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The Carpenter (Or, Formal Anxiety)

 

Nail the word down!

Nail the world down!

Bang, bang, bang!

Hammer it down!

 

Five penny nail, Bang!

Five penny nail, Bang!

Five penny nail . . . a dime!

 

(Build a floor;

Frame a door;

Chuck both: key and time!)

 

Slam! Bang, bang!

Slam! Bang, bang!

Slam! Bang, bang! BANG!

The Objects of Mortality

Objects, had they no bearing on our mortality, would be no objects at all. All we see is touches our mortality. All implies finitude.

Piggy’s Head on A Stick: The Beast in “The Lord of The Flies”

Simon is strange. Like Piggy, he does not believe in the beast. When the other boys went up the mountain and saw the beast, both Simon and Piggy were down below taking care of the littluns (Golding104). Neither saw the beast for himself. The other boys come back to the camp, panicked and afraid. Having seen the beast atop the mountain, the boys are too afraid to go to the top of the mountain ato tend to the fire.

Simon is not convinced there is a beast, and so decides to go up the mountain by himself. Piggy stays below, happy that Ralph has gone, and he convinces the other boys to build a fire down below. Piggy is the only one to “have the intellectual daring to suggest moving the fire from the mountain” (Golding, 115). Here we see an important contrast. The more intuitive Simon has the daring to go up the mountain to check on the fire himself. Piggy is intellectually daring, and would challenge the boys to reorganize their society. Yet neither boy “believes” in the beast.

When the the boys realize that Simon has gone, Piggy remarks that Simon is “cracked” (Golding, 118). By this, Piggy means he is strange, even crazy. Yet we must wonder. If Piggy does not believe in the beast, what would be so crazy about Simon climbing up the mountain? Perhaps we can see a “crack” in Piggy’s self-assured intellectualism. Perhaps he believes in the beast after all.

William Golding gave a Nobel Lecture in 1983. During this lecture, he said, “It is at least scientifically respectable to postulate that at the centre of a black hole the laws of nature no longer apply. Since most scientists are just a bit religious and most religious are seldom wholly unscientific we find humanity in a comical position. His scientific intellect believes in the possibility of miracles inside a black hole while his religious intellect believes in the outside it” (“Nobel”).

Piggy represents here the scientific man, and Simon represents the religious man. The black hole is a kind of crack, a space where the laws of science break down. When Ralph asks Piggy if there are ghosts or beasts, Piggy answers that there are not, and explains that there are none because “things wouldn’t make sense. Houses an’ streets, an’–TV–they wouldn’t work” (Golding, 80).

Piggy is sure of his science. There are no gaps. The laws of science are universal, and don’t allow for such silly things as ghosts or beasts. Yet it is significant that when the other boys climb up the mountain to see if the beast is real, they spot the beast through a “gap in [a] rock” (Golding, 109). A crack is a kind of gap, a kind of black hole, where the laws of science and reason break down.

Again, Piggy and Simon agree that there is no beast. But Piggy’s actions begin to show little cracks in his reason, and he calls Simon “cracked” when Simon goes up the mountain to see for himself. Meanwhile, Jack had gone hunting, and had killed a pig. He orders the other boys to leave an offering to the beast, who is beginning to resemble a god. He orders the boys to put the pig’s head on a stick, and to put that stick into the earth. They boys discover that the earth is rock, so Jack orders them, “Jam [the stick] in that crack” (Golding, 122).

Piggy’s logic and science, we might say, is rock hard. The laws of science are universal, and break down only in black holes. Yet Piggy thinks that Simon is “cracked” for going up the mountain, where the beast lives. Of course the beast is not real. And Jack, where he finds a crack in the rock, finds space to erect an offering to his god.

From this angle, we can see a kind of continuum. At one extreme, we have Jack, who in the later chapters moves to “theological speculation” (Golding, 144). Jack is convinced there is a beast, and offers it meat. On the other side of the continuum, we have Piggy, who denies that there is a beast. Between these extremes, we have “cracked” Simon, who at first does not believe in the beast, and then meets with the beast face-to-face.

