Sunday, 21 March 2010

Daring to reveal

The irony of blogging is that people are attempting to 'connect' through a medium that is essentially alienating (the scenario of millions of people sitting privately alone in their rooms in front of a computer screen). The attraction for the blogger is the possibility of having a dialogue - even if it remains an unspoken one, of a silent reader - with someone remote: and thereby feeling uninhibited in terms of being fundamentally open and communicative.

It of course depends on the nature of the blog: if it is simply a place for covering external entities (i.e. reviews of music, books, art, webpages, etc.; documentary of current affairs or some specialist subject; or perhaps merely a "meta-blog" covering the blog or digital  landscape), or if it is closer to the more quiescent origin of the "blog": namely, an online diary. A public forum for one's private meditations.

The latter is only one remove from the now old-fashioned notion of a  personal diary; somewhere where you scribe your most private thoughts and personal matters. Having a place to record such meditations is, for someone of a more introverted nature, an almost essential part of their self-awareness, of their identity. Of course, nearly everyone would  benefit from a greater degree of internalisation, particularly in this era which overwhelmingly favours everything external and places the highest value in the merely transient experience rather than the subsistent core of actual being.

So, naturally, when asked in common conversation as to how you've been and what you've been up to, the answer would normally consist of a catalogue of activities and "real-world" experiences: not a chart of the movements in your inner landscape. Yet it is the geology of the inner landscape that dictates the real thoroughgoing quality of resultant structures of your external life: for you bring yourself to everything you do; even if, again ironically, the patterns of most human interactions require you to retreat into yourself and project a mere social persona for the situation - most especially at work, of course.

Despite its limitations, language is nevertheless our primary tool for a communication of the deeper aspects of human existence. Yet we use it sparingly by degree of the amount of excess that conventional etiquette requires. Even amongst close friends this remains true: the very vagueness and ambiguity that the modality of human language makes eminently possible is used to merely hint at the underlying mystery of life that we each, as self-conscious beings, must necessary experience  on whatever level. Yet rather than penetrate further, we usually all tend to prefer to skip around this vague abstract space rather than attempt to go into that space with another and share the real authentic experience of being.

Usually it is easier to obliquely point towards or express via the alternative language of art (of whatever type) the more intimate experience of this real inner world than risk having a meaningful conversation about it. Or this is certainly my experience of life so far. Certainly one of the defining characteristics for me in the progression through my twenties is a movement from the more "hard" certainties of the vagaries of human experience to a "softer" ambiguity. Looking back, as a very young man (i.e. 18, 19, 20) one likes to think that one has clearly understood and arrived at certain decisions as to "who" you are and the "what" of truth. Yet in reality I realise now that I ascribed too much importance to things that actually matter little - ultimately - and simultaneously, disregarded or considered "dealt with" things that actually matter the most.

To give a very brief example, consider symbols. Symbols are used with wild abandon today. They're just a collection of lines and graphics, just an abstract logo. Yet the occult power of symbols is phenomenal - literally. A symbol is more than just a handy visual representation of some entity. A symbol is an aggregation of values: moreover, it utilises the power of the supersensible. A materialistic account of the nature of symbols would not be able to do justice to the tremendous power that they wield over the human collective: history demonstrates this point more than ably. The symbol is not merely just the referent of a known quantity: it is also explicates part of the directly inexplicable beyond that motivates all human life. An effective symbol merely grows in power as it ages: it accretes value by acting as a focal point for the accumulation of meanings imbued upon it. As such it becomes all of these things, and yet simultaneously none of them. It becomes both more and less than every meaning put upon it.

To name something is to give it power; yet to attempt to name something tends to distill it down into something that as yet it is not. An empty nominalism.

In the mundane sphere, every powerful brand knows the power of symbol: the most powerful corporations can project and extend their power through their mere brand logo. Successful brands cause people to "buy into" their brand - particularly in the world of fashion. Buying the particular brand isn't just about buying into the particular qualities, features, or look of the item in question: more importantly, it is buying into a collective shared position towards the world. It is about expressing status and self-identity. I use "self-identity" in an ironic sense, since this movement towards the outer is in fact the movement away from self-identity and self-knowledge towards the commodity "self" and a lack of self-knowledge.

Incidentally, this isn't a one-sided diatribe against fashion or indeed any type of brands: some brands do rightly possess power because their products are of a good quality or their clothes do have style. It is possible for fashion and style, on some level, to exhibit itself as "living art".

Anyway, wrapping up the asides to return to my original point: some things are a lot more important than you realise, and for all its abuses language is probably the most potent tool we have for communicating authentic human experience about the deepest aspects of life.

