A million different yous

research questions

I’ve recently begun asking friends and family variants of these questions, as part of a new project. Everything in conversation, face to face, to avoid the problems of ego-projection or self-restraint that can sometimes debilitate written correspondence. The answers have so far varied from the inspirational to the disappointed.

I begun asking myself these questions a little while ago. I wondered what a life that prioritised love and generosity above all other things would amount to. A more intense form of commitment, one that is general and at best indiscriminate. One that involves an assertive line of questioning, and a sensitive ear, in seeking to determine what makes a life resilient, capable of change. One that would necessitate difficult decisions, gambling everything for something uncertain and, to some, a non-existent dreamland.

Some seismic things have also shifted in my life recently, necessitating going through old papers and books to get rid of as much as I can. Among old essays and scrapbooks, I found a curious piece of writing which seems to answer some of my questions. It was written on a sheet of A4 in October 2007 when I was 20, and I have no memory of ever thinking (let alone writing) its contents. Its discovery suggests something else of its title. It reminds me of a line from the Isa Upanishad that has been a heartening discovery. ‘Who sees all beings in his own self and his own self in all beings, loses all fear.’

Notes toward “A million different yous” (06.10.07)

Looking into the mirror – the image, Narcissus, my image. Sometimes you can look at the image and the reflection is not the same as that character called ‘me myself’ with his/her (most properly androgynous) interior dialogues streaming inside our heads. This is getting ‘lost inside our heads’, perhaps the most accurate description for what we usually call our migraines, depressions, blanks, fugues…

A million different yous. There is, it’s true. A million different persons we could’ve been, and could be. It’s an observation that’s probably been made before, with the revolutionary potential of such a bold – and constant, as constant as living and breathing can be – project of personal self-fashioning, or continual becoming. ‘Man is condemned to be free’, Sartre says, and elsewhere, ‘Man simply is’. But these bloodily-earnt facts are not convincing enough to us, those of us who live their lives and their thoughts in complete non-rationality, spontaneity and impulse, or habit and repetition – both the same. We can’t finish, let alone begin, the project of creating happy brand new lives. One is never free to make a choice if one is unaware of its possibility, or conditioned not to ask.

We’re stuck at home, happily; we go around, and complain about our shit jobs or how shit life is when you’re skint on the dole, contentedly; we come to our confidantes for advice about the latest heartache caused by a negligent boyfriend or an insensitive girlfriend, and – of course – we disregard their warnings with satisfaction. We even have late night conversations with old friends, in candlelit intimacy, hands running through greasy hair, whispering our secret woes, drug dependencies, thoughts of self-murder, lovelorn desire, unloveableness. Then, with their hands and their consolations, live lives of brief normalcy before falling into a reassuringly familiar despair that gives up all possibilities and calls it age. In its obliteration, the self is brought to the fore.

But these are just notes of a number of things. I like the way that when we’re young, our dissatisfaction takes its peak, boils over, and we fly the nest not to return, except when we’re accepted as mothers and fathers, with bouncing grandchildren. We fly the nest precisely because happiness is where home no longer is: we want to go out, make exciting friends, get laid, find lovers, adorn ourselves in ways individual and shocking but retrospectively are not. Later we find our friendships to not be the permanent loves our ciderdrunk 16 y old selves declared, in those staring at clouds conversations, but transitory, sometimes forgotten, sometimes betrayed, rarely reaching a comfortable and open proximity. And then we see how the persons that always did truly know us, and our million selves cascading from out us like sparks from a catherine wheel, were the folks at home – mum, dad, brothers, sisters. Or even a neglected spouse who, though maybe resented or even disliked, might remain the sole person one could emotionally and sexually connect with, in a total way. At least I think so – no I don’t. A large amount of marriages might lack that sexual co-awareness. The clitoris and multiple orgasms are still apparently only recent discoveries for heterosexual masculinity.

But is this even true? No – it may be true – but do I actually believe that shit? A million ones? The flipside of a collective agape is an attention seeking or denying despair that bla bla bla sod it…!

Have I even lived? Or just thought ? ‘Don’t be afraid of death so much as an inadequate life’ writes Brecht. Maybe I did a deal with the devil: school success, done without any thought or desire about why. Not a life itself, just a stringalong in order for old family to keep the love and reassurance coming (so the feeling goes). Where’s been the independence? I am not interested at all by history – I write, maybe that is what I am good at. I don’t want to be a historian or academic, and to be fair there’s not much chance I’d be good enough for it.