The crack in Simons head, we might say, is really in powerless Piggy’s head. If we look through this crack, if we look through this gap, we can see the beast on the other side, sitting in his throne, and making his offerings to his god. This beast in his throne is Jack, Piggy’s unconscious other.

But his crack is also in Simon’s head, as perhaps it is in all of our heads. And it is from out of this inner crack that the beast raises its ugly head. Simon is the first to see The Lord of The Flies, and he speaks with him.The voice of The Lord is Simon’s own (Golding, 122). The Lord of The Flies speaks down to Simon, calls him a “silly little boy”; even as Jack as chief speaks down on others; even as the boys tease Piggy (Golding, 127; 133).

The Lord of The Flies is a pig’s head; and Piggy’s name bears a striking resemblance to a pig. Piggy claims not to believe in ghosts and beasts. He is more scientific. Scientists only accept miracles to happen in black holes, where logic and science break down. A scientist would feel embarrassment, even shame, for talking about miracles as happening outside of black holes, where the rules of science reign supreme. The scientific schoolmaster would call a science student who spoke of ghosts and beasts “a silly little boy.” There are no gaps, such a Lord would speculate from his theological throne.

Yet Piggy, for all his science skepticism, calls Simon “cracked.” This name calling shows where the crack might well be: in Piggy’s head. “Pig’s head on a stick” (Golding, 128). The head is Piggy’s. And it is this unconscious belief in ghosts which may help us in part to make sense of his “ass-mar.”
“It’s come!” gasped Piggy. “[The beast] is real!” [ . . . ] Piggy kept still for a moment, then he had his asthma” (Golding, 149).

We can understand all of these characters–Piggy,Jack, and Simon–to represent different aspects of one mind, just as different characters of a dream represent the dreamer. Likewise, we can understand all of the characters of one person’s waking life to represent internal conflicts. Our conflicts with others represent our own internal struggles. The names we call others are like confessions. Piggy calls Simon “cracked.” Reading carefully, we discover the crack in Piggy’s own mind, through which The Lord of The Flies raises his ugly head. The Lord of The Flies turns out to be Piggy’s head on a stick.

Works Cited:

Golding, William. Lord of The Flies. New York: Penguin Books, 1999. Print.

Golding, William. “The Nobel Prize in Literature 1983”. Nobel Prize.org. Nobel Prize. 7 Dec.
1983. Web. 27 Sept. 2012

The Metaphoric Precedes The Literal

The metaphorical entails the literal, but not vice versa.

White Fang and The Phallus

White Fang is born in the wild, in a cave, in which his mother is the center, a veritable goddess. The cave itself represents the womb, the body of which is mother earth, the maternal material out of which all life emerges, and to which all life returns, settling to sleep the mysterious and unconscious sleep in the deep tomb.

White Fang is to begin with unconscious, but a blind will, like unto a plant, ever striving upward out of the earth, for the power of the Sun. He is born blind, his eyes shut, with no sense of an ‘I.’ Slowly, by the course of nature, his eyes open, and by the light and through the eye, he gains a sense of an ‘I.’ Slowly, by the course of nature, he become conscious, more than a mere blind will, and gains, slowly and be degrees, the power to choose.

This cave is mother’s lair. It is safe, warm, kind, though with some pain. From her, he begins to learn limitation. With the sharp nudge of her nose, and with sufficient nips and bites, she begins to teach him ‘no,’ which, when internalized, becomes an essential feature of consciousness and conscious choice.

As he becomes increasingly aware, his eye takes note of another in the cave: his father. His father has special powers, for he can come and go as he pleases, and pass through the wall of light, which is the cave entrance.

Father can go into the other world, the world beyond, whereas White Fang cannot. Whereas White Fang cannot pass through the back walls of the cave, owing to some mysterious law; and whereas White Fang cannot even approach the wall of light, owing to mother’s law which forbids his even approaching the light, White Fang gets the impression that his father is above the law, a kind of supernatural being endowed with godly powers. Father has some power which White Fang lacks.

Tragically, White Fang’s father is killed, and stops returning to the cave, though White Fang neither knows or speculates on the reason why. It is just a fact that his father is absent; it is an unconscious fact, and a constituent feature of his consciousness that he lacks a father. This his journey to self discovery will be in pursuit of a lack: in this case, White Fang’s journey will be a quest for father.

