Monday, October 13, 2008

As Promised, Chapter 6 from 1983 on metaphors of transcendance, perhaps?

A young man once arrived in New Haven on a motorcycle; a little late for the start of fall classes, and a little buzzed by the four-hundred mile ride on a tiny one-seventy-five cc machine. He'd had a painful summer, which claims hardly any recall, but he was now back on the track. He'd had the second of his abortive voyages out into the world of solitary freedom, and was called back by the same thing twice; his lonliness which found focus in the love of a girl. The first adventure had been on a bicycle; this one was on a motorcycle. It began to dawn on him that he was not his own image. He liked aloneness and travel; but these were metaphorical journeys, and only served to point out where he really wanted to be.

It was a paired urge with a great tradition. The masculine impulse to adventure hampered by the homebound strings of his love. The outward urge was begun very early with a need for transcendence. The inward urge started even earlier, but found development in his own serious sexuality in high school. The urges were bounded by the skin -- one, the urge to get beyond; one to get beneath.

Getting out of his skin began as early as dreams of flying, and found its development through skis, bicycles, and swimming. They were all gestures made toward a world without physical encumbrance. Not running -- he was very flatfooted and could find no freedom. He couldn't tolerate the limits of activities whose arduous training left you skin-bound. The mechanical appurtenances were extensions of his body which allowed feats that approached transcendence; and the water was a medium in which transcendence could be mimicked with the naked body.

It happened over and over again. He needed a bicycle with the passionate need of one who knows that by its acquisition all his dreams will be answered. And they were, in a way. But then the same need recurred through various motorized conveyances to the motorcycle. And again with a need to have enough scuba diving equipment to be free under the water. By the time he was buying his black leathers for the motorcycle he'd begun to be seriously suspicious. He knew that the desires were unanswerable, but he could not make them less real thereby. He knew that none of these would satisfy him, yet the craving never waned and never grew wise.

But when he got into his new leather skins, and onto his sleeker, faster motorcycle and back again after trying through blind speed to eradicate all desire and looked in the mirror; the blackness reminded him of his wetsuit and he thought of all the skins he'd required and acquired with equal passion. He had a water skin, and a road skin -- a bicycling skin, a mountain climbing skin. He'd been trying to get out of his skin and all the while kept crawling into new ones. As though they would answer the craving for transcendence.

One night, at midnight on a full moon, he went out in his skiing skin to exhaust his depression. It was a white and sparkling world under a bright full moon. He looked up at the moon and began to laugh insanely and loudly. "We've been there. Fools! Fools fools!" The clarity of the night had invaded his soul, and he saw why we had been there. He saw the very masculine nature of transcendence as he pictured the men in their space-skins walking about to no other purpose than to shoot golf balls. It was too ludicrous. And too perfect.

They'd been shot up in the very complicated ejaculation of a phallic rocket to leave the sterile sperm of the earth on a moon which mocks us still. We have possessed the moon, but do we know her? "Lunacy, lunacy!" "No, we're not mad. This projectile can get us somewhere beyond ourselves. Why, we'll shoot down the very moon herself and prove we're not lunatic." We'll get there, by God, with all our masculine contraptions which really are developments of things that thrust and kill and have maimed our mother earth.

And again he wondered, as he rode the very obvious phallic contraption between his legs. Bullets, more effective than swords and knives, then caught before their exit down the launch tube and returned to be fired again. The reciprocating engine. Like all technology, a development of war and of men. They had gunpowder and rockets in China long before we did, but they didn't have guns or engines until we brought them. The masculine West -- a cliche but with something behind it.

He wondered about the thrust turned into a spinning. About goals being wound into patterns. He wondered if there could be some hope in this world bound toward the goal of explosion and decay. Perhaps the turning of guns into engines was a sign. Perhaps the nuclear explosion that would hurl all meaning to nonsense, all order to entropy, could also be contained and made to spin. Not literally -- God, no. But it might have been a sign -- a clue.

It had been an accident that allowed him to get his first ten-speed bicycle. He'd been racing out of the driveway to see how far he could coast up the hill in front of the house. He was carried away in the game. It was fun. He would go faster and faster and have less and less time to check the oncoming traffic. He was careful. He'd always be sure that there were no cars before reaching the street. But he got carried away and was going too fast.

The bicycle was demolished. Howie was in shock. His grandmother was at the house babysitting and took good care of him with the absolute concern that could not be shocked and that only she could have. The poor woman driving the car that hit him must have been driving somewhat too fast, because she felt guilty and got her insurance company to pay Howie one hundred dollars. Howie knew it had been his fault. He wondered that she would have felt guilty. It had been a shock to her. It didn't matter, it was only insurance money. Howie wasn't terribly good at admitting his guilt. He thought maybe she was going too fast, and would have been able to stop in time. So he bought himself and his brother new ten-speed bikes. Bad fortune turned to good. The bruises healed and Howie was thrilled.

Most (all?) of our technology results directly or indirectly from the frenzy of united effort that occurs in war. The wounds eventually scar over, and we are pleased with the new world. But there isn't always a chance to turn bad fortune into good. Howie might have been killed. A war may leave no survivors -- or so few that there can be no sense in turning bad fortune into good. Howie may have been crippled.

Howie wasn't to be so careless again. He learned to fear cars and the road. His risks, though they would often toe the line between control and letting loose, would never leave open the possibility of a car coming around the corner a bit too fast.

The risks increased as his control improved. As his awareness expanded. But if he had continued riding about at high speeds on his motorcycle, he would now be dead. There is no absolute control. The only safety is a constant vigilance against what cannot be predicted. He was an extremely safe driver. Always expected cars to pull out in front of him. Practiced skids on dirt roads. Knew how curves can be taken. How gravel and wet leaves can be anticipated, and ridden through if not anticipated. But he was always tempted by the thrill that comes when approaching transcendence. He would be extremely careful, until sometimes he would get depressed, and then the lure of speed would beset him.

Fortunately, his body would never allow him to pass that increment of friction that still tied him to the road. His heart would beat, and his breath would quicken, but his body -- his uncontrollable fear which could not be overridden by a mind that may not have cared for the moment -- would not let him transgress that point which miles of training had taught could not be crossed.

It was by accident that Howie turned to China from physics. And these thoughts were not in his mind when he made the decision. All of this is a foreword. It was an accident that might have been a design had he known it. The connections are too myriad to be made. The reasons all fall back upon earlier ones until any act is fated. The design goes back beyond the moment to its origins in an original act, which might yet be a point on a circle. The fool is made so by being buffeted beyond his control, but Shakespeare knew who was really wise. Only a fool clots out with dried words and reason a choice which is made inevitable by the wind. Only a fool refuses to acknowledge that chance carries the only wisdom. Because chance is another word for a design whose origins have been forgotten and cannot be recovered.

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