|When I was a kid, I loved looking at the sky. But I was never interested in seeing things — planets, stars, clusters. No, I wanted my gaze to keep going, never to focus, to let my eyes be drawn infinitely through the cosmos.|
Like many kids, when I was young I thought a lot about space. But I wasn't interested in planets and stars. I wasn't even interested in super novas, black holes, and space ships which are all insanely cool. And despite the fact that my step father was an astronomer who took the first pictures of Venus — I shit you not — and so there were telescopes aplenty, I had no interest in using them. Telescopes are for seeing things — planets, moons, stars, perhaps constellations or even galaxies. But none of that interested me. I didn't want to see anything. I wanted my gaze never to end: I wanted to see the infinity of space.
Some kids learn the names of this or that — the Pleiades (although I love that name with all those vowels!); Saturn's gigantic moon, Titan; Halley's Comet (although to see such a screaming across the sky is at once exhilarating and humbling). But none of that piqued my interest at all (I still don't care about the names of things other than enjoying the name itself; to me, the name is another celestial body).
When I looked up, I wasn't looking for anything. I was looking for the unnameable: I was looking for that infinite horizon with a gaze that just keeps going. What I learned back then is what I'd learn again, once from Merleau-Ponty then again from Osho: if my gaze doesn't end, then I don't end. My very act of looking extends me across and through the silky cosmic body — entwining me, entwining with me.
Lying alone at night tucked into my safari sheets, I'd track the movement in my head from the bed outwards — past my ceiling and roof, past the trees, through the clouds, past the everyday blue sky and moon, past the sun and planets, past the stars. What I loved was that the movement didn't end; it had no point of focus. There was nothing to see; there was only the act of seeing, seeing a world that in the same breath reveals and recedes, carrying my skinny little body along, extending me Plastic Man-like into that delicious delirium, that point free of orientation where there's no up, down, or side to side, just me going, spreading, splaying, extending through it all. Oh man! I'd shudder with what I'll call a prepubescent orgasm. But it was more expansive than that. If I wanted to be fancy, I'd say it was feminine in that it kept going rather than climaxing. Years later, I'd read Hélène Cixous and find the word that hinted at what I'd experienced: jouissance.
Thinking about it right now gives me the shivers — shivers of a very special kind of ecstasy.
I was always confused by what people meant by "outer space." I was eight and I knew that there was no inner or outer space. Sure, those terms have relative value to a fixed point. But when I'd think about going to outer space — into that infinite cosmic body — I'd realize I was already there. Earth is in outer space. Just thinking that when I was a kid — and today, too— makes my heart go pitter patter. I see the swift pan back as we zoom out and out, the earth receding into the distance, becoming a speck in the infinite folds of the universe and, yes and yes, it's exquisite.
Such is the way of infinity: there's no fixed point of orientation. The language of proximity is only relevant if, say, you're giving someone directions or launching a spacecraft. But for my purposes, the luxury of thinking about space is precisely that there's no directions to give and no spacecraft to launch — and hence no question of proximity. I'm just zooming along like the Pleiades, Titan, and Halley's Comet.
Merleau-Ponty says that to look is to palpate. This continues to blow my mind. All too often, we imagine seeing as an act at remove: I am here, it is there. But, for Merleau-Ponty, to see something is to touch it, to bring it to you at the same time that it brings you to it — what he calls an intertwining or chiasm. Seer and seen reverse positions at infinite speed until they are swirls of a marbling.
So what happens when I don't look at any one thing but look into space without focus? I am palpating the cosmos itself: I bring it to me and it brings me to it. We intertwine. But rather than just marbling in place, the limit of our marbling extends in every direction. This gaze then enacts an internal swirl and an infinite extension, a going and going both inside and out.
This infinite gaze is a going without purpose, with no point of focus, nothing to buy or think, no people to meet, nothing to say. Indeed, for Osho, this space is a vacuum, emptiness itself: It is just the vacuum, he writes, the space in which objects can exist. The sky itself is just pure emptiness. Look into it. // What will happen? In emptiness, there is no object to be grasped by the senses. Because there is no object to be grasped, clung to, senses become futile. And if you are looking into the blue sky without thinking, without thinking, suddenly you will feel that everything has disappeared; there is nothing. In that disappearance you will become aware of yourself. Looking into this emptiness, you will become empty.
I know what he means. This gaze does seem to evacuate me of the bullshit that one accumulates through the course of this all-too-often absurd existence — the worries about whether she liked when I did that thing, the idiot client who won't pay me, that ache in my shoulder. But rather than seeing it as an emptying per se, I see it as a matter of spatial scale: when I gaze into the infinite, the infinite gazes into me and so the things that once loomed large are now so minuscule as to be forgotten. And, as for Osho, there is a serenity to be found.
But, for me, space is not emptiness. On the contrary, it is full. Or, rather, it is fullness itself. It is not the place in which things are suspended. It is the stuff that enfolds everything. I find space viscous, thick, luscious. And so while this infinite gaze does afford me the serenity of putting my worries in their place, it affords me something else: the decadent surrender to the flesh of the universe and the ensuing exhilaration of cosmic affirmation as it fills me, carries me along, wraps me in its inky embrace.
I want to say that this gaze that goes is life itself in as much as there is such a thing, what Deleuze right before his fatal plunge called pure immanence or a life. Not this life, not my life, not your life: a life.
In any case, for me, this infinite gaze abounds. The very act of looking infinitely is fecund. It's a gaze that roars and boils over. It fills me rather than emptying me. But rather than filling me with the tasks and noise of this world, indeed rather than filling me with the beauty of sun and flowers or the wonder of black holes and supernovas, it fills me with life itself. I stand here and look and am filled with the infinite richness, the luscious thickness, of space, of the cosmos: of life itself. And what, I ask you, is more luxurious than that?