Yet we rarely use it, or certainly nowhere near as much as we should, with even our closest friends. Instead we merely make the quick quip or the brief soliloquy, exchange the knowing glance, and nod and merely say "I understand". Which we do - but only up to point.

So, to come full circle back to my original discussion about blogs, so that "shyness of exposing identity" - or perhaps you could call it simply intimacy? - expands even to the online sphere of blogs. Namely: I have some very good real world friends, but in actuality, virtually none of them know of the existence of this blog at all.

It could well be an act of too much self-absorption to consider that anyone else really wants to read this: perhaps the vast majority of all diaries are of little interest to anyone except the author? Yet one has to believe that when one is discussing the commonalities of base human existence, that perhaps one has something that is of interest to someone else.

I guess what we want to know is: what is their experience of life? What is being a human for them? And most importantly, how does it compare to mine?

In reading Hegel at the moment, I fully grasp, appreciate, and now pretty much agree with his point that true self-consciousness only comes about with the recognition of another self-consciousness. Self-consciousness emerges from the interaction with another knowing self-consciousness. Extending that logic then, I hope that perhaps by knowing other people better, I come to know myself better.

Incidentally, being in a close, loving relationship doesn't automatically guarantee this greater self-awareness. We tend to think of such an arrangement as being the best place to foster real genuine human communication, but as we all know well, sometimes relationships proceed  far too much on always assuming you can "read their mind" and often, even in this most intimate of human arrangements, the two (or more!) people do not necessarily really open up. Sharing the intimate deepest level of human experience shouldn't just necessarily be restricted to your lover, or a close family member: you should probably extend it to your close friends too. For if they are real friends, they will probably welcome going on this journey with you. And any stable relationship has no fear about deeper friendships with other people outside that relationship, since they know they will always reserve a certain key core (particularly around the sexual psyche) only for each other. Rightfully so. Such a movement can only have positive effects on their own relationship by enriching it. Certainly I became too insular with my lover when I last had a long term relationship some years ago; we ended up secluding nearly everyone else from our own little world; eventually this has a weakening effect on your relationship as you deny a whole range of other human interactions and connections.

I have often been described as "too intense" by various people - fatefully, normally by the female in question during botched (at an early stage) attempts at romance. I think I'm finally coming to understand what this fully means. However, if by my very desire for openness they find that intimidating, I feel sad both for my loss and theirs. For they made a hasty assumption as to the type of man I am, or who I can be to be around - I do have a lighter, humorous side! - and do not desire to dominate anyone through an authoritarian personality (though I do believe that is is healthy to have an interplay of power between two people; playing with power, by alternating roles, helps to avoid one person becoming too dominant). Simultaneously, perhaps it is through an unconscious belief that they do not have "enough" self to give back: again, they have prematurely shot themselves down. Or finally, perhaps because I am too "cerebral" they think I destroy the "mystery" of human experience by attempting to understand it: I would argue the contrary is in fact true. The mystery becomes more powerful the better you understand it.

Or, the final resting point of self-analysis: perhaps they simply don't like me and I talk too much.

In any case, I have decided to "open up" this blog to a few select friends. It's here if they ever want to read it. It seemed rather disingenuous to risk sharing my "inner world" with complete strangers on the other side of the planet, and yet not do so with people I've know for years who live just a few streets away.

I'll never have the more meaningful interactions I seek without taking the risk to open up more. I do not know whether any of these words in the ether are of any real genuine interest to them, or whether in fact, I simply ramble on far too much, in my own running dialogue with myself. But perhaps they will learn a few new things about me - and in return, I will learn more about them. They may perhaps find some things that are rather surprising: certainly, it is true to say that I consider that I don't really know hardly any of my friends, so I believe that likewise that applies towards me. Not on a truly deep level. We skirt around the outside, getting some semblance of each other, without ever really knowing that person. (Obviously men tend to be far worse, in general, at "emotional openness" than women). Dare we open up to each other?

All the modern tools for connecting actually tend to end up acting as masks and blinds. You construct a Facebook persona: but that Facebook persona is not you. It is merely a strange analogue. Everyone then interacts and has a relationship with this analogue rather than with you.

The modern world tends to alienate us all: we need to try and reverse this trend towards us all becoming individual atoms completely tied up in our own small microcosmos.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Reintegration through alienation

It seems that the path of greater self-knowledge is often accompanied by a descent into darkness - perhaps it is even necessary. How does one cope with the loss of the naive idealism of youth without becoming bitter?

