Fellow writers, talkers, dreamers, thinkers, loafers, drunks and other ne’er do-wells:
Welcome to the Secret Miracle, a Borgesian theme park…
Judging from “the newspapers” – those odious things; I prefer “alternative sources,” inevitably digital; I wouldn’t wipe my ass with The Times, it’s unsanitary — we’ve all been granted, of late, a “Secret Miracle” (Borges lifted the general concept of this story from Bierce’s “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” but took the ball and ran with it, making another text “his own” because, in truth, if it’s in yer mind, it’s yours).
Our Miracle? A rough, relatively accurate foreshadowing of our oblivion, both as individuals, and as a species.
True, people have always said, usually with dubious lightheartedness “we’re all gonna die some day” for so long it’s become a cliché, truism though it might be (and let us not forget that unspoken codicil “but there will probably be many many many days before that final ‘one…’ .”). We modern ones are no longer under such illusions as the mythical “one day” far, far in the future. But the Big Mystery has always been “how.” While none of us knows exactly how, we can all more or less narrow it down to four or five possibilities. A kind of multiple-choice for our extinction.
We know “how” we’ll end, more or less, and what warning signals to look out for, thanks to the tests and research of the same “modern science” that helped get us into this mess, but not when, only that the concepts of limited time and mortality are “on the table” and in the open for all with eyes to see.
In truth, who the hell knows? We all, collectively, might have another 20 years in “real time” or whatever they call what used to be “the present” before all that digital… mishegas. The possibility that one actually might, as people often joke, “out-live all of us,” does indeed exist – for the extremely unfortunate.
“The Secret Miracle,” like Ambrose Bierce’s “Owl Creek Bridge,” deals with a double-agent about to be executed — by the Nazis. Unlike Bierce’s confederate soldier who escapes into a dream-memory state, Borges’s French resistance fighter, a playwright, asks The Cosmos, for “one year” in which to complete his play. The guns fire and the bullet stop mid-air upon leaving the rifles, as time stops, externally, and the self-conscious Borges character, unlike Bierce’s Confederate who was knowingly or perhaps willingly fooled by the time-mind-perception thing, is well aware that he has been released, temporarily, from the “in-the-way” physical world to an existence comprised entirely of language and thought. He works continuously, unaware of time, until he punctuates the final sentence, and his “year” — relative to…what? — is up and the bullets strike.
A few “Borges years” or language/thought years, depending on the circumstances, could extend over twenty in “real time,” after which we will all be able to quote MLK (quoting an old Negro spiritual) and say – or rather, not say, anything, ever again — “Free at last, free at last, thank god almighty, I am free at last!”
Or twenty Borges/language years can be crushed into a day, a week, a month, depending on what “real-time” options are available.
This is the much bally-hooed (by Power’s official religions, anyway) “immortality” available to us.
I have long understood why Homeric warriors yearned for poets to sing of their heroic deeds, cause “fame” in their relatively small world, meant honor, tribute, power and other perks. And I understood why poets wanted “fame” in their lifetimes because it meant work: the poets known to sing the “hit songs” got the best gigs. But the idea of being “immortalized” after death, in song/language/literature/film, even if one believes in the collective consciousness, never made any damned sense to me. Might as well tell me that in 100 years, my “books” or whatever I leave behind, will “sell more copies and make more money” than any-body’s work in history, ever. Well, that’s good for the books/works themselves, to the extent that they “live,” but as for me personally — who gives a fuck?
“Better to eat a single slice of greasy, New York ‘street pizza’ — a shingle of burnt matzo, more or less, topped with gooey, fake Polly-O mozzarella and slathered with Ragu — among the living than own a mega-chain of gourmet pizzerias (custom-baked crust — regular or whole-wheat — real mozzarella with fresh-tomato-and-basil-sauce-from-scratch) among the dead.”
We are entering the territory of Emily Dickinson, Alan Turing, Borges, Kafka, The CIA, and lesser known poets and philosophers too numerous to mention, not to mention our modern “programmers,” in which signs, symbols, words are the base elements of all phenomenon; not perception so much as the world as it has been perceived, retained, smoked, aged and distilled through linguistic imagination. I remember coming across the phrase “pure thought” in pre-19th century philosophy, or “pure imagination” in Romantic poetry. Nietzsche, Saussure, Wittgenstein, James Joyce, and that purest of Internet poets, Gertrude Stein, have decoded and deciphered “pure imagination” to its essence as “pure language.”