An ending: ‘A million different yous. He slugged the can back.’

No, another: ‘Enforced silence. He sat quiet while they babbled away. The company was too intelligent for him. He stared at the floor, glancing occasionally upwards when someone walked past him.’

One more try: ‘Scene at Greenwich Park. Place where things might happen, but never do. Her: “It never goes away.” Him: looking down at a text message. “What?” Her: “Nothing.”’

Island Story

Island Story - cover (2)

The write-up of my epic ride around the country will soon be available in print. Island Story: Journeying through Unfamiliar Britain will be published with Repeater Books in June 2016.

Pre-order your copy here.

To celebrate the launch of the book, I am raising as much money as I can for Headway East London. Please visit my profile and find out more about this ace organisation: http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/DanTaylor13

There will be a joint book launch at Housmans on 22nd June 7pm with Jeremy Seabrook, whose Cut Out is a brilliant parallel exploration of some of Island Story’s themes – the event will involve talks, a conversation between us and questions.

If you’d like a review copy of the book, email jdt@riseup.net. If you’d like me to come to your community centre, working men’s club etc. and talk about my cyclo-philosophical findings around Britain, please message me. I’m interested in visiting the Midlands and North of England around mid-August.

Thanks again to everyone who helped me on this trip, a very large number of you. Don’t worry, I have given you a very flattering description in the book. If some think that we islanders are not as courageous, generous or wise as I have described in Searching for Albion and Island Story, then I encourage them to go out there and find out for themselves. I’m also planning a similar trip around Ireland in mid-2017. I’ll post about that when the time comes.

Lastly, let me treat you to a map of that insane journey, which I have had the leisure of finally working out since finishing my PhD last week…

the wrong map

Paradoxes of a Spinozist

whurl

The more one lives by reason, the less one prioritises reason in others.

A mind is only as active as its body. A body is only as active as its mind. Both are one, yet irreducible to the other.

God? Nature. Nature? God. Infinity? Now. Now? Infinity.

The more selfless one becomes, the more forgiving one is of other people’s selfishness and one’s own.

Everything could be any other way. There is no other way things could be.

Every difficulty presents an opportunity for self-mastery.

Never relying on a true friend.

Freedom: living by desire, without free will. Living by reason, without any moral imperative to do so. Living as if infinite, without regard for tomorrow.

Before opening one’s mouth to mock, curse or moan, check: why.

As dangerous as empty fear: empty hope.

The problem of evil is that evil is not a problem.

Love’s reward is loving, its outward animation. Lovers harbour secrets, but there are no secrets to love.

Love is blind, and cautious like the blind.

Reality is perfection, and our perfection in this realisation.

A pebble tumbling from a roof; a drunk issuing home truths; a philosopher who reads the world as lines, planes and bodies: the first two know free will, though the latter alone is free.

Power is never over, only with. Power against is no power at all.

Express one’s contempt for misers, moralisers and killjoys by laughing with them gently and shaking their hands.

To recognise the impossibility of ever reaching the ideal one strives toward, and be reaffirmed by this difficulty.

Interrogate all superfluous punctuation.

Kauai

Kauai waterfall

In J.G. Ballard’s final writing — a typewritten synopsis of an unfinished project of Conversations with his physician, Jonathan Waxman — he rounds up with these moving lines:

‘nature has invented this remarkable instrument of rejuvenation, that touches almost every level of our existence.’

What might this instrument be? A vague and semi-religious sense of hope, or the comfort of family? A technological or economic faith in human progress, or the pleasures of a midday scotch and soda? The completion of the next work project, or a mobile phone upgrade?

‘It is sex to which we turn after bereavement. It is a door that is always open…..’

Etienne Balibar once wrote of Spinoza that, in his final words, a dismissal of women’s right to participate in a model democracy, seemingly at odds with his belief in human capability, he seemed to die right before us on the page. With Ballard, he fizzes out majestically, revealing the key to his generous belief in life and its joyous potential. His words also indicate what I’ve felt yet frustratingly inarticulated. It indicates the most available mystical experience for the largely secular and cynical generation I’ve grown up in.

