The Figure of Eight

The dynamic concept of the Figure of Eight was introduced in my Blog ‘Somatic Markers’ dated 16th November.

The bottom half of the Figure of Eight represents the ground of our being—core self—that which we can become more aware of in meditative exercises of one kind or another: the rush of blood in the ears, the crackling of knee joints, the tingling in the right big toe (notice it now…), the sense of suspension in the limbs when you imagine that all motion has been stopped, the place we go to when listening to the slow movement of a Mozart Piano Concerto—α-wave intelligence.

The ascent into the top half of the Figure of Eight takes us into β-wave intelligence which is needed to sustain everyday living during which there’s a tendency to forget that everything depends on the natural functioning of the Core Self where the laws of one’s own being operate.

And the cross-over point? What happens there at the momentary point of fertile stasis, poised between organism and object—organism and anything in the outside world with special reference to those things which we choose to let distract us from the Core Self. What is like to be just there in total silence—at the Euclidean non-existent point of cross-over? How to describe it? Has anybody been there?

There was an artist in the city of Kouroo who was disposed to strive after perfection. One day it came into his mind to make a staff. Having considered that, in an imperfect work, time is an ingredient, but into a perfect work time does not enter, he said to himself, it shall be perfect in all respects, though I should do nothing else in my life. He proceeded instantly to the forest for wood, being resolved that it should not be made of unsuitable material; and as he searched for and rejected stick after stick, his friends gradually deserted him, for they grew old in their works and died, but he grew not older by a moment. High singleness of purpose and resolution, and his elevated piety, endowed him, without his knowledge, with perennial youth. As he made no compromise with Time, Time kept out of his way, and only sighed at a distance because he could not overcome him. Before he had found a stick in all respects suitable, the city of Kouroo was a hoary ruin, and he sat on one of its mounds to peel the stick. Before he had given it the proper shape the dynasty of the Candahars was at an end, and with the point of the stick he wrote the name of the last of that race in the sand, and then resumed his work. By the time he had smoothed and polished the staff Kalpa was no longer the pole-star; and ere he had put on the ferrule and the head adorned with precious stones, Brahma had awoke and slumbered many times. But why do I stay to mention these things? When the finishing stroke was put to his work, it suddenly expanded before the eyes of the astonished artist into the fairest of all the creations of Brahma. He had made a new system in making a staff, a world with full and fair proportions, in which, though the old cities and dynasties had passed away, fairer and more glorious ones had taken their places. And now he saw by the heap of shavings still fresh at his feet, that, for him and his work, the former lapse of time had been an illusion, and that no more time had elapsed than is required for a single scintillation from the brain of Brahma to fall on and inflame the tinder of a mortal brain. The material was pure, and his art was pure; how could the result be other than wonderful?

Thoreau’s little story (quoted by Herbert Read in The Redemption of the Robot) illustrates what the cross-over point might be like. What are the elements that might serve as pointers to us in the so-called ‘ordinary world’?

●     Focus on Things—what Gurdjieff calls getting the Food of Pure Impressions before left-brain thinking takes over in the top half of the Figure of Eight.

●     Timelessness—which includes but is far more than separation from clock-time; a total dedication to the task in hand that brings about a feeling that there is no such thing as time.

●     Singleness of Purpose—unsullied by temporal distractions of any kind.

●    Remembering Oneself—the 4th Way idea of the moment when ‘the tinder of a mortal brain’ is suddenly inflamed by ‘presence’… There are plenty of examples of the way self-remembering works in Gurdjieff & Ouspensky and their followers.

Above all, not to serve machinery but to go with one’s sense of flow in fidelity to the laws of one’s being to the extent that one’s artefacts constantly expand into meaning and renewal of purpose.

How does all this work out for an artist, a composer, poet, dreamer, thinker, craftsperson, What light can such as they shed on how focus on things, the experience of timelessness, singleness of purpose and Being in the present relate to their processes?

And how might such things apply even to a person who has with singleness of purpose dedicated their life to some daily avocation? What benefit would they get from such a change of focus?

Herbert Read’s ‘drift’ is to wonder how the ‘emotional satisfactions’ of the craftsperson’s work can be introduced into the ‘average life’ beset by ‘divided purposes’—the life of the robot. ‘We have never ventured to say that the machine shall go thus far and no further; the machine shall do this, but not that; the machine shall be put here, but not there…’

In our society, the two halves of the Figure of Eight have become radically separated off from each other: the top half has been hi-jacked by and for the efficient functioning of the machine; education drifts more and more towards the hidden wreck of vocational training, preparation for what they call ‘work’ (what might be construed as ‘slavery’—the life of the robot); the bottom half of the Figure of Eight has been forgotten except when it starts malfunctioning when it is simply offered drugs by the health machine.

I ask again: how does all this work out for an artist, a composer, poet, dreamer, thinker, craftsperson? What light can such as they shed on how focus on things, the experience of timelessness and singleness of purpose relate to their processes? What would an ordinary ‘worker’ gain?

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HAIKU – another fifty-one

walking now where
those who passed the café window
walked ten minutes ago


from the train window
glimpses of village streets
I shall never tread


brief conversation
at breakfast during which
a whole life is aired


for the fountains that play
in other people’s gardens

(Fernando Pessoa)


today a colony
of rooks has moved into
the tall sycamore


a raven
pecking at red apples
high above the valley

(at Woodchester 16th August 2010)


blackbirds sing
for rain and four dogs
all swap seats


—less clear across the valley
than they used to be


sitting by a peacock
slumped in a garden tub
—sunshine & mountains


they defend their beliefs
while I just
look at clouds


the judge makes neat points;
the audience thinks
of everything else


an argument about
the dates of bad behaviour
itself not addressed


a double whisky—
as though it could heal


all night the moon moves
round my library
book by book


wanting the strength
to believe that life
is after all so fragile


I teach my father
how to interpret
the death notes he left


—what’s this? she asks
my discordant musical choice
stops her in her tracks


long midnight
in my empty dream-garden


a few yards of sand
where my path used to stretch on
for mile after mile


focus dwindling
but still


on the brink—
watching ravens flap
across the abyss


the last time
in this house seems
not unlike the first


striving to outline
the shape of my feeling
I fall back on houses


so much yet to do—
the gathering up of notes
in the dawn


stripping away
the superfluous on rising—
blackbird’s warning


blue sky & clouds—
sunlight on silver birches
at the hospital gates


the morning after
the endoscopy I raise
my arms to the sun


if you listen
to the sound you may miss
the music

(George Ives to his son Charles)


fresh ploughed sods
facing a silver sky


if childhood is ended
I can no longer be


when the water
is still it can
know itself

(Claudio Naranjo)


what is there between
one thought
and another?



the mind becomes
peaceful when you
don’t mess with it



a soft breeze
swaying curtains
with regret


dust-motes in sunlight
now day is done—
the leftovers


In a Hospital January 2011

the old man’s chest
to make room for a milk-shake


polishing the floor
after a night
of bedlam


Razumovsky One
in my dreams


bare branches
through the hospital window
a flight of gulls


infinite care
for the legless man
fading away


in Italian
at the unresponsive night


rearranges his bedding
over and over again


the unbearable
lightness of nurses
at their tasks


at their interview
lady consultants—chosen
for their looks?


morning light
a release from
fitful sleep


a long rest cure—
opening the first page
of a five-volume novel


at night Antonio
comes alive
pacing the corridors


the surgeon
who will cut me open
becomes a friend



the tortoiseshell cat
moves from the heat of the fire
to stretch out elsewhere


there was a change—
something she had been
quick to notice

(The Furys: James Hanley)


a Haydn string quartet—
three cats stretched
before a log fire


To end of 7/5/10 – 8/2/11 Notebook

Three Poems

the soul

can either build of itself
a work of art
or sit and watch the Barbarian
inversion of old certitudes—
mask of Evil that entices
into the wilderness of the future;
or it rides out of the Wasteland
tramples the vineyards
demolishes the shrines
giving over soil to sand
and the mind to this awful simplicity
of box & buttons
of fad & fashion—
mere mechanisms of personality
invented by the age

the Barbarian cannot make;
it can only befog and destroy—
but even that it cannot sustain
(as soul would sustain)
lacking limit and boundary
which are essential to all making

and we are victims offered daily
to the cruelties of the moment
with no tradition
to incarnate the gestures of
daily living in song and stone

only wayward mythologies—
an ever-shifting empty hagiography
of temporary heroes
of slogans and the gleanings
of mass culture


the doctrine

of inevitable progress—
the present the highpoint
of cultural and personal development—
the ancestors treated with condescension
the thinkers ignored unread
(those who told it how it really is)—

the present (so they say—the powerful ones
in their powerful ignorance) is
the threshold to a Golden Age—
provided you accept our (mendacious)
version of events…  tissues of imagery
& abstraction

progress is the ghost
of a big black dog
cocking its leg against the lamp-posts
of infinite dark streets—
a convenient construct;
an unsubtle trick of the imagination;
a laying of eggs
in a basket that does not exist


I’m with Hilaire Belloc

who sprayed the English
complacents with corrosive words
to eat away the rust of centuries
of smug: parliamentary democracy
represents not the country of hills
and valleys    not the cottages
and the city streets
but capitalism & wealth;
its supposed incorruptibility is a lie—
bodies bought & sold to slavery
titles bartered for privilege—
we are not all in this together

liberal capitalism will never deliver
the Golden Age—it leads inexorably
towards the Servile State
in which the majority labour
for the good of a small minority
of wealthy owners in their gated domains
or for a government of technical experts
imposing technical solutions—
their expertise in spiritual bankruptcy

the future becomes a refuge for those
who cannot bear to face
the grandeur of the past
in the contingent tyranny of the present

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once upon a time

an angel visited the Earth:
for many years he thought
everybody on Earth was mad
because he could not understand

what it was they were enjoying;
then he caught the Earth disease
and began to enjoy Negative Emotions
just as they had always done

and he could no longer see the madness;
when the heavenly adjudicator came down
to tell him he had failed the test
he got madder and madder…

failed the test and forgotten something
and must remain on Earth until he remembered
what it was and had disentangled himself
from all the curious delights

of indulging in negative emotions:
sinking into the bottomless swamp
of being gloomy or bad-tempered
self-pitying   tart or caustic


A Large Rock

Here I am sitting on a seat in the sun in a warm conservatory on a large rock hurtling through space at a good few thousand miles per hour and spinning round the heat of the sun at an equally unimaginable speed and there are chaffinches conversing across the gardens ─ you hear one stop and another over the road make some kind of answer. It seems pretty clear that there really is all that going on out there ─ no room for any kind of philosophical doubt ─ but it’s not at all clear how or why. You could call it ‘reality’ and imagine your very own self to be at the dead centre of it all; whatever it is that you are the pivot of stretches out into regions beyond distant galaxies and back ─ right down to the earth you dug ready for sowing & planting yesterday ─ Spring Equinox 2014.

I know that when I move, everything else changes location; the very act of talking about it changes whatever it might have been before I started talking; when I speak with another person I find, as if surprised, that their perspective is different from mine, tangential to it or by-passing it completely. Embark upon a paragraph and pressurised by words it all changes from what I first thought of writing. Heisenberg behind the arras. Things emerge.

But there certainly are real things out there ─ galaxies, sun, moon, clouds, chaffinches, hedge-shadows, daffodils, sleeping cat, green sward… There is a lazy habit of bundling all this up together with relationships and socio-economic systems to call it ‘reality’, mine, yours, somebody else’s. All that’s, without doubt, out there in its complex kind of way ─ interrelated systemic cycles of Being ─ it impinges ─ my cycle overlaps yours somehow is overlapped by the latest news of an airliner that’s mysteriously disappeared to gum up the ‘news’ bulletins, interfused with a report on the most up-to-date bit of brain-washing from some politico indifferent to the systemic nature of… huh, ‘reality’, relying on virus words to spread contagion ─ something about ‘having to make difficult choices/difficult decisions…’ when anybody with a square inch of intelligence knows very well that a millionaire chancellor has no qualms whatsoever about putting people out of work and dismantling the Welfare State ─ the easiest thing in the world when the quality of your own living space is not affected in the least. Well, until the riots arrive at your gates – then they might start hopping around…

There are realities out there: multiple thinginesses in structural relationships. In a single moment of time it may be that one can bundle it all up and call it ‘reality’ and make a pretence of ‘meaning’. But then, attitudes to language being what they are, it’s so easy in the process of thinking for the abstraction ‘reality’ and the abstraction ‘meaning’ to come to assume some significance quite apart from the complexity one might have been fishing around for in the first place.

‘In the first place…’ For the neonate it’s all one huge Undifferentiated Unity; it doesn’t think at all in terms of ‘reality’ or ‘meaning’: there are just sights and sounds & feelings in contemporaneity ─ not even a bundling up which is a reductionist activity for later on, after First Education differentiation.

Education is fragmentation ─ choose your own favourite bundling mode.

Language, attaching words to what happens, is fragmentation & categorisation. In fact, things just happen, as Gurdjieff says.

The Infinite Unclassifiable

There is no central organising principle to fundamental ‘reality’. Even the idea that it might conceivably have had such a principle is part of the categorising process. You can call it Thereness, maybe, but it has no core. Human-beings, faced with the infinite flexibility of just-thereness, have sought to tie things down by inventing words, producing models, schemes of thinking, in order to contrive a core or at least a way of categorising the just-thereness that seems to suit them.

All manner of linguistic conjuring tricks have been contrived. As with all such tricks the effect, if not the aim, is to prevent us from recognising reality when it’s staring us in the face; words get in the way of what’s actually there: the word ‘tree’ gets in the way of the actual perception of the object in itself ─ it enforces the conventional perception of ‘treeness’, the Form of Tree, rather than, say, ‘bug-home’ or ‘bird-hideaway’; in metaphysical systems, the notion of the permanence of substance with God at the top of the hierarchy was offered as the ground of ‘reality’ from the pre-Socratics onward. Now, substance has fragmented into atoms, particles, energy, force-fields, quanta, laws of nature…

Descartes offered us subjectivism: mind is the primary substance of which things are merely extension or projection; the ultimate was Berkeley’s idealism which had it that mind was what kept things in their place, ultimately the Mind of God; without human mind or the Mind of God nothing would exist. This led to the dichotomy of science v philosophy, science claiming to deal in sticks & stones, their independent and certain existence, while philosophy was about fairyland.

Another linguistic conjuring trick, one designed to bridge the conceptual dichotomy brought into being by those who made the substantialism/ subjectivism distinction, was that which suggested that everything is part of an absolute and mysterious One ─ Parmenides’ metaphysical invention to be compared with the neonate’s pre-conceptual Undifferentiated Unity but one deriving from intellectual rummaging rather than a natural state.

A fourth great conjuring trick is the suggestion that all we can do is think in terms of models of reality: it’s not that any of them depict things as they really are ─ that idea in itself might well be the result of the application of a model or indeed form the basis of one ─ but that each acts as an instrument for ordering and explaining observations and predictions in spite of themselves. Everything is a mental construct: both philosophy and science (and religion & all other systems) are models of how the mind invents ‘reality’. What’s called ‘Instrumentalism’ is not about things as they are (or might be) but about collections of statements about the nature of reality; it is a meta-position neither subjective nor objective but ratcheted up a level. The very notion of ‘reality’ is denied: the question ‘What is the nature of reality?’ ought never to have been asked since in itself it posits the existence of that which it seems to ask about – viz ‘reality’. All we can do is to think in models ─ engage with an information process that does not concern itself with metaphysical questions about ‘reality’.

So there are four fundamental bits of intellectual prestidigitation: assertions about the substantiality of things out there; surrender to a subjectivity which takes things to be merely an extension of mind; the invention of holism which takes everything to be part of a great Oneness; and instrumentalism which has it that all that’s possible is to fiddle around with a variety of models of what might constitute ‘reality’ ─ something designated thus.

With a shower of verbalising, each fortified position becomes more and more tied in to the way things are and, to confuse matters even further, the historical development of arguments between their proponents produces a variety of what are regarded as subtle alternatives. All this gets in the way of what one might call the Interface between pure mentation, the reception of Pure Impressions, and what’s out there just as it is & always has been.

Is there a way out of all this? Is it possible to produce a way of thinking that is not just a conjuring trick? Or is it all rabbits out of hats & sawing the boxed up lady in half? If anything, it would maybe have to partake of the quality of provisionality, a constant approximation to the way things really are or might be…

There are things out there, including our own body-mind system; one can shift attention so that it certainly does feel as though everything is an integral part of a whole; and we do create models of reality for ourselves. And, except for those who cannot tolerate such ambiguity, it’s all provisional in the sense that constant seeking & exploration has to take in what’s gone before and work with it into an uncertain future; ideas & concepts that once seemed stable & certain get modified and are always subject to transformation; new ways of looking at things emerge from the old ones. Stuff arises like now ─ in immediacy. Things happen as a result of other things happening. Everything is systemic.

The poem-writer looks at the world from which patterns constantly emerge: they act as metaphors for a state of being ─ objective correlatives, in TSEliot’s familiar phrase; they can be ambushed and fashioned into sequences of words; a poem is born that way.

Ted Hughes wrote a poem called The Thought Fox which is, for me, the best expression of this process that I know of:-

I imagine this moment’s midnight forest:
Something else is alive
Beside the clock’s loneliness
And this blank page where my fingers move.

Through the window I see no star:
Something more near
Though deeper within darkness
is entering the loneliness:

Cold, delicately as the dark snow,
A fox’s nose touches twig, leaf;
Two eyes serve a movement, that now
And again now, and now, and now

Sets neat prints into the snow
Between trees, and warily a lame
Shadow lags by stump and in hollow
Of a body that is bold to come

Across clearings, an eye,
A widening deepening greenness,
Brilliantly, concentratedly,
Coming about its own business

Till, with a sudden sharp hot stink of fox
It enters the dark hole of the head.
The window is starless still; the clock ticks,
The page is printed.

The context is real and centred on self ─ this moment now, an awareness of something else alive, a forest of thinking perhaps ─ the poet’s loneliness & blankness, current emptiness. Something (which may even at this stage be the beginnings of a poem) begins to emerge from the context of real & conceptualised events ─ the fox, perceived or not, a gathering together of visual & olfactory impressions enter the dark hole of the head to be worked at. The emergent property of the whole experience is the poem itself. Once it’s done the ordinary focus returns to window and clock.

One foot in front of another along a lane results in the emergence of what’s called ‘walking’ which can be extended into stroll, hike, tour, trek… The observer and the things observed brings about the emergence of visual and feeling-reaction. There’s a Being with its reaction to the quality of being. The emergent property is artefact, gesture or simply an awareness, a thing in itself except that it runs the risk of being generalised into the abstraction ‘consciousness’.

Arisings and the conditions of arising. Events and their interactions and emergings. Everything that arises does so because of other things; there is no independence: what you see depends on where you look; what you hear depends on what you direct your attention to or stop to listen for; what you feel depends on the liveliness of your senses; what you think depends on the grasping of input; what you imagine you know depends on the athleticism of your faculties. Then there all these emergings out of each system which in turn become parts of systems. Particles or waves; waves or particles? ‘Cause’ has no meaning apart from ‘effect’.

The upshot of all this is that there is no firm core of ‘reality’, simply vast numbers of systems of systems with emergent properties. Things appear separated but all is connected – thus Ouspensky.
So one escapes from the mind/body/knowledge problem by producing a model which is meta to the problem; it depicts the way things interact in an objective kind of way; it’s a spacious mind-field.

Get Real!

What does it mean – to get real? What is a reality check? What could you possibly check ‘reality’ against? Some other ‘reality? Yours against somebody’s else’s?

One can certainly have a picture of ‘reality’: it can be rich or impoverished; a rich picture is complex; impoverished pictures lack detail and systemic interrelatedness – they are disentangled, often produced in a hurry.

To get a rich picture chunk down for detail and up for entanglement & interrelationships; particles & waves, waves & particles. This is called ‘complementarity’ in the Quantum World. What with that movement up and down and the fact that the very isolation & measurement of what you’re considering changes it, the fundamental ‘reality’ becomes one of constant interaction. The forces of interaction are what glue things together – there are forces of attraction & repulsion.

It’s all Greek to me really, but I can grasp the idea that quantum physics is a new physical concept of reality that overturned dichotomous notions and replaced them with a systemic approach, substance & force and interchange. Heisenberg called elementary particles just the idea of matter – fields of force are the ultimate reality.

The mind requires something a bit more solid than this: it is content to opt for an escape into the relative simplicity of holism or instrumentalism, subjectivity or substantialism; each of these is a relaxation of intellectual focus. It’s a bit of a blow to mechanical intellect but it’s just not possible to get away from the double-sided nature of quantum objects; the fundamental physical reality consists of clouds of interacting quantum objects – it requires a leap of intellect to keep the clouds floating in air. I think this is the constant dance of ideas; it’s how I understand the Quantum world as a metaphor for thinking.

Reality is a Vast System of Systems

No system can possibly consist of one single independent entity.
Out of all the things I could have been doing in the last couple of days I have chosen to keep at this essay, a trial of provisional sense-making, a little attack on the infinite, an attempt to reduce a bit of it, my corner, to a trail of things for scrutiny. I have a determination to get some temporary order out of just this small portion of the universe, centred as it is on I-myself.

It’s an entanglement for the time being. I have chosen to be entangled in a cluster of thinking concerned with entanglements, meshes that last for a concentrated period of time & space, anything from half a minute to an hour or so, requiring getting up to consult a book, engaging in sub-entanglements like turning the LP record over and adjusting my ear-phones or stopping to look at gulls flying up or down river.

Any entanglement exists only for so long as I want it to: commitment to writing an essay just a few hours; commitment to concocting a book a few months or so; commitment to composing a piece of music anything from half-an-hour to a couple of weeks; a poem might fox its way on to the page in next to no time.

Entanglements, quantum packets, categories, bracketing…



I am not now sitting in a seat in the sun. That was a couple of days ago, the day after the Spring Equinox. Space-time has changed. I am in a different pair of brackets: I am in my ‘office’ entanglement, currently with Alan Rawsthorne’s Cello & Piano Sonata entering the hole in my head, looking out on a bright morning in spring and considering the things that are beyond my immediate apprehension of reality but which I know to be constitutive of it, an extension of this here & now (of budding apple tree and silver birch), holding me in place.

It reaches… in [some] fixed order of being into the limitless beyond. What is actually perceived and what is more or less clearly co-present and determinate… is partly pervaded, partly girt about with a dimly apprehended depth or fringe of indeterminate reality…

This is Edmund Husserl (in Morton White’s Age of Analysis – ancient Mentor paperback I absorbed 55 years ago – I wonder whether all the foregoing is a result) who rather beautifully describes the Undifferentiated Unity of the neonate which can also be the uncluttered moment of ordinary being. He calls it the Natural Standpoint.

Our first outlook on life is that of natural human-beings, imaging, judging, feeling, willing, from the natural standpoint. Let us make clear to ourselves what this means in the form of simple meditations which we can best carry on in the first person.

I am aware of a world, spread out in space endlessly and in time becoming and become without end. I am aware of it which means first of all that I discover it immediately, intuitively. I experience it. Through sight, touch, hearing… sensory perception, corporeal things somehow spatially distributed are for me simply there, in verbal or figurative sense ‘present’, whether or not I pay them special attention by busying myself with them, considering, thinking, feeling, willing. Animal beings also… are immediately there for me; I look up, I see them, I hear them coming towards me, I grasp them by the hand; speaking with them, I [seem to] understand… what they are sensing and thinking, the feelings that stir them, what they wish or will. They too are present as realities in my field of intuition even when I pay them no attention. But it is not necessary that they and other objects likewise should be present precisely in my field of perception… I can let my attention wander from the writing-table. I have just seen and observed, through the unseen portions of the room behind my back to the verandah, into the garden, to the children in the summer-house, and so forth, to all the objects concerning which I precisely ‘know’ that they are there and yonder in my immediate co-perceived surroundings – a knowledge which has nothing of conceptual thinking in it; it first changes into clear intuiting with the bestowing of attention and even then only partially and for the most part very imperfectly.

One moves freely in a moment of being through a more or less specifically chosen bundling up of ‘reality’, a little entanglement. I can shift my standpoint in space and time, look this way and that, turn temporarily forwards and backwards; I can provide for myself constantly new and more or less clear and meaningful perceptions and representations, and images also more or less clear in which I make intuitable to myself whatever can possibly exist really or supposedly in the steadfast order of space & time. Choice of bundling depends on values, desires, interests, simple focus, concern, intention, accident, enthusiasm and practical considerations. There are so many shifting spontaneities of consciousness making up…

…the bringing of meaning into conceptual form through description, comparing and distinguishing, collecting & counting, presupposing and inferring, the theorising activity of consciousness… in its different forms & stages. Related to it likewise are the diverse acts and states of sentiment and will: approval & disapproval, joy & sorrow, desire & aversion, hope & fear, decision & action…

‘Thinginess’ is always there to be acted upon; other categories come into play – the structures of thinking, feeling, doing impinge constantly on the Natural Standpoint. This is the same for all of us and we all project what we take to be the only reality – our own – on to other people. Thus strife & difference, nuclear war & terrorism.

The Natural Standpoint is prior to all theories, ‘anticipatory ideas of any kind’, ‘agencies for uniting facts [in some way] together’, and it’s always worth shedding all those theories in order to return to the start.

Certain it is that there are things out there and then ideas about things: such a position ‘…endures persistently during the whole course of our life of natural endeavour…’ Descartes might have proposed systematic doubt (exempting God) but any such endeavour would not have affected what it was he might have chosen to doubt. I can contrive to doubt my current apprehension of cloudless blue but the expression of dubiety includes a reference to what I am supposed to be doubting. Blue sky just happens to be there.

Descartes chose to put God in brackets and work his system around them. At this late stage in history, we can bracket ‘systematic doubt’ as a stance – go ahead and doubt everything, especially ‘God’ but exempt my current apprehension of blue sky and the sound of Peter Racine Fricker’s Cello Sonata that not a lot of people have ever heard of…

More & More Brackets

…In relation to every thesis and wholly uncoerced we can use this peculiar ε͗ποχη, a certain refraining from judgement which is compatible with the unshaken and unshakable… The thesis is ‘put out of action’, bracketed, it passes off into the modified status of a ‘bracketed thesis’ and [any] judgement… is bracketed.

In brackets, Plato’s concept of Forms works – it’s a very neat idea. Outside the brackets it runs wild and causes philosophical, political & religious chaos. ‘God’ and his hierarchy in brackets is a pleasant model of reality but outside them it doesn’t compute. Doubting in brackets is OK but outside it’s a riot. You can put anything in brackets and delight in its stance: (any grand narrative), (any political or economic arrangement), (everything is illusion), (everything is absurd – has no meaning), (I make my own meaning – you make yours), (any theory under the sun) and so on.

…We put out of action the general thesis which belongs to the essence of the Natural Standpoint; we place in brackets whatever it includes respecting the nature of Being: the entire natural world therefore which is continually ‘there for us’, ‘present to our hand’, and will ever remain there is a ‘fact world’ of which we continue to be conscious, even though it pleases us to put it in brackets…

In brackets (the Natural Standpoint itself)…

If I do this, as I am fully free to do, I do not then deny ‘this world’, as though I were a sophist, I do not doubt that it is there, as though I were a sceptic, but I use the ‘phenomenological’ ε͗ποχη, which completely bars me from using any judgement that concerns spatio-temporal existence. (Dasein)Thus all sciences which relate to this natural world, though they stand never so firm to me, thought they fill me with wondering admiration, though I am far from a thought of objecting to them in the least degree, I disconnect them all, I make absolutely no use of their standards… I may accept [them] only after I have placed them in the bracket. That means, only the modified consciousness… in disconnection…

Husserl’s intention was not at all to discover a science free from theory. Every theory was acceptable when bracketed off; theories about anything are acceptable in brackets as possible ways of seeing things: (assertions about the substantiality of things out there), (subjectivity which takes things to be merely an extension of mind), (holism which takes everything to be part of a great Oneness), (instrumentalism – only a model)… One must be very careful when taking things out of their brackets to multiply them together – it could result in chaos & dissension.

For 55 years I have found ‘bracketing’ to be a useful thinking process: outlandish things work when you contemplate them in brackets; behaviour is always justifiable when it’s in brackets; the positive intentions one can attribute to even negative actions take off in brackets; put any methodology in brackets and it probably makes sense, but only while it’s contained there; a relationship, no matter how lovey-dovey, is a bracket set against all that flows around it; fantasies of one kind or another always make consecutive sense inside their brackets; put some damn fool resolution of a novel plot in brackets and it’s OK; bracketed off a particular writer’s quirks are fine; put a theory in brackets, making sure it doesn’t escape, and it will remain water-tight. Then you can find out what happens when you do multiply brackets: what systems emerge, what interesting juxtapositions occur, what connections can be made, and so on?

I put this essay in whatever brackets it might deserve.

Reality is in brackets.




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Owls Hoot and Wood Pigeons Chunter

Often, these days, towards the end of Time, I fail to notice the sunrise, the silver sky & clouds in the evening, the movement of birds in the hedge between us and the river, the ribbon of chaffinches conversing from one tree to another in the back garden… Well, of course, I do notice them in order to say that I don’t notice them but perhaps they do not make their mark as they used to do.

What does that mean—things not making their mark? Is it perhaps the Wordsworth thing?

There was a time when meadow grove & stream
The earth, and every common sight
To me did seem
Apparelled in celestial light…

Things certainly carry on as usual—owls hoot and wood pigeons chunter at dead of night, seagulls fly up and down the river morning and evening, white against grey sky or green field—but something has gone out: it all fades into the light of common day. What I see around me at dawn surely can’t be ‘celestial light’ which sounds like something extra special—if I could tap into that I wonder where it might come from? A ‘celestial’ source? Or some species of interiority? Something we are capable of projecting on to ‘reality’ to make it shine with life & enthusiasm? In retrospect, things did seem to me once to be out of the ordinary, non-usual, and I can, even now, with conscious effort and the raising of arms, transform a sunrise or a sunset, for instance, into an event that penetrates to the core of my being; the sight of dogs or small children running across wet sand down to the edge of the sea has the same effect on me…

They (small children, says Wordsworth) make ‘…some little plan or chart/ some fragment from the dream of human life…’ and think of it as unique, as if it will go on forever, but the dead hand of custom & habit dismisses their precious fragment. There are these incessant ‘…Fallings from us, vanishings…’

The noise, the jabbering of life, the prison-house door that keeps on slamming. It still echoes down all my time, though Wordsworth’s prison-house itself has long since fallen into disrepair; I exit through low piles of broken bricks & fallen masonry.

