For both these sets, all possible action in the world is smeared out onto one level plain--all become equally meaningless. For the Traditionalist, nothing matters but to prepare the soul for death (not only its own but the whole world's as well). For the "cultural critic" nothing matters but the game of identifying yet one more reason for despair, analyzing it, adding it to the catalogue.
Now the End of the World is an abstraction because it has never happened. It has no existence in the real world. It will cease to be an abstraction only when it happens--if it happens. (I do not claim to know "God's mind" on the subject- -nor to possess any scientific knowledge about a still non- existent future). I see only a mental image & its emotional ramifications; as such I identify it as a kind of ghostly virus, a spook-sickness in myself which ought to be expunged rather than hypochondriacally coddled & indulged. I have come to despise the "End of the World" as an ideological icon held over my head by religion, state, & cultural milieu alike, as a reason for doing nothing.
I understand why the religious & political "powers" would want to keep me quaking in my shoes. Since only they offer even a chance of evading ragnarok (thru prayer, thru democracy, thru communism, etc.), I will sheepishly follow their dictates & dare nothing on my own. The case of the enlightened intellectuals, however, seems more puzzling at first. What power do they derive from this telling-the- beads of fear & gloom, sadism & hatred?
Essentially they gain smartness. Any attack on them must appear stupid, since they alone are clear-eyed enough to recognize the truth, they alone daring enough to show it forth in defiance of rude shit-kicking censors & liberal wimps. If I attack them as part of the very problem they claim to be discussing objectively, I will be seen as a bumpkin, a prude, a pollyanna. If I admit my hatred for the artifacts of their perception (books, artworks, performances) then I may be dismissed as merely squeamish (& so of course psychologically repressed), or else at the very least lacking in seriousness.
Many people assume that because I sometimes express myself as an anarchist boy-lover, I must also be "interested" in other ultra-postmodern ideas like serial child-murder, fascist ideology, or the photographs of Joel P. Witkin. They assume only two sides to any issue--the hip side & the unhip side. A marxist who objected to all this death-cultishness as anti-progressive would be thought as foolish as a Xtian fundamentalist who believed it immoral.
I maintain that (as usual) many sides exist to this issue rather than only two. Two-sided issues (creationism vs darwinism, "choice" vs "pro-life," etc.) are all without exception delusions, spectacular lies.
My position is this: I am all too well aware of the "intelligence" which prevents action. I myself possess it in abundance. Every once in a while however I have managed to behave as if I were stupid enough to try to change my life. Sometimes I've used dangerous stupifiants like religion, marijuana, chaos, the love of boys. On a few occasions I have attained some degree of success--& I say this not to boast but rather to bear witness. By overthrowing the inner icons of the End of the World & the Futility of all mundane endeavor, I have (rarely) broken through into a state which (by comparison with all I'd known) appeared to be one of health. The images of death & mutilation which fascinate our artists & intellectuals appear to me--in the remembered light of these experiences--tragically inappropriate to the real potential of existence & of discourse about existence.
Existence itself may be considered an abyss possessed of no meaning. I do not read this as a pessimistic statement. If it be true, then I can see in it nothing else but a declaration of autonomy for my imagination & will--& for the most beautiful act they can conceive with which to bestow meaning upon existence.
Why should I emblemize this freedom with an act such as murder (as did the existentialists) or with any of the ghoulish tastes of the eighties? Death can only kill me once- -till then I am free to express & experience (as much as I can) a life & an art of life based on self-valuating "peak experiences," as well as "conviviality" (which also possesses its own reward).
The obsessive replication of Death-imagery (& its reproduction or even commodification) gets in the way of this project just as obstructively as censorship or media- brainwashing. It sets up negative feedback loops--it is bad juju. It helps no one conquer fear of death, but merely inculcates a morbid fear in place of the healthy fear all sentient creatures feel at the smell of their own mortality.
This is not to absolve the world of its ugliness, or to deny that truly fearful things exist in it. But some of these things can be overcome--on the condition that we build an aesthetic on the overcoming rather than the fear.
I recently attended a gay dance/poetry performance of uncompromising hipness: the one black dancer in the troupe had to pretend to fuck a dead sheep.
Part of my self-induced stupidity, I confess, is to believe (& even feel) that art can change me, & change others. That's why I write pornography & propaganda--to cause change. Art can never mean as much as a love affair, perhaps, or an insurrection. But...to a certain extent...it works.
Even if I'd given up all hope in art, however, all expectation of exaltation, I would still refuse to put up with art that merely exacerbates my misery, or indulges in schadenfreude, "delight in the misery of others." I turn away from certain art as a dog would turn away howling from the corpse of its companion. I'd like to renounce the sophistication which would permit me to sniff it with detached curiosity as yet another example of post-industrial decomposition.
Only the dead are truly smart, truly cool. Nothing touches them. While I live, however, I side with bumbling suffering crooked life, with anger rather than boredom, with sweet lust, hunger & carelessness...against the icy avant-guard & its fashionable premonitions of the sepulcher.
