Goodnight, sweetheart – lies of reality and images

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Could that illusion have only been a single year ago? Baudrillard has argued that ‘reality barely has time to exist, if it does at all, before it has begun disappearing’. It’s a bit like the last (spoiler) part of the HBO modern classic, Six Feet Under, in which Nate appears posthumously to tell younger sister Claire that she cannot capture the moment with a photograph – it’s already gone. (And this is pretty much its own snapshot of how I feel about photography. An image can be a trigger for a memory, ‘moments, nostalgia but incapable of capturing reality in its ephemeral and disappearing(ed) state’. Actually Baudrillard deals with this, too (in The Intelligence of Evil: or, The Lucidity Pact):

“Can photography exempt itself from this flood of images and restore an original power to them? To do so, the turbulent operation of the world would have to be suspended; the object would have to be caught in that single fantastic moment of first contact when things had not yet noticed we were there, when absence and emptiness had not yet dissipated . . . It would, in fact, have to be the world itself that performed the photographic act, as though the world were affording itself the means to appear, quite apart from us.”

And

“At any rate, the lens simultaneously captures the way we are there and the way we are no longer there. This is why, before the eye of the camera, we act dead in our innermost being, as God does before the proofs of his existence. Everything in us crystallizes negatively before the material imagining of our presence.” (italics – mine – as usual)

Go figure. The way this is described almost breaks my heart. Weakling.)

What does photography reveal in this possibly-real reality, though? Do we get anything from it? Especially in a now-visually-desensitized age, where a microsecond glance-and-swipe constitutes a dating decision?

“The worst thing for us is precisely the impossibility of a world without image feed – a world that would not endlessly be laid hold of, captured, filmed and photographed before it has even been seen. A lethal danger for the ‘real’ world, but also for the image, since where it merely recycles the real and immerses itself in the real there is no longer any image – not, at least, as exception, illusion or parallel universe. In the visual flow submerging us, there is no longer even time for the image to become image.” (italicized emphasis mine, emphatically mine)

It is a peculiar feeling, to be in one’s own life, or to see images of that life, and feel as though, in either case, upon reflection, you were not really there. Just outside watching it unfold, as though a secondary observer, but through a looking glass.

“This is the miracle: that a fragment of the world, human consciousness, arrogates to itself the privilege of being its mirror. But this will never produce an objective truth, since the mirror is part of the object it reflects.”

The reality is real and can be reflected but isn’t anything that can tasted, touched, felt ever again. Was it truly felt the first time… in that momentary, illusory glimpse of reality that possibly existed?

Image (c) 2018 S Donaghy (an image as good as any to convey the randomness of the simultaneously ephemeral and interminable moments of life…)

Eyes toward the sky: Don’t be ‘ground clutter’

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The air traffic control radar beacon system (ATCRBS) is a system used in air traffic control (ATC) to enhance surveillance radar monitoring and separation of air traffic. ATCRBS assists ATC surveillance radars by acquiring information about the aircraft being monitored, and providing this information to the radar controllers. The controllers can use the information to identify radar returns from aircraft (known as targets) and to distinguish those returns from ground clutter.

I returned to this piece because I wanted a reminder – an unidentified blip on my radar screen popped up recently that kind of irked me (no one wants to deal with a UFO, you see), even if it was inconsequential. Or maybe it’s truer to say it confused me.

In my annual seasonal funk, delivered right on time each year between February 1 and 8, I dipped into rather egregious self-pity and felt hurt by the mismatch of someone’s words and actions. I came to terms with all my wallowing stupidity, wrote about and got it out of my system. That’s all tired, repetitive news by now, no? By March, which now seems like an eternity ago, I was a flashing blip on radar screens of an entirely different sector of the world’s airspace.

The aforementioned blog post addresses that sense of feeling independence and freedom slip away, and the involuntary oppression of the fierceness of care that comes from witnessing someone else in trouble. But it also delivers me back to that place of centered individuality: “carefree, spontaneous, open person who takes risks and action and moves forward no matter what…”. Perhaps because I already feel like I’ve flown off to new and foreign lands, literal and figurative, in the mere two months (but what does time mean? As I picked up in Seven Brief Lessons on Physics: “When his great Italian friend Michele Besso died, Einstein wrote a moving letter to Michele’s sister: ‘Michele has left this strange world a little before me. This means nothing. People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction made between past, present and future is nothing more than a persistent, stubborn illusion’.”) since that brief winter ‘episode’, I don’t feel any real, or strong, connection to that former time or place or the people populating it. Only interesting, intelligent characters and moments that, even if they do exist in the “persistent, stubborn” ‘non-time’ we live in, are not a part of my life now.