The distractions, the awful distractions…

But the ‘first affections’, the ‘shadowy recollections’ are all still there for the picking, still there for the poking. First sight of the sea after long absence, the sound of wood-pigeons in a summer garden, bats circling the house in the evening, cycling down to Lulworth Cove sixty years ago, Salisbury Cathedral Close—soul container—just one of many, like my father’s garden… Climbing Box Hill, the magic in the distance…


The Stonebreaker – John Brett

Catching the sunset over Wimbledon Common, the smell of gorse in bloom cycling between Farnborough & Fleet on a summer evening in the mid-fifties, walking the Roman trackway from Box Hill to Epsom of a dying afternoon, Melbury Down—staring across the valley from Shaftesbury for a week from 20th August 1955 when the whole course of my life was determined.

Journeys, soundings and scents, uniquely and, be it noted, solely mine; they can belong to nobody else. But anybody can make this kind of collection reflecting on their own key places and events in the past; you can breathe new life into such ‘first affections’ and ‘shadowy recollections’ by deliberately seeing, hearing & feeling what they were like now. There you will find

the fountain-light of all our day
master-light of all our seeing

It does seem as though, for Wordsworth, the light, the master-light, is an interior quality deriving from such self-reinforcing early experiences. Along with him I feel quite clearly that even now, resurrecting their preciousness, they

have power to make
Our noisy years seem moments in the being
Of the eternal Silence: truths that wake
To perish never…

Within the Silence such a catalogue stimulates new perception. You can attach your Being to something simple from the past, a sight, a sound, a texture or shape and you can do it now like this:-

The self fixes its attention upon a patch of barren earth, let us say, or an empty flower-pot, or a broken flagstone, or a stretch of sand, or a door-threshold, or a dead tree-stump, or even a little fragment of sky, and by flinging forth its spirit into this thing, it creates for itself and for it—even in the midst of the hubbub of the city—a circumference of isolation, the gates that enclose the mystery of matter roll back and deep calls unto deep.

(John Cowper Powys: A Philosophy of Solitude)

You can isolate the smallest fragment of Being in ordinary consciousness—this awareness right here and now—feel it, get into it, without words or psychologisms—and, quitting whatever’s going on around you, represent it to your self in a new, light, celestial maybe. To grasp what John Cowper Powys calls its ‘static sense’; we should, he says

…aim for a static view of life, as against all this whole business of striving towards something. By a ‘static view of life’ I mean that attitude wherein the mind, sinking back upon itself, envisages all the events of its existence in a sort of simultaneity, as if they were spread out before it like an unrolled map…’

…the sunset over Wimbledon Common, the smell of gorse in bloom on a summer evening, the Roman trackway stretching before you from Box Hill to Epsom of a dying autumn afternoon, Melbury Down… from ever so far apart and ever so long ago in simultaneity now.

The Philosophy of Elementalism

We have to stand up for this, the mystery in the inanimate, the uplift of the spirit faced with tree-shapes & trackways, cracked paving-stones & slippery newt because, in the midst of daily distractions, to escape our existential aloneness we seek to lose our awkward sense of being in gregariousness:  ‘…the whole current of crowd-instincts in these days is so fatally perverted [by]… the stress laid upon outward things, upon outward achievement, outward progress, outward activity, outward publicity. The idea of what might be called the ‘Philosophy of Elementalism’ is that all this outwardness should be reduced to the vanishing point…’

In crowd consciousness, we lose the sense of what is to be gained from the real things, from the thinginess of things which can only be apprehended when we are steeped in solitude, since ‘…only when the soul is alone can the magic of the universe flow through it…’

No day, no night, should pass without a gathering together of the inmost core of our being with its defiant cry: “Alone with the universe! Alone against the universe!”…


At This Moment Now

So here I am at this moment now—cat on my lap, log fire, Dvorak’s First Symphony just started on the gramophone, thinking about the ice-berg Time—so much of it submerged; for me, just the cold tip of it to bother with in a practical way—replace a fuse, dig up a pernicious weed that invades the rockery every spring, post a letter, re-point some brickwork at the corner of the house where the gutter leaks, or hire a man to do it..

Once upon a time every turn of events was significant—the upshot of each had a long future which needed working on: I made gardens, collecting rock-stones against the time when I could sit on a lawn, admire sedum & sempervivums and read with the pattern of leaf-drift & bird-song while my shadow in the sunlight made of me a human gnomon all the long day. I visited towns and villages in the full expectation that, having made a quick survey of their delights, I would return for further exploration on later occasions—just as I thought that seaside spots would be revisited year after year. Apart from one or two key places at different times, this never happened.

Now whatever I do seems like a one-off. Ilfracombe is always there to go back to, the South Downs to be cruised over; once these kinds of repetition into the future always seemed a possibility; but whatever happens now is just for the day; it does not have the feel of possible repetition. However, now more than ever before, it seems important to record just that and to figure out the consequences, frozen in time though they may be.

Apart from all this, I choose, intellectually, to linger in the NOW, to decorate it, knowing that it’s always possible that it may be the last time. The sensation of this has only been with me since I turned 70—till then there was always a sense of futurity attaching to events as they occurred. Now there’s a sense of absence. This is the decade in which I may die—if not this one then with awful creeping certainty the next…

Then there’s the matter of the diminishing pattern of days, weeks, months, years: they will keep on repeating so; no sooner has the day begun than it’s more or less ended. Of course it doesn’t help matters that for many years now I’ve had what to others will probably seem to be the astonishingly curious belief that when it gets to 10 o’clock in the morning the day is more or less done for (it’s 9.30am as I write…)—that it’s all downhill from there. In one of my workspaces I keep an old electric clock, modern design, out of the 1930′s when, in spite of everything, modernity began; it won’t work any more, so I have its hands permanently set at five minutes to ten so that I don’t have to think of day’s depletion—but, of course, it serves as the perfect anchor for precisely that!

I detest Christmas because it marks time in such a disgustingly meretricious manner and seems to arrive more and more quickly under the banner of Capitalism—fast buck from uniquely spiritual event. In winter cold and darkness, like my father did, I have begun to long for spring, chaffinch at the window, blackthorn whitening in the hedges, all the trees & bushes that blossom before they leaf, rising sun moving to the left a little earlier each day. But by eight o’clock of an evening I’m ready for bed having begun to shut down much earlier on…

at 4 of an afternoon
my thoughts incline towards
cool sheets & pillow

On the other hand I think nothing of rising at 4 of a morning to read or start writing in the hour snatched from Paradise, as the Sufis say—that gives me a whole six hours before the day starts to subside into nothing.

It’s a conceit, I suppose, a way of constructing things, a little story I tell myself to pass the time. But I know full well that I can always recreate the old agility with the thought of lighting a bonfire or going off on a motorbike journey or writing a piece of music or a poem…


The Gale Had Ceased

At the open window there was just the general sound of all the trees for miles around, wind running through a trillion twigs creating the cumulative small background roar of mildly whipping branches. I was suddenly awake after five hours of deep sleep & dream at 2 o’clock in the morning with the memory of an essay by Robert Lynd I read at school all of sixty years ago called, as I remember, ‘Reading at Night’, which I cannot find amongst my old books. I think about writing such an essay myself.

I had awoken from a mildly tantalising dream during which I had been contracted to run a series of lessons (wearing teacher-hat) designed to aid self-awareness. I was in a street with just one person on the course. My instruction was that she should close her eyes and turn her head; on opening her eyes she should really focus on what she saw. It was a de Chirico street scene, shadows round corners and silent steam trains in the far distance. The person I was working with seemed utterly incapable of keeping her eyes closed to obey the rules of the game; she would keep peeking at me. “Keeping your eyes closed now,” I repeated, “when you open them again now I think you’ll find that when you look to your right you’ll see a wicker basket stood on the pavement…” There certainly was one there but she seemed to lack the control over her eyes to do exactly what I was suggesting and so I practised the exercise for myself. The wicker basket became the only one of its kind in the whole history of the universe.

Waking, maybe out of frustration or a feeling of failure, I began to make the exercise more precise: one could deprive oneself of vision and then make new sight or even gain insight by swivelling the head while the eyes were closed and really focus on what you saw when you opened them while remaining aware of what you were looking at when you last had them opened.

I sit up—
the swoop of a blackbird
from an ivied roof

You could then do the same with sound, feeling, smelling & tasting—a whole series of stopping each sense in turn and restarting it as though the whole world were suddenly a different place. This would be to track change and therefore emphasise things as they are, to be aware of the moment of transition, the act of self-remembering. Then, only just half-awake, I thought you could do this with books—the object of the exercise would be to open a book at random and expect to find the author writing about something very ordinary but making it new by the very act of writing about it, as though it had never happened before, nor would ever happen again.

The sweet sound of rustling leaves, as soothing as the rush of falling water, made a gentle music over a group of three persons sitting at the extremity of a lawn. Upon their right was a plantation or belt of trees, which sheltered them from the noonday sun; on the left the green sward reached to the house; from the open window came the rippling notes of a piano, and now and again the soft accents of the Italian tongue. The walls of the garden shut out the world and the wind—the blue sky stretched above from one tree-top to another, and in those tree-tops the cool breeze, grateful to the reapers in the fields, played with bough and leaf. In the centre of the group was a small table, and on it some tall glasses of antique make, and a flask of wine.

And again:-

But, for the hour, the sun shines brightly, and a narrow line along the upper surfaces of the metals, burnished by the polishing friction of a thousand wheels, glints like silver under, the rays. The red brick of the booking-office looks redder and more staring under the fierce light. The door is locked, and there is no waiting-room in which to take shelter; nothing but a projecting roof over a part of the platform. On the lintel is the stationmaster’s name painted in small white letters, like the name of the landlord over the doorway of an inn. Two corded boxes lie on the platform, and near them stand half a dozen rusty milk tins, empty. With the exception of a tortoiseshell cat basking in the sunshine, there seems nothing living in the station, and the long endless rails stretching on either side in a straight line are vacant. For hours during the day the place slumbers, and a passenger gliding by in the express may well wonder why a station was built at all in the midst of trees and hedges without so much as a single visible house.

One of the great joys of reading is to come across such descriptions of unnotable things that have nevertheless been noted by a mind that deemed them worthy of being recorded; in this case Richard Jefferies in two separate essays in Hodge and His Masters; all such minutiae are worthy of recall; this being the only time when they will ever be recorded thus. The selection and the reading of such passages acts as a guide to what is important in life; in this way we are alerted to the mystical nature of Being. Istigkeit.

Here’s another extract that works in the same way. It’s from Tideline by Edward Seago who was an English artist of some note. The book was given to me when he moved away by a naval commander who lived in the lighthouse at the end of our road.

The Way this particular disposition of clouds seems to be of momentous significance…

Edward Seago writes:-

Hanging over the bureau in my sitting-room there is a drawing by Sickert. It is a pencil sketch of an old costerwoman. She might be the daily ‘char’ who has paused for a moment in her work, one hand on hip and the other, beyond the margin of the picture, seemingly holding a broom handle. I chose that particular spot for the drawing because it goes so well with the statuette of a soldier… which stands beneath it. There is something remarkably similar about those two figures. Each of them are warriors in their own way—a couple of tough campaigners, who can face reality without losing their sense of humour, blessed with that quality which is commonly called ‘guts’.

This morning, when I was cleaning the glass on the drawing, I suddenly realised that it might easily be taken for a portrait of Emma Larkin. I know for a fact that she was not the model, and, anyway, her ‘pride’ would have forbade her to pose for a portrait except in her Sunday best. Emma Larkin came every morning and ‘did’ for me when I lived in Chelsea before the war. That was at a time when ‘dailys’ were easy to come by, and the registry office sent six of them to see me in one morning. Emma Larkin was the sixth. I engaged her on the spot. She was exactly what I had pictured a ‘daily’ to be. Her hat (so like the one in the Sickert drawing) was, indeed, a creation. Goodness knows how one would begin to make a hat like that. I suppose it had some sort of shape as a basis to work on, but after it came into the possession of Emma Larkin I think that she herself had a hand in its adornment.  Right in the front of it was a large bunch of glossy cherries, which rattled whenever she nodded her head, and protruding from somewhere in the rear was an enormous hat-pin which had been jabbed recklessly into its depths. She wore a shabby black coat with a bit of dyed fur round the collar. Her apron was rolled up round her waist, ready to be let down when she went into action. Dangling from her clasped hands was a black oil-cloth bag, which accompanied her everywhere, but I never knew what she carried inside it. She came into the room with a twinkle in her bloodshot eyes and a grin which revealed the only two teeth in her head. I shall always associate Emma Larkin with that grin. It was the first thing I noticed about her, and it was the last thing I remember of her as she stood waving by a station barrier.

But, to return to my teacherly dream… what was its Behavioural Objective, as we used to say in the Old Days? What was I hoping to achieve in the mind of the one course member? What was she supposed to be able to do by the end of the lesson? To Have a Strategy for Making New…  Perhaps… The whole sensory response to experience to be revitalised… A kind of self-remembering… The method—to get practice at really being instead of just ambling along in the habitual way deep in the business of receiving impressions but not being aware of the process itself, not being aware that you are doing so.

The kind of enlivenment that sets you up for getting shivers up the spine when certain extracts from books seem to read you rather than the conventional other way round.

Outside—black night. Here the ticking clock and a small lamp pitched against the darkness and the background roar of wind as down a long long tunnel.

All those sentences without a finite verb! Oh the joy of going against the rules!

Silence & Solitude

Silence is liberation, says Thomas Merton. It is being ‘…no longer involved in the measurement of life but in the living of it…’ Merton says that in a condition of silence ‘…my whole life becomes a prayer…’ I have a common problem with the word ‘prayer’: it comes so laden with mumbo-jumbo that I have to reframe it so that it makes sense to me: it might, for example, be an immersion in soul-life, no words, no paternosters to beam us up to another plane. Merton himself says that ‘…we put words between our selves and things. Even ‘God’ has become another conceptual unreality in a no man’s land of language that no longer serves as a means of communion with reality…’ So I wince for him whenever he relaxes what appears to be a firm linguistic stand and lowers his guard to cart ‘God’ in. Whenever he’s not thinking consistently, he succumbs to ordinary theistic encumbrance.

He continues: silence & solitude must be ‘objective & concrete’—you have to be in a ‘communion with something greater than the world, as great as Being itself…’ I can go with that—the paradoxically simple idea that there is something infinitely greater than myself gives me the appropriate mystical shivers—what I understand as ‘oceanic consciousness’. But then he trivialises things again by talking about ‘finding God’ in there somewhere. My own notion of Immensity is so large that the meagre thing they call ‘god’, projection of the superego on to a universal scale as Freud said, only occupies a very tiny corner of it.

Slipping into another mode, run perhaps by another of his ‘I’s, Merton pulls himself together and in  mystical state he is invincible. His ‘vocation to solitude’ is ‘…to deliver oneself up, to hand oneself over, entrust oneself completely to the silence of a wide landscape of woods and hills, or sea, or desert; to sit still while the sun comes up over that land and fills its silences with light. To pray [being immersed in soul-life] and work in the morning, and to labour and rest in the afternoon, and to sit still again in meditation in the evening when night falls upon that land and when the silence fills itself with darkness and with stars. This is a true and special vocation. There are few who are willing to belong completely to such silence, to let it soak into their bones, to breathe nothing but—silence, to feed on silence, and to turn the very substance of their life into a living and vigilant silence…’

‘Prayer’ here seems to be a simple wordless devotion to the idea of gratitude for being part of the Immensity and for the gift of being able to be a continual seeker.

‘If our life is poured out in useless words we will never hear anything, will never become anything and in the end because we have said everything before we had anything to say, we shall be left speechless at the moment of our greatest decision…’ says Merton. Solitude & silence are not intended ‘…to immobilise my life, to reduce all things to a frozen concentration upon some inner experience. When solitude alternates with common living it can take on this character of a halt, of a moment of stillness, an interval of concentration…’ Then it can become a habit: silence & solitude in the midst of the world’s hubbub.

In Parenthesis

A Quakers’ Meeting from the Essays of Elia:-

Reader, would’st thou know what true peace and quiet mean: would’st thou find a refuge from the noises and clamours of the multitude; would’st thou enjoy at once solitude and society; would’st thou possess the depth of thine own spirit in stillness, without being shut out from the consolatory faces of thy species; would’st thou be alone, and yet accompanied; solitary, yet not desolate; singular, yet not without some to keep thee in countenance;—a unit in aggregate; a simple in composite:—come with me into a Quakers’ Meeting.

Dost thou love silence deep as that ‘before the winds were made’? go not out into the wilderness, descend not into the profundities of the earth; shut not up thy casements; nor pour wax into the little cells of thy ears, with little-faith’d self-mistrusting Ulysses.—Retire with me into a Quakers’ Meeting.

The Art of Life

John Cowper Powys says that ‘the art of life consists in the creation of an original and unique self; something the simplest mind can achieve…’ which can be done by detaching oneself from all philosophical systems without dogmatically rejecting any of them. I savour that: the creation of an original and unique self… What would have to happen for that to emerge without all the mental encumbrances of vanity, self-centredness, over-weening certainty, without dogma, without attachment to theoretical invented structures but deriving some kind of eclectic mix?

‘It matters little whether some deep psychic secret of which you have luckily possessed yourself ought to be attributed to Plato, or Goethe, or Wordsworth, or Dostoievsky, or the Tao, or the wisdom of Zoroaster, or the doctrine of the Stoics. All the philosophers, all the prophets, draw their secrets from the same sort of fountain—that is to say from the solitary contemplations of their own lonely, anti-social ego, feeling its way by itself amid the smarting blows and the thrilling caresses of intimate personal experience.’

One should obstinately refuse to be finally committed to any one of them. What Cowper Powys calls ‘calm happiness’ is to be attained to by standing under (or alongside) the ‘fountain’ of ‘secrets’ from which all these great names have taken sustenance: ‘around the consciousness of the simplest among us float, when we are alone, images, fragments, tokens, memories, half-symbols, broken echoes, of the great mystical thoughts of the world…’ The chance to recognise them comes only when we are alone. Then we have to set up a ‘magic circle’ round us that cannot be invaded by ‘voices prophesying war’—the endless undeclared war on the spirit.

But ‘happiness’—such a poor word to describe the intense satisfaction of Being-to-oneself in what Cowper Powys calls ‘premeditated ecstasy’, obtained through the ‘machinery of the ecstasy release’ which we might now refer to as a re-arrangement of neurons. It needs, he says, ‘magnetic wires’—which, in my mind, can only lead to Magnetic Centre!

And why don’t we all seek it? Why don’t we attain it, this simple re-arrangement of neurons? John Cowper Powys says the answer’s simple: ‘We do not desire it. We desire desperately external forms of pleasure. We desire power, glory, money, health, reputation. But not happiness…’

In fact the word ‘happiness’ has become attached to power, glory, money and all the rest of it. That’s why it’s such a poor word to describe the intense satisfaction of Being-to-oneself alone.

‘Crowd-consciousness’ distracts us from Being-to-oneself-alone. To build a magic circle around you requires that you ‘sink into your soul. Say to yourself: “Here I am, a living conscious self. surrounded by walls, streets, pavements, houses and roofs. Above me is the boundless sky, beneath me the solid earth…’ This is my universe to which I can stretch out my spirit but it responds only to loneliness and solitude; what I see before me, ‘…these walls, these half-open windows, through which the yellow sun or the dark night appears, are the fringes, edges, margins of an unfathomable universe on the brink of which we stand while our soul grapples with the unknown…’ This is ‘premeditated ecstasy’…

We can have a powerful grasp on life when we hold off the temptation to lose self in crowd consciousness—in what Gurdjieff might call A Influences. Chat Shows & Phone-ins, the Have Your Say mentality that’s destroyed the intellectual probity of, say, classical music programmes on the radio, twittering & ‘social media’—all that is an aspect of crowd consciousness; it holds the world in thrall.

It is worse than madness to be born conscious, and then to clutter up this miraculous gift with such incredible follies [the bagatelles of crowd fashion]. Swinging upon her terrific orbit by night and by day the vast rock-structure of the earth calls upon us to share her immemorial vigil. Horror unspeakable is never far from our thoughts; but it can be forgotten, forgotten, forgotten, as we stand—flesh-covered skeletons upon pavement-covered rock —sharing the patience of the Inanimate, enduring in stoical exultation ‘the Something that infects the World’.

John Cowper Powys’ recipe for separating one’s self from crowd-consciousness is to eschew all crowd pre-occupations: emotional turmoils, rivalries, ambitions, notions of superiority and inferiority. What’s left once you’ve done away with all that? Irritable anxieties & regrets. Make Poof! to them! What’s left? Nothingness, the not-self, the centre of the soul.

We must let go especially of ‘life illusion’, he says.

‘A person’s life illusion is that secret dramatic way of regarding the self which makes you feel to yourself a remarkable, singular, unusual, exciting individual. Everybody has a life-illusion; and it is something that goes much deeper than mere vanity or conceit…’

I wonder if this is akin to ‘Chief Feature’ in the Gurdjieff canon—that which obstructs progress in life. It’s certainly different from, and runs counter to the creation of an original and unique self… quite without illusory constructs.

‘Life illusion’ is the shadow cast by your subjective self, your false imagination, ‘…the etheric mask of the abysmal thing in itself…’  The shadow of the inmost ‘I am I’; the shadow is the life illusion.

So now I ask myself the question: What is my life illusion? How do I begin to get at it? It’s a shadow so it moves as I move; as I go to inspect it it slips away.

What is there deep in my subjective notion of my self that casts a shadow over all I say and do? I wonder if it’s a sense of superiority—that’s a story I tell myself without realising it: that my way of looking at the world is watertight as against many others who seem to lack a consistent weltenshaung. This is a ‘secret dramatic way of regarding the self’. I find that I most respect, feel drawn to, those who, in their solitary way, hold to a similar certainty. ‘Listen to what you say about others and notice how precisely it fits your own way of being,’ says Gurdjieff.

But I normally hold such a sense of superiority very much in check; I deliberately demolish this ugly statue of my self; I operate in the dark so that I cast no shadow. Whether I succeed or not is hard to tell but the fact that it is (maybe) my life illusion means that it has some effect on the way I do things. Who knows?

John Cowper Powys recommends ways to get to what he calls ‘calm happiness’. But the skimpiness of the word ‘happiness’ remains a bit of a block for me. An alternative is perhaps to make a beeline for the opposite of happiness: what does he define as the unhappiness from which we must try to escape?

One of the chief causes of unhappiness is that our mind is pre-occupied all the while with its relationship with other minds. Free yourself from this; make the friendliest and kindliest retreat you can into solitude—in a few moments your nature will have bathed itself so deeply in the cool baths of primordial Being that you will feel yourself able to return to the troubling arena of humanity with an inviolable and secret strength…

And, following this advice by refocussing my thoughts on the nearest tree, moving away from taking what somebody else seems to think into consideration, focussing instead on a chink in the curtain, on the rising scales in Beethoven’s first symphony, on the flickering log-fire, what happened to my life illusion? It dissolved into nothing; I didn’t have to work on it; it was just no longer there. It’s only there in relation to other people.

Anybody close to me who chances to read all this will maybe think that there’s some fault in them that I feel I must avoid but that is not the case. Nobody needs to know about your withdrawal into solitude even when you are close to them; there may be a certain growth of peace in your demeanour which they may or may not notice; it’s just a peaceable ruse to mend your own soul’s state of unrest. It does not have to affect others in the slightest.

They too could understand that ‘…a portion of our mind, an inviolable, indestructible portion, is outside all this whole burden of Time and Space; outside this whole astronomical universe…’ ‘Spiritual anarchism’ Cowper Powys calls it; acquiring the noble habit of being able to step confidently into the impenetrable Silence between action and inaction, relishing both. ‘The soul that has made a habit of interior solitude can withdraw, even in the presence of those it cares for most, into its secret communion with the inanimate; instead of withdrawal weakening its feelings for others, it increases it…’

‘This is the whole secret of the practice of Elementalism: it obtains happiness by the most rigid and austere simplification of the means to happiness. A person may know that he is advancing, for example, in the true direction when he can get as great a thrill from walking along a muddy or a dusty road as from walking over soft green grass; when he can get as much happiness from seeing a tuft of waving grass-blades reflected on a bare stone, as from a woodland glade that is like the sky itself by reason of its masses of bluebells.

It is by a process of simplification carried constantly further and further that happiness is won. Having once aroused in our mind enough faith in our own will-power to create a universe of contemplation and forget everything else, there are few limitations to the happiness we may enjoy.

And we have a right to narrow down our universe ever further and further; until like the world of the Iliad and the Odyssey it is made up of certain simple endurances, enjoyments, mental and physical struggles, surrounded by the washing of the sea, the blowing of the wind, the swaying of the wheat, the falling of the rain, the votaging of the clouds, and the motions of sun and moon and awn and twilight…’

The Ivan Osokin Touch

I should love to step forth back down the long tunnel of Time I carved for myself to be a young man or child again. Of course, in any re-run, just as for Ivan Osokin, it would all turn out exactly as it has done. Something there is that binds us to the wheel. I could do a re-bore but up would come the same regrets and the same awful falls from Grace.

A truism: you cannot change the past—it happened thus and thus—but you can change your attitude to it now. To which end I step often and boldly back down the tunnel of my time. What I always discover is a tearful need to put my arms round the little lad standing in his father’s garden full of a dream that it is the whole wide world stretching all the way to India & back, or looking up at the constellations to make the garden sweep up beyond galaxy after galaxy forever.

It is only in solitude that these ‘divine’ observations make any sense—attempt to explain them to somebody else, share them, call them ‘happiness’ and they dwindle to nothing. You will almost certainly have had cognate experiences just as valuable to yourself but nobody on earth could get into the mind of the ten-year-old staring out of the train-window from Waterloo in the dark night being the Controller of everything he saw—driving the trains that passed on other lines, sorting out where cars & lorries were going, their point of origin & destination, arranging for the lighting of streets… Why are there so many lights, such a waste of energy?

Nobody, not even its author, could fathom the impulse that led to a line of poetry (the first ever?) coming from the mind of the pre-teen young lad:

this is my bridge on which I say I stand

He was not able at the time to appreciate that this would stand as an emblem for the whole of his life. It was a bridge spanning a huge abyss, Escher-like (though I’d not seen his drawings then), stretching slender & awesome from one misty cliff to another—my bridge; I stood there; I gave myself leave to assert both the existence of the bridge and the fact of my being there—solitary, unmoved and unmoving. I didn’t go to either side of the bridge; I was immobile at its centre, not wanting or requiring the apparent certainty represented by either more firm side. The landscape stretched out miles below me in perfect clarity even to the far horizon.

An emblem for my whole life! But I suppose I did not remind myself of the implications of the metaphor sufficiently often; too often I strayed from the middle of the bridge to investigate the tops of the cliffs on either side, the towns & villages and all the people with their alien philosophies, mired myself in requirements.

I stand back there now and, in spite of the dizzy height, it still feels right just as it was 60-odd years ago.

this is my bridge on which I say I stand

The piece of paper I wrote it on is long since gone but the idea lives on. Owner-of-the-bridge-I, Meta-I, an I that can stand above and apart from everything in absolute Solitude.

When I go back down the tunnel of time, it’s clear that all the images I relate to most intimately are those which have me on my own, not having to relate to anybody else. No place for resentments, no requirements…

Chaffinch & blackbird, bat & owl, swifts & swallows and a whole series of cats… Gurdjieff was quite right: if you want to make sense of feelings & emotion expend your energy on animals—they are more straightforwardly honest in their feelings; then come back to humans if you wish. What can then be omitted is all the mistaken identification with their concerns, the ever-frustrated attempt to take their interior being into account in your own thinking Being. Chaffinch & blackbird, bat & owl, swifts & swallows, cats & dogs just get on with life, more than happy to root about in tree, sky & undergrowth.

The trouble with humans is that they make too many assumptions and act on them. They mind-read and act on what they have in their mind rather than on what’s there in front of their very eyes. I too, of course, except that when I put my mind to it, I can at least step back to the centre of my bridge. That’s the one and only difference: I have a bridge on which I can say that I stand. Otherwise I’m sucked into the melée, just like everybody else.

These central organising images we have must have some internal representation—there’ll be a somatic marker. The bridge is in my diaphragm I think… How does the marker manifest itself in everyday life?  My reverence for books—they behave themselves! If they do answer me back there’s no requirement for me to listen; more often than not they seem to have been written about me!  The long bicycle rides between one melée and the next & now motorbike journeys… The journey is a bridge between one event and another landfall. All the rooms where I’ve spent the night. Places I’ve invested with my self: the pantheon at Stourhead, Box Hill, Bournemouth just after the War, Brighton pier end in a storm, secondhand bookshops all over the land, Salisbury Cathedral Close, the gallery in the Albert Hall, cycling down to Taunton. Paintings & poems & music. All these things are the bridge on which I say I stand.

Each makes a bridge between one elemental source and another. Here are the multiple stimuli and this is the product and there’s always an ‘I’ in between.

Except that before very long the bridge will collapse into the abyss…

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Already Messed Up with Your New Year Resolution? Part Two

In Part One of this Glob, I outlined a template that I might encourage others to use when I’m doing what I euphemistically call ‘coaching’. It provides a framework for thinking.

I never do an exercise with others that I haven’t first tried out on myself! I walk my talk and talk my walk…

So I literally walked around my template. What comes up from the somatic depths is never uncomplex… There are so many ‘I’s in so many hidden corners of our being.

At every stage, more ‘I’s keep appearing, both obstructive and helpful or simply watching what’s going on. When I’m working with another person, I’ll keep asking questions like, “Which other ‘I’s are getting in the way?” and “Which ‘I’s might help you?” or “What would such and such an ‘I’ have to say about that?” and so on.  I check each answer and write it on a scrap of paper and put it on the floor for the explorer to stand on to see what happens next.

To illustrate something of the process, I worked with my self (another part of me, another ‘I’) on his annual resolution which is to ‘clear the workroom mess’. What makes it an ‘annual resolution’? What makes it an annual resolution—one that never has been sorted (till now!) is there’s an ‘I’ that regularly gets avoided—one that’s quite happy with the way things are, the mess; it seems to thrive on mess or heaps of bits of paper, books, cuttings, all accumulated for some lost purpose or the other. Call it Working-in-what-it-calls-’creative-chaos’-I.  So there’s a Positive Intention behind keeping things in a mess; it imagines it works better thus. This year Making-resolutions-I brings another ‘I’ on board, viz Making-a-difference-I. Unfamiliar territory here but its workings are familiar in other contexts.

The diagram illustrates what happened when ‘I’ (Being-pedantic-I) took my self round the system. If I were to do this performance again this afternoon, other ‘I’s might put their hands up…


And so on…

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Already Messed Up with Your New Year Resolution? Part One

So it’s already business as usual… That New Year Resolution has already bitten the dust.

