Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not: and hearing they hear not; neither do they understand.
Deliberately, step by step, I enter another world. The journey is a difficult one for there is “a sword which turns every way, to keep the way…Because strait is the gate and narrow is the way…” I am summoned from beyond the threshold and I stumble and grope into a world circumscribed by a brouillerie of intuitions, reasons, myths and dreams; where the mind of the Self overlaps with the Other. I explore and extend its ambit, striving for the original point where the eye looks within and without and brings all into focus. I search for a fine integral thread with which to spin my web, to unwind and spin again. I search for a framework which will hold me and release me. Quare impedit? This has been my life. Indeed, this is life—an allegory, another tale repeated from the Beginning. But who am I? One…or many…or nothing? Observe a thousand refractions: Man, Woman, Saint, Devil…whirling around like planchettes with my face momentarily and alternately impressed upon them. Who am I? I must seize one; let it transform me…and cast out the others…all the irreconcilables.
For whomever really needs or dares, the pattern is there. Forms from chaos, freed and burning for a moment in space! Let them be exiled from the spirit to which they belong. Let them struggle of themselves for whatever truth they find. Turn them loose with the original temptations, ETERNITY and ESSENCE, in their midst. And if they are tempted? “Ye shall be as gods—knowing good and evil—Ye shall be as gods…” (Ye shall create yourselves as gods, for “each one creates his god, when judging ‘This is good or bad.'” “Eritis sicut scientes bonum et malum.”) You will exalt yourselves, but you shall be as gods without a paradise. “Cursed is the ground for your sake.” You shall lose your Eden and be cast out upon yourselves. “…in fear and trembling…” Sauve qui peut. “…knowing good and evil…” but no longer knowing truth.
“Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…The dust of the ground…and the breath of life…” A shadow cast across the void, across the world, across the room. Invest its outlines with the germ of need and desire. Bid it to “be fruitful and multiply” until it has duplicated and reduplicated; until it shapes a tension of opposites; until it forms one of the many profiles of existence; until it becomes Man.
His heart has begun to beat and the great silent protest of being throbs in the space within him, the voice crying in the wilderness. Now he has put his head into his hands. My need lies heavily upon him. Another moment his head will be down, and hovering about him, in a transference of my dream to his growing life, those monstaros of Goya waiting for his sleep of reason. “If therefore the light that is in Thee be darkness, how great is that darkness.” But he still sits there (sustained by what force, by what inner urgency? Is it by that energy that Henry Adams says “is the inherent effort of every multiplicity to become unity?” But he is a unity just become multiplicity.)
He raises his head and looks around him. It has all happened before, of course. The lens of his eye reflects the same reality, the same night and day, light and shadow, surface and texture, the same heights, the same depth…the same antinomies.
“The dust of the ground…and the breath of life…” He slowly straightens the line of his back. His face is touched by a beam of light and I explore that tentative landscape for innocence or guilt, ignorance or knowledge, doubt or surety, good or evil. What can I learn from it? I recognize only that whatever is born of my own necessity assumes other dimensions, other projections. From his own bone, from his own flesh, his own spirit, his own shadow; from his own self—his own contradiction! He is familiar, but already a stranger. And now he struggles of himself to be released into the tense of his own being and action, to judge his own good and evil…and to erect his own divinity. I free him and it all begins again. That “infinite—nothing—” That soul which Pascal saw as “cast into a body, where it finds number, time, dimension. Thereupon it reasons, and calls this nature necessity, and can believe nothing else.” Or else—like Pascal, it begins to doubt.
“…a living soul…” He struggles to exist, but for what purpose? To know himself? To reason and to doubt? Does he know, as Nietzsche claims, “that he is in this world just once, as something unique, and that no accident however strange, will throw together a second time into a unity such a curious and diffuse plurality…?” Will he guess his common condition and his uniqueness? Will he ever know the secret of the many within the one and the one within the many? It is my question and it begins to bend his life. Will he unravel the tangle of himself? I have made him one and he is already many.
What a chimera then is man! What a novelty! What a monster, what a chaos, what a contradiction, what a prodigy! Judge of all things, imbecile worm of the earth; depositary of truth, a sink of uncertainty and error; the pride and refuse of the universe! (Pascal)
“And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.” I have created no paradise. I have no Utopian plan. I can only free him in order to free myself—to haunt this world and to discover his own existence. If he demands more, well…it is my demand too. If he achieves more, then he transcends me. If he fails…? I cannot look at him. I see through him into myself. And yet he exists. He lives in the same sense that we all live, trying to hold himself together within his faulty frame of dust. We know his salvation is far from him. For like us he is only a counterfeit always struggling to become real, always struggling to return to a dimly remembered Eden. The error is inherent—the original sin—following God’s path to unity and splendid ruin.
