Playing with the Pieces


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Mono                     -                  Poly
Serious                   -                  Play
Sincere                   -                  Insincere
Apollo                    -                  Hermes
Objective                -                  Subjective
Meaning                 -                  Interpretation
Vertical                   -                  Horizontal


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Baudrillard defined postmodernism as 'the characteristic of a universe where there are no more definitions possible'; a world in which everything has 'been done' and all that remains is to play with the fragments. 'Playing with the pieces - that is postmodern'.

The pieces with which the postmodernist toys are theories, ideas, and vocabularies in which the remnants of the lost modernist belief in the possibilities of progress, liberation, and meaning remain. Postmodernity is 'a game with the vestiges of what has been destroyed. This is why we are "post" - history has stopped, one is in a kind of post-history which is without meaning.'

It is more a survival amongst the ruins than anything else.

[Sadie Plant]
The Most Radical Gesture, p.155


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One image which is reiterated by analysts of postmodernity is that of play. Nothing can be considered significant or important either in itself or because of its place in some cosmic plan.

All we can do is play.

Play is a Hermes image that is used [...] to express (justify? romanticize? disguise? explore? hide?) the groundlessness to which their thinking leads.

Hermes is quite happy with groundlessness, whether it is deconstruction or bootstrap theory or the Void.

His winged feet never touch the ground.

[Bernie Neville]
‘The Charm of Hermes: Hillman, Leotard, and the Postmodern Condition’, Journal of Analytical Psychology (1992), p. 349, and 'Out of Our Depth and Treading Water: Reflections on Consciousness, Culture and New Learning Technologies'


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The pluralist way of dealing with the built-in commitment of words is to think of them all ironically, to engage in a play of mind which ranges over them all with equal nonchalance.

So we hear words like 'beauty' and 'truth' as if they had inverted commas around them. But the play of mind doesn't make available even the possibility of a shared understanding of the object: it's an act of power, not of communication.

All you can do with a play of mind is to watch its performance.

[Denis Donoghue]
The Arts Without Mystery, p.49


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The notion of common or shared meaning seems to be in the process of disappearing, and the pastiche of postmodern art and architecture reflects a world in which anything goes.

Any system of cultural meanings can be 'deconstructed' (Derrida) and 'seen through' (Hillman), and we can deconstruct our deconstructions until all semblance of substantiality has dissolved [...] we see the notion of essential substance disappearing from discourse as it has disappeared from physics.

[...] there is plenty of attention given to communication, but rather less to the notion of what is worth communicating. Substance and continuity are giving way to process and exchange.

There remain no meanings, only interpretations.

[Bernie Neville]
‘The Charm of Hermes: Hillman, Leotard, and the Postmodern Condition’, Journal of Analytical Psychology (1992), p. 340, 348


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Diana: I don't want your pain, I don't want your menopausal decay and death! I don't need you, Max.

Max: You need me! You need me badly. Because I'm your last contact with human reality. I love you, and that painful, decaying love is the only thing between you and the shrieking nothingness you live the rest of the day.

Diana: Then don't leave me.

Max: It's too late, Diana. There's nothing left in you that I can live with. You're one of Howard's humanoids, and if I stay with you, I'll be destroyed. Like Howard Beale was destroyed. Like Laureen Hobbs was destroyed. Like everything that you and the institution of television touch is destroyed.

You're television incarnate, Diana, indifferent to suffering, insensitive to joy. All of life is reduced to the common rubble of banality. War, murder, death - all the same to you as bottles of beer, and the daily business of life is a corrupt comedy. You even shatter the sensations of time and space into split seconds and instant replays.

You're madness, Diana, virulent madness, and everything you touch dies with you. But not me. Not as long as I can feel pleasure and pain and love. (He kisses her farewell.) And it's a happy ending. Wayward husband comes to his senses, returns to his wife with whom he's established a long and sustaining love. Heartless young woman left alone in her arctic desolation. Music up with a swell. Final commercial. And here are a few scenes from next week's show.

Dialogue from the film "Network"
 

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I looked back on the past and recalled my people's old ways, but they were not living that way any more. They were traveling the black road, everybody for himself and with little rules of his own [...]

[Black Elk]
Black Elk Speaks, p.215


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Wilber depicts the mood of modernity as irony, "the bitter aftertaste of a world that cannot tell the truth about the substantive depth of the Kosmos...."

Writing more than sixty years earlier, Martin Heidegger concluded that the mood of modernity is twofold: boredom and horror. Moderns are bored because the one-dimensional ontology of mechanistic materialism has emptied humans and things of their substance; instead of being endowed with a transcendent dimension that allows things to manifest themselves and thus "be," humans have become clever animals competing for power and security.

Moderns are horrified because they surmise the utter meaninglessness of existing in such an ontologically poverty-stricken world. What Wilber calls the mood of irony may be how moderns have learned to transmute the grimmer mood of horror.