The thing is that one part of you desperately wanted to make a change of some kind but, perhaps unknown to that part, another part is even now quite content being slap-happy, lazy, grumpy, bad-tempered, procrastinating—correction: other parts of your being, left to themselves,  are very content to continue to be slap-happy, lazy, grumpy, bad-tempered, procrastinating.

Let’s call these parts ‘I’s, for they are simply individual characters in the life-long play that works itself out on the stage of your mind…

There’s an ‘I’ that wants to make a change—call it Wanting-to-make-a-change-I.  Wanting-to-make-a-change-I summons up, for instance, Always-finishing-a-project-on-time-I—that’s the embodiment of your resolution, as an example.

But this well-meaning ‘I’ has not taken steps to circumvent Content-being-slap-happy-I,  or Happy-being-lazy-I, or Practising-to-be-a-grumpy-old-person-I, or Bad-tempered-I, or Being-an-ace-procrastinator-I or any of the thousands of ‘I’s that get in the way of Deciding-to-make-a-change-I.

So what has to happen?

It all comes from the understanding that the ‘I’ that decides to make a resolution is not the same ‘I’ that actually makes one is not the same ‘I’ that puts it into operation is not the same ‘I’ that checks progress is not the same ‘I’ that keeps practising.

It’s systemic:-


In NLP lingo, it’s extended Parts Work.

There’s a well-developed exercise that takes people round this circuit and helps to resolve any resolution at any stage of the year from an empty abstraction into concrete reality.

It’s the basis of my coaching practice.


Below, Patrick Lowery brilliantly outlines the background to this…

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Programming and NLP

In a LinkedIn discussion on NLP, there’s a good article by Michael Hall alluding to the ‘problem’ of the word ‘programming’…

I wonder why it’s a problem… I can see that, to outsiders, there’s rather more than a suggestion that the word itself carries the notion of ‘brain-washing’—either, in the initial analysis,  that human-beings are ‘brain-washed’ or that NLPers do ‘brain-washing’ in order to achieve what they want. If that were true it would be a problem.

There’s a general simplistic assumption that ‘brain-washing’ is what the Russians and the Chinese do whereas we in the enlightened West believe in Freedom and Democracy and so on—but that’s a prime example of how we’ve been programmed: it’s a belief that doesn’t stand much analysis when the politicians as a matter of course engage in demolishing the function of intellect and clear thinking—they do not want us to see through them. When government makes decisions that no individual in their right mind would assent to that’s not democracy—it’s dictatorship. One simple contemporary example will do: at a time when coasts around the UK are threatened with severe & unprecedented flooding, in the name of ‘Austerity measures’ the government has seen fit to sack hundreds of people in the Environment Agency responsible for monitoring the effects of severe weather and taking measures against it. Like many other things done here in the name of ‘Austerity’, it’s unbelievable!

To bring it closer to home, what did you do in the recent regular bout of manic celebration? Did you waste money on sending Xmas cards? Did you sing a carol about God’s notional gift to the universe? Did you stay up all night to welcome something called a ‘New Year’? Do you go around wishing people a ‘Happy New Year’? That’s all the result of the way we’ve all been brain-washed or programmed. We are programmed to respond to whatever it suits the money-grubbers to present us with. Because I’ve not sent an Xmas card in fifty years and have dispensed with the e-box in the corner of the living-room that programs us into what to think, I am regarded as a crackpot or an old Scrooge. And that’s how anybody who kicks against programming is dealt with. Why is Noam Chomsky called ‘the great American crackpot’? Because he consistently and brilliantly challenges the way we are programmed and he does it in fine detail, in small chunk analysis.

Instead of NLPsychology, why don’t we call it NLPhilosophy or, more specifically, NLPhenomenology? Neuronal relationships in the brain set up patterns of behaviour which get expressed in language which in turn creates the world in which we imagine we live and presents us with a multitude of ‘seemings’, subjective constructions of ‘reality’ which we could freely choose to construct in a different, preferably more congruent, way. The underpinning philosophy of NLP is phenomenological.

What’s more it presents a challenge to a Platonic (large chunk) construction of ‘reality’ by its existential approach (small chunk). The challenge is to get people to understand for themselves how the Platonic western thinking mode has programmed us into thinking that abstractions (‘democracy’, ‘freedom’, ‘beauty’ and so on—nominalisations as we like to call them—the things you can’t put in a wheelbarrow) have some real meaning; at the large chunk level they have no meaning except as froth in the mouths of politicians.

We can choose to kick against the way we’ve been programmed or we can just cave in. Kicking against::Caving in—that’s a meta-program.

The most effective way to get out of having been programmed is, of course, to step up a level or two, to get to a meta-level where brain-washing can’t touch you. The meta-mirror process as originally taught to me consists of four stages (1 self, 2 other contemplating self,  3 meta-self, capable of assessing the relationship between 1 and 2, and 4 decision-maker). What if we add a fifth stage, as Robert Dilts once did in a session I attended, ‘hero’ or historical figure of some kind to contemplate 1-2-3-4, and a sixth stage, as it might be an admired thinker to do the same, and a seventh stage and so on until explorers find themselves in another galaxy looking down on 1-2-3-4 and everything in between?

This would be to get to a meta-level of the kind recommended long ago by the Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius who suggested going out into night dark and looking up at the stars to realise what a speck of dust you are in the universe. This you might carry around with you at 1 from now on. What difference would it make to the way you process things?

But we identify all too readily with the things of this world, here and now; we lose a sense of self when we identify with, for example, a football team, a political party, a religious system, a relationship, an exchange in LinkedIn…

We are asleep. We are machines—wind us up at birth and with luck or determination we keep going into old age. I observe that by the time most people get to my age they are unwinding considerably but, apart from creaking bones and ydslexsi typing skills (all the letters but in the wrong order) I remain intellectually and emotionally as I was at 15.


I still hoard yards of adolescent diaries. A few years ago I wondered what to do with them.

Recognising a meta-program I could make a decision about (somewhere between throwing away::hoarding), I decided to use the contents to write a novel. Extracts from the diary came to alternate with fragments of an unfinished SF story I was writing and a fantasy about my self as tramp figure. As a result of this process, what I found extraordinary was that, although they had been written across 45 years, the three strands that eventually made up the novel contained the same language format, the same image structure, the same ideas and conclusions. At the end of the novel, the three characters merged to become myself—it was parts work on a truly creative scale. This was one way in which I came to recognise and relish my own programming.

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The ROOM Series

I’ve just produced ROOM FIVE—a loose collection of philosophical, literary, anti-capitalist and anarchistic autobiographical ramblings. The series started in 2001 with a book, originally simply called ROOM,  that was supposed to be stand-alone but the book’s format and discipline has become a kind of obsession: ROOM SIX is in production and I have it in mind to begin it with the following which is a record of an interesting & potentially fruitful exchange between the professional philosopher in the village, whose name shall be called Herbert, and myself. It will serve as a signpost…

Herbert: I recall you saying that you would look forward to chatting about Room One. There is much to say about it. And there are a number of ways in which it can be read—several themes run throughout, some are developed some are not.

Myself: The same themes recur in Rooms 2,3,4 & 5 as no doubt they will, unresolved, in Room One Hundred. Some of the undeveloped themes in Room One are given a bit more of an airing in subsequent volumes. My models for this approach: Moby Dick and the writings of the disciples of Gurdjieff, notably Maurice Nicoll and JGBennett who said (and I believe him!), ‘Anything too well and too neatly organised sows the seeds of its own destruction…’ meaning, I take it, that something organised in a neat & tidy fashion implies a full-stop or end to the quest and, since the quest never ends, is therefore doomed or at least counter-productive…

A few years ago, I came to realise that what prevented me from writing a novel was the idea that you had to have a plan, start with Chapter One and then work your way through to the bitter end, sticking rigidly to the plan. Around 1980 with a work colleague who sat opposite me in the staffroom of the college where I ‘worked’ I participated in the writing of an epistolatory novel which came to be called The Gardener of the Universe: the successful conclusion of that project left me with the certain awareness that, as in most of my art-work and musical composition, COLLAGE was my forte. Two other novels followed written on my own but in the same way. Some things were developed, some things were just bunged in for future reference. A line from Whitman intrudes at this moment—something about starting things off but leaving it to my notional successors or readers to make at least provisional closure, should they ever choose to do so. However, though three people do seem to pursue things (and that is sufficient for me!) I have no expectation of ‘followers’. One of my daughters is consuming the series and is always excited to explore the next ROOM and Patrick in America asks after the progress of the current ROOM.

H: I think I need to ask you first what you think of the book…

M: One or two readers seem to have tackled the ‘exercises’ and pick things out for comment and elaboration. When I go back into the book now at your prompting I enjoy the feeling of familiarity with the lurch of ideas & thoughts. I enjoy the fact that I made something of Voyage autour de ma chambre at last in celebration of the old lady, long since dead, who presented the hand-written, beautifully bound, translation to me years ago. The grand mélange still works for me though I do realise that stuff needs expanding—whatever form that might take will go into subsequent volumes but not in any systematic sort of way. Room One is a source book. It helped me to get my house in order for what was laughably called ‘The New Millennium’ as do subsequent volumes. Perhaps it does require some proper familiarity with (and willing acceptance of) 4th Way ideas to be able to relate to it more readily.

H: …is it the polished article…?

M: It will never be polished, if polishing is what it requires in your eyes! It’s as messy as anything of Baron Corvo’s. I suppose that subsequent volumes are likely to represent a kind of polishing, a revisiting of the same ideas at a different level or from a different point of view, yet another attempt to sort stuff out. Of course, as I find when I try to read Bennett’s magnum opus The Dramatic Universe there must come a point when disorganisation alienates. I hope I tread the tightrope successfully. That’s all I hope really.

You did ask about ‘publication’—whether I’d submit Room One for [proper] publication. Whilst it might be nice it forms no part of my intentional stance. It would need far too much polishing, no doubt (and therefore its own destruction) unless it were taken up by Bennett Publications!

H: …does the book succeed in conveying your intentions…?

M: Ah, intentions! Consciousness is defined partly, I take it, by one’s intentional stance towards the world… What the hell were my intentions when I started on Room One? Simply, I think, to go on a journey round my library, scooping up everything I’ve ever thought, read, dreamed of, zig-zagging randomly. I did not succeed in locating the ‘everything’ for Room One—hence its successors…

Here’s an iteration from Room Three:-

We could start moving towards figuring out how to connect things by just noticing their disconnectedness. We could try on for size the rather comforting statement that the normal state of the mind is a substantial chaos: it’s comforting because it enables us to relax into accepting that thoughts come and go in a completely random fashion; unless we deliberately ‘take charge’ and refuse to let it happen, the one thing that can certainly stop the randomness is a focussing on the negative; in a state of day to day chaos, we are perhaps attracted to what is most problematic at the moment—real or imaginary pain, grudges, frustrations, angst—we can choose to let that kind of thing hi-jack the brain. We can even discover in us physical ailments that demonstrate where we’re at in terms of misery and so on—the persistent cough that represents congested angst, the cancer that embodies a life-time of anger. [How prophetic—written three years before my diagnosis...!] This debilitating lurch can easily be replaced by more positive processes. Learning to step deliberately into different ‘I’s will help. The mind can be re-ordered by stepping into different ‘I’s: Anything-for-distraction-I will sink us in tellyland; Daydreaming-I gets us into the contemplation of imaginary situations and if this results in action such as the writing of poetry, pattern-making process, or prose all the better—otherwise it’s a dark cul-de-sac; Mental-games-I is good at all kinds of what Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi calls ‘flow experiences’—those which establish a much more productive kind of order in the mind. A simple but exciting mental game is to increase one’s purchase on the past and therefore strengthen the concept of self by cataloguing time with all the accuracy one can muster.

The following is from Whitejacket’s Almanac (Hermann Melville)—I suppose it was my intention to make my own almanac or inventory of thought processes I’ve been through during seventy years… I think I probably partly fulfilled my intentions for myself in Room One; the two or three people who follow my progress appear to find my intentions adequately conveyed and are presumably able to tolerate the ambiguities.

Another way of beguiling the tedious hours, is to get a cosy seat somewhere, and fall into as snug a little revery as you can. Or if a seat is not to be had—which is frequently the case—then get a tolerably comfortable stand- up against the bulwarks, and begin to think about home and bread and butter—always inseparably connected to a wanderer—which will very soon bring delicious tears into your eyes; for everyone knows what a luxury is grief, when you can get a private closet to enjoy it in, and no Paul Prys intrude. Several of my shore friends, indeed, when suddenly overwhelmed by some disaster, always make a point of flying to the first oyster-cellar, and shutting themselves up in a box, with nothing but a plate of stewed oysters, some crackers, the castor, and a decanter of old port.
Still another way of killing time in harbour, is to lean over the bulwarks, and speculate upon where, under the sun, you are going to be that day next year, which is a subject full of interest to every living soul; so much so, that there is a particular day of a particular month of the year, which, from my earliest recollections, I have always kept the run of, so that I can even now tell just where I was on that identical day of every year past since I was twelve years old. And, when I am all alone, to run over this almanac in my mind is almost as entertaining as to read your own diary, and far more interesting than to peruse a table of logarithms on a rainy afternoon. I always keep the anniversary of that day with lamb and peas, and a pint of sherry, for it comes in spring. But when it came round in the Neversink, I could get neither lamb, peas, nor sherry.
…does the method you adopt—the same method which it seems is to be employed in subsequent ROOMS—best serve your intentions?

If one of my intentions is to emulate my models (Bennett, Nicoll, Ouspensky) then the simple answer is ‘Yes!’ But I’m not complacent about it. while producing these Rooms I have written one or two things that are more tightly ordered. I do know a different kind of order.

H: …do you consider it a good book that serves as a testimony to your work…

M: A ‘good book’? Goodness knows… Unlike these mechanised abortions I see people scanning on trains, it’s a book you can hold in your hands and turn the pages of.

A ‘testimony to my work’… Is that how you see your own publications? I have no such pretensions. It’s a book, I think, that adequately reveals me as an open-ended thinker, willing to poke around and collect what led to me being just as I am, forging connections, continually seeking. Ouspensky says something like ‘Though seemingly disconnected, everything is in fact connected’… One just has to find the connections. That’s one of my intentions—to make connections, no matter what…

H: Being an old sceptic who taught the philosophy of mind for many years, might I suggest that a good place to start would be your implicit theory of man. It has remnants of a Platonic theory, but it is also it seems to me, a perfectability theory and a salvationist theory.

M: Plato’s system is an invention in the same way as any other ‘theory’ is. An invention serves some purpose or another for a time till it’s superseded. Or stood on its head as Sartre does to Plato, I think: ‘essence precedes existence’ becomes ‘existence precedes essence’ which is for me a more human conclusion as compared with the rather ghost-ridden reverse…

‘Man’ [and woman] is; in isness we invent; everything beyond this moment here and now (blue sky & sunshine on what people choose to call Xmas morning) is an invention—just like the old disused gas mantle we had in the suburban house where I began to invent myself.

Incidentally, the notating of specificity (as in ‘blue sky & sunshine…’ etcetera) is always, during the course of being distracted by the ten thousand things of life, my way of gettiing back to isness, istigkeit, at least for the moment. ‘Isness and distraction’ might be my ‘theory of man’, theory of mind.

One part of me (one of my many ‘I’s) believes in the invention called ‘Perfectability’ and has a sort of yearning for ‘Salvation’—another part of me knows that everything is enveloped in Utter Absurdity and Pointlessness. The Pendulum model (page 73 in Room One), which Nicoll refers to (but in his Commentaries makes very little of in a practical way) is fundamental to my thinking process, such as it is. It’s what happens at the bottom of the pendulum swing that’s important. What’s at the bottom of this particular swing (Perfectability/Salvation – Utter Absurdity/Pointlessness) is something like Keeping At It, Persistence, Making Connections…

Scan0118H: There’s a marked absence of ethics in ROOM ONE and the importance of culture in shaping and expressing the structure of identity…

M: It seems to me that there’s only one ethical principle: One ought never to do anything that will hurt another… (Godwin). Everything follows from that. Bloated capitalists (or people with loads of money) should cease their exploitation; rioters (taking their cue from the bloated capitalists, but rebels without a cause, lacking ideology or meta-narrative) should not burn down homes and shops; Presidents and Ministers of state (and all their snooty millionaire mates) should not be mindlessly condemnatory or punitive… etc round & round … Beyond that ethics, varying from place to place, has no basis in anything.

‘Never to do anything that will hurt another’ includes, for instance, desisting from any action that corners another person into ‘self-justification’ or ‘making accounts’ or ‘the expression of negative thoughts’, three outstanding characteristics of False Personality cherished by human-beings in a state of sleep.

I am a person of my culture and I suppose I talk merely about what I’m trying to understand: the way my culture has structured my identity, the way I have been programmed by ‘life’. Perhaps I need to point this out some time. Room Sixty here I come…

H: The theory of mind loosely mapped out in the book strikes me as heavily influenced by 19th century romanticism…

M: If by this you mean that I suffer from the existential protest embedded in Wordsworth and co, it might well be the case…

H: …there are quite a few important  terms floating about that require definition and or explanation; terms such as essence, personality, magnetic centre…

M: All in good time…  ‘Anything too well organised sows the seeds of its own destruction…’

H: I think there is real confusion in talk of Multiple-I’s, while talking of an over-arching controlling ‘I’.

M: Multiple-I’s is fundamental to 4th Way studies. But it is not worked out in any systematic or practical way by any of the disciples, nor, as far as I can tell, by Gurdjieff himself. Or Nicoll, come to that. One of the relatively ordered/systematic/practical books I wrote while engaged in this most comfortable sprawling business goes into the practical aspects of Multiple-I’s in a big way (The Campaign Against Abstractionism) and I’ve had a great deal of success in teaching the concept to various high-powered consultants and coaches. I’ve had enough experience of working with my robust coaching model to know that it has great potential. Multiple-I’s will persist in appearing in subsequent ROOM books… Of course, you may well say that ‘success in teaching’ is no guarantee truth… And you’d be right.

Various mainstream philosophers seem to have had a similar model to Gurdjieff’s (who is never counted as ‘mainstream’ because his system is not well-organised. Dennett, for instance, I understand has ‘homuncular decomposition’: mind consists of sub-systems, each one a kind of homunculus who performs discrete functions with intentionality. There follow sub-systems of sub-systems on and on down to some simple-minded homunculus who just throws switches in a machine-like way without intentionality.

In ordinary everyday terminology, we say ‘one part of me thinks… but another…’ or ‘wearing my hat as… but wearing my other hat…’ Fleeting evidence for the practical effects of what could be called Multiple-I’s, if not for their reified existence…

I take it that Philosophy is not about believing what is fashionable in the way of current movements, but about discovering what is ‘true’… or ‘what is the case’. Presupposing that there is anything that might amount to being true… Philosophy is part of the endless ‘conversation of humankind’, a narrative depiction of things as they supposedly are, presupposing that we are ever likely to know what that might consist of. Philosophers elaborate their perspectives, gain enthusiastic adherents, die and what they have said becomes part of the corpus called ‘philosophy’ which then in turn becomes a subject studied by the next generation of philosophers who elbaborate things according to their own scheme of reference, devising new perspectives and sometimes shouting at one another… On and on and on…

H: I enjoyed the literary selections, not all of which I am familiar with. I note you mention Frederic Rolfe (but not Hadrian VII). Have you read the marvellous The Quest for Corvo by A.J. Symons?

M: I agree ‘marvellous’! I read it when I was about 22, it having been recommended by a fellow-slave in the British Metal Corporation who paid me a pittance for working for six months of my life… The only redeeming feature of the time was weekly midday organ recitals in St Lawrence Jewry in the City of London. Will have to re-read! Layers and layers about a man whose life was layers and layers. I have had Hadrian 7 in my library for years waiting to be read. For me, this often happens: The Magic Mountain was there for years waiting for the right moment which when it came was mentally over-whelming in an exciting sort of way. Layers and layers says something about my own ‘intellectual life’ if one can call it that.

H: I recall the first time you mentioned multiple ‘I’s during a casual exchange over the phone—at least a year ago, and you mentioned that some Buddhists suggest that there are more than five hundred different ‘I’s.

M: 500 million of them more like. Every turn of the head or shift of energy… They constitute what is habitually called ‘consciousness’. Or at least they manage the nature of varying conscious states; they are ‘tags’ which we can attach to the same should we make that choice.

Like everybody else I unthinkingly use the word ‘Consciousness’ which, closely considered, becomes a meaningless abstraction, a label that gets stuck on the result of the activities of the something-or-others, (neural firings, electro-chemical exchanges) that mobilise what we call thoughts, memories, dreams and so on. Linguistic labels such as ‘consciousness’ result in reification, a process which is seems to me is best avoided.

Whatever-it-is, this ‘awareness’ (of the ticking clock and so on—thus I bring myself for a second or two back into the NOW) is something the brain creates dynamically afresh every second—it is a personal construct different every moment though, unfortunately for objective analysis, as a result of reification, bearing all the hallmarks of similarity—on the contrary, it’s whatever the brain has managed or needed to do during the past half second or so: there’s an infinity of types of conscious moments. Now it’s the hum of the computer and the tapping of the keys and awareness of black night outside. The records of moments we store somewhere or other become what we call ‘memory’—another abstraction or reifying tag. The record of moments experienced impinges on the next moment we arrive at. The ever-increasing record constitutes our systemic programming down all the years.

H: I had thought at the time that you were dismissive of such theories of mind and the underlying metaphysics they formed part of. It came as some surprise therefore, reading ROOM ONE, that you actually believe stuff like that. I don’t know whether Multiple-I’s comes from Gurdjieff or from one or other of his (inventive) disciples Bennett and Ouspensky, but I would be interested to see a coherent, properly worked out theory, and not a story about the counter-intuitive structure of mind that really anyone might have made up.

M: I take the view that everything is made up: ‘…There is no meaning to the world except that which human beings assign to it… The brain is faced every day with the same challenge: how to make sense of the four billion bits of sensory data that bombard it every minute. It doesn’t compile reality one piece at a time the way you assemble a jigsaw puzzle on a table, searching for scattered elements out of a jumble of fragments. The mind works in exactly the opposite way. Once it makes a picture of reality, everything is coaxed into a meaning that fits the picture…’ says Deepak Chopra, who is no doubt one of your purveyors of ‘current nonsense… built upon the collective credulity of the novelty culture…’

H: No I don’t dismiss the likes of Chopra as a matter of course, and the anthropocentric model he describes is quite the received view across the social and biological sciences, and across philosophy too.

M: How we assign meaning to the endless rigmarole of life, which doesn’t provide a picture to go by on the outside of its jigsaw box, depends on our unique individual programming (your ‘importance of culture in shaping and expressing the structure of identity’) : we observe perceptual representations of ‘reality’ which we then reconstruct from the way we represent things in our minds which in turn is conditioned by the language we have at our disposal with which to express it. What you’re looking at right now are miles of meaningless squiggles until you focus your habitual linguistic interpretative prowess when they somehow achieve representational status. The latter facility determines where you sit in the mess of possibilities.

For what it’s worth, as far as I’m concerned, the concept of ‘Multiple-I’s’ comes from Gurdjieff, via Maurice Nicoll, a ‘disciple’. But G probably got the concept from Buddhism and/or Sufism. I have taken the concept and made it into a robust practical, quite unmetaphysical, coaching model. Maybe ‘philosophy’ has nothing to do with such practical activities but I do like the story in Russell’s History about Thales, in order to confound his critics, cornering the market in olive presses one bad year and making a fortune when things picked up the next.

So, we invent the world and tell endless stories about it. Philosophers have surely been in the habit of making up stories about the world and our perception of it for centuries; I think that everything they have said, the whole story, is worthy of contemplation. Is not philosophy about narrative—a fascinating narrative that goes on and on about things as they supposedly are, as though we are driving towards a single certain answer to everything?

Ouspensky had already established himself with New Model of the Universe etc; he was pretty soon kicked out by G who regarded him as lost in intellect.

H: Gurdjieff is full of stories, which though very charming, it seems to me, really don’t add up to very much. His recognition, or more accurately his depiction, of the limitations of our ability to sustain concentration, is worthy enough, but the solutions or indications of curative measures are less worthy.

M: The thing about stories, of course, is that they require unpicking. They are good teaching mechanisms. Three ‘stories’ in Meetings with Remarkable Men leap to mind: the one about the Yezidi boy trapped in his circle which says much about the human condition.

H: Surely the boy trapped in his circle, as a story about the human condition, is just not very interesting or profound. Why tell a story, the ‘significance’ of which some readers might miss? Why fart about with literary pretensions, innuendo, and autobiographical sludge, if there are genuine ideas to be aired? So far, Gurdjieff fails to impress me. He is not, as I believe you suggested, a minor league philosopher; he is not a philosopher. You will not find a mainstream philosophy book with his name in the index. Gurdjieff belongs in that fine old but much neglected discipline, philosophical psychology.

M: I wonder what circle you are trapped in…

Well, anyway, then there’s the account of Gurdjieff’s first awareness of the discipline of ‘self-remembering’ which provides a way to get to a different level of Consciousness—one perhaps of what you call the ‘solutions’ to sustain concentration; after which there’s the profoundly relevant difference between Brother Ahl and Brother Sez.

…These brethren have voluntarily undertaken the obligation of periodically visiting all the monasteries of our order and explaining various aspects of the essence of divinity. Our order has four monasteries, one of them ours, the second in the valley of the Pamir, the third in Tibet and the fourth in India. And so these brethren, Ahl and Sez, constantly travel from one monastery to another and preach there.

They come to us twice a year. Their arrival at our monastery is considered among us a very great event. On the days when either of them is here, the soul of every one of us experiences pure heavenly pleasure and tenderness. The sermons of these two brethren, who are to an almost equal degree holy men and who speak the same truths, have nevertheless a different effect on all our brethren…

When Brother Sez speaks it is indeed like the song of the birds in Paradise; from what he says one is quite, so to say, turned inside out; one becomes as though entranced. His speech purls like a stream and one no longer wishes anything else in life but to listen to the voice of Brother Sez. But Brother Ahl’s speech has almost the opposite effect. He speaks badly and indistinctly, evidently because of his age. No one knows how old he is. Brother Sez is also very old, but he is still a hale old man, whereas in Brother Ahl the weakness of old age is clearly evident.

The stronger the impression made at the moment by the words of Brother Sez, the more this impression evaporates until there ultimately remains in the hearer nothing at all. But in the case of Brother Ahl, although at first what he says makes almost no impression, later, the gist of it takes on definite form, more and more each day, and is instilled as a whole into the heart and remains there forever.

When we became aware of this and began trying to discover why it was so, we came to the unanimous conclusion that the sermons of Brother Sez proceeded only from his mind and therefore acted on our minds, whereas those of Brother Ahl proceeded from his being and acted on our being.

Yes, professor, knowledge and understanding are quite different. Only understanding can lead us to being whereas knowledge is but a passing presence in it.

You may describe these stories as ‘charming’ but they are surely not merely so—to have any impact I suppose a story intended to ‘teach’ would have to be charming in order to pace the listeners into thinking.

You Sez, me Ahl…

H: I think the problem with ‘disciples’ is the loss of critical detachment: a commitment to a theory, particularly if it is personified in a single and mysterious cult-like individual gradually replaces ‘the search for truth’. The search for truth however, especially when followers spell it with a capital T, is very often the first casualty of loyalty and commitment to a particular theory.

M: Of course—it’s called ‘loss of self through identification’. Imagining that I’d find like-minded thinkers, I subscribed to a 4th Way Internet Site for 18 months up to about May 2009 which turned out to be full of people completely lost in uncritical adulation of, identification with, Gurdjieff; they took great delight in telling me I could know nothing about the 4th Way because I’d never been in a group whose leader had been taught by somebody who’d been taught by Gurdjieff. I refrained from indicating my disbelief but learnt a lot about the G dictum which says that one should learn to put up with the unpleasantness of others and also to note well that others are a reflection of our self—how, in contemplating others, we can only project our own ways of being on to other people: ‘Notice what you say about other people and realise that you are talking about yourself…’

There’s no cult-loyalty in me unless you count the considerable practical wisdom I find in Nicoll’s Commentaries. I’ve worked quite hard for 30 years to piece together for myself the elements of the 4th Way and found that the fragments gradually all begin to connect up.

Of course I understand that ‘…loyalty and commitment to a particular theory…’ whatever it might be, any theory at all, philosophical, political, religious will always result in identification and loss of individuality, in self-forgetting. A commitment to the linguistic analysis mode of philosophy is as much an identification as anything else. Loss of self in identification is a key belief in the 4th Way. The solution is always to practise disidentifying in order to achieve at least a modicum of self-remembering, of deliberate return to the presence of the ticking clock and the humming computer and so on.

H: Consider millenarian cults, or those that end with mass suicide, or the numerous whacky conspiracy theories, or the New Age spiritual nutters with their Tarot readings, psychic healing, druidic paganism and so on. Loyalty and commitment are no criteria of truth. Nor is belief. Psychological certainty about p, cannot guarantee that p is the case. It was never true that the Earth was flat.

M: ‘Loyalty and commitment are no criteria of truth. Nor is belief…’ Of course. But, since everything has to go through the sieve labelled ‘belief’ in the end, where does that get us?

H: The ‘sieve of belief’. My point here, psychological certainty, was that the having of a belief does not entail its truth. We hold false beliefs with just as much certainty about their truth, as we do true beliefs.

M: My point entirely…

H: I don’t know whether nonsense is on the increase, or whether it is simply communicated more effectively, but there seems to be rather a lot of it about. And this at a time when science, with its method of conjecture, viability and falsification of theory is presenting such an astonishing, and increasingly inter-theoretic picture of the world.

M: Doubtless the instant ‘communication’ associated with e-gadgetry is responsible for a lot of the trash that is knocking about. One current educational plan is to give kids lessons in how to distinguish fact from fiction and/or conspiracies—but since the conventional ‘wisdom’ of the Power Possessors is to peddle a conspiracy of anti-intellectualism I can’t see those lessons getting very far—either in being mounted or in having an effect. The idea that science is eventually going to provide us with cast-iron certainty about, say, the gap between ‘mental states’ and ‘brain functions’ is as much a bit of mystical nonsense, faith or arbitrary conjecture, as any other New Age fad. Since it rules it out to start with, on the principle of Eliminativism, how will science , for instance account for things labelled ‘subjective’—what you can’t account for is simply eliminated from investigation. For example, all forms of materialism are eliminativist about the soul. When you decide that it doesn’t exist then you don’t think it needs explaining: desires, hopes, longings and so on are dismissed as just ‘folk psychology’… Neuronal process, it seems, for the philosopher, exceptionally pure in body and mind, is a neat and tidy electro-chemical dash for sanitised order.