“In the beginning was the Word…” The Word in the wilderness. The Word that created the world. Like Saint Augustine, Tolle lege…take up your book and search for the Word…Create your own world from it. A book lies open before him. He takes it up and reads, “We expose new principles to the world out of the principles of the world itself…We explain to it only the real object for which it struggles.”
Karl Marx wrote these words having discovered historical destiny, but a destiny which must be interpreted; a necessity which required man’s affirmation; a truth which echoed his “Yes, Yes, Yes” while he rode the tidal wave of the past into the future, into Utopia and Classless Unity. “In the beginning was the Word…” This was Marx’ word: “Yes”…to “affirm,” to “make firm,” to fix, establish, stabilize what destiny predicted. This was Marx’ challenge, “To define the real object for which the world struggles.” The world and Karl Marx—the world in Karl Marx—
Whoever you are, take a pen and mark this passage. He does, for he would also define the real object. No, he would redefine it. Unlike Marx he feels the pressure of history against him. He does not want to affirm but to deny. It points ahead not to Utopia but to chaos. How could he halt the massive glacial flow of accident, the wildly accelerating event, and perhaps in particular the tidal wave of Marxian impulse? “Man has created death”—and progress—and history. How could he uncoil any taut spring, untie any knot, turn back any clock? Time and tide wait only for the affirmers. How could he force man to dissent to history, to rebel against fate, and to deny all his counterfeit truths? How could he help man to remember his dreams and forget his reality? How could he persuade anyone to go to the foundation, to Purgatorio, and be free? There are no more heretics.
This is the time for a return to the foundation, a return of the stranger to Eden, a return of the many to the one and of the one to the many. This is the time for salvation—man must become the world and take the world into himself, rather than deny it. It is time for “catastrophic rebirth,” not for a continual and futile abortion. It is time for a Promethean defiance of history and fate, not for a cowardly affirmation. It is time for a reformulation of self and society by a simple old formula. Tagore believed that “a day will come when vanquished Man will retrace his path of conquest, despite all barriers, to win back his lost heritage.” Tolstoy pleaded for men to “put away their intellectual arrogance, and make a new beginning…to purge their minds of theories, of false, quasi-scientific analogies between the world of men and the world of animals, or of men and inanimate things…” Spero meliora (I hope for better things)—faith and hope and prayer are not enough.
He looks down at his pen. If only there were a power within it not to affirm but to explode the world into neat little Platonic triangles from which he could reconstruct a neat symmetrical Garden of Eden, working all the antinomies into a tension of harmony! If only he, like the Greek God in the myth of Cronos, could seize the helm and reverse the order of the world—turn its disorder into order. If he could only stop time at a certain point: the Neolithic period, as someone has suggested, or the age of Confucius…stop time and transform it forever into cycles, halt its historical spiraling. Mankind should strive for a cyclical experience rather than an historical or progressive one: a cyclical experience that encloses man again within a framework rather than alienates him from himself and everything around him. Space and time have created an expanding universe wherein man and society are flying apart. They must be turned back upon themselves. A new cycle: from man to the family to the community to nature and back to man.
If only the urgency and power of his need could formulate a great idea! A New Republic! But the words no longer have any meaning. The ideas have been dragged into the street. “Politics” is concerned with the marketplace, with the polis, the city and suburbia…the activity of consumption and waste…and extended to that false inflation, the nation. “In the beginning was the word”…A new word is needed to suggest a new relationship of space and time, of man and nature and society. “Communion”—communication—“community”—communitics? Unfortunately there is “communism”…another error writ large. It all must be changed. Yes, “man as he is, must be made impossible.” Marxist man too. For “All that is holy is profaned.” Was it really the bourgeoisie who destroyed the original relationship between the one and the other? Marx thought he had discovered the scapegoat and therefore formulated his anti-class society. But perhaps Kierkegaard knew better with his anti-society.
“Man must be made impossible.” But he sits, possible and doubting, lost in a backwash, estranged from himself and others, unable to support anything which occurs around him. He asks like Pilate, “What is truth”—Who is on trial—God or Satan—unity or multiplicity? He is ready to explode with his revolt…and the world struggles unformed within him.