[Michael E. Zimmerman]
Ken Wilber's Critique of Ecological Spirituality


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What is the clearest and truest thing we can say about the arts in modern societies? Answer: that they offer to one’s attention millions of images, their proliferation such that nobody could respond to them in ten lifetimes. The one clear thing is: they are too many.

[…] fifty years ago it was still possible to say what the official texts of culture were […] We are now required to be equally attentive to the remnants of historical life in every continent, or stand convicted of parochialism.

No text is more official than any other: if you think that Greek civilisation is more valuable than Mayan, you have to justify the thought.


I agree with Geoffrey Hartman when he writes, in The Fate of Reading, that ‘the growth of the historical consciousness, its multiplying of disparate models all of which press their claim, amounts to a peculiarly modern burden.’ To be aware of the past, Hartman says, ‘is to be surrounded by abstract potentialities, imperatives that cannot all be heeded, options exhausting the power of choice’.

[…] the notion of play, and - I would now want to add - the even more fashionable notion of indeterminacy in interpretation, are attractive to us, I think, as a strategic answer to the surfeit of cultural images calling for attention.

It is inevitable that we devise several strategies for neutralising the claims a cultural image makes. The proliferation of claims delivered with these images would be intolerable if we couldn’t devise ways of neutralising them. 

Indifference is a help, but it is not decent. Indeterminacy is an answer to proliferation; so is play; and so is the habit of voiding claims upon our attention by declaring them all equally arbitrary.

These procedures are feasible because there is no longer a Greek or Roman authority; no imperium. We are free as we move about our imaginary museum. When all else is at risk of failing, we can always reduce the claims of history by declaring history a fiction like any other.

[Denis Donoghue]
The Arts Without Mystery, p. 69-70


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The typical stance of the contemporary critic is one of irony: he is the one who knows that we are all bamboozled; he knows the malice of bourgeois ideology, the spuriousness of metaphysics, the idiocy of our desire to ground history upon an intentional origin, whether it is God or a particular concept of man.

Indeed, there are two missing factors in contemporary criticism.  

The first is a set of principles which would renew or establish a sense of value in what we read and look at and hear; which would help us to discriminate between the thousands of objects and events which claim our serious attention.

The second is the’ conviction from which such a set of principles would emerge.

[Denis Donoghue]
The Arts Without Mystery, p. 122


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But Morrissey going to number one in 1988 with 'Viva Hate' was very different from the Beatles going to number one in 1965.

Not only are the sales involved much smaller, post-baby boom, post-mainstream, post popular pop. Your granny isn't aware of Morrissey. Morrissey is hardly played on Radio 1 and MTV. Morrissey is, no matter how he may lament the fact, not part of the 'fabric of national life' in the way the Beatles were.

'The fabric of national life' is unchartably complex and can't be encompassed in any single pop style any more. Morrissey is simply the figurehead of a very large cult audience. Pop must learn to accept that it is now doomed to be a related network of unpopular musics.

No wonder poor old Top of the Pops, still clinging to a Reithian, pre-cable notion of One Nation, one 'pop' audience, is in such trouble. How do you show the same studio audience bopping to Mariah Carey and Altern 8? It's ridiculous even to try.

The American flag is now meaningless, just as the 'Union' Jack is. What 'union' can be or should there be between the mutually incomprehensible tribes who now make up Britain?

[Momus]
'Pop Stars? Nein Danke!'


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A Healthy Body
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Life Is Too Short!

Life is too short! So much of the time we’re thinking about what we’ve done, and what we’re going to do, but we need to think about what we ARE doing! Right now! And how do we feel about it?

And do we want it to be something else—something better? And what is better? And what is the whole point anyway? And where do we begin? And why should we start now anyway? Because right now might very well be the last chance we will ever have!

We should push past the point that seems comfortable and easy! We should aspire to do the stuff that seems completely and totally impossible and insane and work towards it always! And never stop trying! Never settle for less!

You can always find a million reasons to say no—to wait—to forget it—to ignore it—when are you going to start? It is too late when it’s too late! When you look back and wished that you would have been a little less lazy and a little less scared and a little more driven?

Do it because it is the right thing to do! Do it and expect nothing in return—only the satisfaction of knowing that you tried your best! This is why we’re alive! This is our potential!

[Andrew WK]

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Regret

Lines, Circles, and Spirals



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Circular                           -                      Linear 
Limited                            -                      Limitless
Completion                      -                      Perfection
Earth                                -                      Heaven
Known                            -                      Unknown
Retro                                -                      Avant
Past                                  -                      Future 
Right hemisphere            -                      Left hemisphere
                  

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 Line + Circle = Spiral




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Cultural historian [Jean] Gebser […] theorised that five structures of consciousness developed throughout human history, calling them archaic, magic, mythical, mental, and integral (emerging). Gebser, Steiner, and Wilber also claimed that time consciousness changed with the evolving consciousness of humans throughout history.