Oh, the humanity: Turing inventing computing and cryptology before persecution for his unfortunately “unfashionable” homosexuality; Borges (and Joyce) living in, of and for text while growing too blind to read their own work; Kafka reifying his night-world of hallucinations in meticulous, lawyerly prose; Kathy Acker’s textual mind and drop-dead gorgeous body creating a dialectic which found it’s synthesis (not unlike Hegel’s) in terminal illness — breast cancer, of all things…
Millions enter this “terrain” every day of course; but, lacking our life-long training, fail to see it for what it is until, finally let off the treadmill by a combination morphine, malnutrition, dehydration and delirium on their deathbeds, it appears to them as hallucination or memory or worse, synthetic experience, fabricated by movies and television (that whole “my life passing before my eyes” routine), rather than the only reality they’ve ever known (without actually knowing it). And I’m not talking about that Platonic “forms beyond our misperceived reality” crap, though ultimately it does make a certain kind of sense; but the concrete language that created us.
Helen Keller is someone whose life and work merit serious review. She spent the first ten or twelve years of her life, the “formative years” in what she herself described as an unconscious, feral state. When I was in the seventh grade I read an essay by her called “Three Days” which so befuddled me that I never really gave it much thought, though it’s always in my mind. In the essay she imagines she has three days to see and hear. She goes on to describe her “imaginary” journey through cities, museums, concert halls, etc. I’ve been to some of these places, the Louvre was one, I think, and I couldn’t describe them in such detail. No impressions or “input” from anyone anywhere at anytime other than the first rudimentary alphabet written on her palm with Anne Sullivan’s index finger, then braille and a kind of morse code Sullivan an other aides would tap out for her to speed up the Q&A portions of her lectures — lectures!
Speaking for myself, this is the big “achievement,” or “payoff:” not some bullshit posthumous “immortality” contingent upon the literacy of a dubious posterity, but true timelessness. The ability, at “game time,” to accelerate the clock, or slow it down, to move players to various positions or simply reinvent them, and the game and playing field as well. It’s been so long since I even remotely considered the possibility of more than three or four, maybe half a dozen, friends reading anything I ever have or will write that “writing for strangers” or, as William Gaddis put it in his last book, as “one mind reaching out to other minds” cannot possibly be taken seriously.
I suppose many of us write, when not conversing, rather than simply stare into space and watch phenomena pass, or hear it, because it seems … more concrete, more “real” to organize words, exert some modicum of control, resulting in a more satisfying aesthetic/emotional/intellectual experience than simply day-dreaming.
Playing chess against oneself on a real board, or even on a simulated board against the machine that simultaneously renders this digital illusion of a match while kicking your “graphically-challenged” ass, (ever play against one of those “homeless-looking” guys in the park who hustle rubes for a dollar a game?) is somehow far more satisfying than running through a match against yourself, or Bobby Fischer for that matter, in your mind (though in your mind you give Bobby F. the drubbing he’d long deserved).
As for me, I write, now, as an old man, for essentially the same reason I gave myself at sixteen (why must we always have a “reason” for doing any damned thing?): in order to read “what I’ve always wanted to read but couldn’t, bcause it hadn’t been written yet, so I had to write it myself.”
“Dropping out” of the mainstream of corporate ill-literati is the only escape from slavish subservience to the implacable JUDGES of the books-are-things-are-money-especially-if-they-don’t-really-exist type. Witness their new, lucrative planned “craze” for obscenely over-priced e-books (put up a single chunk of data in pre-publication format — PDF, ePub and the like – for little if any expense to your own enterprise, charge the rubes $30-per-download or $40-per-year membership in a “free e-book” club, and you can break, among other laws, the Second Law of Thermodynamics: get something, actually lots of things, for nothing; and add to that whole lotta something expensive, specialized, proprietary e-book readers and peripheral accoutrements!). Any such e-book that costs more than a penny is over-priced.
The 3000-year old phenomenon that was Literature, poisoned by the self-indulgent musings of mainstream ill-literati “poets, novelists and essayists,” and battered by Big Media and their collaborators in Academia (“publish — with us — or perish!”), collapsed with such unimaginable suddenness, like the Twin Towers (wink, wink; nudge, nudge), that the mind can’t conceive it was all just the chance, synergistic eruption of technological do-dads, bad books and Attention Deficit Disorder.
It liberated us – yes, you and I, my friends — as far as I can tell, from the absolute life-sucking waste-mismanagement system that is Power’s deliberately money/thing/capital oriented (time-consuming) fiction, backed by the hard (to believe) “science” of economics and fixed-state pendulums (“time is money!” ticktockticktockticktock) myth-named TIME…
The proverbial “Book of Life” is a rough draft accumulation of colors, sounds, stuff — sometimes categorized, sometimes not, which makes it interesting; but sooner or later, someone or ones must edit, revise and resolve the final “publishable” edition.
That, my friends, in the precious little time we have left, us up to us…