RINGING DENUNCIATION OF SURREALISM
(For Harry Smith)
AT THE SURREALIST FILM show, someone asked Stan Brakhage about the media's use of surrealism (MTV, etc.); he answered that it was a "damn shame." Well, maybe it is & maybe it isn't (does popular kultur ipso facto lack all inspiration?)--but granting that on some level the media's appropriation of surrealism is a damn shame, are we to believe that there was nothing in surrealism that allowed this theft to occur?
The return of the repressed means the return of the paleolithic--not a return to the Old Stone Age, but a spiralling around on a new level of the gyre. (After all, 99.9999% of human experience is of hunting/gathering, with agriculture & industry a mere oil slick on the deep well of non-history.) Paleolithic equals pre-Work ("original leisure society"). Post-Work (Zerowork) equals "Psychic Paleolithism."
All projects for the "liberation of desire" (Surrealism) which remain enmeshed in the matrix of Work can only lead to the commodification of desire. The Neolithic begins with desire for commodities (agricultural surplus), moves on to the production of desire (industry), & ends with the implosion of desire (advertising). The Surrealist liberation of desire, for all its aesthetic accomplishments, remains no more than a subset of production--hence the wholesaling of Surrealism to the Communist Party & its Work-ist ideology (not to mention attendant misogyny & homophobia). Modern leisure, in turn, is simply a subset of Work (hence its commodification)--so it is no accident that when Surrealism closed up shop, the only customers at the garage sale were ad execs.
Advertising, using Surrealism's colonization of the unconscious to create desire, leads to the final implosion of Surrealism. It's not just a "damn shame & a disgrace," not a simple appropriation. Surrealism was made for advertising, for commodification. Surrealism is in fact a betrayal of desire.
And yet, out of this abyss of meaning, desire still rises, innocent as a new-hatched phoenix. Early Berlin dada (which rejected the return of the art-object) for all its faults provides a better model for dealing with the implosion of the social than Surrealism could ever do--an anarchist model, or perhaps (in anthro-jargon) a non-authoritarian model, a destruction of all ideology, of all chains of law. As the structure of Work/Leisure crumbles into emptiness, as all forms of control vanish in the dissolution of meaning, the Neolithic seems bound to vanish as well, with all its temples & granaries & police, to be replaced by some return of hunting/gathering on the psychic level--a re- nomadization. Everything's imploding & disappearing--the oedipal family, education, even the unconscious itself (as Andr Codrescu says). Let's not mistake this for Armageddon (let's resist the seduction of apocalypse, the eschatological con)--it's not the world coming to an end-- only the empty husks of the social, catching fire & disappearing.
Surrealism must be junked along with all the other beautiful bric-a-brac of agricultural priestcraft & vapid control- systems. No one knows what's coming, what misery, what spirit of wildness, what joy--but the last thing we need on our voyage is another set of commissars--popes of our dreams- -daddies. Down with Surrealism...
--Naropa, July 9, 1988
FOR A CONGRESS OF WEIRD RELIGIONS
WE'VE LEARNED TO DISTRUST the verb to be, the word is--let's
say rather: note the striking resemblance between the
concept SATORI & the concept REVOLUTION OF EVERYDAY LIFE--in
both cases: a perception of the "ordinary" with
extraordinary consequences for consciousness & action. We
can't use the phrase "is like" because both concepts (like
all concepts, all words for that matter) come crusted with
accretions--each burdened with all its psycho-cultural
baggage, like guests who arrive suspiciously overly well-
supplied for the weekend.
So allow me the old-fashioned Beat-Zennish use of satori, while simultaneously emphasizing--in the case of the Situationist slogan--that one of the roots of its dialectic can be traced to dada & Surrealism's notion of the "marvelous" erupting from (or into) a life which only seems suffocated by the banal, by the miseries of abstraction & alienation. I define my terms by making them more vague, precisely in order to avoid the orthodoxies of both Buddhism & Situationism, to evade their ideologico- semantic traps--those broken-down language machines! Rather, I propose we ravage them for parts, an act of cultural bricolage. "Revolution" means just another turn of the crank- -while religious orthodoxy of any sort leads logically to a veritable government of cranks. Let's not idolize satori by imagining it the monopoly of mystic monks, or as contingent on any moral code; & rather than fetishize the Leftism of '68 we prefer Stirner's term "insurrection" or "uprising," which escapes the built-in implications of a mere change of authority.
This constellation of concepts involves "breaking rules" of ordered perception to arrive at direct experiencing, somewhat analogous to the process whereby chaos spontaneously resolves into fractal nonlinear orders, or the way in which "wild" creative energy resolves as play & poesis. "Spontaneous order" out of "chaos" in turn evokes the anarchist Taoism of the Chuang Tzu. Zen may be accused of lacking awareness of the "revolutionary" implications of satori, while the Situationists can be criticized for ignoring a certain "spirituality" inherent in the self- realization & conviviality their cause demands. By identifying satori with the r. of e.d.l. we're performing a bit of a shotgun marriage fully as remarkable as the Surrealists' famous mating of an umbrella & sewing machine or whatever it was. Miscegenation. The race-mixing advocated by Nietzsche, who was attracted, no doubt, by the sexiness of the half-caste.