The shift from magic to mythical consciousness paralleled the shift from nomadic life to settled agricultural villages and the world’s first cities […]

Gebser calls the time consciousness of this mythical period ‘rhythmic/cyclical.’ [Eleanora] Masini agrees, referring to the cyclical time perspectives found in the mythological narratives of Buddhist and Hindu cultures.

Gebser and others place the origins of mental-rational consciousness in the ancient Greek period of the great philosophers [and] refer to the beginnings of the concept of linear time in this period, and by association, the beginnings of the default idea of the future that we have today.

Masini’s linear time concept also originated in the Graeco-Roman era and is symbolised by an arrow.

It later came to represent progress in the modern period of scientific and technological development. She also points to the erosion of the idea that linear time is always associated with progress, in the wake of the Club of Rome Limits to Growth Report in the 1970s.

The fifth type of consciousness, which Gebser called integral, began to appear with the Renaissance and is gradually strengthening in individuals and culture through advances in sciences, philosophy, human rights. It parallels the development of higher models of reasoning, identified by developmental psychologists. Gebser’s integral consciousness, being the most highly evolved, is associated with the most highly evolved time consciousness. Gebser calls this ‘time freedom’ or ‘concretion of time’ in which we are capable of experiencing all the different cultural time senses, rather than being restricted to only one.

Masini’s most evolved time consciousness is symbolised by the spiral, which is an integration of the circle and the arrow, and draws on the work of systems scientist and consciousness researcher Ervin László.

[Jennifer Gidley]
The Future: A Very Short Introduction, p. 21-2


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Although the conception of time and the future exist universally, they are understood in different ways in different societies. Eleonora Masini (1996, p. 76) argues that there are three main representations of time. The first representation is:

"A variation of cyclical motion, as in the enclosed circle of life and death in living organisms, or of night and day in cosmic time. This representation is well reflected in the Hindu and Buddhist 'cosmic eras' (kalpa) which are delimited by mythological events in time periods through which all beings continue ad infinitum. The cycle is represented by a snake.

In this conception we see the future as part of an unending continuum. The future is part of life and death. Naturally this influences one's perspective of the future: there is little reason to despair or to strive to achieve."

The second representation is based on the Graeco – Roman and the Judaeo – Christian conception of time:

"Founded on the idea that all people are the same in relation to God. Time is perceived to be a trajectory towards something more, towards accomplishment. In this representation time is symbolized by an arrow; the future is better than the present and the past and may be in contradiction to the historical present, as in utopia. The possibility of the future being worse than the past or present is out of the question.

This is the conceptual base of progress . . . the time of scientific and technological development, where every success has to be bigger and better than anything in the past or present . . . (but) this concept of time and the future is being challenged by environmental barriers and barriers emerging from its own frame of reference."

The third representation has been developed by ―Vico and others and was more recently extended by Ervin Laszlo. According to this representation:

"Time is a spiral, an evolutionary process of world civilization giving a structure to spatial and temporal events ranging from the natural to the social, that develops over time."

These three basic metaphors for time — circle, arrow and spiral — influence the type of futures thinking and the very understanding of the future across cultures.

[Ivana Milojević]
'A selective history of futures thinking'


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Remember, everything in this universe is elliptical or circular in motion; that applies both to the abstract and the concrete, the mental, physical and spiritual.

[W.D. Gann]
The Tunnel Thru The Air, p. 76


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The law of octaves explains why there are no straight lines in nature.

At the moment of the retardation of vibration a deviation from the original direction takes place.

Let us assume that a movement begins at "do". It will continue in a straight line through "mi". But a deviation occurs between "mi" and "fa" which causes a change from the original direction. From "fa" through "si", the movement continues in the new direction. Between "si" and "do" the second interval occurs which causes a new change in direction.

The next octave gives an even more marked deviation so that the line of octaves may eventually complete a circle.

[P.D. Ouspensky]
In Search of the Miraculous, p. 127


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[...] we have plunged down a cataract of progress which sweeps us on into the future with ever wilder violence the further it takes us from our roots.

[...] it is the loss of connection with the past, our uprootedness, which has given rise to the "discontents" of civilisation and to such a flurry and haste that we live more in the future and its chimerical promises of a golden age than in the present [...]

[...] reforms by advances, that is, by new methods or gadgets, are of course impressive at first, but in the long run they are dubious and in any case dearly paid for. They by no means increase the contentment or happiness of people on the whole. Mostly they are deceptive sweetenings of existence, like speedier communications which unpleasantly accelerate the tempo of life and leave us with less time than ever before [...]

[...] all haste is of the devil [...]