Love in all forms can be pursued by anyone. A life dedicated to loving others cannot be wasted. It is a striving that is never completed, a joy experienced in its expression.

There is no lack or pent-up drives, forget those Freudian abstractions and plumbing metaphors. It is far stranger than ‘pleasure accompanied by the idea of an external cause’ (Spinoza) and far more earthly than the highest stage of being given by the primitive gods (Ricardo Reis). Where felt, it is revelatory; where shared, it is redemptive.

In providing objects outside oneself upon which to transfer one’s hopes, happiness and curiosity, it reveals that happiness cannot be a solipsistic affair. Reason is most lonely. Yet it must never be confused with the object itself, that bitter lesson of heartache. Sadness and confusion come alongside the relaxed bliss, generosity, and emotionally-charged excitement that imbues one’s life with a drama beyond anything in Ibsen or Eastenders. It is a door that is always open, provided one is willing to suspend disbelief and risk it. The heart, that most disabused compass, indicates the way. How long it takes some to risk it… It is never final or finished, and never quite clear.

Nature has made us far less sophisticated and interesting than popular culture might suppose. At times I see each of us as bundles of energy, expressing light and rhythm, rapidly expiring but, at our best — and this is what I’m now most interested in — momentarily alive in our joys. Even speaking of atoms swerving in the cosmos is another abstraction foisted on the simplicity of our natural experiences.

I am also doubting the certainty of the above words, and expect to lose, and rediscover, to infinity, the feeling and taste of these words.

On March 23rd this year, on our ten year anniversary, me and my partner Sarah were married in Kauai. It was an extraordinary and wonderful experience. I thank her for teaching me what love is, and what it can be.

The gambler

the gambler

Found this from an old bit of writing that felt worth sharing. I’m sure Pascal precedes Locke, Hume and Dostoevsky with the use of gaming and gambling for philosophy and the imagination.

‘Man is so unhappy that he would be bored even if he had no cause for boredom, by the very nature of his temperament, and he is so vain that, though he has a thousand and one basic reasons for being bored, the slightest thing, like pushing a ball with a billiard cue, will be enough to divert him.

‘But,’ you will say, ‘what is his object in all this?’ Just so that he can boast tomorrow to his friends that he played better than someone else. Likewise others sweat away in their studies to prove to scholars that they have solved some hitherto insoluble problem in algebra. Many others again, just as foolishly in my view, risk the greatest dangers so that they can boast afterwards of having captured some stronghold. Then there are others who exhaust themselves observing all these things, not in order to become wiser, but just to show they know them, and these are the biggest fools of the lot, because they know what they are doing, while it is conceivable that the rest would stop being foolish if they knew too.’

A given man lives a life free from boredom by gambling a small sum every day. Give him every morning the money he might win that day, but on condition that he does not gamble, and you will make him unhappy. It might be argued that what he wants is the entertainment of gaming and not the winnings. Make him play then for nothing; his interest will not be fired and he will become bored, so it is not just entertainment he wants. A half-hearted entertainment without excitement will bore him. He must have excitement, he must delude himself into imagining that he would be happy to win what he would not want as a gift if it meant giving up gambling. He must create some target for his passions and then arouse his desire, anger, fear, for this object he has created, just like children taking fright at a face they have daubed themselves.’

— Pascal, Pensée 136, in Pensées, trans. A.J. Krailsheimer (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1966), p. 70.

Dreams of an insect

Musei_Wormiani_Historia

‘And had mankind been made with but four senses, the qualities then, which are the object of the fifth sense, had been as far from our notice, imagination and conception, as now any belonging to a sixth, seventh, or eighth sense, possibly be: which, whether yet some other creatures, in some other parts of this vast, and stupendous universe, may not have, will be a great presumption to deny. He that will not set himself proudly at the top of all things; but will consider the immensity of this fabric, and the great variety, that is to be found in this little and inconsiderable part of it, which he has to do with, may be apt to think, that in other mansions of it, there may be other, and different intelligent beings, of whose faculties, he has as little knowledge or apprehension, as a worm shut up in one drawer of a cabinet, hath of the senses or understanding of a man; such variety and excellency, being suitable to the wisdom and power of the maker.’

– John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, II.II.3.

Send off

Torino-Paris Aug13 180

Paris, September 2013.

