It looks as though I'll never finish William Gaddis' book. Life's oscillating trajectory has knocked me down a step. I had been on a losing weight feeling good high, following upon working myself out on my daughters' houses. Then I moved into my own place, which involved the assembly and cartage up three flights of stairs of lots of the goods needed for living.
Now, suddenly, I'm wracked with pain just getting out of my reading spot. During long walks I'm thinking about how it will feel on the return. I might call it "long COVID," except that it is all so continuous with what has always been progressing. Just getting out my bike, my kayak, my tiny house RV trailer becomes a chore in anticipation.
I triggered Social Security yesterday, which only forces into my face how little I'm going to have to live on. But, you know, I've felt this way so many times before. I thought I was done with sex at forty-something, but it turned out that I just needed a divorce. It's often hard to differentiate the physical from the mental.
I mean, it's all OK. Life has always been a cliff-hanger from the inside. I hope I never need that out-of-body affirmation that Christopher Superman Reeves had when his brain was cut off from the rest of his neurally alive body. Other people get that through meditation, or even free diving (which I once thought I wanted to learn to do, just because I was that good at it), or maybe, sometimes, psychedelics.
I've never really thought that mind was contained within body, but then I've never thought that it was severable from body either. The only thing that rescues me from terminal irony is that all boundaries, certainly including skin, are fractal and extensive such that each one of us permeates everything, in just the way that a calculable probability wave for self extends you in exponentially minuscule diminishing identity, starting from near nothing. But cut off most of your body and I suppose the extension must increase.
And if you look at the probability wave structures for subatomic particles, their extension moves toward infinity. Perception - touch - collapses these conceptual structures. Reading and writing collapse meaning.
I think that a good writer requires a more certain grasp on words than I will ever have. I look up words compulsively now, mostly because I can by smartphone. My usages remain trued against common usage only if and as I don't stray too far off the beaten path. Plus, I guess I just don't have the right desire to be read. For the most part, the vocabulary that I inhabit feels sufficient.
Getting old, like getting cancer I hear, elicits troves of advice, directly or indirectly given, about what you could or should be doing to mitigate the consequences. My close friend's dad just died. For whatever reason, the family chose to list the professions and advanced degrees of all his numerous offspring in the obituary. The impact of this man's progeny is stunning. The consequences pretty extensive.
It has always seemed to me that whatever book I am reading contains the secret I've been after. As you, dear reader, know, just now I'm reading Homo Ludens, by Johan Huizinga. I'd pulled the book off my shelves because I'd started thinking that yes, it's play that defines how humanity remains embedded in nature no matter how we seem to stray from natural origins. I open the book and it's almost as though I'd read it already.
Huizinga's life ended just as his apocalyptic times were ending. He died just before the "successful" deployment of America's atomic bomb beyond the "controlled" conditions in New Mexico. Huizinga tried to put culture - our collective identity - back into nature's ground. That is, of course, our current ongoing struggle as well.
Also this morning I read a disturbing article in the Atlantic, not exactly bolstering the lab-release theory about COVID-19, but exposing the irrefutable duplicity of those people and agencies which were honor-bound to be straight-up.
These are the human failings of people who crave recognition; that thing which I most fear. Simply because I know I couldn't handle it. And yet I still feel that I must release upon this earth some strange construing - trueing really - of words which might help us all along to keep our collective lives from flying apart. I have no business doing this. But I do keep on truckin'
Our usage of the term "freedom" is so wild in America. We cling to usages for freedom of speech which are killing and will kill us. Just as I once learned about how bad news persists five times as long and extends five times further than good news (when I was handling PR for my little school), it seems that lies spread in the same ratio against truth. On social media.
It would seem we can no longer distinguish between trued speech and pure pandering of words. Lies, in other words.
But of course, what we mean to say by freedom of speech is that we value the range for play in words. None of us can abide someone else policing our words when they are aimed toward understanding and not toward action. And yet our worship of such freedom becomes an excuse for self-destruction. We have clearly lost our moral compass. We have yet to get a hold of the difference between public and private.
For my purposes, Huizinga affords us a fully grounded definition for "freedom" in the broadest sense. Freedom is simply the baseline requirement for play. One only plays when one has the choice to play (or not).
Huizinga then goes on to place the practice of the law (a highlight profession of my now fatherless friend's and my own family) firmly within the realm of culture's origin stories in play. He traces Plato, as I do, toward the 'all the world's a stage.' Warfare is played out on a regulated field, up until what he already calls "total war." These agonistic contests are all in line with what all sentient creatures do when they are free to do it.
But "it remained for the theory of 'total war' to banish war's cultural function and extinguish the last vestige of the play-element" writes Huizinga.
Suddenly I understand why and how the robes in court look so much like the robes in church. Play removes us from grim reality. Of course now, we have lost all belief. Belief is what must be suspended in court or in church and not what must be embraced. You are in the presence of a higher authority. You move apart from the rules of ordinary life and enter the near sacred, and then sometimes the sacred.
Now faith is what enables us to put one foot in front of the other, while belief is what happens in the court or in church by the wilful suspension of daily faith and daily belief. Yes, this is indeed why I worship irony.
Our genetic background in these United States is that we removed ourselves from any and all cultural roots. We never did conduct proper warfare. Oh sure, during the revolution and perhaps during the civil war, but mostly we went about the wholesale slaughter of those we didn't think of as quite human, so desperate we were to lay claim to our new lives in what we thought of otherwise as wilderness.
We left the realm of play in America. We did this most egregiously in our religion, which we insist - Catholic and Protestant both - must be made literally true. Transubstantiation is profaned when it is thought to be so real. Nobody can really believe it anymore, forevermore. The Bible as God's literal word is abomination worthy of world's end for what it does to twist any possible truing for any possible words.