As White Fang becomes more and more conscious, and grow strong, he begins to struggle with a set of opposites: his mother’s ‘no,’ and his organic and natural ‘yes.’ His mother has forbidden that he approach the wall of light, but the life stuff of which he is composed reaches for the light. Eventually, the growth imperative forces him out of the cave, in a symbolic birth. He crosses this threshold, and enters into a new and strange world.

In this new world, he learns a great deal, and begins to categorize and formulate laws by which he will be able to understand this world, and by which he will be able to effectively negotiate between his ‘no’ and his ‘yes.’ With these laws, he will master his world, learning to avoid all that would harm him, and learning to get what he wants and needs. With these laws, he will minimize all that would diminish his power, and maximize all that would augment his power; for, life is The Will to Power.

White Fang slowly begins to master his world, though he is yet profoundly dependent on his mother. His universe is still centered on the feminine. But, as the Sun  is born in the east and ascends to noon, or as life is born in the spring after a long winter’s night, so White Fang will, like all life, reach toward the light. His young male mind will, Icarus-like, ascend to the Sun. Thus, as the Sun rises, the moon will wane. In this quest for Father, White Fang’s world will grow by degrees more masculine, even to the extreme, before it will find balance, atonement, and equilibrium.

As the story continues, White Fang and his mother move out of Mother Nature  and the rule of natural law, and into a Patriarchally ordered village, in which Gods make and enforce their laws.

One day, White Fang happens upon men in the outer world which was once the sole domain of his now absent father. His mother rushes to the scene to protect her boy from these dangerous creatures, as she has many times before, each time demonstrating her absolute power. But this time, things are different.

White Fang’s mother is half domestic dog, and half wolf; and it just so happens that she was born among these very men. White Fang expects his mother-goddess to do as she always has, and to overwhelm these men with her power, but she does not. One of the men recognizes her, calls her by her name, Kiche, and she submits to his will. This man is Grey Beaver, a Native American, and how powerful he must be that mother would bow to him! What a god!

Grey Beaver takes possession of his old dog, Kiche, and her puppy, White Fang. At first, the little White Fang refuses to submit to this god, but for this he gets a horrible beating. Grey Beaver put the fear of god into him, and White Fang submits. Grey Beaver becomes a surrogate father for White Fang, though this is no loving father.

When White Fang was still in his mother’s cave, his father came and went as he pleased, and was somehow above the law. The world outside was an unknown world, and carried with it an anxious association of the terrible unknown, the approach of which brought with it punishment. When White Fang first sees Grey Beaver in the chapter entitled “The Makers of Fire,” London writes, that here “was the unknown, objectified at last, in concrete flesh and blood”. And when Grey Beaver picks up the puppy and gets bit, he punishes him. Thus, the the father image, which was unconsciously a defining lack in White Fang’s psychic constitutions, begins to transfer to this Father-god.

White Fang is weak and impotent before this omnipotent god. Neither his mother nor his absent father can protect him. But Grey Beaver proves himself to be a just but unloving god, for White Fang has other emasculating foes. The other dogs in the village attack him at first, and Grey Beaver protects him. Thus, Grey Beaver is an extension of White Fang’s power; more precisely, Grey Beaver is the thing which White Fang lacks. That Grey Beaver empowers and protects White Fang legitimates his rule, and mitigates his resentment for his master.

Grey Beaver represents the master who is lacking none. His superfluous power overflows, and benefits his inferior slave-dog. He feeds his dog and protects him; yet White Fang wishes to be free, independent and wild, in mother nature. As White Fang grows himself in power, he masters the other dogs by the rule he has learned from Grey Beaver, the godly legislature, namely, to obey power and to oppress weakness. Thus, White Fang is simultaneously a master and a slave: he has killed his former rival, Lip-Lip, and become the top-dog; but he dare not challenge his master.

During a famine, Grey Beaver’s village goes hungry, and White Fang takes his chance to gain freedom. He returns to nature but for a moment, but this world is wild and unruly; it is chaotic, dangerous, and carries with it the mortal threat, the nothingness, the pronounced and formless anxiety which is a lack: Death.