‘Consciousness’ of what an experience is like is always consciousness of what it is like for the self. Will the neuro-scientist ever discover otherwise? Strikes me that the materialist pins its hopes on something being discovered that will give insight into the physical basis of the human-thing. But what if it discovers that everything is ‘spirit’? What then? Science has ignored subjectivity in favour of what can be measured and tested. But individual subjective ‘Consciousness’ is a very slippery a customer for it. How will it ever discover the basis of what it chooses to ignore?

Any belief contrary to one’s own seems unbelievable nonsense, fantastic even, simply because one’s ‘consciousness’ has not been shaped by it, which is not to say anything about the shape itself. Obviously, without doubt, some kind of reality check is needed to rule out the belief in flat earthness etc.

H: Much of the current nonsense it seems to me is built upon the collective credulity of the novelty culture, and in particular of the materially disenfranchised and the alienated needy, intent upon a quick solution and a spiritual home. I suppose it will always be the case that there will be quacks, pretentious pontiffs of their own faiths and those in pursuit of power over the gullible, who will find a niche where reason is not welcome.

M: No problem except to say, of course, that I do not find my own beliefs amongst the ‘current nonsense’. As Professor Joad used to say, it all depends what you mean by… ‘reason’, for instance.

H: I enjoyed our brief natter on things theoretical. I think we have much in common, you and I, and it is a pity we did not meet up years ago. Old bods in decline are pitiful in that they have become mere echoes of more rigorous dead selves, or have lost their intellectual roots entirely and are in metaphysical free-fall towards the chaos of final moments.

M: Old bod I may be but I do not find myself in ‘metaphysical free-fall’ and not really much in decline at all! I never was rigorous except in being rigorously unrigorous. In this connection, see Room Three, pages 72 – 78.

And then…

H: I think that what you said about Dennett’s ‘homuncular decomposition’, the mind consisting of sub-systems, each one a kind of homunculus who performs discrete functions with intentionality with sub-systems of sub-systems on and on down to some simple-minded homunculus who just throws switches in a machine-like way without intentionality, far from clarifying matters, just drops you deeper into problems and does nothing to rectify or even address the logical contradiction in the very notion of Multiple-I’s. Dennett will not bail you out. In fact, he would probably be in the first crush of philosophers of mind queueing up to debunk such a theory. I suspect that will cheer you up immediately.

M: I’m not looking to Dennett to ‘bail me out’.  Sometime or another, writing about intentionality, he describes human-beings as having

•    a physical stance—appreciation of the way things work
•    a design stance—understanding the function of things
•    an intentional stance—beliefs, desires & so on.

Which ‘stance’ to adopt depends on context. ‘We regard ourselves as intentional systems because that is the most practical way of dealing with ourselves and each other, of explaining and predicting our behaviour. There is nothing more to it than that…’ Intentionality, it seems, is a useful instrument or tool for understanding behaviour but it’s not descriptive of anything that exists independently of our purposes & interests.

About homuncular decomposition, he does seem to suggest that it is useful to regard minds as consisting of a number of sub-systems each of which performs discrete functions with intentionality. Then there are sub-systems of sub-systems and so on down to simple-minded homunculi who simply throw switches in a machine-like way without intentionality. A machine has no intelligence & therefore no intentionality other than what we project into it.

It’s at least arguable that ‘stances’ could be called, at least pro tem, something like an I-system. I’m not saying that’s what Dennett is saying. ‘Stances’, ‘states’, ‘I’s—just ways of addressing what goes on in the brain/body system. It just seemed that when he was writing about stances he might, in my terms, just as well have been discussing Multiple-I’s. That’s all. I don’t need a bail-out but I do find it interesting when psychologists and philosophers seem to be talking about the same thing choose to use their own nomenclature without cross-referencing.

H: Homunculus decomposition. There seems to be some confusion here with Dennett’s views. Elements, or at least implications of a homunculus model are to be found in Locke. Classically the model arose from problems in perceptual knowledge, notably in realist theories where secondary qualities required some inner verifying process. Hence, the little man who sat inside the head checking the veracity of sense impressions. The model, in all its wonderfully crude simplicity, is standardly presented to first year undergraduates as a fine example of a solution that replicates the problem—an infinite regress that does not explain anything at all: a regress of homunculi each at the shoulder of homunculus in front, passing judgement on its findings but being judged in exactly the same way by the homunculus behind. Dennett himself in his first book makes just this point.

M: I wouldn’t ever claim to be anything other than a first year undergraduate…

H: However, computational theories of mind which grew out of Artificial Intelligence (and there is a parallel to some extent in the rather different ‘bottom up’ biological theories) took up the idea of functional homunculi components. Behavioural mindedness (and ultimately consciousness) could be replicated by a silicon based computer, that proceeded from the simplest one job components, through higher order layers of increasingly multitask components entirely dependent on their simpler lower level brothers, to the final collective state of belief acquisition. An analogy close to your home might be a motorbike. An inanimate heap of components, tyres, brake cable, spark plugs etc, completely lacking in autonomous movement, but when assembled in precisely the right relations to each other, are collectively capable of speed. There is no ‘inner spirit’ that drives a motorbike, it’s mundane but clever engineering. (Though who knows, maybe, somewhere in some forgotten corner of the Nevada Dessert, the inbred remnants of 60′s acid head bikers pray to the dead machines of their dead forefathers for a magical sign of inner life, while all along they had lost the notion of petrol). But no single biological or AI silicon component has the status of a self conscious ‘I’, any more than a break cable can claim it’s a motorbike.

Dennett, though critical of AI models nevertheless picks up the idea of functional reductivity from complex whole to increasingly simple parts, to produce an argument attempting to show that classical homunculus models of explanation could avoid the infinite regress problem. It is an example of logical dexterity rather than an example of a multi-I theory.

M: ‘Right you are if you think so…’ (Pirandello)

Maybe this is the ‘stance’ thing I referred to earlier? Dennett’s ‘logical dexterity’ is a ‘stance’, one of many it’s possible to adopt? What Dennett’s referring to is certainly not an example of Multiple-I theory but it seems akin to it; it might map across. Anyway, for me, AI is a dead duck. Intelligence, however one defines it, is a throbbing, living thing. Whilst, in a manner of speaking, I ‘love’ my motorbike it was too bloody thick to stop me falling off it last year.

H: Clearly, any philosopher such as Dennett, who is committed to a biological explanation of consciousness—that is, a materialist theory of mind, and not some Cartesian immaterial soul stuff, has to indicate and explain the intricate material structures that result in consciousness, even when such explanations do not square with our latent dualist preferences. Dennett’s ideas and models of explanation are highly controversial of course, and he is by no means a spokesman for philosophers who specialise in mind.

I have to say that there is a logical, semantic and ontological difference between your (or Gurdjieff’s) notion of Multiple-I’s and the complex of simple and singular biological components that are structured into the working brain. You treat ‘I’ as an entity distinct from its components, and then fragment it, reifying each fragment by equating or postulating an ‘I’ for every conscious function or point of view. It looks like a complete mess and generates more problems than solutions. For example, might it not imply the qualitative problem that those who suffer from any form of mental impairment that limits their emotional or conceptual capacity, have less ‘I’s than those who have a well-oiled brain?

M: For me, the ‘mess’ is what is there until one begins to notice that a single unified ‘I’ is not at all useful for thinking about things. Take the statement that might be made by somebody who attends a Change Management course (a misguided individual you might say…): ‘I want to change myself… I want to change the way I behave…’ You, Herbert, might not wish to change anything in your behaviour but the thing is that a single unified ‘I’ will never be able to change. Far from being distinct from its components the imagined single unified ‘I’ is well and truly locked into a behavioural system complete with a set of habits from which it cannot extract itself by itself. The question I would always ask of anybody who does express a desire for change is ‘Which ‘I’, which part of you, wants to make a change and, more importantly, what will the other parts of you (your other ‘I’s) have to say about that?’ The example I often use is of a person who makes a New Year resolution; it never works out because the ‘I’ that makes the resolution does not, as it were, consult the ‘I’s that run the offending behaviour; the ‘I’ that might be responsible for carrying out the resolution has not acquired the ‘right’ strategies. The ‘I’ that might have made sure that the resolution became effective doesn’t tsand a chance. And so there is inside you a mess of unexamined stresses and indecisions.

It’s not myself with this Multiple-I hangup that does the fragmenting: we are already fragments, bits and pieces of being, but we don’t recognise it, imagining that we are fully realised single unified ‘I’s. One has only to do an experiential check to understand our fragmentariness.

‘I’ to the nth is not a thing. It’s just a way of marking a fragment of behaviour.

H: I think all philosophers would throw that idea out …

M: So much for philosophers… But what about Fichte, William James, GHMead?

H: …particularly where an impaired individual correctly used the word ‘I’ to denote himself.

M: No individual uses the word ‘I’ correctly when they imagine that it refers to a single unified something or other—a ‘me’ whole and complete even if ‘impaired’ in some other way.

I think you impute to me a belief I do not hold and then tell me that I am wrong to hold it.

H: You inherit a numerical problem (along with the Buddhists) to identify, enumerate, and explain the function of so many ‘I’s. You need to explain the point of your model and why consciousness as Gurdjieffians see it is so set against the interests of man.

M: Practically, it’s quite easy to extract from an individual the ‘I’s that come up in relation to a particular issue, to get them first to acknowledge what might be relevant and then discover for themselves what other parts of their being might also figure, eventually to uncover an ‘I’ that might be considerably more resourceful in given circumstances. There’s absolutely no need to enumerate all 555 million ‘I’s in one go—that way would certainly lead to ‘mess’… From practical experience, there’s always the likelihood of other, previously hidden, ‘I’s jumping up and down for recognition and acknowledgement. Here I am of course simply using an anthropomorphic mode to which I don’t really subscribe: it’s just a story.

H: Might it not be another version of original sin?

M: I don’t at all see how. Not having had a catholic upbringing, as you have, I find it impossible to recognise the concept.

H: The crux of the difficulty seems to me to be that the theory has no explanatory value whatsoever outside of the story it forms part of.

M: Lost in our stories, the extreme difficulty is to imagine that we are a composite whole; that when I say ‘I’ I’m indicating a belief that the whole of my being can be deemed to go along with whatever I say; this explains why, when one part of us wishes to do things one way, we are confused when another part of us wants something quite other. ‘On the other hand…’ ‘Wearing a different hat…’ ‘I was beside myself with rage…’ cues for wondering what the one hand is thinking, what the other hats conceal, what the ‘myself’ is feeling.

H: You have lots of ‘I’s connected for the necessity of personal continuity by an over-arching ‘I’ which is no different from what philosophers and non-philosophers mean by ‘I’.

M: Quite so! We have lots of ‘I’s—but in normal circumstances they exist in a personal discontinuity. The Over-arching-I is what I call Meta-I—an ‘I’ that can stand outside all the other ‘I’s and shuffle them into some kind of order. Meta-I is quite a different animal from all the other ‘I’s; not at the top of a hierarchy but capable of standing on the other side of the room to contemplate ‘I’s that manifest themselves elsewhere. That’s not at all what ‘philosophers and non-philosophers mean by ‘I’…’ I’d suggest for the moment that they mean single Unified-I—the ‘I’ that ‘I’ might use when ‘I’ am not being scrupulously precise in depicting what ‘I’ mean by the practical effect of thinking in Multiple-I terms.

H: You have to show how your over-arching ‘I’ differs from the ‘I’ of ordinary language and understanding. It seems to me that this needless multiplication of entities doesn’t explain anything at all, (worse than explanatory homunculi, in fact) but just forms part of a metaphysical theory of mind that equates such ideas as ‘reality’ and ‘truth’ with a theory-dependent notion of higher or true consciousness. It might easily be regarded by some philosophers as a bit of a 19th century semi-occult Platonic model.

M: That’s a way of seeing it, certainly, if you choose to impose a set of ideal Forms on what are purely functional counters. Ordinary, everyday, unified-I (what you call ‘the ‘I’ of ordinary language’) is in fact a Platonic idealised entity, an abstraction, an aspirational construction which gets lost in events through being identified with the 10,000 things during the course of a day. This leads to self-forgetting. Meta-I can be brought into play by a deliberate act of self-remembering—‘this is me looking at things from a distance’ or even suddenly focussing on the ticking of the clock and the hum of the computer; it can be made capable of standing outside oneself to inspect all the other ‘I’s from a distance. Nothing to do with Plato; not an idealised Form of an ‘I’—far from it.

H: There are ways out of these problems of course. Perhaps the simplest is to junk reified ‘I’s completely, and just refer to states and their capacities. We already possess a rich descriptive, evocative, and empathetic language to convey states of being, states of consciousness; why try to invent another?

M: Philosophers and psychologists constantly invent their own nomenclature. In this case, ‘I’ is a way of tagging action in contrast to ‘state’ which is simply a wishy-washy conglomerate abstraction. Within one state of being there’s almost sure to be many ‘I’s for a start. How does one establish the precise nature of a state, wishy-washy thing that it is? Then there’s the question—How to effect a move from one state to another? Impossible without deconstructing the ‘state’ into its component parts.

For example, just consider the state of ‘being beside oneself with rage’: there’s an ‘I’ that gets quite a kick out of being in a rage—Raging-I feels quite at home in familiar territory; but Feeling-ashamed-of-itself-I has a sense that the state of rage really should be brought to an end; Making-an-end-of-rage-I is stifled when Unified-I says it’s angry; Responding-to-further-anger-stimuli-I keeps things on the boil; Leave-me-to-it-I shouts louder; Listening-to-oneself-I is impotent to do anything; Feeling-a-fool-I leaves a nasty taste for the rest of the day. And so on. A single ‘state’ is a compound of so many conflicting ‘I’s. ‘I’s are simply tags for bits of behaviour that would otherwise collapse hopelessly into one another. In this case one could ask: “What would your Creative-I do to get out of this fix?” or something of that sort. State-busting-I might take a hand. Happy-being-in-a-rage-I would say, “Get knotted!” or something of the sort.

That’s why it’s so inadequate to deal in ‘states’.

H: Another thing worth junking is that dictum of Bennett’s, something about the best laid plans going wrong—something like that. That simply justifies the second rate. If you are writing a book intended for a readership, strive for perfection. I am again aware that this is a bloody long email. I have lots of questions to raise but I’ll shelve them.

M: The Bennett dictum has nothing to do with ‘best laid plans’—that’s a complete misinterpretation, if I might say so; nor does it have to do with justifying the second rate; it records that ‘anything too neatly organised sows the seeds of its own destruction’ on the basis that a theory that’s too watertight precludes other possibilities, is not flexible enough to accommodate whatever comes up next; it leads to a state of mental smugness. The search for Perfection, for instance, is likely to end up a gum tree because it aims to sort everything out once and forever; all one can hope for is a set of provisional hypotheses based on a gradual approximation to some kind of actuality, as Bennett also suggests.

A person stuck in the abstraction ‘Perfection’ will find the end in mind impossible to realise because nothing can be perfect. I wonder, sotto voce, if this is what’s happened to your own elaborate plans to move out of your untidy bachelor hovel into a thatched idyll by the seaside complete with housewife.

There may be Perfection in the Platonic sphere and one who chases it is surely a Platonist but there is no such thing as perfection where I’m standing. Also I have to say that in my first year undergraduate construction of ‘philosophy’ what it certainly doesn’t do is to ‘junk’ anything; rather it seeks some kind of ‘wisdom’ of which there might well be many definitions both practical and airy-fairy.

A book I’ll maybe write sometime about the abstraction ‘consciousness’ will be a free-wheeling ramble around a set of possibilities, an essaie in the original sense of the word—taking a stab at something which seems to me to be all one can hope for in this vale of tears—rather than striving for Perfection!.

Our notions of ‘philosophy’ may well be completely at variance. Being only of first year undergraduate status my view is probably pretty impoverished.

M: I came across this just yesterday in John Middleton Murry’s Heaven and Earth where he’s writing about Montaigne:-

He had discovered a profound philosophy, and in his book we watch him taking complete possession of it, or it of him. As his book grows so does he, degree by degree, trait by trait, he comes under the lucid scrutiny of his own increasing awareness, What is happening he knows well, far better than most of those who have sought to expound his philosophy. The philosophy of a man who understands by the word philosophy the seeking of wisdom is always elusive to those for whom the word means a systematic doctrine. They look down upon Montaigne as an amateur; they do not notice that he is smiling at them as professionals. It seems to them that he cannot be really serious when he says: — ‘What is my life really like? I only get hold of it after it’s been exploited and used: I want the essential me—philosopher, unpremeditated, not just guessed at….’ He must be taking the name of philosopher in vain.

But not at all. He is serious, while he smiles; he is serious, because he smiles. He is establishing… a solid and unsuspected claim to have climbed to the very pinnacle of philosophy, to have become a man so imbued and pervaded with awareness that he can put reason in its own subordinate place without having to invoke the aid of faith, if by faith is meant something different in nature from experience. He is become a man, who knows he is only a man, and is content; because the knowledge is of such a kind that it fills him with happiness. And that, for Montaigne, is the end of all philosophy, if philosophy would but know it.

Far be it for me to compare myself with Montaigne (whom I find delightful) but this passage got inside me and rang bells which is a common experience when I’m reading—when I find something ringing bells I wonder what bells it rings. Here, the bells rang out in relation to what you wrote—something about my amateurism up against your professionalism, I suppose.

H: The quote from Montaigne, rather lyrical, rather loose, says much more about the vanity of Murry than it does the sceptical Montaigne. The language is self-indulgent, emotive, not descriptive, and (not even between the lines) it peddles a distorted view of philosophy, and worse, an inflated view of the writer, and his ability to see in Montaigne, his fellow traveller, the true nature of wisdom. Perhaps Murry is a failed philosopher? Or at the very least a failed historian. The social and religious climate in France, the tension between Catholicism and Protestantism, and Montaigne’s view that faith and not reason ( against a still strongly influential climate of Aristotelianism in theology) should form the basis of religion, brought him into conflict with many theologians, anti-humanist philosophers, and those who jostled for power in the church. Philosophy at the time, as much perhaps as theology, was awash with division. The rise of humanism was challenging the authority of the church and the church’s thousand year influence on both the content and methods of philosophy. The Schoolmen, with their extraordinary skills in logical argument and analysis and their conviction that faith has a rational basis (Aquinas—virtuous faith is an examined faith; it is a hard won faith, but non-virtuous faith or blind faith, is empty) still had great influence, and even Descartes, the ‘father of modern philosophy’ (born three or four years after Montaigne’s death) still shows the extraordinary reach of the Jesuits and their methods of sound reasoning. In contemporary philosophy of course, Montaigne is highly regarded as a key thinker in the rise of humanism, an exemplary essayist, and a philosopher who always merits a mention in any history of European philosophy.

So I think, on the back of that rather nauseating quote from Murry, that the implied inference that Montaigne is on the side of the free thinking amateurs which includes yourself and I suspect Gurdjieff, and is in opposition to the blue meany narrow minded professional philosophers who construct ‘systematic doctrines’ does not really work. It is, as any philosopher would say, an over simplification, and a propaganda stunt. I am always interested to hear, when this old definition of philosophy, ‘ the love or pursuit of wisdom’ is wheeled out, what those who who define it so think it establishes. Not much I think. The first, and often knockout question is; what is, or what is meant by ‘wisdom’? There are a great many answers to such a question, and their selection will often depend upon the autobiographical details of the individual (since most dabblers regard themselves as wise). I think it was Ayer, a prize fighter among philosophers, who first suggested that philosophy ought not to be linked in definition to wisdom in this way because, well, as you might expect, few philosophers can agree on what the nature of wisdom consists of, and further, most people who have the cheek to regard themselves as wise are not philosophers.

M: Poor old Murry…

H: It is worth pointing out in passing, that there are very few systematic doctrines in philosophy any more; they are certainly part of the history of the subject, and are taught as just that, but we no longer have the likes of Kant or Hegel or Aristotle. But systematic doctrines are still to be found in theology and fringe ‘philosophies’. Philosophy these days, apart from its (usually) systematic attempts to explain the nature of things in the repertoire and range of the discipline, is about analysis, and the clarification of or debunking and  falsification of spurious or mistaken doctrines. Hmmm. Consciousness Level 3, The Fourth Way. Looks a bit like the scaffold of Doctrine.

Your next bit—to do with 500 million ‘I’s—is a wonderful bit of nonsense: just work out how long an individual would have to live, at say a new ‘I’ every five seconds to be able to test that claim leaving aside the actual mechanics of the calculation. Honestly, what rubbish! Are you indicating the distinction between the thing in itself (what Kant called the numinous, and which cannot be directly experienced) and our phenomenological representation of the thing? The old problem of appearance and reality has a very long history and some quite ingenious attempts to solve, and dissolve the problem. I quite like Berkeley’s ‘solution’, which would appeal to many Buddhists, but I’m not sure a Buddhist with the baggage of 500 million ‘I’s would appeal to Berkeley. Like Berkeley, a radical reductivist, looking for simplicity and elegance in explanation, I cannot see the point in postulating a whole cluster of ‘I’s if nothing is explained by it.

M: Well, yes, that would be pointless. In my Ahlish way I think I may have been trying to point out the practical implications.

H: My natural scepticism is always suspicious of anything that looks like Doctrine, be it systematic and deductive or confused and illogical. Much of what you say is, well, obvious really. But some not so. What for example do you mean when you say there is an infinity of types of conscious moments? This is either a platitude, or a substantial claim. Do you mean a) there is an infinity of types of consciousness, or b) an infinity of moments. b) is clearly false since we all die, and the period between birth and death is finite. If you mean a) then it just seems to me to be meaningless unless you can flesh it out, bring it down to earth. Otherwise there really is no point in pursuing this.

M: There is probably no point in pursuing this, anyway. There’s a whole lifetime of difference. However, here I observe that I used the word ‘infinity’ in a disgracefully loose kind of way, enabling you to make the relatively trite comment that life is finite. Conscious moments, of which there is a rather large multitude during the course of a single finite life, can be depicted in a variety of ways: a moment can be made up of what Gurdjieff calls ‘pure impressions’ a notion which needs to be worked on; there can be moments when one focusses on intellectual apprehension; most moments come with some sort of emotional colouring (Finesmith 1959: psychogalvanic skin responses to the speaking of nonsense syllables); some moments are mind-created or imaginative, the result of Internal Considering; there are moments of fantasy; memorialising moments; asleep moments; awake moments; and so on.

H: I do wonder a little at your preference for including quoted passages. Is it to bring clarity? (Incidentally, this is the main reason why Room One is unpublishable: there are roughly 120 pages of quoted passages, some of them way too long. That is about half the book length. No publisher would touch that. Even Colin Wilson, an enthusiast of the quotes method, used to get beaten up by his editors and was constantly forced to strip out the unnecessary, and the over-long).

Russell has some great stories, and perhaps he would disagree, as would Chomsky, or Sartre, or even Mary Warnock with the view that philosophy has or maybe has nothing to do with practical activities. Possibly political philosophy, but certainly ethics, is the most important and life altering subject there is.

M: The Russell story about Thales was intended to emphasise the practical nature of philosophy…

H: Eliminativism (or eliminative materialism to give it its full title) is actually quite a deep and radically challenging theory and I’m surprised you are so dismissive of it. Maybe you’re not overly familiar with it, but it is certainly not the flat one dimensional theory you seem to indicate. Materialists do not deny the existence of consciousness and its wide ranging features—beliefs, attitudes, hopes, musings etc. Materialists live in exactly the same world as spiritualists, and experience the same things. They simply (as a starting point) disagree about the ways in which experience is classified. They have a different, but nascent set of explanations for the ways in which we make sense of and account for the nature and structure of what it is to be a subjective entity in an objective world. The narrative of self-hood they want to argue, is essentially social in origin. That is, the story of who we are, and how we are taught to think not only of ourselves, but of everything around us, is culturally inherited (‘programmed’ is too strong a word) from those who turn us into social beings. What binds people and communities together is shared beliefs. The language we are given, which is the very stuff of thought, not only shapes experience, but provides a particular concept of self. A crude analogy might be the story of the heart. There are echoes in our language of the ways in which the heart was supposed to influence not just our beliefs but our actions too. (Kind hearted, big hearted, hard hearted, heartless, heart felt, half hearted, heart and soul, heart broken etc.) The conceptual scheme surrounding ‘heart’ is wonderfully intricate and woven into our understanding of self identity and what it means to be human, ans is perhaps as old as language itself. The explanation for (heartfelt) action is reified when it gains currency in the cultural norms that surround it.  But it is wrong; it misrepresents us, it misidentifies us, and it offers a parallel story of the intellectual and emotional life of the individual. We can certainly make sense of ourselves and the world with this view of the heart’s influence, but then we can just as easily make sense of the same by linking it to God’s will, or fate, or any other all enveloping causal metaphysic. But such a view is wrong, and it is the biological sciences that have penetrated the fog of ‘folk psychology’ more than anything else. Eliminativists want to argue, and it certainly is an iffy argument, that just as we have eliminated ‘demonic possession’, heart-strings, (possibly free will) and other conceptual ghosts from the explanation of human action, so too will we eventually eliminate a wide range of inner psychic referents as explanations also. Dreams, desires, disappointments etc are not objects but processes. Its an ongoing story, the slow building of eliminativism, but quite a gripping philosophical detective story and I would love to see just what shape eliminative materialism is in one hundred years from now.

‘The idea that science is eventually going to provide us with cast iron certainty……….’ I agree, nonsense. But nonsense because science does not deal in cast iron certainties. Science deals in empirically grounded explanation, but it is driven by sceptical curiosity. Science is simply the desire to find out why or how something is what it is or does what it does. No more then that, and it is carried out by people like you and I. The popular view of science, as some monstrous machine intent upon leaching the vital juices from life, is put about by those who do not understand science. As I used to tell my students during the first week of a course, just as there is nothing on this planet that cannot form the subject of a philosophical enquiry, so too there is nothing that cannot form the subject of a scientific enquiry. There is no a priori reason that precludes consciousness (and neuroscientists too introspect just like everyone else) from being the subject of scientific enquiry. We have found out more about the brain and its conscious states these past thirty years than the rest of human history put together. But I agree, there are formidable conceptual as well as empirical obstacles in the quest for consciousness. ( I always used to quiz theologians, who professed God’s omniscience, an omniscience that could see into and occupy my mind and its thoughts—how was it that God could experience my doubts, my confusion, my ignorance, while retaining omniscience, and his own discrete identity.) It is not only science that shares this problem, but every person on this planet. It is the ontological category problem  Question: if consciousness is so immune to scientific enquiry and eventual explanation, what is it you are doing when you tell other people about levels of consciousness which may be obtained through such and such exercises? What do you claim to be able to do, to describe, that science cannot? Where do you draw the line between the limitations of science, and an account of mind (500,000,000 + ‘I’s) which is true of everyone—scientists included? These are proper and not rhetorical questions that perhaps you should consider.

I am afraid I do not look up to anyone. I do not follow anyone, and short of a few philosophers and scientists, I do not recognise anyone as an authority. A sceptical loner. (Curiously, since doing some course a decade or so ago, my lady has maintained that I suffer from a mild form of asbergers. I tell her this is nonsense, that I’m cerebral where she is not, (a decade ago my IQ was 159 but now it’s about 90—real age-related deterioration going on) and that she misidentifies critical detachment as emotionless disconnection. She says I do not seem to recognise the taboos and conventions that protect other people’s privacy and dignity and self image. In other words, not very good at empathy. I think she’s wrong. But then I would say that wouldn’t I?

M: Regarding the Quotation Habit, I happen to have found it interesting down the years to use quotations as a stimulus to thinking about the continuing conversation of humanunkind. I once wrote an essay while in Teacher Training College on Moby Dick that consisted entirely of quotations. I did this after reflecting on something Hans Keller on the 3rd Programme advocated—viz musical criticism solely by extracts of music. The listener had to have an ear agile enough to recognise repetition and variation of themes etc. This was before the time when announcers were able to think of nothing more illuminating to talk about than the colour of a conductor’s socks.

Along with Charles Fort (the original man 1930-ish not the crap popularisers of today) it strikes me that anything that human beings have said or thought or experienced is worthy of serious human consideration.

Otherwise I’m not into self-justification…

Except to say that it matters not a scrap to me that Room One has 120 pages of quotations in it —in fact part of the point of the book as explained therein was to make a personal expedition into books in my library which played some part in forming who & what I imagine I am. As I’ve said before I have no intention to get any of the ROOM series (or anything else come to that, novels, poems, haiku) ‘properly’ published—it is enough for me that far-flung friends & close relations read them & find them, let’s say, interesting. Apart from that it’s just, for what it’s worth, setting my house in order.

I’m currently reading Antonio Damasio’s Descartes Error. Getting to page 87 I came across this:-

In the discussion ahead there are many references to ‘body states’ and ‘mind states’. Living organisms are changing continuously, assuming a succession of ‘states’, each defined by varied patterns of ongoing activity in all of its components. You might picture this as a composite of the actions of a slew of people and objects operating within a circumscribed area. Imagine yourself in a large airport terminal, looking around, inside and outside. You see and hear the constant bustle from many different systems: people boarding or leaving aircraft, or just sitting or standing; people strolling or walking by with seeming purpose; planes taxiing, taking off, landing; mechanics and baggage handlers going about their business. Now imagine that you freeze the frame of this ongoing video or that you take a wide-angle snapshot of the entire scene. What you get in the frozen frame or in the still snapshot is the image of a state, an artificial, momentary slice of life, indicating what was going on in the various organs of a vast organism during the time window defined by the camera’s shutter speed. (In reality, things are a bit more complicated than this. Depending on the scale of analysis, the states of organisms may be discrete units or merge continuously.)

You seemed to be saying that ‘states of being’ were OK concepts whereas Multiple-I’s were some kind of mumbo-jumbo. Just to find out where it would get me, I decided to capture a ‘state of being’ for myself. States of being are generally construed as somehow belonging to oneself.

My belief (far from being slavishly after Gurdjieff who never shows how to use the idea—it’s just where I got the idea from) is that there can be no progress, no resolution to ‘problem states’ while we still think of ourselves as single Unified-I. We habitually attach Unified-I to everything we do/think/feel. We are conditioned to do this because an apparently unified ‘I’ is the subject of all the verbs we use to describe our own behaviour. Changing the behaviour of one part of ourselves (one ‘I’) is a waste of time when we don’t take other ‘I’s into account. This of course is of no account if one is always happy with the way one behaves.