[C.G. Jung]
Memories, Dreams, Reflections, p.263, 264

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There are many planes of Being — many sub-planes of Life — many degrees of existence in the Universe. And all depend upon the advancement of beings in the scale, of which scale the lowest point is the grossest matter, the highest being separated only by the thinnest division from the spirit of the All.

And, upward and onward along this Scale of Life, everything is moving. All are on the Path, whose end is The All.  

All progress is a Returning Home.

All is Upward and Onward, in spite of all seemingly contradictory appearances.

[...] This Involuntary stage of Creation is sometimes called the "Outpouring" of the Divine Energy, just as the Evolutionary state is called the "Indrawing." The extreme pole of the Creative process is considered to be the furthest removed from the All, while the beginning of the Evolutionary stage is regarded as the beginning of the return swing of the pendulum of Rhythm — a "coming home" idea being held in all of the Hermetic Teachings.

[...] The Hermetic Teachings regarding the process of Evolution are that, the All, having meditated upon the beginning of the Creation — having thus established the material foundations of the Universe — having thought it into existence — then gradually awakens or rouses from its Meditation and in so doing starts into manifestation the process of Evolution, on the material, mental and spiritual planes, successively and in order.

Thus the upward movement begins — and all begins to move Spiritward. Matter becomes less gross; the Units spring into being; the combinations begin to form; Life appears and manifests in higher and higher forms; and Mind becomes more and more in evidence — the vibrations constantly becoming higher. In short, the entire process of Evolution, in all of its phases, begins, and proceeds according to the established Laws of the "Indrawing" process.

The Kybalion, Chapter VII: ""The All" in All"


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Oh, if only it were possible to find understanding," Joseph exclaimed.

"If only there were a dogma to believe in. Everything is contradictory, everything tangential; there are no certainties anywhere. Everything can be interpreted one way and then again interpreted in the opposite sense. The whole of world history can be explained as development and progress and can also be seen as nothing but decadence and meaninglessness.

Isn't there any truth? Is there no real and valid doctrine?"

The master had never heard him speak so fervently. He walked on in silence for a little, then said:

"There is truth, my boy. But the doctrine you desire, absolute, perfect dogma that alone provides wisdom, does not exist. Nor should you long for a perfect doctrine, my friend. 

Rather, you should long for the perfection of yourself. The diety is within you, not in ideas and books. Truth is lived, not taught. Be prepared for conflicts, Joseph Knecht - I can see that they already have begun.

[Herman Hesse]
The Glass Bead Game


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It's true that biology and theoretical physics have brought us some fascinating knowledge about the origins of life and the formation of the universe. But does knowing such things help us elucidate the basic mechanisms of happiness and suffering?

It's important not to lose sight of the goals that we set ourselves. To know the exact shape and dimensions of the Earth is undeniably progress. But whether it's round or flat doesn't make a great deal of difference to the meaning of existence. Whatever progress is made in medicine, we can only temporarily treat sufferings that never stop coming back, and culminate in death.

We can end a conflict, or a war, but there will always be more, unless people's minds change.

[Matthieu Ricard]
The Monk and the Philosopher, p.17


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Modern man likes the word progress. I think contemporary people are still dragging that idea around. It is easy to accept that logic which proposes a diagram of "progress," progress with stages rising in a line.

On this point, Jungian ideas are pretty flexible, while Buddhism is utterly open. There is no first and last, no beginning or end. Buddhism shows us the world of everything as it is, as a whole.

No real change is going on.

[Hayao Kawai]
Buddhism and the Art of Psychotherapy, p.61


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The oft-repeated doctrine of a progressive development of mankind to an ever higher perfection, or generally of any kind of becoming by means of the world-process, is opposed to the a priori view that, up to any given point of time, an infinite time has already elapsed, and consequently that all that is supposed to come with time is bound to have existed already.

[Arthur Schopenhauer]
The World as Will and Representation, Volume II, p.172-7, 184


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Debt is only required of systems built around the demand for growth, and that is where our current capitalist system has failed. Constant growth without end, and without any thought to the preservation of resources, is simply and wholly unsustainable.

Our current economy is built around the stock markets, and those markets demand never-ending growth at all costs. If your company cannot promise growth from one quarter to the next, and the next, and the next, then you go bankrupt when all of your investors flee to someone that can give them what they want - free money with no expenditure of work and no productivity. The only thing that keeps a system like ours running is more and more debt, and a system like that will always eventually fail.

What we are seeing now is the last gasps of an empire desperately trying to keep the illusion of prosperity going. Going into debt is not prosperity because it is a form of slavery.