Fear and anxiety resemble each other in all respects, save one. Whereas fear has an object, anxiety has none. Fear is always of some particular thing, which can be controlled. Anxiety is the ever looming possibility of an absolute impossibility: death. And whereas life rejoices in the free expression of power, it revolts at every possibility of powerlessness, and the ultimate powerlessness which the nothingness of death is. Anxiety is the ever-looming presence of an absence, a lack; it is the ever looming opposite of omnipotence, which is absolute impotence.

White Fang enjoyed his god’s unloving rule exactly insofar as this god empowered him and made him by the enforcement of his law potent. But when the superfluidity of his master’s power dried up in the famine, he choose to follow his inward call to independence and went into the forest. But this lawless region is without master, and White Fang was not willing to take the absolute chance which mastering the wild would be. So he chose to flee from his freedom. Paradoxically, he chose to return to his master, and chose his slavery, owing to the anxiety of death. The absolute lack loomed large in the forest, and so he pronounced the no his mother taught him, and returned into bondage.

Later, when Grey Beaver decides to go to the village of the white gods, London introduces us to another character, who represents the resentment of slavery. This man is sarcastically named “Beauty Smith”; for, he is ugly, small, weak, impotent, emasculated among men, and pregnant with evil. This man lacks, is castrated, and sees in White Fang, who is potent and a master of the other dogs, that thing which he lacks: potency.

At first, Grey Beaver refuses to sell his dog, for he has no need to sell the dog, and he likes having the dog. But Beauty Smith is cunning in backwater ways, and brings  Grey Beaver whiskey, and makes him dependent and a slave of it. As Grey Beaver’s thirst grows, he loses control, and eventually sells the dog in order to get more whiskey.

When  Beauty Smith takes charge of White Fang, he does so with a club, which is a clear phallic symbol. Since Beauty Smith lacks the physical power to master this thing he wants, he takes up the club, the shadow of which is a lack. In Beauty Smith’s case, this lack is his psychological castration. He enjoys possessing this weapon, which extends his power, and he enjoys sadistically beating White Fang, for it makes this impotent man feel omnipotent and god-like. But what’s more, White Fang himself, as a potent master and killer of other dogs, represents the phallus which Beauty Smith lacks. That is, in possessing White Fang, Beauty Smith possesses a potent phallus; ergo, White Fang becomes Beauty’s phallus.

White Fang does not consent to this god, and resents his power terribly. He is not a just god, like Grey beaver. White Fang resents having a lesser and emasculated master, for this master does not empower him, but rather possesses him as a phallus. Therefore, Beauty Smith is illegitimate.

Grey Beaver is a just and legitimate god precisely because he empowers White Fang. Grey Beaver sees White Fang as a good dog to have because the dog symbolizes his already abundant power. Grey Beaver lack in loving the dog, but does not phallically lack. Grey Beaver is the master of his world, unlike Beauty Smith. But that  White Fang choses that Grey Beaver would be his master implies that White Fang is not a master of that world, and that White Fang lacks. As a symbol which extends the power which White Fang lacks, Grey Beaver is White Fang’s phallus.

And herein lies the difference between the two masters. Beauty Smith enslaves White Fang in order to posses a phallus. Beauty Smith is motivated by a lack. Grey Beaver does not seek to possess a phallus in White Fang. He keeps the dog out of a feeling of abundance, not of lack. Whereas Beauty Smith emasculates White Fang in order to possess him as a phallus, Grey Beaver empowers him. Further, Grey Beaver is for White Fang the phallus. He is that symbol of power–like the club–by which he controls his world. White Fang possesses a master, who is his phallus, the shadow of whom represents the lack.

In Beauty Smith’s possession, White Fang is made to fight; and in fighting, he gets his only sense of power. This sense of power is, within the pit, absolute. The dog is an omnipotent fighter, which gives the possessor of this phallus the vicarious thrill of omnipotent godliness. Everywhere out of the pit, White Fang has no choice, no freedom. Only in the pit can he express the will to power which he is.

But things are horribly out of joint, twisted, and unbalanced. This world of the phallus is hyper-masculine. The goddess whom he had known in puppihood is gone. The moon has completely waned. Correspondingly, the female counterbalance plays no regulatory function in his soul. He knows only expressions of dominance and submission, and nowhere is there care or concern. There is only higher and lower, master and slave, no recognition, no compassion, no equality.

