28 December 2015

Dust is the sign of forgetting

Some thoughts I have been collecting, ideas as images radiant in relation to memory and memorization, the language like white hot filaments, illuminating.

I remember the Monk at the Monastery quoting Pascal:

"You can only search for what you have already found within your own heart."

This resonating with Watts:

"The mystery of life is not a problem to be solved but a reality to be experienced." 

Coming to halt at Nietzsche:

“That for which we find words is something already dead in our hearts. There is always a kind of contempt in the act of speaking.”

The task at hand is to breathe new life into the dead words as in Ezekiel:

And he said unto me, Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered, O Lord God, thou knowest. 
Again he said unto me, Prophesy upon these bones, and say unto them, O ye dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. 
Thus saith the Lord God unto these bones; Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live: 
And I will lay sinews upon you, and will bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and ye shall live; and ye shall know that I am the Lord. 
So I prophesied as I was commanded: and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold a shaking, and the bones came together, bone to his bone. 
And when I beheld, lo, the sinews and the flesh came up upon them, and the skin covered them above: but there was no breath in them. 
Then said he unto me, Prophesy unto the wind, prophesy, son of man, and say to the wind, Thus saith the Lord God; Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live. 
So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood up upon their feet, an exceeding great army.

That which we fail to remember is that which becomes absent from our heart, no longer has any dwelling within us, no life, no breath and is soon a sad souvenir covered in dust. Dust is the sign of forgetting. This "signature of lost time."


The Artificial Kingdom: A Treasury of the Kitsch Experience by Celeste Olalquiaga

"Dust brings a little of the world into the enclosed quarters of objects. Belonging to the outside, the exterior, the street, dust constantly creeps into the sacred arena of private spaces as a reminder that there are no impermeable boundaries between life and death. It is a transparent veil that seduces with the promise of what lies behind it, which is never as good as the titillating offer. Dust makes palpable the elusive passing of time, the infinite pulverized particles that constitute its volatile matter catching their prey in a surprise embrace whose clingy hands, like an invisible net, leave no other mark than a delicate sheen of faint glitter. As it sticks to our fingertips, dust propels a vague state of retrospection, carrying us on its supple wings. A messenger of death, dust is the signature of lost time.

The Museum of Dust:

"Dust is what connects the dreams of yesteryear with the touch of nowadays. It is the aftermath of the collapse of illusions, a powdery cloud that rises abruptly and then begins falling on things, gently covering their bright, polished surfaces. Dust is like a soft carpet of snow that gradually coats the city, quieting its noise until we feel like we are inside a snow globe, the urban exterior transmuted into a magical interior where all time is suspended and space contained. Dust makes the outside inside by calling attention to the surface of things, a surface formerly deemed untouchable or simply ignored as a conduit to what was considered real: that essence which supposedly lies inside people and things, waiting to be discovered. Dust turns things inside out by exposing their bodies as more than mere shells or carriers, for only after dust settles on an object do we begin to long for its lost splendor, realizing how much of this forgotten object's beauty lay in the more external, concrete aspect of its existence, rather than in its hidden, attributed meaning.""

Dust: A History of the Small and the Invisible by Joseph A. Amato

"In this work Joseph A. Amato undertakes the Herculean task of tracing from the Middle Ages to the present Western Society's evolving sensibility about all things small. The title character, dust, appears during the preindustrial period as the smallest and most lowly of all things. It is omnipresent both physically and metaphorically, reminding humans of their mortality and their inability to control the most fundamental matters in their world. Amato asserts that with the advent of the industrial revolution and our improved ability to detect and perceive on the microscopic level, dust was supplanted by atoms, germs and so on, in both its claim to smallness and its metaphoric power. Dust retains for counterculture "purists" a positive association with the natural order, but for the most part Amato claims our fascination with and loathing of dust has been superseded by awe of other small things -- microwaves, viruses, prions, and quarks."

The History of Dust by GinaRae LaCerva

"A particle of dust holds many histories. There is the history of its own becoming. Everything in matter exists in a form waiting to be broken. Dust begets dust. The world has twice as much today as it did in the 19th century. 
"Wind takes advantage of what it entrains. Red dust from India caught in the gales of a tropical cyclone, once bore down upon Australia in an umber hedge so thick it obscured the horizon. A wave of rosy particles reduced, dwarfed, engulfed the ships at sea. In a particularly intense kind of dust storm, a haboob, the particles are carried on an atmospheric gravity current, a massive downdraft generated in the center of a thunderstorm, which often evaporates more moisture than it deposits. 
"What the wind may carry aloft has profound and mysterious influences far afield. Desert dust is so intimately tied to climate that one does not exist without the other. A dusty period in Asia increases snowfall in California. Dust trapped deep in the Antarctic ice sheets can help us to reconstruct past climates. Over the past 80,000 years, dirt from the windy plains of Patagonia was periodically blown south and deposited onto this icy enclave. The ebb and flow of Chilean and Argentinean glaciers corresponds to dirty lines in the ice cores—the very coldest periods also resulted in the dustiest. 
"A particle reveals a world much beyond its boundaries. Dust tells the story of the Mayan decline."