["motleyhoo"]
David Icke Forum


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The ordinary Balinese term for the period before the coming of the white man is "when the world was steady" (doegas goemine enteg)

[Gregory Bateson]
Steps to an Ecology of Mind ('Bali: The Value System of a Steady State'), p.121


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[...] I came to live here where I am now between Wounded Knee Creek and Grass Creek. Others came too, and we made these little gray houses of logs that you see, and they are square. It is a bad way to live, for there can be no power in a square.

You have noticed that everything an Indian does is in a circle, and that this is because the Power of the World always works in circles, and everything tries to be round.

[...] The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is in everything where power moves. Our tepees were round like the nests of birds, and these were always set in a circle, the nation's hoop, a nest of many nests, where the Great Spirit meant for us to hatch our children.

[Black Elk]
Black Elk Speaks, p.194-6

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He who covets a mythical abstraction must always be insatiable!

[Gregory Bateson]
Mind and Nature, p.239


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Having achieved a certain plateau of living, the Amish do not want to be forced to live on a higher standard than what they feel comfortable with.

In a recent election year when presidential candidates were promising a higher standard of living, an Amish patriarch remarked:

"Striving for such a high standard of living is nothing more than the worship of the golden calf."

[John A. Hostetler]
Amish Society, p. 131

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In his introduction to the 1979 edition of his novel Pig Earth – the first in a trilogy chronicling the decline of peasant life in Europe in the 20th century – John Berger makes a distinction between what he calls a ‘culture of progress’ and a ‘culture of survival.’ 

The culture of survival [...] is the culture of the peasantry, of indigenous people; of pre-modernity. It is the culture of the great majority of human history, and of many people still, and it is exemplified for Berger by the French peasantry he still lives among. A culture of survival does not have an end goal; it just is. Its purpose is to live from day to day and year to year. It is a repeating pattern.

The end goal of the culture of progress, meanwhile, is at its grandest the abolition of death itself.

For this goal, the destruction of traditional ways of being and seeing, and much of the world’s wild beauty, is a sacrifice worth making.

[Paul Kingsnorth]
'Brexit and the Culture of Progress'


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From the days of the early Greeks we have been seeking the certainty that lies in what could be called closure. 

Closure implies that final world that brings discussion to its conclusion; it is a wrapping up, a resolution of the great questions of the universe, an ending of time. But this is also the sort of ending beloved of Victorian novelists in which all conflicts are finally resolved, warring parties united, loving couples married and the wrong-doers punished. Although life may go on after the novel's ending it is a life without conflict or tension.

While post-modern stories can no longer afford this luxury some scientists still believe that the story told by science can reach an ultimate conclusion through its laws, a conclusion in which time is finally blotted out.

Truth, however, may be of a very different order from timeless stasis for it may require a search for what is straight rather than what is static.

[F. David Peat]
'I've Got a Map in My Head'


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[Quinlan] Terry's universe is one in which, at a certain point (in some long-gone Golden Age) "they got it right" and we can only keep repeating that cosmic "rightness" forever.

Unfortunately, many rock musicians are stuck in the same belief -- nothing can ever top "Pet Sounds" or whatever. It's a tragic belief for the medium involved, because it deprives practitioners, instantly, of any motivation to be inventive or innovative.

[Momus]


Terry's classicism is more than just modernism in reverse. It's a completely alternate point of view, and one just as defensible as modernism, I think.

Classicists feel a responsibility to the Past, while modernists feel a responsibility to the Future, both forgetting that neither the past nor the future really exists, only the present.

[Anonymous]

'The paradoxes of Quinlan Terry'


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No straight lines are to be found in the natural world. 

Everything that really exists follows a series of curved shapes to which the logical products of the human mind can only ever approach tangentially – flow, once again, reduced to a series of points. Leonard Shlain has pointed out that the only apparently straight line in the natural world is that of the horizon; but of course that too turns out to be a section of a curve. Even space, it turns out, is curved.

Rectilinearity, as Ruskin had similarly demonstrated of clarity, is illusory, and can only be approximated, like clarity, by narrowing the breadth, and limiting the depth, of the perceptual field.

Straight lines are prevalent wherever the left hemisphere predominates, in the late Roman Empire (whose towns and roads are laid out like grids), in Classicism (by contrast with the Baroque, which had everywhere celebrated the curve), in the Industrial Revolution (the Victorian emphasis on ornament and Gothicism being an ultimately futile nostalgic pretence occasioned by the functional brutality and invariance of the rectilinear productions of machines) and in the grid-like environment of the modern city, where that pretence has been dropped.

By contrast the shape that is suggested by the processing of the right hemisphere is that of the circle, and its movement is characteristically ‘in the round’, the phrase we use to describe something that is seen as a whole, and in depth.

Circular motion accommodates, as rectilinearity does not, the coming together of opposites. 

Cognition in the right hemisphere is not a process of something coming into being through adding piece to piece in a sequence, but of something that is out of focus coming into focus, as a whole. Everything is understood within its penumbra of significances, in its context – all that encircles it.

