Sirens’ Song: a Letter

All in all I didn’t do much today. While I was playing the bass, the UPS carrier brought my new book of Plato. The one before it was delivered to the wrong address, so Amazon replaced it for free. Then I opened it up and looked through it. There are two schematics in the book that I would have to figure out to know their purpose, and also there’s an illustration of the Spindle of Necessity. I love the way this book is organized and translated from the Greek. The Republic, to me, is a perfect handbook of self discipline, by teaching the primacy of reason in the soul, both individually and collectively, then going on to describe the character of the philosopher. A tyrant, according to Plato, is someone whose reason has been overthrown by his impulses. One might argue that alcoholism is this kind of situation, a sort of gluttony gone out of control by the rational component of the personality. And indeed, the reason becomes overturned by the irrational desire to drink alcohol, and therefore the person has become unjust and tyrannical.

At around two thirty I walked over to the store for a bucket of coffee ice cream, speaking of impulses. I was feeling pretty good today and wanted to celebrate a little. Caffeine is my way of splurging a bit without actually drinking alcohol. I also had a Coke this morning. I think I prefer the raspberry tea Snapple, but it’s all good. The drinks are cold, wet, sweet, and have caffeine in them. It’s easy to overdo it, so I have to employ my reason and be judicious. I wonder at what point the rational faculty gets overwhelmed by what’s below the neck, ie the subconscious and its lunacies? It’d make a great topic for a college paper in English or philosophy.

If you’ve never read Republic, then you might find it interesting, even helpful for everyday living. If nothing else, it’s a great classic of world literature that it benefits you to know. And it’s quite reader friendly, written in dialogue form that’s easy to follow.

Now I’m going to ponder what I just inquired about reason and the subconscious. Is it better to keep those things under rational lock and key, or maybe let them out a little to see the light of day? Plato and Goethe would argue over this point.

Suddenly I think again of Odysseus strapped to the mast of his ship, listening to the song of the Sirens out of sheer curiosity to know the lunatic fringe of human experience. I wonder if he gained anything by his rash behavior? But isn’t that a great image from The Odyssey?

Inside Out

Ten o’clock. Church will have started a half hour ago. I’m not missing anything. After a little while I’ll read some Emerson. I just donated to PBK and subscribed to The American Scholar. It may be a dying cause, but I’ll die fighting for humanity and free thought.

Quarter of three. I’ve finished writing my second blank book and feel I arrived somewhere. And yet psychology and philosophy only take you inward, when the reality is your body somewhere in space, doing something or doing nothing but think, if even that. The human condition is stuck inside of human skulls; alas, poor Yorik! Which reminds me that the early Japanese people would punch a hole in the top of the skulls of their dead before burying them. They did this to allow the soul to escape the body. Was that practice merely superstitious or were they right about immortality? Darwin thought natural selection could account for human consciousness in all its complexity and beauty. There’s a book by Richard E. Leakey all about our evolution from dwelling in trees to being forced out on the plains, and how we were saved by binocular vision and opposable thumbs… People are the only animals that wear clothes. A joke has it that the consummate human is the one who wears the most clothes…

Though I started reading the Leakey book some 25 years ago, I never finished it, since my impulse towards the humanities kind of took over. Around the same time, I read a lot of Dickinson and Keats, Mallarme and Cummings, and got hooked on the poetic endeavor to unmask the truth of existence. Somehow, language came to be logically prior to facts, and then the fossil record became just an idea on paper, even a misleading hoax. And for a while, the Bible presented itself as the primal Word, the alpha and omega. Religion was older and more venerable than science, and on the printed page, everything had equal weight. It was a very odd transformation. 

Simplify

Wee hours.

I couldn’t get much sleep for some reason. I’m both depressed and anxious at once, and my thoughts are all dark and confused. If people could be content with science facts alone, then they wouldn’t need a personal reason why things happen as they do. But instead, we always cry why me, or why do bad things happen to good people, and so on ad nauseam. The error of this consists in the values of good and bad. These are man made ideas based on what gives us pleasure or pain, but religion raises them to spiritual absolutes, totally fictitious and despotic. Life is not as dramatic as we make it out to be. We are very vain creatures, thinking the world orbits around our interests. The word for this is anthropocentric. It is only human beings who say that they are made in the image of God. We deny our relatedness to the animal kingdom, as we always have since the time of Charles Darwin. We believe we are exempt from evolution. We and modern apes are not descended from a common ancestor, according to public opinion. Still, the law of parsimony suggests that the simplest answer is the one that science has given. Everything else thrown into the picture only muddies what ought to be crystal clear. There’s nothing else besides cause and effect. No good and no bad, so theodicy makes no sense. Thus the drama is greatly minimized and the paranoia goes away along with the idea of praise and blame— of being judged and condemned. 

Turtle to Teetotaler

Quarter after eight.