“The Kingdom of Heaven is within you.” A kingdom in chaos! The problem persists, the eternal problem: to impose meaning upon the meaningless; to reconcile the polarities; to relate the antithetical…unity and diversity, objectivity and commitment, reason and feeling, change and stability, action and thought, good and evil, the ONE AND THE MANY, the selves divided within the self. Heraclitus wrote, “Thou shouldst unite things whole and things not whole, that which tends to unite and that which tends to separate, the harmonious and the discordant; from all things arises the one and from the one all things.” But Heraclitus’ plan was too subtle, too grand. He spoke of an eternal Genesis, of Ouranos, the place of change and becoming, the place of contradiction and paradox. It is beyond the reach of ordinary man who suffers from chaos and longs for Cosmos: a place of order, of prediction, of stability. Plato, aware of paradox, acknowledged an error and negated his Republic. There was no place for it in a world of change and becoming. All that he could do was first to suggest a Statesman, a manipulator, a frantic juggler of men and events…and then fall back upon The Laws. But what was Plato’s real error? To admit the paradox, to admit change…and to yield…to give up his Republic? Or to embrace and systematize change within his Cosmos? To refuse to give it its way?
The man dreaming here is no Statesman, no Messiah. He has neither plan nor revolution nor disciples. His vision fails, his discipline falters. He is a scapegoat who makes a negative sacrifice and who flees the name-calling…IDIOT. Yet this animus for order, harmony, unity, is a cacoëthes which links him more intimately than threaded chromosomes and an upright brow to his ancestors: Plato, Confucius, Augustine, Rousseau, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Marx—his fellow dreamers. And it links him more intimately than his own image to his secret-sharer, God. He is bound to all those who would create a state of Eden, to all those who would lose themselves in a community of order—a grand fraternity linking Fascist to Franciscan. Is it the hive instinct gone wild? Or does the secret turn back upon the original condition revealed in Genesis?
He recognizes his background and it materializes. The walls retreat and are fixed into bookshelves. High above windows let in a tentative gray light. The space fills with scholars at their desks, scratching away their thoughts. There are sounds occasionally of a cough exploding cautiously or of a scraping chair. There are little islands of lamplight over the tables. He rises and stuffs his books and papers into his briefcase. For a moment he looks around and then leaves the room. No one looks up. A clock tolls another hour. He enters the adjoining room and passes rows of cases with their precious manuscripts: words preserved from the broken context of their author’s lives. Epitaphs! And Rousseau wrote warningly like the “moving finger,” “Pain and Pleasure pass like a shadow! Life slides away in an instant; it is nothing of itself; its value depends on the use we make of it, the good that we have done is all that remains; and it is that alone which marks its importance.”
A guard holds open the exit door for him and he moves down the steps, out the gate and into the evening traffic. The smoke- and fog-smothered buildings repeating themselves ad infinitum, the unyielding pavement, the shattering fanfaronade from buses and autos, the tense, hurried, anonymous-faced crowd, are in livid contrast to the fluid colors of Eden still refracting in some small mirror of his brain. The city is the temple turned inside out: a monument to exile with all its members become its sacrifices, and the money-changers its priests. The encounter with the crowd overlaps one’s being and blurs one’s outlines. “The good that we have done…” This is the arena in which he is to test his potency, but the crowd cannot be defeated. In the shifting movement of the mass there is no juncture at which a single being can be fixed and secured. There is no real antagonist….only la foule. It denies everything but the reality of itself…and paradoxically, its altar is to the Self and every path leading to the altar is a blind alley.
He is isolated in the midst of the crowd. If only he could insert himself into the orbit of someone’s purpose. But all are organized into purposelessness. What is the crowd? How has it happened? What happened to the community, the communion of men? Le Bon analyses the Physiologie des Foules,
That which formed a people, a unity, a block, ends by becoming an agglomeration of individuals without cohesion, still held together for a time by its traditions and institutions. This is the phase when men, divided by their interests and aspirations, but no longer knowing how to govern themselves, ask to be directed in their smallest acts; and when the State exercises its absorbing influence. With the definitive loss of the old ideal, the race ends by entirely losing its soul; it becomes nothing more than a dust of isolated individuals, and returns to what it was at the start—a crowd.
Le Bon writes of the “enfeeblement of the will,” but in what is man to invest himself? As man creates a more artificial environment and wastes the natural one, he makes an invetissement humain more impossible. Lacking a community man turns into himself and finds a stranger there. Fearing loneliness he turns outward into conformity and the crowd. Fearing injustice he creates equality and destroys diversity. “Humanity has taken to monoculture, once and for all, and is preparing to produce civilization in bulk, as if it were sugar-beet. The same dish will be served us every day.” Monoculture and the crowd but not community. Conformity but not unity. Confusion but not diversity.