I'm tempted to try to describe the way satori "is" like the r. of e.d.l.--but I can't. Or to put it another way: nearly all I write revolves around this theme; I would have to repeat nearly everything in order to elucidate this single point. Instead, as an appendix, I offer one more curious coincidence or interpenetration of 2 terms, one from Situationism again & the other this time from sufism. The drive or "drift" was conceived as an exercise in deliberate revolutionizing of everyday life--a sort of aimless wandering thru city streets, a visionary urban nomadism involving an openness to "culture as nature" (if I grasp the idea correctly)--which by its sheer duration would inculcate in the drifters a propensity to experience the marvelous; not always in its beneficent form perhaps, but hopefully always productive of insight--whether thru architecture, the erotic, adventure, drink & drugs, danger, inspiration, whatever--into the intensity of unmediated perception & experience.
The parallel term in sufism would be "journeying to the far horizons" or simply "journeying," a spiritual exercise which combines the urban & nomadic energies of Islam into a single trajectory, sometimes called "the Caravan of Summer." The dervish vows to travel at a certain velocity, perhaps spending no more than 7 nights or 40 nights in one city, accepting whatever comes, moving wherever signs & coincidences or simply whims may lead, heading from power- spot to power-spot, conscious of "sacred geography," of itinerary as meaning, of topology as symbology. Here's another constellation: Ibn Khaldun, On the Road (both Jack Kerouac's & Jack London's), the form of the picaresque novel in general, Baron Munchausen, wanderjahr, Marco Polo, boys in a suburban summer forest, Arthurian knights out questing for trouble, queers out cruising for boys, pub-crawling with Melville, Poe, Baudelaire--or canoeing with Thoreau in Maine...travel as the antithesis of tourism, space rather than time. Art project: the construction of a "map" bearing a 1:1 ratio to the "territory" explored. Political project: the construction of shifting "autonomous zones" within an invisible nomadic network (like the Rainbow Gatherings). Spiritual project: the creation or discovery of pilgrimages in which the concept "shrine" has been replaced (or esotericized) by the concept "peak experience."
What I'm trying to do here (as usual) is to provide a sound irrational basis, a strange philosophy if you like, for what I call the Free Religions, including the Psychedelic & Discordian currents, non-hierarchical neo-paganism, antinomian heresies, chaos & Kaos Magik, revolutionary HooDoo, "unchurched" & anarchist Christians, Magical Judaism, the Moorish Orthodox Church, Church of the SubGenius, the Faeries, radical Taoists, beer mystics, people of the Herb, etc., etc.
Contrary to the expectations of 19th century radicals, religion has not gone away--perhaps we'd be better off if it had--but has instead increased in power, seemingly in proportion to the global increase in the realm of technology & rational control. Both fundamentalism & the New Age derive some force from deep & widespread dissatisfaction with the System that works against all perception of the marvelousness of everyday life--call it Babylon or the Spectacle, Capital or Empire, Society of Simulation or of soulless mechanism--what you wish. But these two religious forces divert the very desire for the authentic toward overpowering & oppressive new abstractions (morality in the case of fundamentalism, commodification in the case of the New Age), & for this reason can quite properly be called "reactionary."
Just as cultural radicals will seek to infiltrate & subvert the popular media, & just as political radicals will perform similar functions in the spheres of Work, Family, & other social organizations, so there exists a need for radicals to penetrate the institution of religion itself rather than merely continue to mouth 19th century platitudes about atheistic materialism. It's going to happen anyway--better to approach it with consciousness, with grace & style.
Having once lived near the Hdqrs of the World Council of Churches, I like the possibility of a Free Churches parody version--parody being one of our chief strategies (or call it dtournement or deconstruction or creative destruction)- -a sort of loose network (I dislike that word; let's call it a "webwork" instead) of weird cults & individuals providing conversation & services for each other, out of which might begin to emerge a trend or tendency or "current" (in magical terms) strong enough to wreak some psychic havoc on the Fundies & New Agers, even the ayatollahs & the Papacy, convivial enough for us to disagree with each other & yet still give great parties--or conclaves, or ecumenical councils, or World Congresses--which we anticipate with glee.
The Free Religions may offer some of the only possible spiritual alternatives to televangelist stormtroopers & pinhead crystal-channelers (not to mention the established religions), & will thus become more & more important, more & more vital in a future where the demand for the eruption of the marvelous into the ordinary will become the most ringing, poignant & tumultuous of all political demands--a future which will begin (wait a minute, lemme check my clock)...7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1...NOW.