Thursday, September 8, 2016

Goethe's Saying What

Goethe's saying, "What is important in life is life and not a result of life," is the answer to any and every senseless attempt to solve the riddle of historical form by means of a programme.

- Oswald Spengler, The Decline of the West

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There is a divide, perhaps more felt than acknowledged, that exists in anyone who reads, who thinks, who dances, who creates, who struggles, who wonders, who doubts, who prays, who tries to move on: the divergent impulses between following a path and cutting a new trail, between a scholarly, businesslike approach and the free form of discovery, between the mechanical and the organic. We are, in some ways, data points on that continuum, leaning more heavily in one direction or the other as suits our needs and predilections. The closest example I know of is the teaching of creative writing. No such thing exists, but the process of engagement with the creative impulse has been turned into a commodity with matriculated steps along the way and a useless MFA at the end to hang on the wall. When you layer a programme (such ancient spelling) over an inherently organic and undefinable process you create the illusion of mastering it and its focus is on outcomes (another commodity) and not the process itself.

As above, so below. How you do anything is how you do everything, etc.

It is easy to give lip service to valuing process over the product. All that alliteration makes for a pithy meme. But instead of process, perhaps a better word is life. Now the formulation changes and becomes at once heavier and lighter than any process: What is important in life is life and not a result of life.

An emphasis on life's products, on the mechanics of life is, inherently and inviolably, a backwards looking approach to life. An emphasis on life in life, on the organic is, inherently and inviolably, an emergent world view.  The former breeds satisfaction as its highest good, the latter engenders courage and dance.

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It isn't as easy as flipping a switch to move between these ideas, these approaches. There is a great deal of incentive to devote yourself to the mechanistic world view. There are well defined routes, and very specific rewards for sublimating the life you feel in your veins. Yes, you give up some (okay, most) of your autonomy, but you weren't using it anyway, and besides you have bills to pay, debt to service and its time to get on with the business of being an adult. That is the unfair, knee-jerk description of what is, in reality, a very muddy picture of conflicting desires, expectations and possibilities. Just as unfair is what is likely presumed by the term organic: all drippy with folks whispering namaste and being in the moment. Not at all. No, that, too, is far more complex than the associations we've built up around the word organic or natural or free form, etc.

If you are a scholar or a businesswoman, it is entirely possible and indeed preferable, for you to approach your work with a sense of discovery and the not-yet-here, instead of a pre-determined outcome. If you are a painter or poet do you create to discover what it is you have to say, or do you say what is expected of you? It does not matter where you begin, or even where you are right now, or the work you do to sustain yourself.  For the matter at hand, those concerns are immaterial. What does matter, what does have the power to guide your life is either a reliance on someone else's program, or the one you discover and hew into place by looking ahead and not behind.

It is fundamental: if you are fucked and stuck and going nowhere, you are looking backwards; you have slotted yourself into the mechanical. To get things moving again you must have the courage to be uncertain with what comes next and trust you'll come up with a response that will keep your feet moving. That's what I mean by organic: as yet unknown, but knowable moment to moment.

* * *

There is this also: all organics are perishable.

This must not be avoided. It is, in truth, the essential dynamo for what comes next. 

To adopt or acquiesce to the mechanical, the programmed, to the world of products and outcomes and results is an act of narcissism and a retreat from life. It says, "These goods that I have accrued are the sum of life." It is a cultish (by definition - narrow) response to what is possible. It leaves nothing for those who come next except an intact program to follow. It is reductive. To dare uncertainty, to engage with life's processes of waxing and waning, is to look forward, is to imagine a future other than your own. It is generational and a cause larger than the self's ego. It finds meaning in life, not life's results.

You will die, my love. I will die. Better to keep this forward in the mind instead of pretending it doesn't exist and won't happen. This is not to be maudlin, but instead is to serve as the spark to get your feet moving while you have feet to move. Those close to you will be changed by such courage and the things you discover as you emerge and walk the leading edge of your life will encourage those who come after you and help them to dare to pick up their mantle and do a bit of courageous dancing in their time.

The mechanical life is a wheel: cogged and precise, built to repeat itself
The organic life is a wave: never the same twice, but ever pulsing.

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My comments about the teaching of writing were just how it worked out for me. My MFA is an albatross. But for others I know they used it as the engine of their discovery. Anything is usable. Anything can be the door you pass through to another way of living. If it is at hand, use it. 

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I wish you well.



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