This is what it means to desacralize reality. We have become fully profane. We can chart our course by poor usage for terms like freedom and belief and faith and God.
Now you know, dear reader, that I am reasonably literate in Chinese. But as short as I feel that I fall in English, that is how far I fall with Chinese according to a near perfect analogy with how far short I fall from riches. Meaning that I am most certainly alive among the "one-percent" with my usage of both English and Chinese, and in my inherited social capital. But literally speaking, I am almost broke.
At least I have Chinese tradition as a foil against too much belief in the rightness of our ways over here.We are the ones who most seem to be coming apart at the seams. Even as we would agree with each other again if we were to turn off those infernal media amplifiers that kidlets who profess belief in 'freedom to innovate' press into our fists.
So yes, the life of freedom is the life of play. It's not something that you can do all the time, though. Play is defined by limits. There is a start. There is a stop. There is a field of play. There are rules. Freedom is not the callow libertarian fantasy that you should be able to do whatever the fuck you want.
Even the hyper-wealthy who prove their profanity by the scope of what they would enjoy, must do actual work much of the time. But OK, let's suppose that all of us would want to build empires here on earth were we able to do so. Multiple castles, ever bigger yachts, personal billion-dollar aircraft and stadia to milk the masses. Yes, that sure would be fun!
Except that people like me, who have managed multiple houses and even a smallish less-than-luxurious yacht would feel it an excessive burden to have so much under my name and control. There would never be enough pleasure to equal what I felt, for instance, on yesterday's stroll. And that's despite the pain, and the fact that I had to call my daughter for a ride back home when it started to rain and I was a few miles out.
No brag, just fact.
But OK, let's decide to define life as a search for recognition. Just like Fukuyama does when he writes of the End of History and the Last Man. Like Huizinga does when he details the roots of culture on the agonistic fields where freedom has its play. Like Gaddis does when he re-writes Dante's inferno in the novelized descent of American history, by way of one family's trajectory down. Starting with my own ancestor, Cotton Mather, the father of vaccines, along with fire and brimstone preaching.
Let's continue to celebrate profane wealth. Go Bills! let's build a colosseum to celebrate the wealthy, some of whom don't even want to live here, on taxpayers' dime beyond the financial reach of the actual fun-loving fans. Let them have big screens! Let them eat chicken wings, even though they now cost as much as filet mignon by the pound.
It is so much easier to project our lives onto the lucky ones than it is to project them onto a future where the words of our constitution are made actually real. All are created equal. All will be afforded the chance to play. To be free and happy frequently enough to have some real play to look forward to every day.
And God will no longer be a projection of those qualities we must disparage instead of celebrate; power and control quite literally beyond imagining right here on earth. Yes, of course I mis-use "literally" just like all the rest.
God left us free, even by our own profane reckoning of the sacred Word. And we have chosen to abandon Him. Full stop. We can't be judged by what we profess to believe. We abandon our God as we describe him as soon as we set out to own Him by denomination.
We are judged by our actions. Even by the actions of our words. Of course the God who is called by Name is not the true God. (translated from Chinese)
The absence of God doesn't mean that we are alone in the cosmos. We sure do act as though we are, though. And then game over, either in God's name or denial. I assure you that God by any name doesn't care if you're rich, or even if you're happy.
Of course I don't mean that E.T. will keep us company. I mean what evangelical atheist Richard Dawkins uncovered. I mean what science, once it's divorced from the quest for recognition of the scientist, has revealed to us. The most elemental force anywhere is love. Love defines the direction for evolution. Love describes the direction of time. Love distinguishes the quick from the dead from the long view.
What, you thought it was about cognition?!? Look around you. There ain't much sense going on. Individualistic libertarian self-aggrandizement is what I see. The quest for recognition as a cancer.
Well, or it's nothing but a lack of love. Why else would anyone seek outsized recognition in the form of fame and riches?
As you know, dear reader, my writing is all and only about my "discovery" of a kind of gold I'd like to give away. The notion is simple; that emotion is part of any rational physics and cosmology. That we are not radically individual, just simply because we are as connected with all of life and as dependent and therefore interconnected with it as we are recognizably individual.
Of course our physical systems are geared toward our individual thriving. But it is our ideology which pits us one against each other. And that ideology is, at its roots, all about privacy and private property and being special and being a winner. That right there is how our economy works. And so we don't, because we can't, see what's wrong with winner take all. It's where we want to be.
Play also involves chance, just like worldly success does. Creativity includes letting go and letting chance in. Chance here is defined only as what is beyond our control, and not what is meaningless. That connotation seeps into words like "random." Chance is what's beyond our limited and playful minds.
While it is hardly loving to allow the happenstance of disease and disability to destroy our fellows by refusing to control what we can control, it is also not the expression of love to hoard our winnings off the field of play.
It is my prediction - one on which I will and have and do stake my very life - that there will never be any grand unifying theorem in physics. Because mind, defined as the conceptual arrangement of percepts which are not defined and predictable according to forces which can themselves defined as the exchange of other particles . . . mind is as primordial as motion is. There is conceptual structure to cosmos. Beyond us.
Which means that we can never either predict or control everything. Including our own demise as a species, at least in the formswhich we now live out. We can, at the very least, afford the way toward new life. I wonder if we will ever agree to even that much these days. After the plague, what will it take? Killer insects? Climactic inhospitality to some still further extreme?
Will we ever learn to get off the field of play and take care of one another, or has play too become totalizing in just the way that warfare by drone proxy has. Those gamers at their controls still suffer PTSD, and so do we all. So do we all.
But we ain't dead yet. And there's still lots to celebrate in how we live longer and prosper better. Let us play a little longer and trust the umpires a little better. They're dressed like jesters in their stripes, right?