There are strong affinities between the idea of wholeness and roundedness. The movement of the right hemisphere is not the unidirectional, instrumental gesture of grasp, but the musical, whole-bodied, socially generative, movement of dance, which is never in a straight line towards something, but always ultimately returns to its origins.

[Iain McGilchrist]
The Master and his Emissary, p. 447


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Live Forever? 
Concentrate 
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Live in the Now 

Fandom

Pet Hate?

How about my pet love? I love being a fan when I meet people who's work I like, books or otherwise. There's something so great about fandom. I remember the year me and five other friends went apeshit over OMD in 1980-something. It brought us together in a way that still feels intimate two decades later. If you like something, let people know it. Life is so short.

[Douglas Coupland]

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Cultivating Friendships

Friendships should always allow room for growth. We all change and grow over the years, sometimes in a way that’s out of our control, and sometimes in a way that we consciously bring about. If people choose to better themselves then those around them must allow them the room to maneuver.

To constantly reiterate what that person is, in the face of what they are striving to be, is to undo the positive change that they are trying to bring about; your reminders tie them down like lead weights, when really you should be helping them to cut free from the weights that they have already imposed upon themselves over the years.

Encourage the best and most positive within your friends. Don’t reinforce the worst.


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Community | Introduction

Intimate attachments to other human beings are a hub around which a person’s life can revolve, not only when he is an infant or a toddler or a schoolchild but throughout his adolescence and his years of maturity as well, and on into old age. From these intimate attachments a person draws his strength and enjoyment of life and, through what he contributes, he gives strength and enjoyment to others.1

What you’re about to read is a short meditation on the subject of community. Community may well mean different things to each of us, but for our purposes we’ll stick to a relatively loose definition: as a group of people who have certain attitudes or interests in common. This may strike you as a rather general description, but hopefully things will become clearer as you read on.

The breakdown of community is something we all may experience at one time or another. It is the motivating force behind this text, and in exploring the reasons behind it we’ll also be considering the value of community; should we be concerned when it breaks down? And if so, why?

To a lot of you, the importance of community may be perfectly apparent, and if this is the case then this text hopes to serve as an interesting reminder.

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Community | Individuation: Becoming who we can be

Community | Individuation: Becoming who we can be


Communities allow us to make up our own rules, and to live by them without the fear that we are doing something wrong or strange. By the time we reach our twenties we will have absorbed a lot of information about how to live our lives: standards that we should be upholding; things that we should be doing at certain times, or have done by certain times; things we shouldn’t do; paths that are foolish; paths that are brave. The list goes on. Much of it will be received wisdom, and a lot of it may be very well grounded and useful. However, we shouldn’t forget that these are our lives to lead, and they haven’t been written already. We are all free to make up our own rules; to paint whatever pictures we wish for ourselves, and in whatever colours we like.

Becoming what one is is a creative act comparable with creating a work of art. It is freeing oneself from the tyranny of one’s upbringing; emancipating oneself from convention, from education, from class, from religious belief, from all the social conventions, prejudices, and assumptions which prevent one from realizing one’s own nature in its totality.2

Throughout our lives we are constantly growing and changing, searching for an identity that we can call our own. In finding out who we really are – or in becoming who we can be – we sometimes have to make difficult decisions, or to take challenging actions. What we know of integrity tells us that in many ways it is good to remain the same; to have continuity in our thoughts and actions is seen as a virtue, and we admire those who have stuck by their views over the years. It is undoubtedly true that in many cases we are right to see this quality as a virtue, but this realization doesn’t mean that it should be taken as an absolute. The ability to abandon a viewpoint is often as virtuous as the ability to maintain one.

The other terror that scares us from self-trust is our consistency; a reverence for our past act or word … Why drag about this corpse of your memory, lest you contradict somewhat you have stated in this or that public place? Suppose you should contradict yourself; what then? … With consistency a soul has simply nothing to do … Speak what you think now in hard words, and tomorrow speak what tomorrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict everything you said today.3

The ability to change is vital if we are to succeed in realising our potential. We start off knowing nothing and end up knowing very little: in between these points is our journey of discovery. Whilst many things we learn may have little impact upon us, there are also things – truths, ideas – that impact upon us so greatly that they compel us to change. We must always be open to this change, to be able to make ourselves available and ready for it. The voice of who we can be calls us along and sometimes it can be hard to follow, to take the next step towards it.

In becoming who we are, we may take paths that received wisdom or general consensus doesn’t approve of or cater for, routes that lead into unknown territory. Being surrounded by a community of like-minded people makes such routes easier to take, and can allow us to explore ourselves and the world in ways we would have found more challenging otherwise.