In his final fight, he meets death, which is the absolute impotency, in the form of a bulldog named Cherokee. In this pit, the bulldog’s jaws of death slowly pursue him, and lock about his throat. And here we see the absolute extinguishment of White Fang’s free will and potency: absolute castration. And in this pit, with the jaws of death locked around his throat, in contradistinction with the waxing of his consciousness the cave, his consciousness is completely snuffed out. He succumbs to complete panic, with no control whatsoever. He has no will, and the sense of ‘I’ is completely extinguished.

Yet it follows, as the night the day, as yin yang, that when one extreme reaches fullness, the opposite is already growing. Just as the feminine principle has completely waned and the masculine completely waxed, in White Fang’s absolute castration the balancing feminine principle arrives in the form of a man, who will prove to be loving, caring, and kind; one who will recognize in White Fang an equal being worthy of compassion.

Whitman’s Mystical Moist Night and Jill Bolte Taylor’s “Stroke of Insight”

When I heard the learn’d astronomer,

When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,

When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,

When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,

How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,

Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,

In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,

Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

–Walt Whitman

A certain kind of thinker reads this poem, and grows angry. I’ve heard people protest that Whitman is anti-intellectual; that Whitman has no business, as a poet, to come waltzing into the lecture-room and tell scientists how the world is — both reactions smack of both insecurity and irony.

Whitman is in no sense anti-intellectual. The man loves words, language, and the contest of ideas. Nor does Whitman devalue science, as some scientifically-minded intellectuals are wont to say. Rather, Whitman’s romantic rebellion against scientism amounts to an opening of the mind, to a recognition that, though science has brought us unimaginably far, we ought not sacrifice our imagination for petrified sentences.

In the lecture-room, closed off from the open night sky, some men fancy that they have captured, or are well on their way to capturing, the right set of sentences to represent reality. They fancy that our language is sufficient to capture reality. Especially, they fancy that so-called scientific sentences are the best for capturing the universe, and cramming it into a lecture-room.

But this is all to make the universe small, stale and stiff. Romantics would have us love the lecture-room, but to love more the door; and did a lecturer lock that door, romantics would have us revolt, and bust the door down. The universe cannot fit into a classroom; tomorrow cannot fit into yesterday’s ideas. There remains ever the silent unknown, which would dazzle us.

When I teach this poem, and especially when I teach this poem to science students, I love to use a particular scientist’s experience and analysis to lend support to Whitman’s poem. But before I get to her, let me draw your attention to the structure of the poem.

The poem is contains eight lines, the first four of which begin with the word when. This poetic device—repeating several lines with a single word or phrase—is called anaphora. Significantly, the word when connotes time. In the lecture-room, all who are present belong to a time. This poem was written in 1900, just before the revolutions of physics and astronomy which were to come. The people in this lecture-room are learning nothing timeless and eternal, but are learning the charts and diagrams which belong to a historically conditioned paradigm. Yet they persist in the illusion that they have it.

Whitman knew better. Not only did these scientists not have it in any ultimate sense, but simply in a historical and contingent sense, they did not have a privileged monopoly on all we could call knowledge. Having knowledge of how to write poetry well, for example, can have just as profound an effect on the human condition as the knowledge of how to write mathematical proofs. Whitman’s poetry in particular has done much to help America imagine what social equality looks like. And Whitman knew that yesterday’s poems would not suffice for the new America we are still busy imagining.

In poetry, and no less in the sciences, we must leave the door on the classroom unlocked, so that we may walk outside, so that we may walk out of our historically conditioned and contingent knowledge, to look up at romantically timeless stars, and imagine, in silence, what might be.

The first eight lines of this poem connote the historical conditions of the lecture-room, which is a product of civilization. Notice also the building, and expanding tension of the lines. The first is short, and each of the next three is longer than the one before it. This expanding quality brings the poem to nearly burst out of itself at its climactic moment, almost as the poet would break out of his historical condition, and into a timeless realm. It is as if he breaks out of his paradigm. Yet here, there is nothing to say.

