What Do You See When You Consider the World?

Making sense is cinematic.
I see a multi-screen production — no reel here.

There are so many ways to parse events, to distribute bodies and their relations. Take what we call the news and bombings and such. The media try to establish a particular frame of causes and effects. Meanwhile, Facebook feeds offer alternate causes and effects.

There is, alas, no right or singular way of making sense of things. Events are multiple. How we distribute them, make sense of them, depends on our metabolism (our humors, inclinations, speeds), our circumstances (from cultural and historical to immediate things like hunger and the need to pee), our point of focus (from right in front of my face to the sprawling horizon of the cosmos).

What do you see when you see the world? Where is your point of focus? How do you see things going together, coming part, co-mingling? How do you distribute the flux? And what does it look like? Feel like?

Me, I see flux as the condition of the world — a great, indifferent stream of all things. Nietzsche sometimes calls this Nature. It is what happens beyond good and evil, outside of any science and human knowledge, everything aswirl — rocks, ideas, planets, gamma rays, tequila, love, that itch on my right shoulder blade, cars, consciousness (whatever that is), kids. I see an endless morphing into different shapes, bodies attracting and repelling each other, often without ever coming into direct contact (an orbit, for instance, is a kind of attraction between two bodies which may very well occur without either knowing about the other. The Earth just thinks: Weeeeeeeee! Watch me go round and round! Meanwhile, the sun thinks: Man, it's hot! Watch me fly through space! I wonder what all those rocks out there are doing?).

This flux coheres and gives way, in the same breath, to this moment, this moment, to this writing, this itch, this feeling, that feeling, this idea, this life happening now: agua viva. I don't see consciousness as something different than this stuff; it's part and parcel. And yet it's not material. Mind, consciousness, whatever we call it, exceeds me, streams through me, animates itself in me, as me, just as it streams through the sun and Pluto and you. And yet it is not one thing, either. There are planes of the invisible, architectures of affect, fluxes of forces, some of which we are aware of, most of which we are not but that we nevertheless live through, necessarily — sun flares, smells, gases, magnetisms of all sorts, pushes and pulls, tugs and gropes of trees and pollen and moods and ideas.

What do you see when you consider the world?

Philosophers, of course, paint us elaborate pictures of what they see — only they do it in concepts and words. Each philosopher sees something different and asks us to see like that. Bergson says that when we read philosophy, we're coming to an intuition of what that philosopher intuited, what she saw, what she sees, how she distributes the world, the flux, bodies, affects, relations. Other artists literally paint the picture. See? There's what I see. Writers do it with affect and character and plot and rhythm and syntax.

People do like to distribute the world into buckets. Dualities, for instance, are quite common: body/spirit, temporal/eternal, good/evil, signifier/signified, subject/object. These make a certain sense in the abstract. They sure make things easier to talk about. The structuralists distinguished between diachronic and synchronic language: language as a system and language as a spoken, actual event. This made it easier to talk about language as a thing separate from its use. Then Derrida came along and said: Wait, uh, isn't language always already spoken? Is there any language that isn't? Where would that be? There's nothing outside the text. Which is slightly different than, yet related to, Alan Watts coming along and saying: This is it.

I've never felt dualities. I feel multiplicities ricocheting, marbling, mixing, boinging all about — in me, as me, around me, with me. The structure of dualities seems like an idea, a configuration, that has no real relationship to experience. Or at least to my experience.

And yet the possibility of duality is one way to configure things, to make sense of things. As such, it is something, too, that is part of the ricocheting, marbling, co-mingling, attraction, repulsion. Which is really weird: amidst infinite multiplicities and differentiations, there is also a more or less rigid duality  — at least as an idea, as a moment within the flux, as a possibility. Stillness, in a sense, as a movement within movement.

Making sense is a kind of cinematic act, putting together all these images into a moving sequence of relations. Maybe stillness is the long take, Tarkovsky. My cinema doesn't run on a reel, going from here to there. It's a multi-screen production without an arc and with characters who morph into other creatures, human and not, living and not. Which is why I've always felt at home reading Burroughs.


anon emous said...

There is more wisdom in your body than in your deepest philosophy.


αληθεια said...

"Which is why I've always felt at home reading Burroughs."

But, then, what are the risks of this "feeling at home"? Isn't the goal of living amidst the flux, or at least appreciating the constant push and pull of the flux, a kind of an unsettling—a feeling of Unheimlich (uncanny, not being at home)? Or would the feeling of "not being at home" be recognized by some as despair (Kierkegaard)?

Just some thoughts.

Daniel Coffeen said...

Anon: It's funny — I used that quote to open the first paper I wrote on Nietzsche in grad school — in 1993 — arguing something about the embodiment of ethics. Hmn.

αληθεια: Well, the line about feeling "at home" with Burroughs was supposed to be funny seeing as most people feel alienated and confused reading Burroughs. But your question is still spot on: what is it to feel at home if there is no home? And is it the responsibility to undo one's home, to find the alien?

Well, I believe in harmonic convergences; I want to go as I go. I like being surrounded by the things to which I can say Yes, without hesitation. And those are the things I call home. If that makes sense.