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Community | Perspective


Schemata, philosophies, religions, scientific theories, and even aesthetic prejudices, can all act as bulwarks against the basic, cosmic anxiety which we all suffer when we realize how large and how indifferent the world is, and how small and helpless is each individual in it.4

The passage above, from psychologist Anthony Storr, highlights some of the various structures we use in order to defend ourselves against what Storr refers to as ‘cosmic anxiety’. When thinking of yourself in isolation the world can seem a foreboding place, full of infinite possibility and choice; often too much choice.

One of the primary benefits of community is the comforting sense of perspective it provides. Like those defences mentioned above, it helps us to break the world up into manageable structures, and can provide closeness, familiarity, and meaning.

Part of the joy we derive from large-scale events comes from the sense of community that develops around them. Sporting events are a good example of this, particularly those that take place on a large scale, such as the football World Cup.

The World Cup creates an immediate sense of a global community, united through it’s interest in the event, and kept in contact through widespread televised coverage. Through becoming a spectator, or even through holding a passing interest, we are inadvertently creating a link with thousands of others who are doing the same. The festivities that surround the event help to further the sense of coming together, and an ad hoc community is created - community through competition, through celebration, through spectacle.

When we watch a game our eyes join with thousands of others all over the world and we establish a temporary common ground. This link may only be a peripheral awareness, but its impact can be significant, in that it allows us to re-assess our perception of the world - to reduce something large and unknown into something more manageable. Where before the world may have been a collection of countries and people we know little, if anything, about, now it is a large collection of football fans; wearing colours that we recognise, thinking thoughts much like our own.

Big Brother is another interesting example of an event generating an instant community. Not only does the show become a televisual feature through it’s steady broadcasting over a defined and lengthy period of time, it also becomes omni-present through extended media coverage. From it’s own satellite shows (Big Brothers Little Brother, Big Brother’s Big Mouth, etc) to almost daily coverage in newspapers and magazines: as a society we become aware of its presence.

By choosing to engage we enter into a community, one not too dissimilar to the sort that springs up around sporting events; there are programmes which allow us to publicly discuss the event, in which it is expertly and not so expertly analysed; and in the studio audiences of Little Brother and Big Mouth we have mini-communities created before our very eyes. For a defined period of time a community springs up, its eyes trained upon the same things, its thoughts in synch.

Through creating community on both national and international levels, these events allow us to enjoy one of its primary benefits; they make the world seem a smaller place. The effect may often be near-unconscious, but it is significant none-the-less.

Community | Morals and Codes

The growth of cities furthered looser, less intimate social relations; and, whilst the individual gained personal freedom by being emancipated from the intimate ties which characterize smaller societies, he became vulnerable to anomie, the alienation which results from no longer conforming to any traditional code.5

In living outside of a community we are subject to our own standards; of honour, justice, kindness and so on. Everyone has their own moral compass to guide them through the variety of day-to-day encounters and decisions, and we all attempt to live by the standards that we set ourselves. There are inevitably moments that test our resolve and through these moments we are able to define who we are.

It isn’t always easy to do the right thing, or to even know what the right thing is. For example, we may be required to invest our trust in someone else - if this trust is abused we can be left feeling humiliated, with our ego bruised. At this point we may be tempted to listen to the recriminating voice of our ego, to not make the same mistake again and leave ourselves vulnerable in such a way. This reaction would only be natural, but in causing us to build our defenses higher it is also a small defeat.

In being part of a community you are witness to the actions and standards of those close to you. Your moral compasses combine, and a group ethic can form. In such an environment, the honorable act of one person can create a precedent; when noticed, such acts can inspire equally honorable behaviour in others. Most of us want to be good people: often we need only the opportunity or the excuse.

Being part of a community that values ethics may lessen the humiliation felt from an encounter like the one mentioned above. In being surrounded by people who understand and value your actions there may be no need to feel humiliation at all.

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Community | Creativity


A person may have the will to create, but not necessarily the courage. The act of creating something and putting it out into the world is often an act of exposure; we become vulnerable and can risk ridicule. To become naked in this way requires a certain amount of courage, and taking this step can be a thousand times harder if we perceive ourselves as being isolated.

To be amongst a community of creative people makes us one of many. If everyone around us is exposing themselves then suddenly it isn’t so unusual, and after a while it becomes the norm. It’s at this point that we are ready to test ourselves again; to change and to grow a little more.

When emboldened like this we are more likely to experiment, and to play. If we go out on a limb, community normalizes us upon our return; it says, they can think you crazy, but we won’t; they can doubt you but we know who you are. When risking ridicule is no longer an issue, a world of possibilities opens up to us.

Being surrounded by others who are creating can also provide you with a sense of momentum; the force of their activity can carry you along with it; inspire you, provoke you, prod you. To embark upon something is often to take a step away from the default, from the necessities of day to day life. There can be a variety of justifications and insecurities that precede the decision to create, and if we are creating in isolation it may be a challenge to take this step.