Cloudy and cold this morning. Haven’t gone to the store yet, and I have a phone appointment with Heidi at eleven o’clock. According to the IRS webpage, the information on my stimulus payment isn’t available yet. I wouldn’t know what to do with the money anyway… I feel a little tired, so I think I need my morning Snapple tea to wake up.

Quarter after nine. I let Michelle bend my ear a little about her financial drama. But I found out that Vicki got a new job with the school district doing Covid cleaning and makes good money. As for me, “I don’t care too much for money / Money can’t buy me love.” Elsewhere, the peer pressure from church gets on my nerves, though it didn’t use to. Putting your finger on the pulse of the times today is very hard to do; the spirit of the age is not yet obvious, except that some people expect doomsday soon. I speculate what if events shaped up like The Last Man, the science fiction book by Mary Shelley. I ought to read it for comparison with the reality. I started it once about twelve years ago, after I left my job and had no friends for a while… Back then, other people’s opinions usually overshadowed my own ideas and trampled me underfoot. In my job I always got the same question: was I a team player or was I just a turtle every workday? The truth is I was the latter; in fact I was the only Darwinist in the whole agency. My boss called me names like “Nero,” infamous for throwing Christians to the lions. Obviously it wasn’t much fun for me, so I was relieved when I quit that job and spent my days home with my dog.

Quarter after ten. Now I see that I was free all during that time, from an existential point of view. I don’t know if I’m a Darwinist anymore; I don’t subscribe to determinism these days, but rather freedom and responsibility, and this helps with my sobriety. If I didn’t believe I was free, then I could not make a choice— and surely that’s a fallacy. Nor was I born with a beer bottle in my hand. And the datum of family is just a circumstance; ultimately you choose your company and your future. Seeking approval from others in order to belong to a group often leads to disaster… Every day is an adventure, though my body has aches and pains from advancing years. My brain is still very keen… after my morning Snapple tea. 

Crossing the Bridge

I noodled about on my bass guitars this afternoon; no guitar today, and I missed doing that. But I was kind of tired. The Nietzsche I’d read was infectious and put me in a different state of mind: quite proud and narcissistic to an unrealistic degree, a mode of creativity and not necessarily very technical or analytical. And, as opposed to objective, it was very subjective and emotional. Overall it was a Dionysian mood rather than Apollonian, and to understand this distinction you almost have to read Nietzsche’s Birth of Tragedy. But I think this mentality is useful for my project of guitar playing, if I can access it at will. How strange that would be! Picking and choosing the bucket of information in my mind, like when I read the French language again. Possibly I’ve been trying to do this deliberately to cross the bridge to another reality in my brain’s experience. It’s like shifting from the left side to the right side of the brain, which I hadn’t done for a couple of decades. I imagine there’s a whole personality associated with those schemata, those sets of ideas in my consciousness. And I’ve been trying to jar the information loose by the reading I’ve been doing. An old song by Jefferson Airplane comes to mind: “Go ask Alice when she’s ten feet tall…” I don’t know why. But it’s about encountering a different world, like attaining to the Sublime, or simply uniting two halves of the same person. The city mouse and the country mouse.

Now I think Nietzsche must have been a pretty amazing person. Another thinker who tapped the right brain was Carl Jung, as you can see from his dream interpretations, striving for wholeness, and his principle of synchronicity. I always thought my mother dwelt in her right mind, because her language was so irrational from a certain point of view, and also she held the phone receiver to her left ear instead of to the right, for processing by the right hemisphere. When I was a child, I grew up learning to think like my mother. This changed only after my first three years in college, where I became a rational thinker.

Pithy Paragraph

Wee hours.

One encounters problems when he can’t distinguish imagination from reality, art from nature, or mind from body. This trouble is what a good education is for. Even I fall into this trap, so then I have to get back to the drawing board. It’s a shame how philosophy as a discipline is being forgotten. Some major disasters could be averted with better knowledge of philosophy. What did we learn from the holy wars less than twenty years ago? The ideas were unreal but the bloodshed was indubitably real. Perhaps the only mystery remaining is the one of the afterlife, “the undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns.” This problem sees the birth of most religions. In the end, the way you live is kind of a dice throw, a wager with Pascal. I don’t know where my religious delusions come from, but I know that the church makes them harder to weed out. Also be careful of what books you read, for they become a part of you. 

Not Far Away

Nine o’clock.

A quiet Saturday so far. I just drained a quart of Snapple tea in ten minutes and fed the dog. I’m trying to lay my worries aside for the weekend. My thoughts are with Heidi, whose health is not good right now. Sleeping Beauty waltzes in my head, as if the subconscious couldn’t be bothered with the commonplace. The soundtrack plays on undisturbed. And maybe that is the sublime place sought after by Keats and Mallarme: a place in the human mind after all. A paradise that eludes the efforts of language, except for the mysterious one of music. I wonder if French, of all tongues, comes the closest to being music? Somewhere in my brain is a bucket for the French language. In college I wrote innumerable compositions in French, but I lost touch with that facility after my heart was broken. When I get brave I’ll venture to that place again and recover stolen treasures… The birds in the backyard seem happy to me. The cloudy sky gives an impression of lemon.