States of being are really interesting in terms of a ‘stream of consciousness’ but provide no way forward; they are stuck in time and place.

To release its many elements into some kind of functional usefulness, to promote a slightly more resourceful living of life, should one wish to do that, ‘a state of being’ has to be analysed somehow—it’s a conglomerate of observations, thoughts, recollections, moods and ratiocinations (etc); it’s interesting, if nothing else, to see how this works out in terms of Multiple-I’s. The analysis generates possibilities for subsequent action and thinking and feeling.

So, following Damasio and for my own amusement, I sat down last night and took a Snapshot at one moment of a mind/body state… ‘Snapshot’ an impossibility—more like a brief video loop—something that keeps on going back in on itself like a Robbe-Grillet novel—round and round a mark on the wall as in Jealousy… A state of being is a complex. It’s not long after sunset on a Sunday evening in October. The sky has cleared so that it has returned to the cloudlessness that was there at sunrise. Through midday cloud had gathered. I have lit a fire and a log sinks down on the coals. A feeling of body-mind contentment steels over me. Not happiness—contentment, full of content… An interim moment between action in relation to a journal I edit for which in this month I have to process daily showers of emails from all over the world—between that and sinking back into the book I’m reading knowing that what I read there will cause me to reach for pen and notebook from time to time. The very phrase ‘Autumn Sunday evenings’ provides a warm reminder of things I used to do on such occasions in the past which ministers to my state of being: coming home after a cycle ride in the fifties, bringing a girl home to tea whose presence was not at all welcome to my mother—momentary recollection of adolescent anguish & incomprehension—walking with the same girl in various romantic venues—same mixture of warmth & anguish—my mother whom I blamed for causing the anguish now dead and unanswerable to anything I might have to say, which I wouldn’t either then or now sixty years later. My ex-father-in-law comes to mind who used to say that he was always miserable on Sunday evenings because of some familial religious observances in his youth. All of this enters into my state of being and the feeling of contentment is a little affected by the memories; but I can re-establish it by thinking of a little garden I had dug for myself in an alleyway which I often used to tend on Sunday afternoons. And now I go into Monday, anticipating a journey by train to Colchester where I shall play music for an hour or so; I feel at home with this idea. I will have to prepare scores in the morning, leaving everything till the last minute which is my usual pattern. Things always seem to get done that way. Once on Sunday evenings it was preparing lessons for the following week. Right now I wonder what music to put on the gramophone for the evening and it’s time for crumpets. All this of course takes place much more quickly than the time it takes to write it all down—it’s a composite, memories, wonderings, immediate responses to things. Much of my state of being is left out. How does one move from this complex to another one? What is it that moves? It’s not the state that moves for whatever state of being I go into next will be complexly different; it will all just flow. The general feeling of contentment persists into the evening with a piece of music I’d forgotten I had—Qunikio Hashimoto’s 1st Symphony; it’s been a long-time habit to buy records of things totally unknown to me—one of the joys of going into a record shop & chancing your arm. Big ginger cat on my lap looking into my eyes. Hip pain at a low ebb. The warmth of the fire. All this is my state of being. How to manage ‘state’? Can’t be done as a whole; all the bits keep shifting around. What are the bits? Transient connections between neurons in different parcels across the brain responding to remembered items, sudden shifts of images, different bits of the story I tell myself. My being is dependent on images & stories. The bits keep shifting: bit 1 is, as it were, contented; bit 2 is a crick in the neck which I solve by changing my position; bit 3 remembers ancient Sundays in Autumn; bit 4 responds to the music that’s playing; bit 5 squints at cat on lap; bit 6 looks to see if another log’s needed. Rather than call them bits or sub-states, I’ll them parts of me or, since it’s all just words, meaningless squiggles and sounds which we interpret, separate Multiple-I’s. So long as you know I’m not talking about a ghost or two in my machine, or a congregation of homunculi, so long as you know that I do not intend reification but simply aim to tag the bits of my experience somehow to tie them back to a functional concept there need be no scrap. Within my ‘state of being’ which it’s taken me the length of a football match, including interval, to depict, to construct as a composite whole, in my terms there has been quite a variety of ‘I’s jostling for attention. When marshaled into some kind of order, these ‘I’s enable me to manage my ‘state’ which, in itself, is all over the place. in this case, it really doesn’t matter that it’s all over the place because what over-arches it is Being-contented-I. In a situation where ‘I’ was being driven into a state of exasperation (for instance), choosing to be driven thus, I might not wish to be in Exasperated-I and a quick cataloguing of the ‘I’s I was going through would enable me to re-establish Being-in-equanimity-I or Being-indifferent-I or whatever else came up. From experience, there does seem to be an ‘I’ that can generally manage I-ness by contrast with trying to poke its finger into a ‘state of being’ which is more or less unmanageable because of its complexity—one might even call its stream of consciousness a ‘mess’. But I’m not in Exasperated-I right now though I could easily get there by contemplating going back to a shop owner who’s done an expensive job for me in completely the wrong way—sufficient unto the day…

I was then inclined to go back over this Sunday-evening-in-October-state and note the ‘I’s Simple-I’d been through. This would be to go into what I find it useful to call ‘Meta-I’, the ‘I’ that can stand back from all the others and take a dispassionate, non-involved, view of things in order to manage the shiftiness of ‘I’s. An Executive-I. In this case, since I am fundamentally in Being-contented-I it will just be a resumé—I’m not aiming to resolve anything, not even to abolish past anguish from which there is an ‘I’ that derives a certain obscure pleasure.

Here are some ‘I’s visited:-

•    Wanting-to-depict-a-relationship-between-Multiple-I’s-and-state-I
•    Getting-a-kick-out-of-the-process-I
•    Taking-a-snapshot-of-a-state-I
•    Realising-the-ultimate-impossibility-of-the-task-I
•    Relishing-ambiguity-I
•    Recalling-Robbe-Grillet-I
•    Defining-state-as-a-complex-I
•    Focussing-on-time-&-place-I
•    Recalling-sunday-evenings-in-October-I
•    Lighting-a-fire-I
•    Tending-a fire-I
•    Sawing-up-logs-I
•    Poised-between-activities-I
•    Sinking-into-a-book-I
•    Reaching-for-pen-&-notebook-I
•    Tracking-back-into-historical-sunday-evenings-I
•    Momentary-identification-with-old-anguish-&-incomprehension-I
•    Remembering-mother-I
•    Re-establishing-contentment-I
•    Anticipating-a-train-journey-I

And so on… The complex I described as a ‘state of being’ can be more usefully broken down into Multiple-I’s. What is the use of it?

•    Realising much more about the intricate make-up of my being, how things overlap and coalesce;
•    Understanding the fleeting nature of untagged states.
•    Noticing more clearly how one moves smoothly, unquestioningly between this & that.
•    Developing the ability to stand back from it all and watch it happening.
•    Recognising patterns in the way I choose to live my life.
•    Becoming more experienced at managing them.

You may call all this codswallop—I expect it is.

H: Of course I don’t think that what you have written is codswallup. Far from it. It is not codswallup; it’s a speculative model of temporal consciousness. A bit cluttered up with reified labels maybe (and is, I have to say, essentially a masculine model, a collector’s model. Sets of ‘I’s ordered and boxed by memory. I could not imagine a woman producing a model so utterly empty of significant content.)

M: A masculine model… utterly empty of significant content…? Ah well…

H: A 100 minutes well spent on the monitoring of moments. A good bit of writing.  And I understand what you are describing perfectly. What I don’t understand, is the significance you attach to your Multiple-I model of self. It is so plainly empty—I’m surprised you cannot see what I see. I may be missing something but what you describe does not produce anything new. You go round in circles, restating the same bits of bad logic, retelling the same story. It reads like an article of faith, a statement of commitment, and not really a critically thought out or empirically grounded theory. I’ve suggested this before.  I guess you need to do more work on your model. I wish you all the best with that. And I do hope you eventually come up with something interesting.

In passing, your claim that your model ‘works’ in conjunction with the ‘exercises’—I suppose as some sort of justification or proof, this does not move an old sceptic like me. By the same token argument, it is possible to ‘justify’ belief in all sorts of myths and fantasies, from angels to demonic possession, alien abduction, faith healing and so on and on and on. Spent some time quite a few years back researching cults and other models of belief. Given a social context, an esteemed peer group, a significance ceremony, and a goal of peer group concord in producing a brand new truth, and people will believe just about any old nonsense. I seem to be forever telling my brother, that conviction is not a criterion of truth but I’m afraid my brother is a classic case of social loner drift into an obscure and eccentric world view. He is dangerously dotty.  He has however, to his merit I suppose, read the entire output of Gurdjieff, Ouspensky and that chap JG Bennett among others. He is as dismissive of my world view as I of his. A distinction he drew between us forty years ago was taken from Alan Watts’ caricatures, ‘goo’ and ‘prickle’. No prizes for guessing which category he assigned me to.

I want to to steer away from a possible misunderstanding: Room One is clearly a valued piece of autobiographical memoir. Clearly it matters to you. People generally do not give copies of their books out to readers if they do not regard the contents as in some way worthy, or are not in some way proud of or pleased with the finished product. Writing something which addresses the reader several times as Room One does, is something written with the reader in mind; the intention is that the book is for other eyes, ‘properly published’ as you say or privately published. My remark about 120 pages of quotations was a truncated way of simply saying that no publisher would touch it because the range of copyrights involved would not make it worth their while. I know from personal experience that editors carry, along with the red pens in their top pockets, a scalpel. So that is all I meant. Room One is a good read, and personally it caused me to dally momentarily with the possibility of re-reading Hesse, and reading Galsworthy for the first time. But, for a man who enjoys the craft of writing, and who takes care over words and the balance of impressions in your poetry, there are, it has to be said, one or two wooden passages in Room One that could so easily be smoothed out. I could draw your attention to them if you wish, but if it matters not a scrap we can leave that issue now. No more talk of Room One from me.

You may have a copy, but if not, I find I have two copies of Lord Jim. You are welcome to one. I read it at school under the tutelage of a most fearsome and austere teacher from Belfast—always suited in a three piece Irish tweed, and flinty steel rimmed glasses bent round his head that furrowed his temples. He beat us with verse until we were numb with the poetry of Yeats. I opened Lord Jim for the first time in over fifty years, and it became immediately clear what a powerful teacher he was. I could instantly recall his exposition and discussion of page one, and how he brought it to life and made it fill the classroom. Astonishing, locked away in a memory store all these years.

M: I suspect that there are many more things about which we would agree than disagree. This ought to be celebrated. But I suspect that there are irreconcilable differences that would make for the building of fortifications and brick walls. I think that you cast me adrift in the same boat as your brother whom you ‘…seem to be forever telling… that conviction is not a criterion of truth…’ Your description of him as ‘…a classic case of social-loner-drift into an obscure and eccentric world view. He is dangerously dotty…’ seems to fit both you and me; it’s unlikely that the conversation of ‘dangerously dotty’ people would make any kind of sense to anybody let alone the ‘dotty people’ themselves.

In spite of appearances, I too think of myself as a sceptic. I remember rating Descartes’ systematic doubt very highly when I was 17 and becoming totally mystified when it came to his not doubting the existence of God from whom I had not long severed myself. I cling to the memory that the word ‘sceptic’ comes from the Greek σκοπομαι meaning to consider something very closely. So when you say ‘…your claim that your model ‘works’ in conjunction with the ‘exercises’—I suppose as some sort of justification or proof—this does not move an old sceptic like me…’ it seems pretty clear to me that you are not a sceptic in the original sense because you do not even ask me what the ‘exercises’ are—what they consist of, how they work… In the modern sense ‘to be sceptical’ is simply to be cynical about the possible truth in anything.

Covey’s 5th Habit of Highly Effective People says ‘Seek first to understand before ever trying to make yourself understood…’ It seems to me that you tell me something that’s more or less obvious (that one needs ‘scientific’ evidence to sustain beliefs) while making assumptions about where I’m coming from by reference to, let’s say, crazy beliefs you’ve come across in the past. You may well be right in this but we’ve got nowhere near a true exchange of ideas yet…

I’ve spent best part of the last forty years trying to make sense of the scattered bits of 4th Way teaching and happen to think that I’ve got somewhere with it as something that ‘works’. You dump me together with what you assume to be my beliefs on the same heap as your brother and Colin Wilson—I have to say that, from the evidence of his writings on the subject, the latter got nowhere near what the 4th Way is all about.

Until I got into NLP I knew no other systematic approach to understanding human experience; all the rest is just bits & pieces. The good thing about the 4th Way is that it is, as Gurdjieff & Ouspensky suggest, not a system, not a body of ideas to which one can subscribe just like that, not a cult, but a set of ideas & ploys that have to be worked on during the process of living. Just like NLP which you claim to ‘know about’, as you claim to know about many other things I mention but from a purely cerebral angle. You admit that you are primarily ‘cerebral’.

I think you said there were just two things: experience and recollections; I agree. I would then go on to ask: “Which experience and which recollections?” And in thinking about that I would say that there’s no such thing as ‘experience’ in the singular and no such thing as ‘recollection’ in the singular—they are both abstractions, meaningless until you fill their barrows with examples of particular experiences and recollections.

I buy into the idea that ‘memory’ is an abstraction: remembering (the verb) is a reconstructive activity. In the same way, ‘experience’ is a meaningless abstraction: experiencing (the verb) is a reconstructive activity. Asked to remember what one was doing on the 20th August 1955 at midday (as I can…), one immediately goes into a reconstructive process. Asked what the content of one’s experience is at this moment, again, reconstruction (of events, thoughts, contexts, pains, excitements) starts up. You can see where this is leading…

Antonio Damasio (distinguished neuroscientist) has the notion of ‘somatic markers’, bits of neuro-biological surges that have attached themselves to patterns of experience we’ve had in the past: each time we recognise a pattern in what we like to think of as ‘the present moment’ a somatic marker is alerted and we go “Ah, yes…” As it might be, in your case, “Here’s somebody who’s been taken over by the Gurdjieff Old Men and has ceased thinking at that point…” or in my case, “Ah yes, here’s somebody who hasn’t yet shaken off the shackles of a Catholic upbringing…” Neither angle may have any basis in existential reality but the ‘somatic markers’ are there. Brain Lancaster (Mind Brain and Human Potential) would maybe be happy to associate his own 1992 notion of ‘I-tags’ with the concept of ‘somatic markers’ and with Multiple-I’s.

A Letter Never Sent (to avoid the Expression of Negative Emotion)

You wish us to continue this conversation ‘live’ with a bottle of wine. I prefer to have time to think. Time for writing.

As against spontaneous chatting on telephone or by the fireside, the advantage of written testimony is that it provides a platform for discussion; the spoken word, whilst providing food for thought, as it has done for us on the telephone, disappears out of the window. One cannot be held to the words that have dissolved into the ether; you cannot check back on what was said, should you wish to. I can see that you prefer the spoken word because it enables you to browbeat an ‘opponent’ who is then forced into self-justification. I don’t do self-justification and so I choose to be crushed into silence. I suppose that would seem like victory to you.

As I have previously noted, one ethical principle I hold to is never to force another person into the traps of self-justification, making accounts and the Expression of Negative Emotion which is why I will not be sending this letter to you. In ordinary circumstances I withdraw when I find myself being trapped into self-justification etc,  key aspects of False personality.

Your sense of ‘conversation’ also seems to be one-way traffic—no room for a response. It’s a bit like a person who writes a ‘closed text’—no room for argument, rather too well organised, all the t’s dotted and i’s crossed—discussion is not intended.

As no doubt you are aware, an ‘open text’ invites the reader to engage in a sort of cloze procedure. I fondly imagine that the ROOM series consists of open texts. I gave you a copy of ROOM ONE because I thought it would spark an interesting conversation to fill the gaps between us and it has to some extent but it’s difficult: the cogs don’t mesh; rust rules.

I think it’s true in general that the nature of what is communicated by speech or book or newspaper is always determined by the mind of the receiving reader; whether you take the ROOM series to be open or closed will depend on you: a closed mind will naturally interpret my drift as closed to other possibilities; an open mind will think that they have been welcomed to enter a large and ever-expanding playground. I’m not at all sure that you’d recognise a playground if you saw one. Not my kind of playground anyway.

Sartre in What is Literature (1947-ish) pointed out that if there’s one book with fifty readers there are in fact 50 books. My American contact clearly holds a different ROOM book from the one you hold which, in itself, says nothing about the book but more about reader response.

The spoken word (a completely different universe of discourse from the written word, as Vygotsky points out) depends for its expression and reception on a large number of variables: the delivery-pace of the speaker v the thinking style of the listener; the assertiveness of the speaker v the certainty (or lack of it) of the receiver’s assumptions/opinions; assumptions about where the listener/speaker is conceptually (‘mind-reading’ in NLP, ‘internal considering’ in Gurdjieffery), the degree to which both listener and speaker adhere to Stephen Covey’s 5th Habit of highly effective people—‘seek first to understand before ever trying to make yourself understood…’

You ask me why I incorporate so many quotations in ROOM ONE. The answer is very simple: I consider that my intellectual life has been formed by the unrigorous diet of reading that I’ve consumed in 70 years. I have been obsessed by the idea of making a record of it for no other reason at least to start with than to satisfy a personal desire for a kind of order, for putting my own house in order, as Eliot says at the end of The Wasteland. All one can possibly achieve.

Quotations are a useful stimulus to thinking. All the millions of words in those books arranged around the walls of my library—the ROOM where it’s all rooted/routed—so much human thought… That essay I wrote at Teacher Training College on Moby Dick consisting entirely of quotations… It was written, as I pointed out, after reflecting on something Hans Keller in a  3rd Programme talk advocated—viz musical criticism done solely by extracts from a piece of music. The listener had to have an ear agile enough to recognise repetition, development and variation of themes etc.

It indicated to me a great deal about the way your mind works:  without seeking to understand my drift, without stopping to think (Covey’s Habit One) you accused me, as with the case of a student you once had, of passing off other people’s writing as my own.

But perhaps I did not give you the full story. (Do we ever get a full story—in both imagined and real life?)

To engage in a chunk of self-justification just for a moment… In the preface to my essay I introduced the reader to Hans Keller’s notion of reconstructive music ‘criticism’; I then pointed out that my experimental essay on Moby Dick would attempt the same kind of thing: by using judiciously selected quotations, I planned to answer the provocative question ‘What’s all this Fuss about a Whale?’ set by a very beautiful eastern woman lecturer (since dead of a brain tumour, I believe) by having the reader go through an experience of reading my choice of quotations suitably sequenced.

This was absolutely not, as I may have given you the impression it was, to do with lifting from a text in the way that your student did. In fact whenever I’m quoting I go out of my way to acknowledge my source as a sort of celebration of earlier contributors to ‘the conversation of mankind’. I am scrupulous to the point of finickiness in recording the sources of my quotations, author & title and often page reference. Not in the case of Melville, of course, but I have often made the point that quotations are celebrations of the writing of those whom most people have never heard of and certainly don’t care about; quotations rejuvenate the life & work of the person quoted. My only claim to anything is to have read and been responsible for celebrating people who have often sunk without trace into the dusty passages of secondhand bookshops.

My found poem hangup is a celebration of those prose-writers who, unwittingly, conceal poems in their writing; my self-appointed task there is to release the poems and make reference to the source.

It’s now about a year since Herbert left our house in what appeared to be a ‘state’ of towering rage; we had enjoyed a midday meal with him in jovial mood and were sitting in front of a log-fire, he and I engaging in desultory ‘philosophical’ exchanges; Euphemia, being the far more sociable of the two of us and having up-to-the-minute inside information on various issues (deriving from her secretarial duties) which she thought he might think worth having, offered him some titbits which she deemed might be important for the furtherance of his cause. Without stopping for thought (again) Herbert went into a state of what one might call ‘high dudgeon’ and accused Euphemia of ‘setting him up’, presumably because he chose to feel he was being manipulated into taking action which he did not wish to be thus forced into. His tone was so aggressive that we were both reduced to silence; he walked out of the room in inexplicable fury throwing vicious words at Euphemia and that was the end of our philosophical exchanges.

One is left wondering what it was all about. Perhaps it was a case of Having-been-catholic-educated-I in consort with Being-stoutly-lapsed-catholic-I both moving into Being-in-a-state-of-constant-rebellion-against-perceived-authority-I and then, when ‘authority’ appears to rise up to take charge of him, winding up in Irrationally-enraged-I… There was certainly nothing of judicious Meta-I in the incredibly staged exit. All this was maybe driven by some ‘…real or imaginary pain, grudge, frustration, angst …’, something he choose to allow at that moment to hi-jack his brain. We will never know.

Stepping across the room into a different ‘I’ might have been useful to him, might have ensured a welcome in this house on a future occasion.

The few times when we have bumped into him down in the village since, it is as though this event never happened—not much friendliness for sure but nothing in the way of the need for reconciliation. Strangers passing in a village street.

How scrupulously I avoided unloading all the Enneagram Mumbo-jumbo on Herbert! He probably saw me as setting myself up as some kind of authority anyway; he was quite correct in his supposition that parts of Room One were intended to instruct! Being convinced of his own rectitude, he did not require instruction. Doubtless this was a case of one Fixated Five meeting another Fixated Five in profound antagonism.

A person with a downward-spiralling Five Fixation typically goes on the offensive at opposition and sets out to antagonise those who hold some opposing point of view; is nihilistic about relationships and has a need to maintain isolation. A downward-spiralling Five tends to keep a sense of self alive by rejecting threats from others and projects antagonism towards self on to others so that everybody seems dangerous. Thoughts have a life of their own; the mind races wildly. A downward-spiralling Five cuts itself off and removes itself from all thoughts and feelings.

Being a Five, I’m well aware of this syndrome; I kid myself that for the most part I choose to rise to a different place on the Five ladder.

However, I also recognise my ‘soul-child’ in Herbert at downward spiralling 8—which he appears never to have grown out of—fully capable of becoming a ruthless tyrant, belligerent and bullying with a belief in being tough, on the understanding that might is right and that expedience is all. Resenting what appears to be others taking charge, downward-spiralling Eights forbid all questioning of their commands but only really seek to intimidate those they sense are vulnerable—they have to be sure they will succeed. It’s impossible to be intimate with a downward-spiralling Eight since friendliness and cooperation are taken to be signs of weakness; it acts in a way that suggests ‘More power—less need to justify’ with delusional ideas about being god-like, lacking any capacity of self-restraint; it wants to destroy authority before authority gets to the stage of being the destroyer.

Downward spiralling 8 moving to downward spiralling 5 becomes even more mired, utterly incapable of being able to lead itself anywhere.

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Two Mid-winter Poems

these last few nights

of clear skies & sudden gusts of wind
when the moon has been
more or less full on the dozing fields
I am haunted by a question
posed by the title of a book
I’ve been reading: who built the moon?

it sails around my midnight drawbridge
up there outside the window
this question rhyming with the tick
of the battery-driven clock
and I close my mind to the proposition
of an answer offered by the all-too-human
author of the book;   then the next book

asks the question: why did old Sumerians
in their queer tablets seem to know
much more about the evolution of the planets
than all our modern scientists put in a room
together with their so technological gizmos?

asked who is the wisest man alive today?
the Oracle at Delphi gave an answer
that led to the death of Socrates

what is two plus two? say “it all depends”
—the meaning of a question is never
provided by the puniness of an answer

oh my children—keep asking questions
but never rest content with answers that
demean the energy contained in a question

the sum of two megalomaniacs plus
two more megalomaniacs
will give you a different answer
from whatever the sum of two beetles
plus two nanny-goats might provide:
a world-shattering answer easily denied
here in Albion as compared with just
four creatures minding their own business
in this wide & open midnight field

the bark of a fox and the plaint of an owl
plus moonlight on the windowsill
& the bowler-hatted scream in a primeval forest
equals a lurch into the surprise of my study dark

each of our genes

has an evolutionary history
covering at least three and a half
billion years

in China near Beijing
there is a little village called
Zhoukoudian where heavings of the earth
have jumbled limestone and coal seams
together under alluvial deposits
eroded by rain and bitter winds
from central Asia that still send dust
from China halfway round the planet

700,000 years ago hominids came
to the cave system of Zhoukoudian:
for 500,000 years their quotidian detritus
began to fill the caves blocking
the lower entrances and they lived
worked and reproduced on the surface
of the gradually thickening layers
of waste material constantly finding it
necessary to discover new ways to approach
the caves down chimneys and fissures

200,000 years ago the human land-fill
choked the upper chambers and so one fine
Monday (perhaps) they just upped and left

the people of the caves of Zhoukoudian
had crouched over their smoky fires
eating half-cooked bats
for a hundred times as many years
as we have recorded our civilisation—
a hundred times as many years since
the invention of an alphabet

and what do any of us do
that makes us think that we achieve
anything higher than the status of the task
of eating a half-cooked bat in the gloom?

all projects & all commerce  the music
and the mystery and the kerfuffles
of relationships go wiffling down
the fissures and the caverns of the brain
at a hundred yards a second blocking
the lower entrances to snug down
with all the quiet kangaroos assembled
there in ordered ranks each with
their own expressiveness       frozen gestures
like the patient absurd warriors of Xian

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The Knight of Faith

When you’re tackling a new set of ideas or coming to terms with a new way of thinking you can choose either to suspend disbelief or refuse to read on in a dismissive kind of way; on the sound Charles Fortian principle that anything dreamed up by human beings is worthy of consideration, I like to suspend disbelief. I choose to do so.

Whilst engaged on the Coursera Kierkegaard Course referred to in the previous Glob, I had to face up to the frequent use of the word ‘faith’.

Because there’s too much baggage attached to it I’ve never used the word ‘faith’ before; I’ve shied away from it; it’s just never figured at all in my vocabulary. However, towards the end of the eight week intensive study, I asked myself what ‘faith’ might mean to me shorn of its conventional religious associations; there must be some functional sense to it when you consider it not as a meaningless abstraction but as an aspect of human behaviour whence it was invented in the first place.

So I tried asking myself a question. What do I have a blind (unthinking) ‘faith’ in? What kinds of things do I do that I know will work without my having to think about it?

I write poems without knowing quite how or why…—strangely, it seems that I have ‘faith’ that the next poem I write will fall into a kind of order eventually after a bit of fiddling; I compose music in a thoroughly untutored kind of way by following my ears and I have ‘faith’ that on the rare occasions when there’s a live performance a composition will ‘sound right’; I make pictures and I know in my gut that the next Magic City will arrange itself satisfactorily.

Kierkegaard makes much of things being ‘appropriated’ to one’s sense of ‘inwardness’—for this to make sense one must first acquire the concept, take steps to make sure that the process itself gets appropriated in ‘real life’ (rather than just being an idle idea) and then there must be something else—some propulsion mechanism, something that makes things stick… Perhaps the added factor has to be something you could call ‘faith’ or blind certainty that, given prior experience of the process working, adequate and necessary mental preparation inside some Kierkegaardian inwardness of my own, it’s all going to work in an objectively subjective kind of way.

How does this differ from the notion of ‘faith’ in a conventionally religious sense? Says Kierkegaard, there comes a point when reason meets a brick wall,  and it’s there that I notice ‘believers’ throwing in the conceptual sponge they call ‘faith’—it seems to me to be a very weak kind of capitulation to unreason.  If that’s ‘faith’ it’s no wonder I’ve avoided the issue all these years!

But keep at it! Joseph Campbell points out that the word ‘religion’ comes from the Latin religare signifying a joining together or a binding up. There’s no doubt whatever that something there is that binds me to life; something there is that binds me in to creative processes; I am bound to write poems, compose music, paint pictures. I cannot imagine that life is about anything else; something there is that binds me to relationships of one thing or person to another.

While reading dense texts like those of Kierkegaard I have this habit of writing Found Poems in order to make personal sense of things, in Kierkegaardian terms this is what I understand by ‘appropriation’ of ideas, mixing them in to your own Being. The following came to me while battling with something Kierkegaard wrote, as I recall in Either/Or:-

I am idling along

minding what I take to be my own business
when suddenly out of some inconceivable blueness
simply in the rhythm of the knotty prose I’m reading    in the building of images
comes a feeling throughout my body   head to diaphragm    nose to big toe
in my tingling arms    that what I’m reading    (the text itself)    will make a poem

and so in Kierkegaard I find
a question about the binding of self to life: what is it binds us thus?
for the wolf (he says)
it is a chain made of cats’ paws walking on the ground
of the roots of cliffs
of the breath of fish and the spittle of birds

for myself (he says) it is gloomy fancies   alarming dreams
troubled thoughts    fearful presentiments
inexplicable anxieties:
things flexible     but soft as silk that cannot be torn apart


So I got to wondering what the chain is that binds me to life… It might not always be gloomy thoughts etc and I don’t think it’s always like that for the melancholic Kierkegaard—I was reading him in his persona as Romantic Ironist. I like the way he tries things on for size like that.

Whether he got it from the Latin (likely since he must have been fluent at the language, having conducted the defence of his Master’s Thesis in Latin—just imagine!) Kierkegaard himself has this notion of ‘binding’. A ‘religious person’ is truly one who works constantly at the question of what it is that ‘binds us to life’.

If I am an ‘atheist’—a word I never normally bother to use about myself because the word itself posits the very existence of ‘God’ which it sets out futilely to deny—then I am also profoundly ‘religious’ in that I believe that the whole point of living is to aim to figure out what it is binds us to it with such ‘enthusiasm’. (The root meaning of ‘enthusiasm’ is ‘being imbued with goddishness’: the theta (θ) is from the Greek θεος).