This is one of the benefits of environments like art school - places where creativity is the default, where we are surrounded by people who are all doing the same as us and accepting what they’re doing as normal. Within the nurturing environment of the creative community the step toward personal creativity is a natural one, and is much easier to take.

Community | Play


Play can be many things, but we shall refer to it here as a celebration of being alive; it can be anything from climbing walls, to dancing and singing, to seeking adventure.

The play-mood is one of rapture and enthusiasm and is sacred or festive in accordance with the occasion. A feeling of exaltation and tension accompanies the action, mirth and relaxation follow.6

Most of us will get playful urges, and in capitalizing upon these we allow ourselves to enjoy the world in a unique way; we can step outside the flow of the necessary that tends to consume our day-to-day lives, and in doing so we regain perspective.

To be playful is to leave yourself open to possibilities; it may not necessarily be to seek adventure, but to be open to the idea. This is the playful mentality.

To seize moments and make play a reality we often need people around us who we can play with, in whose company we can be free. We’ve seen that to be part of a community that cherishes creativity can be a tremendously beneficial thing for the creative person, and this also links in with play.

It seems probable that there is always an element of play in creative living. When this playful element disappears, joy goes with it, and so does any sense of being able to innovate.7

It is of course true that we can make adventure on our own, but in doing so exclusively we are missing out on the benefits that the community can bring. Other people can open pathways within us; can allow us access to ourselves, affording us the opportunity to become someone different - or, more precisely, to become more fully who we are.

Amongst playmates we are emboldened. A group can generate momentum, meaning we needn’t rely on being driven by the engine of our own enthusiasm.

Being surrounded by playmates means that we always have the option to play, and through joining with others we are able to appreciate life in unique ways. The world is there for us all to enjoy and explore; often we only need an excuse, or the right company.

Community | Breakdown


The idea of community is something that most of us grow up with as a given; from early childhood we are surrounded by various forms of it: from family, to nursery, to school, to university. Throughout this time we are in environments that facilitate the forming of community, places that surround us with others of roughly our own age. And whilst the sizes of our friendship groups may vary, there is always the notion of other people on the periphery.

Pre-ordained community seems to end as we make our way into the world following the close of institutionalised education. We no longer have a place to go on a near-daily basis where we will be surrounded by our peers. Perhaps the closest equivalent is work-based community - in many ways this can resemble what we’ve known up until now, but there are subtle and significant differences.

Within an educational establishment we generally know how long we are to spend there and this realisation can effect the bonds we make with others; if we know we are to spend a lengthy period within a place, then we will be likely to invest more in the bonds that we make with others. Given enough time we’re also more likely to engage in or build a larger community outside of our immediate friends.

On the outside of institutionalized education things aren’t as clearly defined. It is now up to us to choose how long we wish to spend somewhere. The structure that we’ve known until now has disappeared, and it is up to us to make the rules.

Community | Re-Building


As we’ve seen, without the immediacy and comfort of community the world can become a larger and more foreboding place; we are less able to capitalize upon our playful urges, and our ability to create and to enjoy experience may become limited. It is perhaps tempting to see its breakdown as a natural progression, and received wisdom may have us believe that this is the way of things.

In our twenties we must define ourselves, and we do this in a variety of ways. Some of us seek to further our careers; to pursue excellence in a chosen field and to become all we can in this way. Some of us define ourselves through close relationships: through falling in love, and building a family. However we do it, we all end up following our own paths. The singularity of our choices and the demands they make upon us can lead to drawbacks in other areas, and can often contribute towards a breakdown of community that we may see as inevitable.

It is perhaps natural to see the kind of community that we knew in our youth as being lost to us; community based around play, creativity and shared ideals. In truth, this need never be lost, and if we are without it then it is first a matter of realizing that this is the case. If this realization comes as a sadness then it is up to us to do something about it; to re-build.

The adventure of youth is always within us. It is a trick of nostalgia that makes us believe that our good times are forever in the past, and it is a trick that makes us give in and accept less, in deference to ‘the natural way of things’. The world is full of possibilities no matter what age we are, and this is particularly true of those of us in our twenties.

We no longer fall into experience as easily as we used to; the demands of growing up and the responsibility that comes with it make opportunities for creative living fewer. But this need not be a point of regret. Now the burden is on us to create experience for ourselves; to invent our own lives in the form we wish them to take. In many areas of our lives we may have little control - we can’t all magic up an instant utopia for ourselves - but it may be true that it many ways we have more control than we realize.

Knowledge of experience - of what is possible - is crucial. We have seen some of the benefits of community; that it can provide momentum through combined will - momentum that can foster imagination, action and creativity within the individuals of the community. For us to be aware of the possibilities of living and of the experience that is available to us at all times is a start; but to be surrounded by others who share this realization is truly a liberation.