Life just goes on, sometimes at high speed and at cruising altitude. Though I will always care, it’s in a different and almost entirely impersonal, if friendly, way. Because ultimately I’m driven to move forward at all costs, I do not do well with fumbling through inertia or being at a standstill for very long. This has led me, in these weeks, to read, to study, to write, to work, to inhale music, to see films, to walk and hike and run and twist myself into new (to me) yogic positions, to unclog drains, change lightbulbs  and change the oil and tires, to let someone nearly break my back but then let the same person nearly fix it, to meet my near twin only in male form, to obsess over soup and stew, to summon apparitions from the past, to host lovely guests, to travel to new countries and cities, to spend time with my nearest and dearest of amazing friends, and even still to come back home and mail multiple rather innocuous and generic, if chocolaty, packages all over the place.

This last bit has apparently been the ‘last straw’ for one recipient/household, which is a shame, actually, because I had no idea it would cause the “dischord” (take note: the correct spelling is “discord”) they cited. I honestly thought there was only one person living in that household. I am not enough of an asshole that I would ever have sent anything had I known otherwise. Frivolously, perhaps, I thought I was supplying an appropriate “bookend” to close out the (brevity of that) acquaintance; you know, Norwegian Kvikk Lunsj, which is a bridge builder, fence mender, ski-trip snack essential, winning rival to the inferior KitKat and a neutral way to say adieu, even if it won’t keep tooth decay away.

Oh well, dear, undoubtedly lovely, disembodied soul, roger that. I meant no disrespect and no ill-will. It will never happen again.

Photo (c) 2016 NATS Press Office used under Creative Commons license.

in the absence

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In the absence of time to write something, I instead quote. Pessoa, of course:

“Metaphysical theories that can give us the momentary illusion that we’ve explained the unexplainable; moral theories that can fool us for an hour into thinking we finally know which of all the closed doors leads to virtue; political theories that convince us for a day that we’ve solved some problem, when there are no solvable problems except in mathematics … May our attitude towards life be summed up in this consciously futile activity, in this preoccupation that gives no pleasure but at least keeps us from feeling the presence of pain. There’s no better sign that a civilization has reached its height than the awareness, in its members, of the futility of all effort, given that we’re ruled by implacable laws, which nothing can repeal or obstruct. We may be slaves shackled to the whim of gods who are stronger than us, but they’re not any better, being subject – like us – to the iron hand of an abstract Fate, which is superior to justice and kindness, indifferent to good and evil.”

“The feelings that hurt most, the emotions that sting most, are those that are absurd: the longing for impossible things, precisely because they are impossible; nostalgia for what never was; the desire for what could have been; regret over not being someone else; dissatisfaction with the world’s existence. All these half-tones of the soul’s consciousness create in us a painful landscape, an eternal sunset of what we are.”

“This is my morality, or metaphysics, or me. Passer-by of everything, even of my own soul, I belong to nothing, I desire nothing, I am nothing – just an abstract centre of impersonal sensations, a fallen sentient mirror reflecting the world’s diversity. I don’t know if I’m happy this way. Nor do I care.”

Present possibilities

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How foolish you can feel after everything is said and done. First that you let yourself walk down the path, however gingerly, with however much trepidation felt and caution you thought you exhibited, in the first place. Winding up steep hills, when suddenly, the path ends, and you’re lost and deep into the woods. It’s getting dark, and what shadows and figures you can faintly make out are unfamiliar. How can you not want to cry, get angry and overreact in frustration? It’s temporary, as all things are. Light will return. You will find your way back, the biggest, self-effacing wave crashes over you, leaving you feeling more foolish than ever for the overly emotional, panicked reaction. But how could it have been otherwise? It is as though, suddenly, you wandered off the safe, clear paths to which you were accustomed. The sense of adventure, openness to feeling new things, awakened. You were confident you could keep your footing, but a whirlwind of different circumstances conspired to… knock you on your ass. In hindsight the whole thing is embarrassing and laughable. Oh, the misguided, animated imagination, once aroused.

And how far away from these minor misadventures you can so quickly feel. One moment fretting and regretting, hot tears welling up as you ask yourself what you were thinking going up there, climbing deeper into the woods. The ground underfoot covered in damp moss, becoming increasingly swamplike. The very next moment, feet on the ground in cities new and old, concrete and cobblestone, breathing in the world of literature read long ago, reminiscing about people you once knew, tasting everything like it’s the first time – and sometimes it is. There are always the phantoms of the past haunting, keeping certain addictions flickering, but mostly faded into some archive of past transgressions. They return sometimes, and it is almost a relief in some way to feel the pounding familiarity push-push-pushing its way in. As if the past can breathe new life into the future, and push you on your way to the new.

But what of the limbo of the present moment? Or, as Vonnegut’s Tralfamadorians propose regarding time: it’s all happening at once in different dimensions: past, present, future, life, death.

It is within these present moments, when the mind still wanders back to what might have been (Kierkegaard’s ‘future you will never have’), when your guard should be up most of all, but isn’t. In one moment or another, roaming in the Baixa or Belém or Katowice or Kraków, dredging up images of the dreary recent past, only to live moments of Invisible Cities as though they were almost your own:

“But the special quality of this city for the man who arrives there on a September evening, is that he feels envy toward those who now believe they have once before lived an evening identical to this and who think they were happy, that time” … or more fitting, a “city where the foreigner hesitating between two (wo)men always encounters a third”.

