for me began with my mother’s death: she was something other than Christian; however, there’s no reason to smear her mentality as “satanic” or whatever, because the devil is also a biblical notion and cut from the same myth as Jesus.
I do recall a reference to the devil by Melville at the end of Moby Dick, but his seriousness about it is hard to determine. And Emerson wrote that his ideas could be coming from the devil— but he didn’t think so. Finally, Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown” is about a witches’ sabbath, and every citizen of the village shows up for it; but the idea of evil is still a figurative thing in the story, not to be taken so literally. One more example is Poe’s “Bon Bon,” in which the devil states that he himself was Epicurus… My mother didn’t read most of this stuff. And the more I write and reflect on it, the more it becomes a problem of psychology: why does the Christian mythology sneak its way into every thought I can entertain? It makes it much harder to declare oneself an atheist. You can’t have the devil without God.
Why did Edgar Poe say that the devil was Epicurus? It’s going to bug me now.
Quarter of nine.
In my journal I’ve been working out the problem of horror versus beauty in the corpus of Edgar Allan Poe, though I barely know where I’m going with it or why it’s on my mind. I’m a little shy about sharing my discoveries because I’m not a professional critic, just an amateur with a Bachelor’s degree. But the twin themes of grotesque and exquisite do go hand in hand for Poe, perhaps as flip sides of the same coin. Somewhere I got the idea that beauty is the savior of humanity, especially for the very poor like me and like Edgar Poe himself. And I was thinking that beauty is the good, and the ethic is aesthetics alone, the sugar coating without the pill. Ugliness is very easy to come by; it’s everywhere you look. It is misery and suffering, the stuff of poverty and hunger. Naturally the pauper’s delight will be the sight or sound of something gorgeous and ideal, however ephemeral and elusive the vision. Beauty may be a tantalizing mirage, but is it any the less true? Or maybe the most beautiful things are invisible, like the intellect and rational love. We know and refer to these things without sensing them.
Three thirty AM.
I can hear turbulent passages from The Miraculous Mandarin, but behind a network of words like a mesh or weave, warp and woof. I don’t feel like sleeping right now. It’s a strange thing to surrender to alpha waves, where the neurons all fire together in unison. I am kind of tired but not drowsy. There are things I need to sort out consciously and rationally; but now I’m subscribing to psychodynamic theory and I really don’t want to do that.
What if you could abolish every kind of dualism in experience: would it be like zen? It’s like rubbing out the distinction between subject and object, making reality a continuous thing, and the apprehension of it is intuitive and not sensory. In other words, it’s immediate. Mind and matter would be one thing. But temporal experience is hard to disregard: I know it was ten years ago this month that I read about Zen Buddhism from a book.
Around the same time I also read Nausea. In that story, the reality we understand depends entirely upon the use of language. It is totally verbal, and there are allusions to Descartes with his cogito ergo sum. But when the stream of words melts down, reality is just a flexible blob, a nothingness with nothing to describe it. I forget what Roquentin calls his little discovery.
What always amazes me are the layers of memory and how sensitive they are. They come up unbidden and can wreck your day and your peace of mind.
Quarter of seven.
The sky grows light and clear through the window behind me, the horizon like grenadine. Life is tiresome but in some ways it hasn’t even begun. Gloria is coming to work for me this morning after taking Tuesday off. I haven’t figured out what we’re going to do today. I spent a very long night and hardly slept. The life of literalness comes back to reinstate itself: time dominates once again, and this feels right.
The title theme to Untamed World, a tv show from the late Sixties, returns to my mind like it was yesterday night. This is what reading Jung can do to me, though it doesn’t feel bad to bring back the archaic, both in macrocosm and microcosm, like the tadpole to the frog. I suppose the psyche does contain all of evolution in itself, as the embryo of a chicken looks no different from a human embryo. My dog just lapped his water down to the bottom of the dish and poked about in his dry food: animal logic is not far removed from that of people… And yet progress of the individual is good, and the idea we call freedom of the will. I guess the question may be, Towards what does the individual person progress? You leave your mark on history and politics, hopefully to push the envelope of freedom and justice a little further. This is the spirit; then when everything is done, the materials of your body are recycled in the circle of life. It is the whim of fate whether your words are remembered, to say nothing of your deeds. So what is the point of it all? “Rejoice, rejoice / We have no choice / But to carry on.” And not to forget that love is coming.
Quarter after one in the morning.