Voe soli! Strindberg, an obsessed vagrant in London and Paris, saw the prophetic symbols of his and mankind’s madness everywhere in the streets. A strange destiny completes itself. Man’s objects become more real than man. Montaigne, the civilized hermit, rejected his milieu and returned to his hilltop. “I press and shrink within my own skin. The crowd thrusts me upon myself.” Dostoevsky, a noctambulant wanderer in London, glimpsed the face of the crowd and returned home to warn against progress.
Man is not at home in his world. He is carried along, flaccid and yielding, but perhaps he is testing the point at which to become obdurate, to find his own direction. Meanwhile he continues a search which is madness, but is all that serves to define him. It is precisely the I, the Ego Idiom…believing in the exigency of believing…for belief is the truth of a madness. There are madmen…or seers…who walk the streets holding their vision, their divine madness, within them, that makes their lives possible, that meliorates the human condition. But these secret sharers, who recognizes them? They behave as Camus suggested, “From the moment that one does not kill oneself, one has to keep silent about life.” “They are prophets who must conceal themselves as prophets.” They are saints who must become scapegoats of silence. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee…”
Kierkegaard says that “A crowd is an untruth.” What then is truth? Saint Augustine dreamed of a community of men bound together by love and obedient to the will of God, a community to which men could give themselves freely. But are there dreams that are swallowed up by history and disillusion and lost to men forever, leaving only little islands of Eden for life-savoring and sans-souci?…and then vast intervals on the street among the crowd? He now knows only that Promethean defiance turned in upon oneself, that physical tenseness in one’s face and hands, and the eternal self-addressing. Solipsism-“the dilemma of final privacy.”
He passes through the city, once “the human invention par excellence,” held in limbo by the frames of men’s desires. “A world on the wane,” but perversely spreading itself ever wider and thinner over the landscape. Some young men in black jackets jostle him. The universal youth: Teddy boys, halbstarken, blouson noirs, stilyagi, bodgies, taiyozoku—in imitation rebellion, in instinctual preparation for the new world. The imitation rebellion that is not a rebellion.
What is generally absent is that special kind of delinquency based on a need for self-assertion and a rejection of the limits of conformity.” (London Times)
Juvenile delinquency—that play which is the preparation for life in the brave new world—the exaggerated use of leisure, of automobiles, of sex, defining the new man. Irrational plunder, conformism to the group and war against another group. We see it all adumbrated here, the movement into the crowd and baseless antagonism to the other crowd. And, by extension, the crowd become nation-states. Wearing the same clothes, acting in the same restless tempo, with the same lack of meaning moving only for the sake of moving.
The street light casts his shadow against the wall and he sees in imagination a grotesque Don Quixote doing battle with every building. The shadow grows, diminishes and grows again until it becomes the darkness itself. Nietzsche said “Live dangerously” and isolated himself except from shadow encounters.
He steps into the recessed entrance of a building, reaches into his pocket for a key, unlocks the door and climbs heavily up the stairs. A pellucid Mediterranean melody from a Greek café follows him as he unlocks another door and enters the half-darkness of his room. The obscure and persistent tones of the music swell against the walls and floors and ceiling and return to strike the center of his being…forming a word…EXILE.
The familiar smells, the muted objects in his room tentatively welcome him but he looks for something else. A purity of feathers gleam in a corner. A cockatoo steps forward with ritual deliberation, opens his beak and shakes his head to and fro. His hand reaches for the bird’s back and his fingers stroke it intensely. Another absurd existence! Darwin unfortunately did not create a revolution in man’s thought, but an accel-volution…another affirmation of history and progress. Darwin was another surgeon who cut us off from God but did not really bind us any closer to nature, to our fellow creatures.
I said in mine heart concerning the estate of the sons of men, that God might manifest them, and that they might see that they themselves are beasts.
For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity.
All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again.
Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth?
In these small dark recesses of the world the final relationship of man to nature, of man to beast is being played out. Man will soon be left alone with his artificial world, with his loneliness. And then where is Truth?
Truth shall spring out of the earth and righteousness shall look down from heaven.
He walks over to the mirror and looks into it, searching for the face of his oneness. “Who knoweth the spirit of man…?” He looks for the devil and sees Silenus, Pan, the goatgod with his little horns. He looks for the saint and he sees the idiot with a little cap of bells. He turns to the window and the city lies before him. He looks for Eden and sees an absurd Utopia. Where is his salvation? We recognize him because he is “man in our image, after our likeness.” He dreams of states of order, our philosopher. He turns away from the window and sits down at his desk. He remembers a letter written by Henry Adams: “Life is not worth much when the senses are cut down to a kind of dull consciousness, but it is at least painless. As for me, waste no sympathy. My capacity for suffering is gone…” Before death there is a dying to life. There is too much to hold within. His head falls upon the table and the shadows gather again around him. Does he hear when we speak?