And Kierkegaard has the marvellous concept of the ‘Knight of Faith’… It works for me!

people commonly travel around the world

to see rivers & mountains & new stars
birds of rare plumage   queerly deformed fishes
ridiculous breeds of animals—they abandon themselves
to the bestial stupour which gapes at existence
and they think they have seen something…

now for myself  if I knew there was a Knight of Faith
to be located somewhere I would make pilgrimage
on foot to find him—such a prodigy
interests me greatly: I would not let go of him
for an instant; every moment I would watch
to see how he managed the movements
of infinity; I would divide my time
between looking at him and practising
the exercises myself…   but I have not found
such a person…

if I had done the moment I set my eyes on him
I’d instantly push him from me; I myself
would leap backwards;  clasp my hands
and say half aloud—good Lord!
is this the man?   he looks like a tax collector!

but it is the man himself—the very Knight of Faith
and I draw closer to him watching his least movements
to see whether there might not be visible
a little heterogeneous fractional
telegraphic message from the Infinite—
a glance    a look   a gesture    a note of sadness
a smile    that might betray the Infinite
in its heterogeneity with the finite

I examine his figure from tip to toe
to see if there might not be a cranny
through which the infinite was peeping
but he is solid through and through;

his tread is vigorous      belonging entirely
to finitude; no smartly dressed townsman
who walks out to Fresburg on a Sunday afternoon
treads the ground more firmly; he belongs
entirely to this world      no philistine more so

I discover nothing of that aloof & superior
nature whereby you might think to recognise
a Knight of the Infinite—whenever I see him
taking part in particular pleasures he does it
with the persistence which is the mark
of the earthly man whose soul
is absorbed in such things

when he’s working you might suppose
that he was a clerk who had lost his soul
in an intricate system of book-keeping
so precise he is…

on Sunday he goes to church
—no heavenly glance or any other token
of the incommensurable betrays him;
if you didn’t know him it would be impossible
to distinguish him from the rest of the congregation;
his healthy & vigorous hymn-singing
proves at the most that he has a good chest

on Sunday afternoons he walks in the forest
taking delight in everything he sees:
the human swarm    the new omnibuses
the water of the Sound; meeting him on Beach Road
you might suppose he was a shop-keeper
out on a fling—I have sought in vain
to detect in him the poetic incommensurability

towards evening he walks home with a gait
as indefatigable as that of the postman;
at home he lounges at an open window
and looks out on the square where he lives
with interest—there’s a rat slips under the curb
and there are children playing—in vain
I have sought in him the incommensurability of genius

in the evening when he smokes his pipe
you might swear that it was the grocer
over the way vegetating in the twilight;
he lives as carefree as a ne’er-do-well—
he does not do the least thing
except by virtue of the absurd

I could be furious out of envy
because every instant he makes
the movements of the Infinite—
with infinite resignation he has drained
the cup of life’s profound sadness;
he knows the bliss of the Infinite;
he senses the pain of renouncing everything
—the dearest things he possesses in the world

yet finitude tastes to him just as good
as to one who never knew anything higher;
having resigned everything infinitely
he grasps everything again by virtue of the absurd
constantly making the movements of Infinity

it’s the most difficult task for a dancer
to leap into a definite posture so that
there is not a second when he is grasping
after the posture but by the leap itself
he stands fixed in that posture—that is what
the Knight does while most people
live dejectedly in worldly sorrow & joy
sitting along the wall out of the dance

Knights of Infinity are passionate dancers:
they possess elevation—whenever they fall
they vacillate an instant which shows
that they are strangers in the world
never forgetting themselves
but grasping existence by virtue of faith

to express the sublime and the pedestrian
—this only Knights can do…

Found poem in
Søren Kierkegaard: Fear & Trembling

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Thus spake Socrates…

For the past eight weeks or so I have been engaged by a very stimulating Coursera on-line course on the subject of Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855)—Subjectivity, Irony and the Crisis of Modernity. He’s a philosopher who does not warrant a mention even in the footnotes of Bertrand Russell’s History of Western Philosophy—probably because Russell would have found it impossible to engage with a person whose ideas are centered around ‘faith’.

Anybody with a grounding in linguistic analysis would have a field day with Kierkegaard whose writing, while engaging, seems to be off the cuff, without a systematic tool of investigation—indeed that’s something his rejection of Hegel’s ‘system’ suggests that he chose to eschew.

Nevertheless, Kierkegaard is worthy of note if only for providing an interesting contribution to the Conversation of Humanunkind with yet another set of suggestions in answer to the fundamental question—What am I doing here?

Kierkegaard  modelled himself on his version of Socrates—his approach to life, his philosophising though at the beginning of The Concept of Irony he wonders whether it’s possible to grasp the phenomenon of ‘Socrates’ from contemporary accounts—the ‘actual truth’ as opposed to the ‘apparent’.  Since Socrates introduces what Kierkegaard takes to be the all-important process of ‘irony’—viewing things from a distance—into philosophy, he thinks this is a question worth asking in order to figure out what irony really meant to Socrates and how it relates to the modern world; otherwise, he says. irony will simply exist in its ‘temporality and fragmentariness’.

Kierkegaard created his version of the world-historical figure of Socrates from those of Plato & Xenophon etc and, without a kind of celestial telephone that would enable us to ask him for verification, we can only internalise our very own subjective version of the entity ‘Kierkegaard’ from his somewhat chaotic outpourings.

What have I learned?

Immersed in some of Kierkegaard’s texts, what did I learn? What did the course do for me? What have I pieced together from what was made available from the mass of Kierkegaard’s writings in the Hong translations provided? What remains? One thing’s sure: I constantly kept in mind Gurdjieff’s formula Knowledge + Being = Understanding: all learning is pointless unless you’re prepared to test it out on the anvil of your being. It pleased me that Kierkegaard seems to be saying something very similar.

When I think briefly & suddenly about the whole experience in ‘simultaneity’ (as opposed to a ‘succession’) I’m aware that there’s a curious deposit in my ‘inwardness’, a collection of key ideas, images, strands of thinking. Just a deposit that will require revisiting and fishing around in…

Perhaps we pick up from any new learning-opportunities only what makes current sense to us? In this connection, it just so happens that Kierkegaard says somewhere: ‘…It does not depend, then, merely upon what one sees, but what one sees depends upon how one sees; all observation is not just a receiving, a discovering, but also a bringing-forth, and insofar as it is that, precisely how the observer is constituted is indeed decisive. When one person sees one thing and another sees something else in the same thing, then the one discovers what the other conceals.’ There’s a need for dialogue—with others and with one’s own other selves; what one ‘I’ sees another misses… Not that Kierkegaard, being of a melancholy disposition, was ever interested in academic debate; he dealt with reviews of his books by making ironically dismissive comments such as: ‘is it my fault that the reader doesn’t understand my words…?’


I also surprised myself, after 8 weeks, having thought about it considerably, by arriving at a personal notion of ‘faith’ which has nothing at all to do with ‘God’ but might have something to do with Consciousness.

Because there’s just too much baggage attached to it, I’ve never used the word ‘faith’ before (like Bertrand Russell, perhaps, I would not know where to begin to address the concept) but, on reflection, it seems that I manifest what you could call ‘faith’ in a number of ways: I have faith, I trust in myself, that the next poem I write will work, that the next piece of music I devise will sound OK, that the next piece of ‘art’ will arrange itself satisfactorily—this, if anything, is a ‘faith’ in some Kierkegaardian inwardness of my own; testing things inwardly is very useful—subjectively objective or objectively subjective, the provisional objectivity of a high order, testing experience from a meta-position. There’s a definite conceptual and verifiable systemic process involved here whereas to lump it all into the abstraction ‘Faith’ makes it go floppy. That’s why I’ve always avoided the word. That’s a useful bit of understanding & learning.

The Use of Virtual Questions

Talking of understanding, I am reminded of the virtual questions I approach things with on a good day in order to arrive at it—ones that are not articulated but always there in the background of the mind, colouring the foreground: for example, What does this (whatever it is) mean to me? How can I connect this with that? How does it connect with what I already imagine I know? And specifically, for the past eight weeks—How far do the things I got a buzz from when reading Kierkegaard extracts make sense simply because they chime with the way I already imagine I think? The danger is that what turns out to be of significance to us is so just because it confirms existing preconceptions. I suppose that Kierkegaard probably functioned other-than-consciously on the same principle.

The motivation for spending the last eight weeks studying Kierkegaard was that since reading HJBlackham’s Six Existentialist Thinkers sometime in the 1960′s I’ve always had the sneaking suspicion I’d find Kierkegaard worth following up—it’s only taken me fifty years to catch up with my hunch!

Perhaps the most important immediate bit of meta-enlightenment came at the end of the eight weeks when I idly plucked a book from a cultured guest house shelf addressing the question of what’s important about education. Opening it at random I came across a passage asking intending and practising teachers to consider the possible advantages & the likely perilous effects of e-activity on the teaching & learning of ideas & processes. As I closed the book there suddenly came into focus what I should of course have been well aware of all along but wasn’t—viz, that for the past 8 weeks I’d been involved for the first time in learning via e-tackle—a pretty futile endeavour unless you apply what Kierkegaard calls INWARDNESS to the process.

To be worth coming to terms with, new things all have to go inside you and be churned over with what’s already there. But I don’t think it’s got anything to do with making subjective judgements—the word ‘subjectivity’ in the sub-title of the course seems to me to be rather a distraction: it got a lot of my co-learners off on a pointless simplistic trail of comparing what commonly passes for ‘subjectivity’ and what might, in our scientific age, be regarded as the infinitely preferable ‘objectivity’. But that was the point of the course really: to investigate the way in which assimilating learning into ‘inwardness’ could negatively result either in the ‘subjective’ assertion that ‘my way is the right way’ or in the associated belief that everything is relative and therefore nothing can be prioritised or established as objectively ‘true’. That was the crux of the matter.

Objectivity is an Illusion

What Kierkegaard seems to be arguing is that it’s pure inwardness that counts, getting the learning in the muscle, feeling it on the pulse at least to begin with; we need to come to terms with that idea, to completely internalise it together with its ramifications, before setting out to compare what we come up with inwardly with whatever’s notionally ‘out there’… Then questions like ‘Is it right?’ ‘Does it fit?’ ‘Does it work in all circumstances for all people?’ begin to emerge—questions that require an answer.

I’m not at all sure that these days learners growing up simply pressing buttons and Googling information understand that whatever you find on the screen has to become part of you—to be tested and welded into whatever thoughts you happen to have had in the past. I think it’s very possible that they imagine that learning happens by some kind of osmosis: similarly, in my day, long time pre-Internet, many learners thought it was sufficient just to be in a class with a teacher for things to rub off on you; now I think it likely that they think it’s enough just to sit in front of a screen.

This is perhaps the ever current ‘Crisis of Modernity’—the way in which what Kierkegaard calls ‘the crowd’ is more than content single-mindedly to live the ‘unexamined life’, going along quite uncritically with whatever’s presented to them by the ‘media’, the Daily Malice, the e-box in the corner; this results, for instance, in a constant failure to notice the way the Power Possessors hoodwink us into accepting their view of the world. This was Kierkegaard’s argument with the State Church: Bishop Mynster, he argued, was not a ‘truth-witness’ but one who ‘scaled down the essentially Christian’ to suit his own purposes—an ‘assistant professor’, Kierkegaard’s term of abuse for anybody who invented versions of reality to satisfy what he regarded as their personal agenda.

Objectivity, Subjectivity & Inwardness

Objective/subjective—these are just words that we use to tell a story about our Being-in-the-world. The conventional difference was first explained to me in my teens, by a long-lost friend pursuing an economics degree, thus: from an upstairs window you observe a man about to be beheaded; his ‘subjective’ view of things is, without doubt, vastly different from your own ‘objective’ angle on the same event. I wasn’t quick enough then to point out that for him the objectivity is ‘head on block’, ‘axe about to fall’, feelings of anguish and so forth. Also, by identifying with his plight, you would have your own subjective feelings.

Probably unlike my long-lost friend, retired died-in-the-wool civil servant whose hobby was the collecting of geological specimens, I’m still turning this over in my mind! Objective/subjective—very difficult to disentangle in any meaningful way.

The words we find ourselves using chop the world up into pretty arbitrary categories. In this case, what appears to be an objective fact becomes a subjective experience for the sensitive onlooker; the man (who while you’ve been reading has now been executed, by the way) had his subjective mental state even while objectively noting the executioner’s professional zeal in testing the blade. The common factor in all this is what can be called ‘experiencing’; things happen: it’s all experience. What if we dispensed with the categories ‘objective’ and ‘subjective’ altogether? We are ‘experiencers’ first then we proceed to invent categories and concepts in an attempt to understand and make real.

I currently have the experience of rising at 5.30am; dark outside because it’s winter; the clock ticks; I see books on my shelves; heaps of papers clutter my desk [I must spend some time clearing all that away...] All that is ‘objective’ fact but my response is ‘subjective’ in the sense that it’s my own experience, unique to me in this quantum packet; nobody else could possibly have this experience either now or in the future when it will be different even for me; I am the dead centre of this universe. That’s my ‘subjectivity’ when I choose to call it that which I don’t till a rumination like this seems to be in order. It’s a subjective truth—I wouldn’t normally call it that either. Kierkegaard refers to himself as a ‘subjective writer’—what can he mean?

Were you standing just outside the room you would note the clutter and the person typing; you could say that in your observation you were being ‘objective’ but this might quickly become a ‘subjective’ question, “How can he operate in the midst of such a mess?”

An analysis which does hold up comes from the distinction in Fourth Way studies between ‘external’ and ‘internal’ considering: out side the room you could, were you to choose thus, be in ‘external considering, noting the clutter and so on; you would move to ‘internal considering’ when you wonder how I can operate in such a mess.

Going inward, in my inwardness, I experience my self as a No-thing held in place by the dark night, the clock ticking, the sight of the books on shelves above me, the clutter on my desk; these things, ‘objectively’ out there define what constitutes what seems to me to be my ‘subjectivity’ for the moment. But then I’m told that the apparently solid things in my experience are just bundles of ‘atoms’ (and so on) each surrounded by a lot of empty space—so it’s out of my ‘subjectivity’ that I construct them as desk, computer, books & pritt stick and so on. I invent the world.


And then we come to ‘abstractions’… or what are often called ‘Platonic Forms’. Since Plato referred to the Cave with its shadows as a little story or pleasant fabrication I’m not at all sure that we haven’t been hoodwinked down the centuries into thinking of abstractions or Forms as ‘real things’.

Abstractions, along with the words that are supposed to represent them, are totally meaningless in themselves; they are human inventions; mere scribblings on bits of paper, scribbling in the air, they are the tiddly-wink counters we play around with; they theoretically stand for, are shorthand for, a series of ‘events’ but they are just words (wɜ:dz): ‘beauty’ is a tag stuck on things as a result of people creating so-called ‘beautiful’ things or acknowledging events like sunsets to be in some unspecified way ‘beautiful’; but then beauty is said to be ‘in the eye of the beholder’ so it’s an entirely ‘subjective’ construct. Things happen or get made—decisions about their ‘beauty’ or otherwise are entirely personal—subjective even, the result of ‘internal considering’. Same for any abstraction you care to mention. ‘Justice’ is a tag stuck on the result of legal processes—but when hard evidence emerges that our man who has just been executed was not responsible for a particular crime one has to ask what price ‘justice’…? ‘God’ is a tag stuck on things we conceive to be much greater than ourselves—but the anthropomorphism involved runs the risk of reducing whatever it is that’s infinitely greater than ourselves to the rather dingy ordinary human scale. And so on…

In Concluding Unscientific Postscript Kierkegaard draws a clear distinction between the abstraction ‘Christianity’, subscribing to which one may easily be ‘entranced in illusion’, in an ‘imaginary construction’. and, by contrast, the act of ‘becoming a Christian’. This entails understanding the process not as doctrinal certainty but ‘as an existence-contradiction and existence-communication’ through inward apprehension. ‘The less externality the more inwardness’ is involved in the move from the one to the other. He does not say but this presumably means, for instance, really living the principles of the Sermon on the Mount in spite of the way they seem to go against the ‘Christianity’ of a so-called ‘Christian’ state armed to the back teeth against some more or less invented aggressor.

Everything comes back to the self. The universe is a mental construct. For me, this is why Kierkegaard, not having much of a scrupulous attention to the words he used, emphasises ‘subjectivity’, in the belief that it’s more or less equivalent to his own word ‘inwardness’ which seems to me to be far more appropriate to his meaning and does not inevitably result in relativity.

Pure Thought—Pure Fantasy

Classified as an early existentialist, Kierkegaard did not know the formula ‘Existence precedes essence’ as later existentialists did: they were able to say clearly that forms or abstractions are constructed out of lots of specific instances: experience of lots of dogs in inwardness leads to the abstraction ‘dog’. On the other hand he did think that pure thought was pure fantasy: what thought abstracted from existence represents a dealing with itself not with existence. ‘The only thing-in-itself which cannot be thought is existence and this does not come within the province of thought to think…’ (Concluding Unscientific Postscript) HJBlackham (op cit) comments that the proper business of thought is in the thinker’s personal existence; each individual is isolated and compelled to exist strictly for self, being able to be known only from the inside. Kierkegaard scorned ‘…being engaged year in year out in piecing together something for a system…’ such as Hegel’s, believing that passion and being fully conscious gets you something far more profound. Experience is all!

If everything is a mental construct, it’s really important to sort out the nature of our inner workings; to work out by thinking about them what makes sense, or, as a philosophical pragmatist would say, what works in the ‘real world’ and/or in conjunction with others which may be what Kierkegaard refers to as ‘combined reckoning’ (Concept of Irony) out of which ‘Truth’ is an emergent property.

Inert Ideas

There is always a danger in following a ‘system’: when you subscribe to organised religion or to a political party or even a particular way of thinking or doing you inevitably identify with the doctrines and beliefs and stop thinking & questioning. Kierkegaard emphasises that the first step in any proper thinking is to MAKE DISTINCTIONS. The intellectual bankruptcy of modern (if not all) politics encourages us not to make distinctions but to accept the status quo instead of bringing the ideals of ethics into actuality. ‘Ethics points to ideality as a task and assumes that [we all] possess the requisite conditions… [it] develops a contradiction, inasmuch as it makes clear both the difficulty and the impossibility…’ (The Concept of Anxiety)

‘The age of making distinctions is past. It had been vanquished by the system… Whereas Socrates was great in that he distinguished between what he understood what he did not understand…’ (The Concept of Anxiety preface). At any time in history, identification with a system entails loss of self; once you’re dedicated to a system all tends to be judged according to it; any making of distinctions is determined by the limits of the system itself. Systematisers resort to preaching their dogmas whereas the quest for knowledge should be about openly exchanging ideas. Working to somebody else’s model, unappropriated by yourself, limits the scope of enquiry: anything that doesn’t fit it gets ignored; ‘all the middle terms [are] skipped over’ (Stages in Life’s Way) ‘appropriation is precisely the secret of conversation’ (The Concept of Anxiety)—talking something through in ‘combined reckoning’ (The Concept of Irony) enables appropriation.

As I never tire of pointing out, ANWhitehead (Aims of Education) has the notion of ideas in themselves being ‘inert’, dead things; the aim of education, he says, is for the individual to grasp hold of ideas and make them your own, by using them, by turning them over in your mind, by fiddling with them, so that they are no longer inert but become your own possession, something that works for you in taking thinking further. Kierkegaard seems to me to be saying more or less the same thing: ‘I still accept an imperative of knowledge and that through it one can also influence people but then it must be taken up alive in me… to find my self…’ (Journal 1st August 1835)

Inert ideas can be ‘objective’, but to make them come alive they must be ‘felt on the pulse’ as Keats says—must become the (dispensable) ‘subjective’. It’s a constant systemic process: inward/outward, outward/inward… This is, I think, Kierkegaard’s process of ‘appropriation’.

How we come to understand ideas depends on how ‘clean’ our receptive apparatus is: we can let all our previous mental structures affect reception or we can engage fully in the systemic process inward/outward/inward, verifying everything, as Gurdjieff advises, as we go. So in Sickness Unto Death, Kierkegaard talks about two kinds of understanding: on the one hand there’s that which is the result of ‘imaginary construction’, thought thinking about itself—in NLP this is called ‘mind-reading’; in the Fourth Way ‘internal considering’—on the other hand there an understanding which when it is put into operation becomes congruent with whatever emerges from the flow of things.

It’s somewhat mentally wearing to keep up with the flow and so we resort to shorthand measures: in the history of ideas, for example, we tend to lump things under general headings which has the effect of concealing complexity; for example, we shorthand events by talking of ‘1848’ as ‘the year of revolutions’; likewise a philosopher’s name becomes a tag for conceptualisations we associate with them—mention ‘Descartes’ and the automatic response is the highly dubious ‘I think therefore I am’; this in itself is no doubt the product of a whole complex of Cartesian thinking which the tag itself does not reveal and in any case the prior thinking may not be of a piece or even consistent since, like the rest of us, philosophers are ordinary people just thinking out loud—more deeply or consistently than we ordinary mortals perhaps but not necessarily closer to the way things really are.

The Strange Homeliness of an Obscure Philosopher

So it’s always interesting to note the more homely paragraphs contained in the works of the Great Philosophers—it normalises them, brings us up to their level.

Thus as a ‘Concluding Word’ to Stages on Life’s Way, Kierkegaard has this to which I warm:-

My dear reader—but to whom am I speaking? Perhaps no one at all is left. [Perhaps there’s nobody actually reading my Globs... Perhaps I’m just talking to myself...] Probably the same thing has happened to me in reverse as happened to that noble king whom a sorrowful message taught to hurry, whose precipitous ride to his dying beloved [was celebrated in a ballad which sang] of the hundred young men who accompanied him from Skanderborg, the fifteen who rode with him over Randbel Heath, but when he crossed the bridge at Ribe... [he found himself] alone. The same, in reverse, to be sure, and for opposite reasons, happened to me, who, captivated by one idea, did not move from the spot—all have ridden away from me. In the beginning, no doubt, the favourably disposed reader reined in his swift steed and thought I was riding a pacer, but when I did not move from the spot, the horse (that is, the reader) or, if you please, the rider, became impatient, and I was left behind alone: a nonequestrian or a Sunday rider whom everybody outrides. [I am captivated by one idea—that of the need to convert ‘inert ideas’ into one’s very own possession—it’s been with me since I was around the age of twenty—and I have a sense that all those I’ve told about it have got on their horses and ridden on by while I’ve not moved from the spot...]  Inasmuch as there is nothing at all to hasten after, I have forever and a day for myself and can talk with myself about myself undisturbed and without inconveniencing anyone.

I may exasperate but I do not inconvenience anybody by these Glob-ramblings! I can talk to myself (my other selves) undisturbed forever and a day! I feel Kierkegaard talking to me and I want to put my hand up and tell him, “I’m listening, brother!” Especially when he talks about ‘appropriation’—the requirement to grab hold of ideas and appropriate them to your inwardness. But, in his melancholia, he probably doesn’t even notice me! And that’s OK!

This alone would endear me to Kierkegaard but then there’s also his account in Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments of how the idea came to him of trying his hand as an author.

It is now about four years since the idea came to me of wanting to try my hand as an author. I remember it very clearly. It was on a Sunday; yes, correct, it was a Sunday afternoon. As usual, I was sitting outside the café in Frederiksberg Gardens, that wonderful garden which for the child was the enchanted land where the king lived with the queen, that lovely garden which for the youth was a pleasant diversion in the happy gaiety of the populace, that friendly garden which for the adult is so cozy in its wistful elevation above the world and what belongs to the world… There as usual I sat and smoked my cigar...[thinking that] …although I am the author of Fragments, I am so insignificant that I am an outsider in literature.

Kierkegaard’s starting point is anchored in warmth, pleasure, friendliness and enchantment, elevated above the world with all its distractions. Where we are anchored in life and experience offers a formative atmosphere to everything we accomplish. In his writings Kierkegaard bestows a kind of enchantment deriving from the moment outside the café in Frederiksberg Gardens; he goes on:-

I had been a student for a half score of years. Although I was never lazy, all my activity was nevertheless only like a splendid inactivity, a kind of occupation I still much prefer and for which I perhaps have a little genius. I read a great deal, spent the rest of the day loafing and thinking, or thinking and loafing, but nothing came of it. The productive sprout in me went for everyday use and was consumed in its first greening.

We do not know whether Kierkegaard is being ironical here (as ever) but the upshot really rather depends on what we mean by ‘splendid inactivity’; ‘loafing and thinking’, or even ‘thinking and loafing’, can with the right amount of preparation & study be extremely productive! But

...of all comforts indolence is the most comfortable. So there I sat and smoked my cigar until I drifted into thought. Among other thoughts, I recall these. You are getting on in years, I said to myself, and are becoming an old man [Kierkegaard died at the age of 42!] without being anything and without actually undertaking anything. On the other hand, wherever you look in literature or in life, you see the names and figures of celebrities, the prized and highly acclaimed people, prominent or much discussed, the many benefactors of the age who know how to benefit humankind by making life easier and easier, some by railroads, others by omnibuses and steamships, others by telegraph, others by easily understood surveys and brief publications about everything worth knowing, and finally the true benefactors of the age who by virtue of thought systematically make spiritual existence easier and easier and yet more and more meaningful—and what are you doing?

Now we can be pretty sure that he is being ironical; he does not really rate very highly those who ‘benefit humankind by making life easier and easier’; in fact, ‘by positing as a task the scientific process instead of existential simultaneity life is confused… the task is to achieve simultaneity… [to get] the successive into the simultaneous… the unification of the stages of life… [to avoid] the mere fragmenting of life…’ (Concluding Unscientific Postscript) By this I take it that Kierkegaard means that the philosophical task is to effect an organic current unity of self out of all accumulating experience, to assimilate all learning (what’s come through ‘the successive’—the succession of years) to a flexible moment (‘the simultaneous’—the NOW—we’d probably call it ‘mindfulness’) of understanding. This might amount to a shuffling of the multiplicity of ‘I’s so that they land in a sensible order so as to encourage the emergence of Meta-I—what Gurdjieff might have referred to as Master-I—that which stands above all ‘reality’—in wistful elevation above Frederiksberg Gardens…

HJBlackham (op cit) writes that Kierkegaard is perhaps suggesting that our will to achieve ‘existential simultaneity’ has ‘…been choked and forgotten under the thick growth of knowledge, the encyclopaedic mass of information, the infinitude of facts quarried by industrious investigators from inexhaustible natural resources…’ Pondering the mass of detail on the Internet nowadays, how much more the likelihood of a deadening of will than there was in Kierkegaard’s time! How can we possibly appropriate what’s on the Internet and make it our own? In Concluding Unscientific Postscript he advances the idea that ‘…an objective uncertainty held fast in an appropriation-process of the most passionate inwardness is the truth, the highest truth attainable for an existing individual…’

Making Things More Difficult

Back in the Frederiksberg Gardens, we find our homely ironical philosopher noticing that his cigar has gone out…

At this point my introspection was interrupted because my cigar was finished and a new one had to be lit. So I smoked again, and then suddenly this thought crossed my mind: you must do something, but since with your limited capabilities it will be impossible to make anything easier than it has become, you must, with the same humanitarian enthusiasm as the others have, take it upon yourself to make something more difficult. This idea pleased me enormously; it also flattered me that for this effort I would be loved and respected, as much as anyone else, by the entire community. In other words, when all join together to make everything easier in every way there remains only one possible danger, namely, the danger that the easiness would become so great that it would become all too easy. So only one lack remains, even though not yet felt, the lack of difficulty. Out of love of humankind, but of despair over my awkward predicament of having achieved nothing and of being unable to make anything easier than it had already been made, out of genuine interest in those who make everything easy, I comprehended that it was my task: to make difficulties everywhere. It was also especially striking to me that I might actually have my indolence to thank that this task became mine… [and] …even if my endeavor fails to be appreciated, I am still aware that it is as noble as the endeavors of others…

Kierkegaard jokes that he ‘…can hardly ask people to pay money for having something made difficult; that would indeed be augmenting a difficulty with a new difficulty, and when taking medicine one is accustomed rather to have also a sweetener…’ So why on earth would he want to make things more difficult for his followers since he maintains that ‘…my whole life is an epigram calculated to make people aware…’?

The answer could be that the more a philosophical position is made easy to assimilate the more it is likely to induce, in Kierkegaard’s own expression, a ‘dead calm’ in the disciple who just becomes ‘entranced in illusion’. I am reminded of what Beelzebub labels the ‘Evil-God’ of ‘Self-Calming’ who is capable of keeping us in deep spells of automatism and sleep, preventing us from responding to any prick of conscience—the ability to feel everything all the time, as Gurdjieff defines it.

At the end of this passage in Concluding Postscript, Kierkegaard refers back to its starting point where he pokes fun at one Dr Hjortespring’s sudden ‘miracle’ conversion to Hegelianism. By contrast Kierkegaard’s position is seen to be the result of ten years of work beginning with nothing, the truth deriving from Socratic not-knowing, rather than relying on a miracle cure of identifying oneself with a system which simply has the effect of self-calming—automatism & sleep, no need to think about anything any more. There has to be personal effort otherwise one is ‘tricked instead of being helped’

What is too neatly organised sows the seeds of its own destruction (JGBennett) or as Kierkegaard says you can pick up knowledge, ‘learn someone else’s life by rote’ and imagine that ‘you have got the very best hold on yourself [only to find that] you have embraced the clouds instead of Juno…’ (Journal 1st August 1835).

Maieutics—the Art of Midwifery

From another point of view, modelling on Socrates whose mother was a midwife, Kierkegaard argued that the task of a facilitator of true human development was not to push an exclusive system but to help bring to light ideas we already have in us when we stop to think about it; these might consist of ‘innate’ ideas or ideas simply hidden, hitherto unacknowledged, in the self, overlain by what Gurdjieff might have called A Influences—the distractions of everyday living, prevailing conventional wisdoms in one’s culture, those things for which one sells one’s soul.

The concept of ‘idea’ is the subject of much analysis by philosophers down the centuries: are there universal patterns which are already in the new-born or do ‘ideas’ (concepts, mental configurations) begin to form in us as soon as we are born only to be moulded and shifted by parental requirements and by what’s called ‘education’ in general and by associations formed without our say-so by all kinds of ‘communicating media’?

The crucial question for Maieutics is what kinds of ‘ideas’ could possibly be innate? Are there inarticulate universal patterns that the new-born comes along with? Could such instinctual patterns be called ‘ideas’? The need to breathe, the drive to find sustenance, finding out what happens when you look around you, the feeling of loss of womb-comfort. At the very moment of birth whatever’s there to start with is changed by learning; whatever innate ideas there might have been are corrupted by learning and reinforcement: the baby learns that, if it’s lucky, when it screams a milk-loaded bosom appears and so on.

In any case, innate ideas would be nothing like how a tractor works, or how to get oneself motivated to complete a project of some kind. But they might well be said to consist of something entirely natural—a gut reaction to having blood flowing through one’s veins—something like the virtual statements ‘life is worth living’ or ‘everybody should be afforded the same respect one might wish for oneself’—such things one might feel in one’s bones but fail to acknowledge on a daily basis.

The role of a coach (replacing the midwife metaphor) might be to help the individual unload all futile unnecessary learning arising from uncritical associations and return to a state of innocence. This Socrates tried to encourage his interlocutors to arrive at by the process called ‘aporia’ as evidenced in the Platonic Dialogues—clearing out all preconceptions about ideas by a systematic questioning process that revealed lack of knowledge both in oneself and in others but supplied no concrete ‘answers’. One could see aporia , as did Hegel, as the inducing of a negative confusion but, faced with that little difficulty, all true seekers are likely to demonstrate their earnestness by devising a positive personal exit strategy.