I see that I’ve had a few things on my mind over the past couple of weeks, and they involve attitudes toward elitism in an intellectual way. I’m also bedeviled by the idea of evil as I perceive it in the rock band with my friends. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do, or if these concerns are all related to each other in my mind. Ultimately it boils down to real people I have contact with, like my sister and my band mates and their ideas. And it leads me to ponder my own identity and destiny: that’s just it. This is my problem. And do I want to share the same fate as the others with whom I associate? I feel myself drowning in an element of society that I’m very unsure of. For a while, I thought things were pretty clear, but now they’re quite muddy. I don’t think I should dichotomize the church and the rock band like I started out doing; or maybe this is why I feel so confused today? Everything was black and white before, but now it’s a lump of gray clay, colorless and shapeless, as I get deeper into the scenario. Nothing is neatly classifiable anymore. Accordingly my identity sort of dissolves in this new element of amorphous uncertainty. My future is anybody’s guess. I feel like a deep-sea diver who gets the bends and can’t tell up from down, the surface from the abyss. Someday soon I want to break the waterline and bask in clear sunshine, but for a while I’m committed to this project of rock and roll.
Eleven thirty 🕦. It’s been a good couple of days for me, very eye opening and illuminating. It feels so strange when the face of nature changes in accordance with the political scene, kind of like the sympathy of nature in a Shakespeare play, for instance Julius Caesar or King Lear. Human eyes project new meaning onto the world, and the result of this interplay of mind and matter is an effect we know as reality; so that perception is what Wordsworth described to us in The Prelude about two centuries ago. It’s funny, though; I feel rather lazy, as if I could go on sabbatical from my writing for a while and still feel like a worthwhile person. Today’s social climate seems to me like that of the 1990’s. It’s tempting not to take individual responsibility and rather say that every person is a passive mirror of the day— when the truth may be that human beings collectively create the spirit of the age from our own souls. The mysterious thing is whence these ideas of ours spring; so I suppose that Jungian theory has some applicability… but even Jung got the idea from his Romantic predecessors… Thus I look out on a June day in Oregon, making out the shapes and colors of the cloudy sky from the backseat of a taxi or through my bedroom window. The lemon lime filters into the kitchen and family room, yet the process is an operation of my own mind, which in turn participates in a greater reservoir of the human nous. So, it’s rather problematic whether what I see is external nature or a projection of my mind. But perception is likely not entirely passive as in Aristotle’s model of naive realism. Then again, realism can be a comfort, like the ordinary loveseat I’m sitting on. Does it make sense to call this a projection of my mind? And here I arrive at an impasse in my meditation, because I always have liked the simplicity of the immanent, the mundane and ordinary stuff that surrounds us. Are we such stuff that dreams are made on, or is it preferable to keep things simple?
I’m going without caffeine today, no tea or Coke, no beverage at all. I saw what it did to me yesterday, especially in the early afternoon. It was unpleasant. I left a voicemail for my sister. It isn’t supposed to rain today, so my walk to physical therapy should be uneventful. I feel lonely, and I wish life could be different. I’d like to make another friend like Kate across the Atlantic. The best thing is to keep an eye out for opportunities to meet likeminded people. The sun is making an appearance.
Ten thirty. I just voted and put my ballot in the mailbox… Some of the measures dealt with substance abuse, so those were easy to decide on. I hope it’s a clear day for my stroll later. A thought on the edge of my mind keeps offending me. I think it’s about Santa Clara. I have to go there today, and it makes me feel like a child somehow, or a helpless victim. I’ll be in my sister’s jurisdiction while I’m there. People really believe in spooks in that part of town. It just gives me a feeling of sadness and a little anxiety that I could be caught out as an alien unbeliever. Worse, I fear psychosis and delusions of frightful things. It’s no joke when you have schizophrenia. I once had a frenemy who thought it was cute to make me watch horror movies with him. He was neither very smart nor sympathetic.
Noon hour. I don’t feel very good, but I guess that’s okay. My thoughts are all confused, enough to make me cry. I wish the truth were objective and not plural and divisive. We can be taught that round objects are really flat, or that two plus two equals three— and we believe it for a lifetime. And some will tell you to forget the truth and get on with your life; but what is life without pleasure, without fun? It is pinning the tail on the donkey blindfolded. Pushing a boulder up a hill repeatedly and uselessly. It is work with no play. It’s gray.