18 December 2015

The Riddle of the Dancing Bear


Recently, Kazoo Ishiguro wrote an article revealing that he had written The Remains of the Day, his most successful book, in a 4 week "Crash."

Until that point, since giving up the day job five years earlier, I’d managed reasonably well to maintain a steady rhythm of work and productivity. But my first flurry of public success following my second novel had brought with it many distractions. Potentially career-enhancing proposals, dinner and party invitations, alluring foreign trips and mountains of mail had all but put an end to my “proper” work. I’d written an opening chapter to a new novel the previous summer, but now, almost a year later, I was no further forward. - Kazuo Ishiguro: how I wrote The Remains of the Day in four weeks

The title of Ishiguro's book, The Remains of the Day, has always resonated with me. One of those phrases that prompted an entire world in my mind as to what the book might be about. While I read the book, there was a consistent tension between what I imagined the book was about and what it actually was. My initial response to the text was not so much disappointment as a realignment of expectation. Because what the title had seeded within me was a world in which the "remains of the day" were the most vital and charged. The day being spent in series of distractions and tasks oriented around that odd phrase, "making a living." It was what remained of the day after all of this storm and fury was decanted away that made a difference - as it seemed to me. And I struggled here to adjust my sympathies to the butler, Stevens.

“What can we ever gain in forever looking back and blaming ourselves if our lives have not turned out quite as we might have wished? The hard reality is, surely, that for the likes of you and I, there is little choice other than to leave our fate, ultimately, in the hands of those great gentlemen at the hub of this world who employ our services. What is the point in worrying oneself too much about what one could or could not have done to control the course one’s life took? Surely it is enough that the likes of you and I at least try to make our small contribution count for something true and worthy. And if some of us are prepared to sacrifice much in life in order to pursue such aspirations, surely that is in itself, whatever the outcome, cause for pride and contentment.” - Remains of the Day

The sad problem here is "the likes of you and I" don't come up with much to speak of when the "making a living" portion of the day is taken away. (And here is the sorrow that haunts the figure of Stevens.) What remains of the day are a few hours within which to relax and forget the tedium and the thousand little compromises that emptied the soul. Not much "cause for pride and contentment." I think of the Eliot line from Prufrock: "I have measured out my life with coffee spoons." I see that spoon removing a little bit more of the soul each day. And I think, I've got plenty. No need to worry about what the small spoon takes away. But that spoon is a voracious and predatory creature whose innocuous appearance is its camouflage. It feeds on the remains of my day.

The notion often expressed is we should work to live and not live to work. Defining work here as a being paid to do a task you would not normally do, most typically for someone else. And, if most of our lives are spent working in this way, then what remains after work should be our most beautiful and meaningful experiences, "our time." These moment of quiet beauty and charged meaning, when set upon the balance, should easily outweigh in quality the benumbing quantity of days filled with work. But the reality is they often do not. Work empties us out, exhausts us, quietly and steadily fills us with despair. And when we are not working, all we seem to want is mindless distraction. Another world to mindlessly escape to for a few hours: television programs, movies, a bottle of wine, a drink at the bar. And all of those great projects born out of our dreams languish under the increasing weight of dust - first on the desk, then in the drawer, into the box, stored away in the closet to one day be rediscovered with a sad smile and a slight shake of the head: oh yeah, there's that novel I was going to write.

It is clear that even novelists working for themselves suffer variations of this problem, as evidenced by the Ishiguro quote. And his solution: to detach from the distractions and obligations of the world and focus on his work the the exclusion of all else paid off. Of course, most of us do not have this sort of freedom or privilege. Most of us are happily tied down to jobs, bills, mortgages, car payments, etc.. There is a clear cut path for us to follow. Just keep walking, following, head down, help anyone that stumbles in front, encourage those that follow behind by your stalwart example. But what if we could step off the clear cut path? What if we took another path, as the famous poem suggests? And what if we understood these lines of the poem also:

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

And one day, we did come back? And we got back in line? What then? What then will we do with the remains of our day?

The rhetorical corollary of The Riddle of the Dancing Bear:

What happens to a bear that has been trained to dance on a ball and perform for crowds at the circus who one day is released, perhaps escapes, back into The Wild?