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What does it matter when the torturer is going about his business?


Nimbus II, 2012 Digital C-type Print 75x112 cm Hotel MariaKapel,
Hoorn Berndnaut Smilde
photo: Cassander Eeftinck Schattenkerk


The inward experience, self-consciousness, of the body, the flesh, a vessel which is full of the spirit. These words we use. How we talk to ourselves. What we think of ourselves. The physical body as the house in which the mental creature abides. One imagines the philosopher-king, a Captain Nemo figure, commanding his physical Nautilus through the world, himself detached and occupied with the higher elements of living. And one imagines the hermit crab curled within its stolen shell.

Cartesian connections between the two always difficult and tenuous. Philosophical reductions on both sides abound. Personal favorites, for entirely poetic reasons, are the Ghost in the Machine and its variant epiphenomenalism: the record player and the music arising from it. Surely, we believe, this music is the purpose, the teleology, of the physical thing. The music is the meaning of it. Or, as some would insist, perhaps it is only inconsequential byproduct, the sound of the machine. A mere contingency. The music is not necessary to the existence of the thing.

However, the perception of the music alters consciousness. The awareness of the beauty of it. How it seeps into deep centers of biological pleasure and stimulates a transcendental state. Whether it arose as an accidental byproduct or a contingency is irrelevant. We desire to cultivate it, to preserve it, to enhance our experience of it, to remove it from transitory capriciousness of time and secure it within the formation of a culture. Inward movements of evolution, complexifications of our inner life. What makes being human different. The savage beast is soothed by the sound of music but is not redeemed, as are we, by it. What we hear in music is a meaning that is always subtly transcending us. Levi-Strauss' claimed  "the invention of melody is the supreme mystery of man."

All of this language. All of these sounds gathered in the electric cloud within our skulls. We cannot but think... But the thinking separates us from being. The answer for Keats' nightingale riddle: "where but to think is to be full of sorrow." Bodymind or mindbody? What does it matter when the torturer is going about his business upon us? What does it matter as we are burning in the fire? The Buddha's analogy comes to mind: the house is on fire and who would sit in the center of it discussing philosophy? The question is always begging alongside one, a squalid Gollum tugging at you, whispering poison into your ear:  What does the torturer want to know? Why are you on fire? Who set the house on fire? Why are these horrors happening to me?

Metaphors. Bridges and rafts of thought. Illusions of language. It has been said that the use of logic in language is similar to the use of perspective in painting. It creates the illusion of reality. That what the words are "saying" and what the painting is "representing" is real, is true. Then, what is Truth, if it is not this represented truth? This word, capitalized as a Proper Thing?

Being. Simply being. As unknowable to us as the water is to the fish. We would have to get outside of being to "know" and the language breaks apart at the thought of this. We are being as a bell is ringing. In process. Always flowing, always being.

Again, just words, language pulling its revelatory rabbits out our broken hats. But this tool of language, even the ur-language of thought is all we have. Consider the dream in which you are given a key to escape from the dream. However, if you use the key, you only further substantiate the "reality" of the dream. You cannot use a dream-key to escape the dream. The key "re-pre-sents" (beautiful word) some thing other than what it is in itself. The "For Sale" sign is not itself for sale. It points beyond itself. The thief in the Zen koan cannot steal the moon reflected in the bucket of water.

We are the music of our being. Our name, our face, what we believe to be our self, our memories, all of our thoughts and all of our language is this music. The body and the mind, the flesh and the spirit, and so on are only words pointing beyond themselves. The danger is to become trapped in a metaphor, even worse and allegory. The danger is to forget the mystery of Being. Here is where the torturer's tools become real. Here is where the fire is started. Here is where the house begins to burn. Your world is dark and full of suffering.

And when those you love most are burning and going insane with pain and suffering, where every day is full of tears and the desire only for life to end, then you realize how terrible and inhuman the music of Being is. And it is so difficult to forget that this is part of the Mystery when every day is torture.

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"But the worlds also behold thy fearful form, with many mouths and eyes, with many bellies, thighs and feet, frightening with terrible teeth: they tremble in fear and I also tremble. 
When I see thy vast form, reaching from the sky, burning with many colors, with wide open mouths, with vast flaming eyes, my heart shakes in terror: my power is gone and gone is my peace, O Vishnu! 
Like the fire at the end of Time which burns all in the last day, I see thy vast mouths and thy terrible teeth. Where am I? Where is my shelter? Have mercy upon me, God of gods, Refuge Supreme of the world! [...] 
The flames of thy mouths devour all the worlds. Thy glory fills the whole universe. But how terrible thy splendors burn!" 

- The Bhagavad Gita, Mascaro translation, 1962



10/21/13