Ten o’clock. Again I think of my old friend Todd from the local music scene. Sometimes I could use his advice on technical matters regarding bass guitar. It’s a bummer how the music venues are all closed for now. And for once it would be great to have a clear and sunny day. Only in a perfect world, but maybe not too far away. 

A World Unseen

Three thirty in the morning.

Occasionally I am haunted by what happened early in my recovery, when my mental health was quite poor. I’d be awake 24 hours a day, and during December 2017 I read a raunchy little novel by Dawn Powell titled Dance Night. Those memories are miserable, yet sometimes they are necessary to my continued sobriety. I guess the worst part of it was desertion by my family, although at first I had my brother’s support. You always lose someone by the personal choices you make— and gain a few others. In this sense, every one of us ultimately lives their life alone with their freedom and responsibility. A grim thought, but probably the truth. I keep intending to read my Nietzsche or something else existential— even Dostoevsky would be interesting. On the other hand, I do pretty well at just winging the philosophy. 

Every decision I make cuts away something, but also certain people in my life. I could be putting myself in danger with the rock band because of the A&D factor; additionally with their ideology of rock and roll rebellion. I don’t know what I’m getting into. Supposedly music expresses no opinion, and yet it’s a language of its own, saying something spiritual that may be either good or perhaps not so good. The virtue of the music is only observable by its effects on the hearers for better or worse. All the time I feel myself slipping away from the church the more involved I get with the band. In a world unseen, there’s a struggle of light and darkness for supremacy, and the choice again is up to me. To begin with, it’s good to be aware of the situation. From there, I can make an informed decision. 

Quandary

Eight thirty five.

I feel better this morning, even though my sleep was filled with nightmares. Generally they were about the clash of poetry and empiricism, and where do I stand, and what am I supposed to do? If we don’t take science seriously, then we will pollute ourselves to extinction. Poetry is good entertainment, but it won’t reverse things like climate change or develop a cure for schizophrenia. At some point people have to be responsible for the future and pull their heads out of the sand, or else suffer the same fate as the dinosaur and the dodo. Someday the trail of cheeseburgers and fries will come to an end. Human beings are mostly selfish and vain, thinking the world revolves around them. Does the sun go round the earth or the other way around? Is the moon made of cheese? If it doesn’t profit humans somehow, we’re not interested in it. What’s the Amazon Rain Forest to us if we can’t cut it down? Who cares how many African elephants are left when their ivory is so valuable? We perceive everything with dollar signs in our eyes. All the time I hear conservatives argue that there should be a “balance” between ecology and economics, but this is only a way of excluding the environment.

Nine thirty. Something made me think of a CD by Sonic Youth: Bad Moon Rising. I borrowed it from a friend long ago and listened to it only once. For me, the experience of hearing it was terrifying, even though in a way it was well done. The music went to dark spiritual places that triggered my psychosis. A quality of this morning, perhaps the fog and the cold, suggested to me autumn many years back. Bonnie Rose smiled and waved from her black truck as she was returning from the coffee shack. Suk, covering for Michelle, was very nice. I kind of enjoy this nostalgia for old friends and music, even Sonic Youth. The feeling of October in February gives me the urge to read “Sleepy Hollow” again and creep myself out a little. And by the way, I located the Joseph Campbell book I feared was lost.

Morals

Eleven twenty. I’ve managed to absolve myself for a little guilty pleasure I had last night. I’m always on the edge of quitting the church for its condemnation of sin, when to a great extent what constitutes a “sin” is arbitrary. If it doesn’t harm anybody, then people should be free to pursue their happiness. I don’t believe in moral absolutes, these rules imposed by an untouchable lawgiver… but now I’m sounding kind of like my brother. If everyone were a libertine, it would be a chaotic world, a place without laws we agree on. It’s a useful thing to have a conscience… and then it’s a good to take a holiday from it occasionally. According to Shakespeare critics, order is restored after we plunge into mayhem temporarily. I guess it depends on common sense, when you have any.

Years ago I used to get drunk on weekends and watch Dateline NBC on the tube. It would always upset me because this sort of journalism merely pandered to people’s feelings of moral outrage and disgust, which I believe was very irrational and contrary to what I learned in college. In particular it went against the Ethics of Spinoza. He totally de emphasized the sentiments of disgust and anger in human beings, saying that we must keep a level head in matters of justice. I had a friend who disagreed with my pacifism and with Spinoza. My brother’s morality was passionate and vindictive, like watching Oprah boil with resentment. He admitted that my point of view was rational but he didn’t share it. I’ve never been an emotional thinker, which puts me in a lonely minority. I’m cool with that.