The present opens and widens the world and its possibilities again, anew. You regain footing, and it is then that the possibilities present themselves.

Reflective deceit – interchangeably on repeat

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“We are who we’re not, and life is quick and sad.”Fernando Pessoa, The Age of Disquiet

I had given a lot of thought to mirrors – both literal and figurative – in the days leading up to his sharing a random thought about mirrors and their uses. I twirled that around in my mind – how is it that each thought he expresses is like a mirror of my own thoughts? Not just general “thinking similarly” but near-verbatim captures, as though he were me and shared my consciousness, overlapping in time and meaning. I would think something, be overcome by something, silently, and he would voice the next logical thought or feeling for me. It should have been frightening to realize this interchangeability, but instead it was comforting to feel that a shared mind could express what I could not, or could extend my expressions, without my exerting any effort at all. An intellectual and mental mirror image.

My considerations, informed by a complete overload of reading, centered on how mirrors and reflections (both the visual and the intellectual varieties) intertwine effortlessly with memory, desire, identity and our whole concept of time, i.e. what the past and future mean to us as we creep through the minutes and hours of the present.

We know there is no objective truth when it comes to human reflection, but does that make it all reflective deceit? Our reflections have value, but at what cost?

“At times the mirror increases a thing’s value, at times denies it. Not everything that seems valuable above the mirror maintains its force when mirrored.”Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities

“Los espejos son gratis pero qué caro mirarse de verdad…”Julio Cortázar, “Inflación qué mentira” (Mirrors are free but how dear to really see yourself”)

Particularly given how memory is tricky, slippery and totally enmeshed in personal consciousness.

La memoria es un espejo que miente escandalosamente.” -Cortázar (Memory is a mirror that scandalously lies)

The fallibility and subjectivity of memory means it cannot be trusted.

“Stuck On Repeat” – Little Boots – because repeating shit is what I do: “Every time I try to break free/then something comes along to intervene”

But we’re alive,
full of memory and thought,
love, sometimes regret,
and at moments we take a special pride
because the future cries in us
and its tumult makes us human.

from “Describing Paintings,” Eternal Enemies Adam Zagajewski

Photo (c) 2013 Dermot McElduff used under Creative Commons license.

Creating reality

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In the middle-of-night hours of Saturday/morning Sunday, I didn’t realize I had lost a whole hour – I had somehow misled myself into thinking the time change was coming the next week. No. It was that Sunday. But I was up all night anyway, so it didn’t really matter. I just remember looking at the clock sometime in the night (around 3) thinking that that last hour sure passed quickly. Yeah, because we skipped it entirely.

In many ways we can create our own reality – but in terms of time, and the ridiculousness of daylight saving/standard time switches, we will be and are slaves, despite what the semi-New Agey psychic phenomena book I read the other day says:

“That we shape our perception is not just a statement about attitude, it also means just what it says: we construct our experience! … We create reality by the imagery we use to organize our experience. The three-dimensional world that we see is fabricated in our brain based upon an inner pattern of three-dimensional space.”

Yes, someone concocted time zones, spring-forward, fall-back and linear time itself. And somehow we all (or almost all) agreed to follow this organization of things. (Or perhaps we fell for it! We organized life itself into oblivion!)

Indeed someone has to see or organize or conceptualize things in a new way to bring about a new understanding and eventually a new reality. And be capable of imagining what has hitherto been a given (e.g. the real is flat) as something other. The book used another interesting example – the guy who finally envisioned the heart as a pump rather than as some cyclical thing, flowing like the tides. He would have to imagine things differently first to apply the new meaning or descriptor.

How shall I imagine things differently to create reality?

Settle the horses

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You know the anger and frustration you feel when you lose a document you’ve written but not saved? I just had the same experience only much more crushing. I had been reading this book aloud and recording it but had only paused the recording – not saved – when I was about two hours into what would have been four hours of reading (to complete one long – very long – chapter). The computer restarted. I lost everything. Now I have to go back and repeat this stuff again, and it feels very painful to think about.

Like so many things today (inauguration day in America). Avoid avoid avoid.

Almost daily now, especially needing the calm and the avoidance, I come back to “Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver.

The lines: “You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert,
repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your
body
love what it loves.”

I really disliked this poem when I was younger, when teachers would force it on us, year after year, and it never really had the chance to sink in. That is to say, I never gave it a chance to sink in. Now older, more reflective, I think of this letting “the soft animal of your body love what it loves”, and it has deeper resonance and meaning. How simple sounding but so hard to actually do.

Settle the horses that so eagerly and anxiously want to bolt thunderously away. Advice from all sides, every day, every source: Give it time.