Milton Erikson developed the sound modern therapeutic practice of ‘artful vagueness’: when you indulge in artful vagueness with a person who is trying to find a way out of a problem you dangle incomplete ideas and possibilities in front of them without ever being specific, your voice drifting away into incoherence; this enables them to find their own solutions. It strikes me that this is what Socrates was doing in his way; it’s what his ironical stance was about.

Listening to the Oracle

Socrates was presented with a problem. It was said that the Oracle at Delphi, source of sacred truths, god-inspired rubber-stamper of Athenian laws & customs, decreed that nobody was wiser than Socrates. The reasoning behind this was not exactly clear to him but how could he presume to disbelieve the sanctified public Oracle? In this he was toeing the Athenian line—he was fundamentally a traditionalist but in his efforts to solve the riddle he severely challenged the status quo.

What credence can we give now to oracular dispensation, gods and daimons? Not a lot, I’d say. They are surely simply projections of all too human faculties of which we need to craft our own selection into some sort of sensible order.

It is said that Walt Disney constantly challenged his top team by rarely appearing at a morning meeting in the same state he left it the day before; he caused confusion: sometimes he’d come in with a quasi-oracular mournful voice, “That’s not gonna work…”; or he might enter saying, “Hey, I’ve got this marvelous new idea…”; on another occasion it might be, “OK, let’s look at this sensibly now…” His team didn’t know whether they were coming or going till they got used to the differences. This pattern of variability has been distilled into what’s called ‘Disney Strategy’: a really creative person, determined to arrive at what’s going to work, is a compound of Critic, Dreamer and Realist. Systematic application of the strategy to one’s own projects invariably assists arriving at a creative & novel way forward.

We are all made up of many parts; the knack is to have them work together productively.

Socrates, as a traditionalist, accepting the Oracle’s view of him as pretty wise, was perhaps in Realist mode: “So that’s the way it is… at least for the moment, while another part of me thinks about it…” The gadfly/thinker/ironist part of him was a bit like a Dreamer—entertaining a dream that has only come to fruition 2000 years later with the assertion of individual liberty. The Daimon was his Critic part—that which told him when he was off the rails, guiding him towards what you could call ‘objective truth’.

Because the Athenian community as a whole was stuck in destructive Critic mode, it was only able to interpret what he gave the fancy name of ‘Daimon’ to—arguably his own personal Critic—as ‘another god’. The Athenian community was incapable of adopting Dreamer/Realist modes: it could not think for itself and this led to Socrates’ elimination from the planet. Whenever we choose to be stuck in any one of Walt Disney’s modes of behaviour we limit our grasp of things: dreamers are unrealistic, head in the clouds; realists, lacking inspiration, restrict themselves to what they imagine can work; critics, like those who judged Socrates, are just destructive. Each of us is a compound of these three parts. The task is to get them working constructively together.

Religious Mumbo-jumbo

Part of Kierkegaard’s own Socratic brush with authority concerned his criticism of the way the established church perverted the doctrine of Christianity. It’s worth noting how the teachings of Christ became shrouded in mystery & mumbo-jumbo. In The Kingdom of God is Within You, Tolstoy brilliantly outlines the way we were led astray from essential Consciousness teaching:-

…Succeeding generations corrected the errors of their predecessors, and grew ever nearer and nearer to a comprehension of the true meaning. [Tolstoy is being heavily ironical here...] It was thus from the very earliest times of Christianity. And so, too, from the earliest times of Christianity there were men who began to assert on their own authority that the meaning they attribute to the doctrine is the only true one, and as proof bring forward supernatural occurrences in support of the correctness of their interpretation. This was the principal cause at first of the misunderstanding of the doctrine, and afterward of the complete distortion of it.

It was supposed that Christ’s teaching was transmitted to men not like every other truth, but in a special miraculous way. Thus the truth of the teaching was not proved by its correspondence with the needs of the mind and the whole nature of man, but by the miraculous manner of its transmission, which was advanced as an irrefutable proof of the truth of the interpretation put on it. This hypothesis originated from misunderstanding of the teaching, and its result was to make it impossible to understand it rightly.

The proposition that we ought not to do unto others as we would not they should do unto us, did not need to be proved by miracles and needed no exercise of faith, because this proposition is in itself convincing and in harmony with man’s mind and nature; but the proposition that Christ was God had to be proved by miracles completely beyond our comprehension. The more the understanding of Christ’s teaching was obscured, the more the miraculous was introduced into it; the more the miraculous was introduced into it, the more the doctrine was strained from its meaning and the more obscure it became; and the more it was strained from its meaning and the more obscure it became, the more strongly its infallibility had to be asserted, and the less comprehensible the doctrine became…

…That is how the Orthodox clergy proceed ; but indeed all churches without exception avail themselves of every means for the purpose—one of the most important of which is what is now called hypnotism.
Every art, from architecture to poetry, is brought into requisition to work its effect on men’s souls and to reduce them to a state of stupefaction, and this effect is constantly produced. This use of hypnotizing influence on men to bring them to a state of stupefaction  is  especially  apparent  in the proceedings of the Salvation Army, who employ new practices to which we are unaccustomed: trumpets, drums, songs, flags, costumes, marching, dancing, tears and dramatic performances… The old practices in churches were essentially the same, with their special lighting, gold, splendour, candles, choirs, organ, bells, vestments, intoning, etc…

So, in order to preserve the soul against hypnotism and consequent stupefaction, here’s some useful advice: beware all extravagantly got-up human performances—religious, military, sporting and so on—that require trumpets and drums and any grossly expensive ceremonial of any kind whatsoever—for example, the London Olympic Games 2012. This advice is not unlike Thoreau’s admonition, which I have always followed, to avoid all enterprises that require new clothes.

The so simple idea that the object of life is to get into a full state of Consciousness is effectively concealed by the resort to ceremonial and by all the stories & abstractions invented by theologians; in particular the story of a personage or abstraction going under the name of ‘God’. Once you get locked into that unquestioning belief there’s no hope.

Tolstoy again:- ‘…I have often been irritated, though it would be comic if the consequences were not so awful, by observing how [grown] men shut one another in a delusion and cannot get out of the magic circle…’

It’s as Kierkegaard says (Irony pp182/3) : ‘…true freedom is in … preserving one’s soul unscathed… in preserving the innermost deepest personal life…’  or, as a Buddhist might say, in being disidentified from all procedures, beliefs and events, being fully in life but not of it.

God the Unknown

Locked in his own Magic Circle, Kierkegaard ties himself in tortuous knots trying to establish the existence of God. From Philosophical Fragments: ‘How should the Reason be able to understand what is absolutely different from itself…’ —he says this at least twenty times in different ways; it’s a very earnest & honest struggle to prove the totally unprovable. You can hear the gears grinding. The Unknown ‘does indeed exist’ but it’s unknown so it doesn’t exist… Reason, on a collision course, asserts ‘that the Unknown does not exist, since this itself involves a relationship. The Unknown is a limit, a brickwall ‘to which Reason repeatedly comes’… God is the Unknown which of course exists—it’s just that it’s unknown. The Unknown exists therefore—since ‘God’ is an undeniable aspect of it—god also exists; but that fact must be apprehended by passion and faith not reason.

Incidentally, it’s worth noting that the root meaning of ‘passion’ is not a lunatic wild-eyed throwing of the arms about but the much more sophisticated patient ‘suffering’ (Latin patior)… A waiting for the light to dawn which is certainly beyond reason as I understand it. But when the light dawns who knows what will appear?

Deep down ‘in the heart of piety [sc in the pious person] lurks… [the idea that] it has itself produced the God…’ says Kierkegaard. But the self-invention of God he dismisses as a ‘mad caprice’… And so on round and round. He is so identified with the concept ‘God’ that he loses himself in his magic circle like the Yezidi boy in Meetings with Remarkable Men.

The Sheer Human Being

When you say you know something, when you tot up all the things you say you’ve learned and put them into a box labelled ‘simultaneity’, whatever that means for you, you become identified and so lose part of your self.

It’s arguable that ‘knowledge’, or rather the pretence of knowing things, is a danger to the integrity of the person you imagine yourself to be (your ‘self’); when you say, “I am a loyal patriot of… [wherever you happen to live]”, or, “I am a member of the Church… [of whatever]” or “I know God…” or by dedication to any other meaningless abstraction you care to mention, part of you ceases being an independent entity. On the one hand Kierkegaard seems to sink his self hopelessly in God the Unknown; on other hand he advocates ‘immediacy’, being true to oneself, occupying the existential empty moment of Being right NOW—contentless, suspended in time & space.

Does he have a practical way of getting there? Does he advocate a method for arriving at the status of what he calls ‘sheer human being’—‘being-in-and-for-itself’—a nothingness, a cypher unencumbered with all the trash of modern and ancient life, one that has unburdened itself of all belief & custom and, maybe got itself back to a state of modern Edenic innocence?

Like his model Socrates, Kierkegaard claims not to be a teacher—he just asks questions in the spirit of aporia. But here’s what he approves in Socrates (The Concept of Irony), pointing out that, ferrying people to the Hereafter, Charon had

…travellers [divesting] themselves of all the manifold qualifications of concrete life, of titles, honours, purple robes, pompous words, sorrows, anxieties etc until only the sheer human being remained, so Socrates also shipped individuals from [ordinary?] reality to ideality; and the ideal infinity as the infinite negativity was the nothing into which he had the entire multiplicity of [ordinary?] reality disappear…’

This intention is evidence of Socrates’ ‘earnestness’ says Kierkegaard. My interpretation of ‘earnestness’ is that it constitutes for Kierkegaard evidence for ‘positivity’ as against Hegel’s dismissal of Socratic irony as being a lack of ‘earnestness’—for Hegel, irony was not a serious pursuit, rather a kind of game.

But it’s not always easy to grasp Kierkegaard’s definition of irony; it’s not just saying the opposite of what you mean—it’s a state of mind: sometimes it is like a game—it’s ‘the infinitely light playing with nothing’; it’s ‘earnestness about nothing… in order to free itself of earnestness about anything it grasps the nothing…’ But the serious ironist knows that all is vanity and so ‘becomes free… The more vain everything becomes all the lighter, emptier and volatilised’ it becomes but the ‘nothing’ remains ‘just as full of content as the silence of the night is full of sounds for someone who has ears to hear…’ So the ironist in freedom and suspension retains enthusiasm for living by being ‘intoxicated… [by] the infinity of possibilities…’ Being an ironist enables you to gain a meta-position in relation to all life’s events and opportunities.

How to Become Sheer Human Being—An Exercise

Though they try to do so, neither Socrates nor Kierkegaard can avoid the label ‘teacher’—for a start, their example is there to be modelled on (which is perhaps the most effective form of teaching) and then there’s valuable teaching material in what Kierkegaard defines as Socrates’ earnestness! In fact, deliberately divesting oneself of everything to do with ‘life’ can be made into a very useful exercise in self-development. The very apex of positivity. Nothingness is the essence of what it is to be a human-being—from there you can become a tentative temporary something.

To get to Nothingness, first of all, make great long lists of all the things you value, all your beliefs and hangups, the relationships that give you a sense of worth, everything you feel & think & make claim to know and so on. When you think you’ve got a more or less complete statement of who you think you are, systematically divorce your self from each item in turn; you could put each one in a matchbox and send it off down Charon’s stream or fire each one off into the night sky attached to a toy rocket until you are left with the essence of you at the centre of your being.

Thomas Merton said that ‘…at the centre of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God [or whatever passes for God— innermost Being, World Consciousness, Daimon etc]… inaccessible to the fantasies of our own mind or the brutalities of our own will…’

So how come the pretence of knowing things is a danger to the integrity of the person you imagine yourself to be? When we identify with the things we purport to know, think, feel, do, we lose our ‘self’; when we identify with the 10,000 distractions (eg football, fun, finance, fiddles, philandering, opinion etc) the world presents to us we lose our ‘self’ in the contemplation of them; when we label our function as what we do for a living— ‘I am a waiter’ = Sartre’s example of what he calls Bad Faith—or ‘I am a scientist’ or ‘I am an existentialist’ etc) we limit and lose our ‘self’; when we analyse our psychological make-up and label ourselves ‘schizoid’ or ‘paranoid’ or ‘extravert/introvert’  (whatever suits you) we lose our ‘self’; when we go to vote it’s a loss of self in identification with a political party. We lose a sense of ‘sheer human being’-ness in these ways—there are many more ways to hide the self.

On your list you’ll no doubt have whatever it is you do ‘for a living’. Here’s what Kierkegaard says about this in Either/Or:-

What, if anything, is the meaning of this life? If people are divided into two great classes, it may be said that one class works for a living and the other does not have that need. But to work for a living certainly cannot be the meaning of life, since it is indeed a contradiction that the continual production of the conditions is supposed to be the answer to the question of the meaning of that which is conditional upon their production. The lives of the rest of them generally have no meaning except to consume the conditions. To say that the meaning of life is to die seems to be a contradiction also.

How to maintain the integrity of the self? By rising above all these things in disidentification; flying up into ‘…the infinite nonchalant freedom of subjectivity we see in Socrates—this is precisely the irony…’ says Kierkegaard in Irony. A sustained elevation above Frederiksberg Gardens.

I think that Socratic irony is disidentification from what we could call ‘ordinary reality’. ‘The contents of this life must be regarded as nothing…’ (The Concept of Irony). It wasn’t that Socrates knew ‘nothing’, says Hegel—ordinary nothing (nothing on the table kind of thing)—he knew the Nothingness of the world—‘the negativity of all finite content’; for him ‘the negation of everything is the beginning of infinite knowledge’.

Kierkegaard points out that Socrates says ‘…all human striving is vanity, accomplishing nothing…’ (The Concept of Irony).  Socrates standing still and staring is ‘a state of dreaming in which the negativity became clear to him and he was intoxicated by its emptiness…’ For Socrates ‘…everything disappears beneath him—he hovers over it in ironic contentment borne up by absolute self-consistency of infinite negativity—becomes alien to the whole world… nameless and indefinable he belongs to another formation…’ (ibid)

This is the infinite freedom & space offered by being in Meta-I, in my terms: for Kierkegaard, modelling himself on Socrates, being ‘personally isolated’, standing ‘ironically above every relationship’, being ‘suspended high above all… in ironic contentment’, in a kind of ‘aristocratic’ detachment (ibid)—these were the things worth working towards as ‘something to die for’ that Kierkegaard wanted to find..

Living Poetically

Kierkegaard (like Socrates a bit of a traditionalist) accuses his contemporaries the German Romantics of using irony to undermine conventional beliefs. He pours scorn on them for glorifying the subjective, taking inwardness to an extreme conclusion, inventing new stories about themselves, of living through poetry, of disappearing into legends, myths & fairy-tales, bound to fiction, arriving at the pretence of believing that they were living life as a poem, making poetry out of it..

But it could be argued that Kierkegaard’s own life had all the characteristics of a poem; you don’t have to write ‘poems’ in order to be ‘poetic’: you can see poetic images in the most ordinary of things; your thinking can juxtaspose conflicting ideas to create a poetic spark or two; when writing you can delight in the abrupt starting point, the dangling ending, nothing cleared up, wisps of ideas left to work together to make some new strand of interest. He certainly does not think prosaically:-

Where the rays of the sun do not reach, the tones still manage to come. My apartment is dark and gloomy; a high wall practically keeps out the light of day. It must be in the next courtyard, very likely a wandering musician. What instrument is it? A reed pipe? What do I hear—the minuet from Don Giovanni. Carry me away, then, you rich, strong tones, to the ring of girls, to the delight of the dance. The pharmacist pounds his mortar, the maid scrubs her kettle, the groom curries his horse and knocks the currycomb on the cobblestones. These tones are only for me; only to me do they beckon. Oh, thank you, whoever you are! Thank you! My soul is so rich, so hearty, so intoxicated with joy!

This from Either/Or has the feeling of Walt Whitman about it.

William Carlos Williams says ‘Poetry is the renovation of experience’. Without actually writing anything that has the appearance of poetic form, Kierkegaard crafts experience into patterns of understanding that work at some elevated level. When he defines irony as being suspended high above all in a kind of aristocratic detachment (floating above the ordinary exasperations of life, way above Frederiksberg Gardens) he is surely engaging in a flight of poetic fancy?

It’s at least possible that Kierkegaard might have accepted William Carlos Williams’ definition of poetry? Passages from The Concept of Irony suggest that he is not entirely against the idea of ‘living poetically’, that, provided there’s no distorting ‘infatuation’ with discarding the past, and recreating self in a totally new way as a fiction as he says the German Romantics did, it might not be so dreadful a response to life. Human beings have always invented stories about themselves; internalising an infinitised visualisation does raise one up a level. Making the poet-life congruent with reality as Kierkegaard says of Goethe is surely a worthy aim.

Living poetically would be to examine the way in which actuality and the Absolute meet in the continual dialectic of life.

What philosophers say about actuality is often just as disappointing as it is when one reads on a sign in a secondhand shop Pressing Done Here. If a person were to bring his clothes to be pressed, he would be duped, for the sign is merely for sale. (from Either/Or)

This is how Kierkegaard converted the experience of ‘actuality’ into potent metaphor and made no ‘infatuated’ song and dance about it.

Though I have never thought of it as such, I speak as one who, in the eyes of the world, rather than live in some airy-fairy destitute no-person’s poetic revery, had a successful ‘career’ in teaching, managing to survive the ordeal by making a poem out of its absurdity (in the existential sense).

Poetry, however you define it, is about weighing up this with that and making some kind of synthesis. The ‘poetry’ of athletic motion, the ‘poetry’ of a steam engine in full steam, the ‘poetry’ of geese in flight, shaping and re-shaping into multiple v-shapes: many things or elements moving together to effect some kind of unity or synthesis. The ‘poetry’ of a human being with all parts, intellect, feeling & acting, working together.

The Ironist and Poetic Reconstruction

What Hegel called the ‘negativity’ of Socrates’ stance sounds too dismissive—I’d rather think that he helped to open up an existential void to contain the infinite possibility of choosing to make the very best out of this fundamentally meaningless existence. We can choose to emerge from the confusion generated by aporia with creativity, making music, writing poems and novels, painting, caring for others, never sanctioning bombing raids & drone strikes, all because we have the existential choice to be ourselves for ourselves.

The ironist, knowing that ‘the phenomenon is not the essence’, that the way things appear does not say much about their actual being, is a person who can stand outside life, adopting a meta-position; the ironist, sensing the absurdity of involvement, endeavours to make things concrete by poetical reconstruction. This brings about a refined ‘actuality’ that belongs uniquely to the ironist. Others, the ‘riffraff’ as Kierkegaard’s contemporary Heiberg calls them, are too identified with earning a living, paying the bills and so on to be able to stand outside of life from time to time.

Poetical reconstruction, for me, is about converting what one observes, small-chunk and large chunk, nothing wasted, into metaphor and cadence—‘going meta’ to what we unthinkingly take to be everyday ‘reality’.

It’s perhaps worth noting that the original Greek meaning of ‘poet’ is simply one who literally makes, in our case a maker of sense out of the rigmarole of life. So when one asks the question ‘What is the point of life?’ the answer, living poetically, is that the point is to make sense of things, especially life’s contradictions, in whatever way one can. The ironist is especially good at this. It’s what Kierkegaard did, contradictions and all.

The ironist ‘has the power to start all over again’—to ‘renovate experience’—I’m also reminded of the Zen concept of ‘Beginner’s Mind’—so that ‘anything that happened before is not binding…’ It’s there but it’s not binding; you don’t have to identify with it. I love the image of being able to gambol ‘like a Leviathan in the sea…’ as a result of the freedom this offers. That simile, in itself, makes Kierkegaard a ‘poet’, a maker, a converter of actuality into a kind of poetry.

Though decent poems are no doubt the result of the controlled irony that Kierkegaard refers to, living poetically is not just about writing poems; it’s more about creating the conditions for oneself for letting ‘…the whole individuality develop harmoniously into a pliable form rounded off in itself…’—to compose oneself ‘poetically’ in the thick of things rather than abandon oneself to being prosaically composed by others—by the external forces of marketing whatever they might be, religious, political, capitalistic. The ironist, standing above the whole of life, has to create a self poetically by becoming a nothing, a ‘fool in the world….’

Keats says: ‘The only means of strengthening one’s intellect is to make up one’s mind about nothing—to let the mind be a thoroughfare for all thoughts’. This seems like good clown-like ‘poetic’ advice to me. Not unlike what Kierkegaard might have said. To manage the escape from all forms of suggestibility, it is very urgent for us as ironists constantly to journey out towards the boundaries of whatever is uniquely original in us.

The ironic soul is ‘always on a pilgrimage’ having acquired what’s needed for comfortable living but not over-emphasising what it might take to live an apparently ‘normal’ life in collaboration with others.

The poet has the secret of Socrates’ ‘controlled irony’ which is ‘inclosed reserve’: ‘he began by closing himself off from men, by closing himself in with himself [paradoxically] in order to be expanded…’ (The Concept of Anxiety) This is facilitated when you’re in Socrates’ favourite state of ‘standing still and contemplating—in other words in silence…’ (The Concept of Irony) These days we might refer to it as ‘mindfulness’—it’s where a poet collects her wits.

Living poetically also entails adopting disguises in order to be able to activate all the separate parts of your being as appropriate for different situations: figuratively wearing different ‘masquerade costumes’ enables you to test out, and be in charge of, the environment you find yourself in, being in turn, for example, as Kierkegaard says, proud as an earnest patrician, humble like a penitent pilgrim, playing the fool and even fluttering like ‘an amorous zither player’. And so, for ironist and poet ‘… life is a drama, and what absorbs is the ingenious complication of the drama. The ironist is a spectator even when s/he is the one acting…’ This entails adopting a meta-position.

As though to prove this I suddenly find myself sitting over the other side of the room observing myself sitting typing in this ridiculous fashion, wondering whether it’s worth the candle. That’s a meta-position.

Standing in his shoes for a moment,  Hegel’s objection to this model seems to be that it admits nothing from the outside; there’s no place for the Absolute, no place for a transcendental Spirit. Kierkegaard’s way of accommodating his relish for the theatrical model to Hegel’s critique is to suggest that poetry itself ‘… is a victory over the world; it is through a negation of the imperfect actuality that poetry opens up a higher actuality, expands and transfigures the imperfect into the perfect… a kind of reconciliation…’ His infinity of spirit or region of the higher state of being external links for me to Tennyson’s ‘…all experience is an arch wherethrough/Gleams that untravelled world whose margin fades/For ever and for ever when I move…’ and this can be introjected as an ‘internal infinity’.

Only when in my enjoying I am not outside myself but inside—only then is my enjoyment infinite, because it is inwardly infinite… [and not] in finite & egotistical self-satisfaction… Either to be human is the absolute or all life is nonsense…

To live poetically is not to be detached from ordinary life but to make ‘poet-life’ congruent with ‘actuality’ which I take to mean the sticks & stones, hard drives & cliffs of existence. One must not, like the German Romantics were apparently, be ‘infatuated’ with inexplicable urges to write poems but must constantly seek to effect a synthesis of ‘real life’ (actuality) with an ironic (and therefore poetic) vision of what is happening to one’s individuality, in order to make sense of the absurdity of human existence. ‘Irony is not the Truth but the way…’ The individual exercises irony for herself; the communication of truth ‘…relates itself once again to the single individual; for in this view of life the single individual is precisely the truth…’


The problem, I think, is the all-too-human reliance on abstractions, of which ‘Truth’ is one of the most fundamental. What Kierkegaard says about the individual embodying truth through inwardness pre-supposes the existence of something that can be figured out and then have the invented label ‘Truth’ stuck on it.

Does the label ‘Truth’ have any meaning at all? It could be ‘the way things are’, or ‘…the sum of all the facts and circumstances or events and experiences of one’s life…’ or ‘…of all conceivable facts and circumstances or events and experiences in the entire universe…’ Truth = everything that is exactly in the way that it is of which we humbles can only have the smallest snippet. Each individual has a parochial and inevitably limited take on ‘the way things are’, expressing an opinion about which is an imaginative construction based on very little. If one’s philosophical application is enough to result in ‘…an intense and sustained examination of one’s life…’ then a ‘rich picture’ may result—the richer the picture the more one approximates to ‘objective uncertainty’.

There’s a namby-pamby liberal view that ‘everybody’s entitled to their own opinion’. But, as Kierkegaard says we are such easy prey to the sophistry of ‘…political travelling salesmen [who] try to impart to people in the shortest possible time the political background to enable them to talk…’ and become political travelling salesmen in turn (The Concept of Irony). Unless we take a considerable step back in determined irony we are easily brainwashed into believing the latest sound bite from the politicos. Kierkegaard’s phrase for ‘sound-bite’ is the lovely ‘capsule information’. The teacher/politician says “Take this pill and you’ll become successful/pass your exam/make a lot of money…” This is the sophist’s line as Kierkegaard suggests—it’s a constant deception.

Standing up against the ease with which the political travelling salesmen, the modern sophists, pollute our minds has never been more important.  The Socratic apophthegm KNOW THYSELF which has been, as Kierkegaard says, ‘vagabonding in literature’ for a good few years doesn’t mean what we usually take it to mean—viz bourgeois introspection. According to Kierkegaard what Socrates meant was to ‘separate your self from the other’ or keep your own council or, in this context, don’t allow the wild men of philosophy and politics to scramble your mind! Separation from all the dross precedes the integration of the important things..

Socrates’ Daimon represents, for me, a detached standpoint, a meta-position that enabled irony, a rising above the absurdity (in the existentialist sense) of human life. A ‘good’ place to be, in my way of looking at things. Socrates stood above life as it seemed to be. And he avoided a philosophical ‘system’. But he can’t win because having a meta-position is actually at least the beginnings of a sound philosophical system.

The Need for a Gadfly or Two

It’s good that Kierkegaard alerts us ‘moderns’ to Socrates. ‘What the world needs is a Socrates…’ And now we desperately need ‘gadflies’ like Noam Chomsky who, just as Kierkegaard was regarded as an ‘odd thinker’, is dubbed ‘the great American crackpot’. In this half-baked cynical way ‘the crowd’ deals with characters who step out of line, as Kierkegaard feared they would be dealt with in so-called ‘democracy’ by the 1% who actually run things and make decisions to suit themselves which they then impose on us.

Individually, programmed into channels of thinking by ‘education’ and upbringing, it’s easy to rely on prior ‘learning’. What Kierkegaard learned from Socrates was that ‘the unexamined life is not worth living’; their joint antidote does not depend upon swallowing ‘capsule information’ as prescribed by the Sophists, orthodox clergy, or modern day political spin doctors. In fact, as we’ve seen, Kierkegaard arrived at the excellent pedagogy that things should be made more difficult for learners who, when in genuine earnest, would have to work hard to appropriate ideas, to verify belief inwardly.

Modern Society, east or west, north or south, in the shape of the capitalist exploiters of humanity, the Bilderberg conspirators, is certainly attempting to subvert the mind of anybody seeking to hold on to their individuality. ‘Custom & tradition’ in the modern world is something stuck on us by powerful e-manipulators of minds; ‘they’ seek to make us think in ways that we imagine to be ‘customary’ and ‘traditional’ by feeding us ‘capsule information’: ‘this is the only possible way to organise things’, so they tell us—war, profit, government lies & swindles, the making of millionaires, the lie of the trickle-down effect. I suppose that this is universal. In all cultures we presumably have modern-day Sophists priests & various elders, pillars of society, ‘political travelling salesmen’ who twist things to suit themselves—it’s now a global conspiracy. Globalisation makes the world one; Hegel would not have liked this, according to Bertrand Russell—the Prussian state was all. Hegel thought Socrates deserved to die for attempting to subvert the state.

And now we have Glocalisation—the globalisers get on with their dirty work while we’re distracted by the pretence that they will allow us to indulge in meaningless local decision-making.

It’s ever more essential in the modern age that we come to adopt an ironical stance. With irony as the ‘infinite absolute negativity’, nay-saying, the ironist, which could be every individual under the sun, can rise above any demand that modern society, wherever it might be, could possibly make on us.

The Need for Balance

In Concluding Unscientific Postscript, Kierkegaard talks about how important it is to get a balance between the faculties of intellectual thinking, aesthetic appreciation, ethical and ‘religious’ feeling. There’s a need to make a ‘simultaneous unity’ from these human proclivities; scooping up evidence from the past and recognising when you’re in each of those faculties in turn in order to achieve ‘existential unity’—the upshot is that a person who operates out of one or other exclusively is an incomplete human being.

The equivalent nowadays might be to consult one’s entire human organism in order to appreciate ‘actuality’ in the widest possible way; to operate not just from the neo-cortex (thinking cap), nor just from the limbic system (feelings of all kinds & memory), nor just the ‘reptile’ bit of the brain (moving activity, athleticism etc), nor just from the right hemisphere (often regarded as the place where we make patterns etc) nor from more global events that move at 40 wave cycles per second (identified in some literature as a ‘god-spot’). To make an ‘existential unity’ out of taking oneself regularly round the whole brain (which is the body) is to become fully human. This seems to me to be what Kierkegaard is saying in his own way.

Devising systems is lop-sided because you’re operating exclusively in your neo-cortex, in ‘pure thought’.

The irony or paradox is, of course, that once you’ve achieved what Kierkegaard calls ‘existential unity’, once you’ve developed a facility for looking at things at will from the different points of view that are supported by neuron assemblies, neurotransmitters, and so on, then you need to posit a system for thinking about it. Hence SK’s model of a combination of intellectual thinking, aesthetic appreciation, ethical and ‘religious’ feeling. He has a system! But before that his emphasis is, quite rightly, on the unifying of ‘an existing individual, not in [through] thought but in existence…’ Achieving ‘existential unity’ precedes thinking about what that might entail—integration is partly a matter of establishing priorities.

The paradox of inwardness is that the more you clarify things for yourself the more expansive becomes your understanding provided you move constantly between inner and outer so as to achieve congruency in ‘immediacy’ or ‘harmony with the natural world’ which is destroyed by ‘sin’ and reconciled by forgiveness as Kierkegaard puts it.

I think of ‘sin’ not as something to do with religion but as a ordinary contravention (by greed, vanity, pride etc) of a natural way of being—anything which in ordinary life disrupts the flow of ‘immediacy’ or Being in the Moment. One has to forgive oneself and others for this before being able to move on.
Kierkegaard disagreed with Hegel’s notion of the mediation of opposites but it seems to me that Kierkegaard is here using the thesis/antithesis/synthesis pattern of thinking to effect a mediation between immediacy and sin in order to arrive at the ‘second immediacy’ of forgiveness. Forgiveness is an emergent property or reconciling element (synthesis) of a systemic movement between immediacy (thesis) and sin (antithesis). It’s not that thesis and antithesis disappear—they will always be there with a resulting synthesis. I do not believe that the revelation comes from ‘God’ as Kierkegaard asserts but from inwardness as a process.