“I will consider human actions and desires just as if it were an investigation into lines, planes or bodies.’
– Spinoza, Ethics, Preface to Part III.

‘I have taken real care not to mock, lament, or loathe human actions, but to understand them. So I regard human affects such as love, hate, anger, envy, pride, pity, and other agitations in the same way as heat, cold, storm, thunder, and other atmospheric phenomena.’
– Spinoza, Political Treatise, Chapter 1. (My translations. Not cold, nor fatalistic, but from a distance few ever dream of glimpsing).

*
Schiele, Edith on deathbed

Egon Schiele, Edith Schiele on her deathbed 1918. The drawing itself is simultaneously traumatic and beautiful in its actual presence.

*

Lovers’ formalities, by Paul Verlaine.

In the old park alone and cold,
Two figures just now passed each other.

Their eyes were dead and their lips were slack,
And they hardly heard each other’s words.

In the old park alone and cold,
Two spectres recall past times.

– You remember our former joy?
– Why would I want to remember that?

– Your heart still pulses only to my name?
You still see me in your dreams?’ – Nope.

– Oh those lovely days of unspeakable bliss,
Our lips forever caught in a kiss. – Yeah maybe.

– It was so blue, the sky, and so great, our hopes.
– Hope’s dead and done, the sky’s back to black.

So they walked among wild oats,
And only the night heard their words.

(My translation).

*

hanged man

From Rider-Waite pack.

*

The Truth Within Us, by Rumi

‘Twas a fair orchard, full of trees and fruit
And vines and greenery. A Sufi there
Sat with eyes closed, his head upon his knee,
Sunk deep in meditation mystical.
“Why”, asked another, “dost thou not behold
These Signs of God the Merciful displayed
Around thee, which He bids us contemplate?”
“The signs”, he answered, “I behold within;
Without is naught but symbols of the Signs.”

What is beauty in the world? The image,
Like quivering boughs reflected in a stream,
Of that eternal Orchard which abides
Unwithered in the hearts of Perfect Men.”

Trans. Reynold A. Nicholson (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1950, 47). Nicholson deserved some credit for his total poetic licence in translating. From Mathnawi IV, 1358.

*

Adventures in inefficiency 053

Dungeness July 2013.

*

Riddle.

What is that thing known only when it is given? What is the exercise and expression of everything that is uneconomic, strange and uncontrollable within? It is a singular feeling uniting a plethora of experiences, desires and sensations. It unifies but never unites. It never utters a final word. But talk of it, or of soul, heart or romance, establishes immediately a distance, alienation, a semi-sacred threshold. Only its lack lays its content bare. If it has language, it is in music. Rarely words, which we are all so easily hung up on. Its expression is physical. How else does one prove the sun except lift up daylight’s veil? These words come ringed with generations of angst and doubt and contain little comfort. Its greatest theorists come starved or deliberately fasting of it. Poets leave it to the night. And all of this above is strange, or pretentious, or nonsensical, unless right now you too are animated by it, of which there is no more to be written but only spoken, enthusively and without end.

Same too, possibly, of those who write of God, universe and nature, only names with attachment to specific images or pre-loaded linguistic connotations, that distort or zoom too quickly into this immensity. Intoxication’s never half of it.

*

Periodic-table

Elements of the known universe, 2013.

*

Riddle 2.

What if you had time?
So what if you had the time?

And say I gave you that time?
We’d be nowhere fast until you gave yourself the time.

Maybe you feel you’ve been made old by your memories, that the time that you grasp vainly is too finite. Or perhaps through an education in long-term illness, you haven’t got strength to cash in that time, to claim chips, be it credit or debit. Then you know the value of time better than I do. And so then you know that it’s not something you’ve got, but something you’re giving. So what remains to hold onto?

*

Ramon Casas, Madeline

Ramon Casas, Madeleine 1892.

*

In every guise, say someone paid you to pursue this and document the results, in whatever medium came to hand: the nameless, the strange, dirty and dangerous, the wonderful and unknown, the peerless, incommensurable, the oceanic feeling, that of the cosmos, the absolute or whatever name books give it. Until it’s given a name, any experience, object, image or sensation which provokes a feeling of awe and compulsion to repeat and explore.

How would you handle it? Give it a year, see. A wager. Why not?