The last four lines, paradoxically, describe this silent, timeless moment. He enters into a place of solitude, out of the inter-subjective objectivity of his time. Here, there is nothing said, nothing yet to say, and nothing here can be contained in the classroom. No matter how large we make the classroom—even in our post-modern world with high speed internet access in the classroom—, we cannot fit the stars therein; nor can we fit what scientific paradigm we might dream up tomorrow in yesterdays ideas; for it will always be the case that what fits in a textbook is at once conservative and yesterday’s ideas. The dreamers must step out of the classroom in order to step beyond it.

But let’s now return to the particular scientist I wrote of above. I like to suggest to students that this poem is structured like our brain. This poem, like our brain, can be divided neatly into two parts.

The left hemisphere can be thought of as a serial processor, or as organizing our experience into linear structures and categories. The first four lines, with their whens, and with the charts and diagrams, adding and dividing: these are analogous to the left hemisphere. Further, the left hemisphere is the primary center for language. It is this language which makes up the intersubjective objectivity which makes the lecture-room possible.

In contrast, the right hemisphere can be thought of as a parallel processor, or as organizing our experience as objects or images in space. The last four lines are composed without implying any goals, and are filled with words of silence and peace. These lines are analogous to the right hemisphere. The language of these four lines transcend the intersubjective objectivity of the lecture room. Here, the language is not dry and abstract; but here, the night is living, and mystically moist.

The scientist I would like to present to you is a brain scientist. In the middle of her career, she had a stroke. The stroke was in the left hemisphere, and took her ability to use language away from her. What she discovered in this process was this silent, mystical moist night to which Whitman points us.

Again, I will emphasize that neither Whitman nor I imply that science is not one of the supreme achievements of humanity. Rather, we both hold that we must leave the lecture-room door open, and imagine that tomorrow will somehow be greater than yesterday’s ideas.


I hope you enjoy this video of Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor’s “Stroke of Insight.” The link is below.

http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/jill_bolte_taylor_s_powerful_stroke_of_insight.html

The Desire of Perception

The foot feels the foot when it feels the ground.  ~Buddha

The world is a kind of oblique mirror. It represents us fundamentally.

Consider the objects we experience. Among any object we could possibly experience, there is not a single one with which we could not hold a practical and immediately apparent causal relationship. Trees, rocks, apples and water all have practical implications, and all can either benefit us or harm us because of the kind of being we are.  Being able to perceive them has proven an evolutionary benefit.

Science has helped us to discover many things which exist and which yet we cannot directly perceive. Radio waves, infra-red light, the atomic world. We have learned how to both perceive and use these kinds of things indirectly. But hitherto, they had no immediate causal relationship with us such that evolution would have selected our natural perception of them.

Because of what we are, and because of what we need, we have developed our range of perception. Humans see red very well, since many objects colored red are highly compact with nutrition. Yet there are ranges of color which we do not perceive. This is owing to our lack of biological need for these kinds of things.

Things exist which do not present themselves for our consciousness owing to our practical causal relationship with them: they have less to do with sustaining our life in direct relationship with our free will than do other kinds of objects, such as rocks, trees, apples and rivers.

What we perceive is directly owing to our desire. Desire, properly speaking, is the will to live, to sustain and forward our life and our genes. Among even the objects we can easily perceive, those which have more bearing on our immediate survival will take precedence. A car sliding out of control toward you will trump the pleasant conversation you are presently having with a friend. Were it otherwise, it is likely that you’d be promptly removed from the gene pool.

And so the logic continues to ever more subtle levels, such as the apple sitting in the center of a table which would distract a hungry man from his present and less essential activity, or such as–to the chagrin of so many wives–the way a young and beautiful woman will grab a man’s attention from more mundane tasks, such as carrying groceries from the car.

The whole world is desire manifest. Each object expresses our will to live. That we can even perceive an object in the first place implies our human condition. Things which have no practical effect on our lives remain invisible to us.  Yet we are artificially expanding our ability to perceive through science. This is not exempt from the principle. We are learning how to use hitherto unseen realities in order to further our basic will to survive and to thrive.

That that we can and which we learn to see expresses what we fundamentally are: mortal beings striving to transcend death.