It’s my practice to get people to explore these kinds of apparent dichotomies by physically making themselves into a pendulum to swing to the tune of Pachelbel’s Canon between opposites gradually slowing to come to some inwardly emerging and provisional conclusion about a synthesis or reconciliation at the nadir of the swing; it’s the inner voice (Socrates’ Daimon) that provides the answer.

It’s possible to come to provisional terms in this way with some familiar distinctions which perplex philosophers: for example, the apparently conventional clash between the eternal and the temporal, between God and man, death and resurrection and so on, each of which I might at this moment reconcile thus:-
Thinking like this might make me a Hegelian! Contrary to Kierkegaard, I’d maintain that distinctions do not disappear—they simply provide a way of determining a ‘next step’ in appropriating a synthesis.

The Last Word Goes to Kierkegaard!


The crowd is untruth. And I could weep, in every case I can learn to long for the eternal, whenever I think about our age’s misery, even compared with the ancient world’s greatest misery, in that the daily press and anonymity make our age even more insane with help from ‘the public’, which is really an abstraction, which makes a claim to be the court of last resort in relation to ‘the truth’; for assemblies which make this claim surely do not take place. That an anonymous person, with help from the press, day in and day out can speak however he pleases (even with respect to the intellectual, the ethical, the religious), things which he perhaps did not in the least have the courage to say personally in a particular situation; every time he opens up his gullet—one cannot call it a mouth—he can all at once address himself to thousands upon thousands; he can get ten thousand times ten thousand to repeat after him—and no one has to answer for it; in ancient times the relatively unrepentant crowd was the almighty, but now there is the absolutely unrepentant thing: No One, an anonymous person: the Author, an anonymous person: the Public, sometimes even anonymous subscribers, therefore: No One. No One! God in heaven, such states even call themselves Christian states. One cannot say that, again with the help of the press, ‘the truth’ can overcome the lie and the error.

O, you who say this, ask yourself: Do you dare to claim that human beings, in a crowd, are just as quick to reach for truth, which is not always palatable, as for untruth, which is always deliciously prepared, when in addition this must be combined with an admission that one has let oneself be deceived! Or do you dare to claim that ‘the truth’ is just as quick to let itself be understood as is untruth, which requires no previous knowledge, no schooling, no discipline, no abstinence, no self-denial, no honest self-concern, no patient labor! No, ‘the truth’, which detests this untruth, the only goal of which is to desire its increase, is not so quick on its feet. Firstly, it cannot work through the fantastical, which is the untruth; its communicator is only a single individual. And its communication relates itself once again to the single individual; for in this view of life the single individual is precisely the truth. The truth can neither be communicated nor be received without being as it were before the eyes of God, nor without God’s help, nor without God being involved as the middle term, since he is the truth. It can therefore only be communicated by and received by ‘the single individual’, which, for that matter, every single human being who lives could be: this is the determination of the truth in contrast to the abstract, the fantastical, impersonal, ‘the crowd’—‘the public’, which excludes God as the middle term (for the personal God cannot be the middle term in an impersonal relation), and also thereby the truth, for God is the truth and its middle term.

Kierkegaard (Copenhagen 1847)

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Under a Spell

My struggle to come to terms with the concept ‘God’ goes back fifty-five years. In those days, I had not long emerged from a very severe bout of attendance at all the Sunday services in the quaint & homely early 20th Century suburban church where my parents had, before this, insisted on my going to Sunday School to get me out of the way for the morning: there I was briefly under the spell of the ninety-year old Miss Eliot who told pleasant stories and handed out little postage stamp size bible texts. The real reason for my later zealousness was that, without ever daring to approach her, I rather fancied a girl in the choir but this obscure ‘God’ thing was always lurking somewhere in my mind; it might have been in the enthusiastic descant provided by the loud tenor-man who always seemed to be behind me or else it was in my meaningless chanting of the credo or in the walk through the Park and up the Avenue, Worcester Park, to the church on the hill. Lurk it did until I was freed from it by focussing on quotations from Meister Eckhart in Aldous Huxley’s The Perennial Philosophy which I consumed in 1958.

So, after sometimes years ago flirting with the whimsical idea of God being an old man in carpet slippers wandering about the universe somewhere or the other, way out of reach of human arms, it’s to Meister Eckhart I return in the year 2013. Listen!

The knower and the known are one. Simple people imagine that they should see God, as if he stood there and they here. This is not so. God and I, we are one in knowledge.

Simple people—theologians, vicars & priests & bishops, the ‘born again’—all who deal in ‘God’ as though it were a foregone conclusion, the existence of the word ‘God’ pre-supposing that whatever it is meant to denote actually exists, like a unicorn or a chimera—simple people, although they always do their best, abound. More complex it might be to attempt to figure out the Oneness of God and I being one in knowledge. A giant shift in the meaning of ‘God’ may be needed. Nevertheless, it’s still the case that…

Some people want to see God with their eyes as they see a cow, and to love Him as they love their cow—for the milk and cheese and profit it brings them. This is how it is with people who love God for the sake of outward wealth or love Him for their own advantage. Indeed, I tell you the truth, any object you have in your mind, however good, will be a barrier between you and the inmost Truth.

And furthermore…

No one can experience this birth of God realised in the soul without a mighty effort. No one can attain this birth unless they can withdraw the mind entirely from things.

It’s true that whatever you have in your mind is a barrier between what & who you are and an apprehension of the pure incoming impressions of things. What’s already in your mind—cows, milk, cheese, profit, outward wealth, fun—gets in the way of anything else that could conceivably be there. It’s ultimately a barrier to realising your Nothingness.

Though it could be so easy, it certainly takes a mighty effort to arrive at a state of Nothingness which, in Eckhart’s terms, I take to mean ‘God’. Nothingness opens up into Everythingness which you could call ‘God’ if you were so disposed; that is to say, if you wanted to employ a technician who would make your cow a good milk-producer.

Prating About God

Eckhart asks rhetorically: Why dost thou prate of God? Whatever thou sayest of him is untrue... and then, rather disappointingly, proceeds to prate as though ‘God’ were as obvious a being as a cow. A cow expects to be milked on the dot and

God expects but one thing of you and that is that you should come out of yourself in so far as you are a created being and let God be God in you.

Meister Eckhart conveys existential truths and then slips back into orthodox priestly linguistic traps by using the word ‘God’ as though he might well be my old man in carpet slippers shuffling round the universe somewhere. The implications of his essential profound truths are left dangling… What would happen, for instance, were you to succeed, with ‘a mighty effort’, in emptying out all the ‘objects’ you currently have in your mind, all concepts, all images, all patterns of thinking? What would happen were you to discover a way to ‘withdraw [your] mind entirely from things’? How could you be successful in disidentifying from everything in the world just as it presents itself to you?

To suggest that this would get you close to God, as Meister Eckhart asserts, is, for me, a step too far. An unnecessary step—enough it would be to discover what’s there when you’ve tipped everything out without prejudging the issue, without entertaining a burning desire to give it a name and thus limit things again by identifying with whatever word you chose..

Around the time I first read the potent extracts from Meister Eckhart I wrote a poem that started, ‘What can I think that I have not thought before?’ I’m still asking the same question.

Meister Eckhart on Divine Knowledge

The current phase of my struggle to come to terms with the concept ‘God’ started with a reading at the beginning of August 2013 of a book that’s been on my shelves some years just waiting for this moment now: Meister Eckhart on Divine Knowledge by CFKelley who is recognised as an authority in the field. Often nowadays my efforts to understand complexity take the form of meditative found poems—I take bits of a text that seem appropriate and weld them willy-nilly into my current reality just to see what happens.

in this interminable book

about Meister Eckhart
(emphatically repetitious)
one reads that God’s eye—
the unrestricted intellect—
is the subject of all reality;
that God manifests his multiple aspects
in reality through eternal manifestation
of himself presupposed
in the affirmation of the eternal Word;
that in pure intellection
the intellective identification
of the object with the subject—which God is—
you see: God is the Subject
and love is realised by metaphysical necessity
through the act of negating self as such
—of returning to its own principle
which is the divine Selfhood

apparently my miserable attempt to understand
all this comes
from having sunk my being (a mere object)
in exterior philosophy

the only mode of comprehension
is to be inside God himself—
here endeth the lesson

A somewhat sardonic comment that acknowledges Kelley’s assertion that, having been brain-washed by conventional western philosophy and psychology, I, the reader, cannot possibly understand where Meister Eckhart or even he himself is coming from. (Lines 3 to the first break consist of a direct quotation from Kelley’s convoluted prose…) Having also been brain-washed by unconventional western philosophy and psychology, though some part of me is very excited by it, some other part of me is suspicious of the idea that ‘God’ might be ‘unrestricted intellect’, suspicious of the idea that ‘pure intellection’, ideas floating around in the void, not tied down by emotion, action & instinct, can get you anywhere; and I am distinctly alienated by Kelley’s interminable failure to relate his airy abstractions to something concrete and handleable.

I was however entranced by the idea of standing inside ‘God’ himself, of adopting a God-vantage-point, a God-camera-obscura in order to understand what might be his point of view: it seems that it might be any time practically achievable; I think I can do it without being struck by lightning. If it would get me to a conceptually non-dual position I am always prepared to take my chance.

Being also emotionally enlivened by what something in me calls my ‘Intellectual Life’—reading, thinking, writing, in that order—there was certainly a part of me that was entranced by the idea emerging that Intellect is the highest form of Being and Being-curious-I determined to find out how this could be so. I pre-suppose that when you stand outside time & space in what I often call Meta-I you could call it ‘pure intellection’.

Here’s what came up for me bending Kelley’s words around and about:-

intellect is the summit of the soul

time & circumstance cannot touch it; the light
of intellect raises a stone above the realm of sense
& temporality never resting until it return to the first
ratio;  the outward progressive operations

of the human intellect are of course in time
and the movements of sense & images restricted to
materiality are subject to time but in themselves
they are grounded above time and are not subject to

the flow of the duration of matter—how do they exist
in themselves?      say—how do they do that?  they exist
as a direct reflection of eternity which is the absence
or negation of time—their way is without flow

movement or series—such is the nature of detached
intellection—it is perhaps in this solidity I feel
beneath my feet on this summer lawn under the spell
of yellow daisies & roses & beeflies skimming the air

under the crinkly willow at this moment (just a manner
of speaking) way outside time     always and ineffable
where knower and known are one & the same without
interval without beginning or end…  more is meant

than meets the eye or ear: what happens now acts
on stage in (so to say) for this glad moment
of temporal existence which in and of itself
has neither ending nor beginning: it just is—

in the ground of the intellective soul and in detached
intellection its very self as performed by the human self
offering supratemporality to me here on this summer lawn
to the extent that I existed before my self in all

my terrestrial causes—the ancestral cells
the physico-chemical psychic materials
bubbling neurons and the fizzing of synaptic spark-plugs
& the energies of life through the long-evolving…

hold your horses… in what sense did I exist before
my self? and how do I participate (in some way
inscrutable) in unrestricted Istigkeit whence comes
the All—viz eternal intellect whence all intellection?

Meister Eckhart (though I love it) I draw the line
at the absurd invented idea that eternal Intellect
is divine Selfhood from which every self proceeds
—an intellectual step too far towards a God

but if I’d been here in 1890 say—sun riding clouds
in an otherwise blue sky dipping below the house-roof
a dragon-fly with throbbing lips resting a while
on my left hand immobile on the book where I write

existing before my self thus—I can get it and I know
(oh Meister Eckhart and CFKelley) that if I marked out
a circle on the lawn and designated it ‘God-spot’
I could stand in it and under the gulls moving

the evening air I could become God or at least
adopt the telling proposition that in innermost
intellect God’s ground is my ground while
conversely my ground is God’s ground; I shiver

at the intellectual construction that would
get me unbelievably close to goddishness were I
standing there; the primacy of intellect is
an amazing thing and I love you Meister Eckhart

dead these six hundred and eighty-six years
your ideas frozen on my summer lawn forever
into something almost akin to understanding—
more than I ever heard from priests & vicars

Intellect & Reason

Kelley talks about the way the concept of ‘intellect’ is confused at a temporal level with mere human reason, the proud boast that one can reason things out in the mind; but human reason always starts with a parochial set of pre-suppositions: for example, that Capitalism is the only way of managing things—when you fill your mind with that idea, or even accept it uncritically, as is mostly the case, any other possibility is a non-starter.

If long enough was spent in open-ended pure intellection, the unreason, the irrationality of things as they are would be revealed: the obscene duplication of ridiculous commodities offering a spurious ‘choice’ on the supermarket shelves and the plight of starving refugees in their millions; the trillions wasted on armaments and the pointlessness of warfare; the discrepancies of haves & have-nots. And so on.

It doesn’t make sense to plan to kill other people. It doesn’t make sense to organise things so that others are deprived of proper living standards. It doesn’t make sense that the way we live be organised for the greatest good to accrue solelyto the obnoxious few.

As commonly understood, the application of ‘intellect’, regarded as the nosey-parkering of ‘intellectuals’, is derided by those who refuse to dismantle the elaborate buffers they have built between, say, an expressed desire for ‘peace’ and habitual war-practice, between the observation of extreme poverty and a pious profession of humanity.

Meister Eckhart’s concept of Intellect strikes me as being akin to Gurdjieff’s capital-C-Consciousness (= knowing everything all at once) + capital-C-Conscience (= feeling for everything all at one and the same moment). For Eckhart, ‘knowing is a participation in Being’. It’s not a mental gazing at it, not the result of any attempt to reach out there or in here to grasp a conceivable or analysable something or other, a whatness differentiated from something else in duality. Experiencing, thinking, comprehending, questioning—all these imply duality. Participation in Being is the way out.

Participating fully in Being, it is simply the case that ‘I am a knower’. There is just my self and the Istigkeit, the suchness of things—not the result of gazing at them but the immediate apprehension of thinginess—the suchness of all, the ground of all Being, without which there is nothing. Being and knowledge are all one; knower & known are one in knowledge. Participation in Being is simply a direction towards the knowable on the part of my self, the knower. Making distinctions—not looking for otherness—is the principle of non-duality.

Detachment from all that hinders the soul from perfectly possessing its own being; the objective of detachment is neither this nor that… it aims at pure no-thing (non-otherness, the not-self) in which there is infinite possibility.


Why are we not detached? What happens to attach us to things? This may be the same question as—Why do people identify so readily? And therefore lose themselves, forget themselves, in sports, newspapers, TV, politics, religion, hobbies, pop concerts, adverts, fashion. Why do we forget ourselves in ‘forms’—in any complex of ‘events’ external to self? In systems, organisations, patterns of thinking, words, things, events, enthusiasms.

Could it be that by identifying with external things we somehow (mistakenly) imagine that we confirm our being, fortify our identity, give ourselves meaning by joining a club, linking with others at a concert, in an organisation, in subscribing to a way of thinking, in being in the same sports stadium as a lot of others? Or is identifying inevitable? For instance, I am now identifying with these words I’m stringing together; I imagine that what I engaged in is somehow straightening out a mode of thinking, confirming some tentative conclusions I’ve arrived at regarding the concept ‘God’, making a statement that will form the next jumping off point for my ‘Intellectual Life’. Is that inevitable? Or can I STOP! it? Of course I can stop but I choose to go on imagining that I’m confirming my Being. But, having got that out of my system, I also choose to believe that I’m doing this with Intention. Awareness of being identified takes identification to a different place. I can take it or leave it.

I observe that when people support a football team it seems to cause them to feel that they are as big & powerful as they imagine it to be; wrapped up in coloured scarves and wearing significant woolly hats they become the team, the grand abstraction. There’s no alternative, especially on a Saturday afternoon in winter.

Support for a political party works the same way; people interviewed on the wireless at Party Conferences, expressing the most subservient support for the party line whatever it might be, seem mesmerised by what goes on in them

The forms of things are A Influences—things which take us away from our selves in dualism.

Feeling for Inner Being is a B Influence thing. Non-dual. There’s always a danger of allowing a B Influence to be debased into an A Influence—for example, an esoteric religious mode of being can becomes ossified into an easily assimilable set of doctrinal certainties with which one can identify. Gurdjieff, Nicoll, Bennett, Pentland (etc) were at pains to present things in piecemeal fashion in order to avoid such a dumbing down process. ‘Anything too well-organised sows the seeds of its own destruction…’ JGBennett.

There seems to be a desire to forget oneself in order to escape facing the horror of the unadorned thing we are: ‘…Unaccommodated man is no more but such a poor, bare, forked animal…’ (Lear) Instead of accepting that life is its own meaning, we seem to be driven to attributing some extraneous meaning to life or go bust.

Lacking the wherewithal to create meaning for ourselves ‘without a mighty effort’ we resort to simple identification with simple things. When we identify with the mind, for instance, our sense of who we are tends to come from the easiest places—social role, possessions, external appearance, success & failure, belief systems. It takes a mighty effort to tip all these things out and build an other-than-mind-made self; to locate your true centre—Magnetic Centre.

Meanwhile, you have only to look at something to find yourself in identification with it. Your awareness locks on to trees, fields, miscellaneous events in a railway carriage—people talking about nothing on wrist radios (sc Ray Bradbury), staring at idiot screens, announcements regarding train details, mouths masticating, thoughts progressing, the Estuary at Manningtree—it identifies with each in turn.

To get the Food of Pure Impressions—the highest form of food—one must disidentify; notice just the shapes & colours, the timbre & texture of events and then, since noticing those things goes beyond things in themselves, learn to completely abandon all labelling. Anything that goes beyond the things in themselves (through Internal Considering) strays into identification.

Identification is a diversion from a total awareness of things as they are, Istigkeit, in the Greater Being. I think this may be what Mr G refers to as Consciousness—being plugged in to everything all at once, nothing partial or working as a diversion in identification.

Expanded Consciousness

To take it yet another step, Consciousness, expanded consciousness, could well be Meister Eckhart’s ‘pure intellection’, timeless awareness of the Greater Being. But to stick the label ‘divine’ on it is another going beyond what it necessary. ‘Divinity’ is a human invention; human invention is always a going beyond of some kind.

Asking the question—What is consciousness? is as absurd as were a fish to be able to ask—What is water? Just as absurd as asking—What is Being? Or—What is oxygen, the element we swim about in.

All the neuroscience in the world will never answer the question—What is consciousness? It will perhaps be able to analyse what goes on inside the human envelope of Being, to say how things tick there but we will always be left with a great mystery—something that rises above neurons & synapses. If we don’t ask the question in the first place there will be no mystery at all. Perhaps the very act of asking the question creates the mystery. We ask all kinds of questions that divert us from the way things are—in doing so we constantly miss the mark..


The fleet astronomer can bore
And thread the spheres with his quick-piercing mind:
He views theirs stations, walks from door to door,
Surveys, as if he had designed
To make a purchase there: he sees their dances,
And knoweth long before,
Both their full-eyed aspects, and secret glances.

The nimble diver with his side
Cuts through the working waves, that he may fetch
His dearly-earned pearl, which God did hide
On purpose from the ventrous wretch;
That he might save his life, and also hers,
Who with excessive pride
Her own destruction and his danger wears.

The subtle chymick can devest
And strip the creature naked, till he find
The callow principles within their nest:
There he imparts to them his mind,
Admitted to their bed-chamber, before
They appear trim and drest
To ordinary suitors at the door.

What hath not man sought out and found,
But his dear God? who yet his glorious law
Embosoms in us, mellowing the ground
With showers and frosts, with love and awe,
So that we need not say, Where’s this command?
Poor man, thou searchest round
To find out death, but missest life at hand.

George Herbert

For ‘God’ read ‘Consciousness’…

The Food of Pure Impressions and the NOW

There are three kinds of food: the fish & chips I ate in the Babbling Duck in Great Massingham yesterday; the fresh air I gulped down in the Washing Pits at Oxburgh Hall afterwards and all the time the Food of Pure Impressions without which we would be nothing at all—the smell of undergrowth, the gleam of sun on the moat, the sound of children playing, the taste of pleasure in the afternoon. Without the senses being constantly able to pick up incoming impressions in the NOW there would be no life at all, no what we choose to call ‘consciousness’.
Let’s go a stage further. Say that God = Consciousness or vice-versa…

Standing outside such a statement in Meta-I I’d say that it would indicate that I might have been sitting out in the sun too long—or, as my old mum used to suggest, looking towards me to direct people’s attention to her son & heir, by putting her long bony index finger to the side of her forehead and twisting it, that I’d got a screw loose. (This she did even in her final days at 93 when perhaps the gesture might have been more appropriate to her poor old self…)

But on reflection ‘God = Consciousness’ is a good counter to all the A Influence mumbo-jumbo that is associated with orthodox religion. It can bring into focus the idea that there is something-much-bigger-than-myself that can span the entire universe from the Income Tax Return I know I must shortly complete to the microbe hatching out on a planet in a far distant galaxy via the Grand Canyon and all stops between—every little last trance-event.

The Consciousness one can sense in self-remembering—fully there total awareness—can be expanded to accommodate the entire universe. Call it ‘God’ if you like.

To call it that seems to me to be demeaning, de-meaning, making Consciousness a thing small enough to go into a matchbox with a grape. Or else ‘God’ becomes the Old Man in carpet slippers shuffling arthritically round the starscape. The human mind just can’t seem to cope with such a huge concept and must reduce it to a very ordinary three-letter word. Then dress up its representatives in funny clothes, build it temples and make all kinds of special arrangements, dates & times, for worship and then, unaccountably, use it as an excuse for belligerence and periodic bouts of reciprocal destruction. When you reduce something colossal to the human scale you must of course have it behave in a human way, reduce it to your own squalid level of behaviour—you can’t imagine any other way for it to be.

So, away with the concept ‘God’! Say Consciousness is the Great Being, as Meister Eckhart in existential mode suggests . It does not require worship or theology or anything of that sort—no relics or icons, no hymns or prostrations—just very straightforward unadorned honest recognition and a constant reminding, not just on Sundays & Special Days but all the time, every moment, now and now and now.

It’s worth noting how the teachings of Christ became shrouded in all this mystery & claptrap. In The Kingdom of God is Within You, Tolstoy brilliantly outlines the way we were led astray from the essential Consciousness teaching:-

Succeeding generations corrected the errors of their predecessors, and grew ever nearer and nearer to a comprehension of the true meaning. [Tolstoy is being heavily ironical here...] It was thus from the very earliest times of Christianity. And so, too, from the earliest times of Christianity there were men who began to assert on their own authority that the meaning they attribute to the doctrine is the only true one, and as proof bring forward supernatural occurrences in support of the correctness of their interpretation. This was the principal cause at first of the misunderstanding of the doctrine, and afterward of the complete distortion of it.

It was supposed that Christ’s teaching was transmitted to men not like every other truth, but in a special miraculous way. Thus the truth of the teaching was not proved by its correspondence with the needs of the mind and the whole nature of man, but by the miraculous manner of its transmission, which was advanced as an irrefutable proof of the truth of the interpretation put on it. This hypothesis originated from misunderstanding of the teaching, and its result was to make it impossible to understand it rightly.

The proposition that we ought not to do unto others as we would not they should do unto us, did not need to be proved by miracles and needed no exercise of faith, because this proposition is in itself convincing and in harmony with man’s mind and nature; but the proposition that Christ was God had to be proved by miracles completely beyond our comprehension. The more the understanding of Christ’s teaching was obscured, the more the miraculous was introduced into it; the more the miraculous was introduced into it, the more the doctrine was strained from its meaning and the more obscure it became; and the more it was strained from its meaning and the more obscure it became, the more strongly its infallibility had to be asserted, and the less comprehensible the doctrine became…

…That is how the Orthodox clergy proceed ; but indeed all churches without exception avail themselves of every means for the purpose—one of the most important of which is what is now called hypnotism.

Every art, from architecture to poetry, is brought into requisition to work its effect on men’s souls and to reduce them to a state of stupefaction, and this effect is constantly produced. This use of hypnotizing influence on men to bring them to a state of stupefaction is especially apparent in the proceedings of the Salvation Army, who employ new practices to which we are unaccustomed: trumpets, drums, songs, flags, costumes, marching, dancing, tears and dramatic performances… The old practices in churches were essentially the same, with their special lighting, gold, splendour, candles, choirs, organ, bells, vestments, intoning, etc…

Beware All Human Performance

Here’s some useful advice in order to preserve the soul against hypnotism and consequent stupefaction: beware all extravagantly got-up human performances—religious, military, sporting and so on—that require trumpets and drums and any grossly expensive ceremonial of any kind whatsoever.

The so simple idea that the object of life is to get into a full state of consciousness is effectively concealed by the resort to ceremonial and by all the stories & abstractions invented by theologians; in particular the story of a personage or abstraction going under the name of ‘God’. Once you get locked into that unquestioning belief there’s no hope.

Tolstoy: I have often been irritated, though it would be comic if the consequences were not so awful, by observing how [grown] men shut one another in a delusion and cannot get out of the magic circle…

I am immediately reminded of course of the story of the Yezidi boy in Meetings with Remarkable Men:-

Gurdjieff was

…deep in my work when suddenly I heard a desperate shriek. I jumped up, certain that an accident had happened to one of the children during their play. I ran and saw the following picture: In the middle of a circle drawn on the ground stood one of the little boys, sobbing and making strange movements, and the others were standing at a certain distance laughing at him. I was puzzled and asked what it was all about. I learned that the boy in the middle was a Yezidi, that the circle had been drawn round him and that he could not get out of it until it was rubbed away. The child was indeed trying with all his might to leave this magic circle, but he struggled in vain.

Gurdjieff’s response was simply to ‘… rub out part of the circle, and immediately [the boy] dashed out and ran away as fast as he could…’ How can we learn simply to rub out part of the circle that imprisons us and run off? Do we need help?

It’s really so simple. Consciousness just happens to be there, so close to the front of our collective nose that we fail to see it—it’s what informs our Being, sometimes taken for granted as in ordinarily programmed being ‘awake’ or in a dream-state of some kind—but, as when I picked up my pen to start this sentence, it can be vibrant, focussed, fully alive. Consciousness is not an invention; there is without doubt something there which keeps us going, not in a mechanical sense like the works of a clock but existentially; this is more than can ever be said about the conventional notion of ‘God’.

The Problem of Words

It’s words that are the problem—they ensnare us: as soon as you start using words to talk about things you become locked into beliefs & pre-suppositions dictated by the apparent certainty represented by words.

There’s consciousness and Consciousness and then there’s experience, things just happening, as happen they undoubtedly will—that is sufficient. What use are the words we habitually employ to attempt to capture experience? We are bathed in it—why use words? They represent another experience altogether; they are a different universe of being—a parallel universe perhaps. We use the one universe of being to decorate the other, whilst kidding ourselves that it, the accumulation of words, can accurately portray; they merely decorate the original experience, rococo excrescences going beyond the experience itself, building it into an imaginative something-or-other. The secondary experience of the words we use to get the measure of primary experience (as we suppose) changes whatever that might have been in the first place.

Take an experience from your past. Say that, in reliving it, it exists in ‘consciousness’; the sights, sounds and feelings are lived again there—you have them ‘in mind’.

So, I’m on a self-stabilising medium-size liner crossing the Bay of Biscay in a force ten gale. A magic pill from the doctor (or it might have been one from a homeopathic practitioner who seemed to know what he was talking about—but I took both just to make sure) is preventing me from enjoying my habitual feeling of sea sickness. Instead there’s a feeling of extreme ecstasy, Captain Ahab, at facing the elements—water boiling up and breaking over the bridge where we had gone on purpose for the experience; earth somewhere deep below us, air full of sea-spray and the smell & taste of it. Ecstasy—a standing outside of your self. How do all these bits & pieces of the experience cohere into ‘ecstasy’. How did I get to this point in my supposedly accurate verbal account of my experience? I have already gone beyond it—the words have taken me way beyond it, whatever it was in the first place.

It is sufficient just to note how words always take you beyond actual experience as lived. Beyond just Being…

The Gift of Being

We are possessed of this immense thing called Being. What a huge gift! Some people are more aware of it than others; your awareness of it depends on your programming—the way you choose to define experience. You can let it all go on in a ho-hum sort of way, an aimless gesture into the merciless heropass, or you can let it pour into you like a topless waterfall which in turn can be visualised as a little trickle or a fancy roaring Niagara. I choose the latter.

In practical terms, is Being just getting on a train and then getting off when you get to your stop? Or is every train journey an archetypal emblem for ‘Journeying’? A stepping out of time & space to get at pure awareness, detached intellection, of landscapes scooting by, of closed-in-ness in cuttings & tunnels, the life of cities, of other human living spaces (suburban gardens and the light in the window beyond), the book you focus on in between feelings of being transported? Crowds on interchange stations (Leeds after 45 years) and all the intentions of each individual momentarily touching your own as they hurry by; the remembering of old journeys; all this and a constant inner monologue anticipating the arrival at your destination—Stalybridge in the late afternoon, say—through hills and along valleys, past grand Victorian edifices and back-to-back terraces and modern urban sprawl and all the random growths on the face of the planet spinning through space & time

and I am the zero coordinate
of all this activity     just being alive
for it all    unattached in my deep attachment

hurtling round the sun at 67000 mph & spinning
at 1000mph with the planet—it all seems so still
here on this languid summer lawn and I think
I shall have a musical evening—many symphonies

How does all that compare with just getting on a train and getting off at the stop depicted on your ticket, complaining about delays and over-crowding and the consequences of the weather?

Greater Being

There’s ordinary experience and then there’s an awareness of something rather larger than self—is that an awareness of the Greater Being? Expanded consciousness? Oceanic Being? Being, Consciousness, God—equivalents? Which is easiest to deal with conceptually? ‘God’ of course because it can be clothed in all the elements of your Personality, can be projected into or reduced to relatively human proportions. Being & Consciousness are slippery customers; they have to be worked at, intuited, heard, felt, seen, experienced to the full. ‘God’ represents an opting out of the effort required.

‘God’ is the poor person’s version of Being & Consciousness fully vivified, to use Gurdjieff’s term. ‘You are God’, he says somewhere. The knower and the known are one and the same. God and I, we are one in knowledge. Then abandon the Word ‘God’ itself. One must never hold to anything that’s unnecessary. Being and I is one.

Be it noted that Consciousness requires no worship, no temple, no liturgy or book of common prayer; if it has prophets it’s every single human-being that ever lived; it requires nothing in the way of prayer or devotion, no trumpets or drums, no outlandish uniforms, no collection, no service to have a collection at the end of, no crucifixion, no crusade, no hoarding of treasure, no monasteries or nunneries. Its good work is in its exercise.

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