The machinery of the system of the modern world exceeds the capacity of any individual to resist. We each face the risk - perhaps even unavoidable - of dissolution into this incredibly open, massively connected global consciousness: the resistive forces themselves are absorbed; they become dispersed into the barren wasteland of the characterless morass of overwhelming surplus. The most effectively means of silencing something is instead to drown it out: stifling breeds martyrs.

Reaction is superfluous. Alternative is already now preceded by a prepared accommodation of the appropriate level of outrage. That is has been prepared for is proportionately accountable to the detail with which is has been predestined to be successfully monetised. Revolution, the 'underground', 'avant-garde', the 'extreme' are now purely products of a retroactive postmodernist nominalism - that is, mere utility; to those ready to assemble more wealth from this imagination-as-capital product*.

Today, the space was made for this new form of 'extreme' in advance by delineating the inverse structural boundaries; they are the calculated co-efficient compensating factor, as truly extreme only by as much as they have been planned for and accommodated by the mitigating edifice.

It is little wonder, then, that most unwavering advocates of anything underground, extreme, alternative, or genuinely subversive in art, naturally, and quite rightly, often find that upon the successful commercial enterprise of said piece of art, that subsequent works generally have lost the very quality that first made it so vital, direct and alive to them. This is no more obvious than in music; the band has "sold out". They have allowed commercial considerations to devalue the artistic communication. Refusing to conform, and equally importantly, refusing to "refusing to conform", and instead maintaining the central quality in the face of every force of dissolution is the quality of uprightness to use Evolian terminology.

The form of extremism that is cynically calculated in advance loses its extremity by its degree of obvious vulgarity: the inner space it was supposed to open through its dynamic of turbulence instead becomes emptied of inner value and turned into material commodity. The avant-garde requires the element of surprise: its landscape must be one of the unexplored.

The other option is irony. You exploit the cynical landscape of  "prefabricated extremity" by producing a work that seemingly conforms to this template - but subtly deviates, though in such a way as to be only visible to those for whom such a resistance was created in the first place.

The net effect of all this, is that the true resistance is often to be  amongst those who sit silently by, detached.

In my case, gradually a reintegration occurs: understanding that the counter culture catering to the alienated youth is cynically masterminded by the very force we resist, but are unable to openly defeat, we accept. Accept, though conscious of this acceptance: and thereby better able to see through the manipulations. We redirect the manipulations back against the system. When you understand that the ultimate order of things is dictated by forces against whom resistance is impossible, the resistance becomes entirely internalised: it thereby gains ultimate objective power as a votive action. This process of the external causing an internal reaction out towards the external, completes its cycle when the external is reabsorbed into the internal. Hegel provided a detailed explication of this phenomena more accurate and acutely than most others before or since 200 years ago.

Too abstract?

Consider all the alienated youths: the goths and emos that gather in the  parks looking - deliberately - miserable. The kids that group on street corners (and quite often direct random, unprompted acts of violence to passers by). Why? What is the force they are attempting to resist? The  bands whose merchandise they buy that promise a revolution, yet backed by the major record labels that directly fortify the very system they wish to fight. They are largely unaware of this irony. Furthermore, the kids are not explicitly aware of what it is they wish to fight against, so construct their black-and-white analogue of the world to make the opponent easier to recognise. The opponent becomes reified. Every organised system becomes the enemy, but most especially those that dictate conventionalised, traditional norms; so, particularly, religion becomes the target.

In the process they do not realise that they actually suffer from the very institutionalisation of thought - and its corresponding consequences for freedom, namely lack of, which they do recognise - that they so fervently wished to struggle against. In the past, an over powerful Church dominated Western thought. Yet with God now "dead", and atheism triumphant, we enter instead an era of the  "Dawkins delusion": a scientific triumphalism that promises to explain away all the mysteries of life (everything merely reduced to neurological brain states) and herald in a bright future dominated by the certainty of probabilities and what is calculated to be true.

Yet the truth cannot be calculated. Douglas Adam's computer famously spat out the answer "42" to point out the absurdity of attempting to uncover life's inner truth in this fashion. What these kids do not realise is what really motivates them to resist, given feelings of the meaningless and pointlessness of modern existence - and, as a harsh critic of modernity myself, I must say, largely justifiably - is actually the spiritual urge of man to resist domination, and that for all their materialism and atheism, they will find that now that they have eradicated religion, in its place simply a new version will emerge on the secular plane.

Because science proceeds so incredibly successfully in explaining natural mechanism, and gives birth to so much technology, so abundant everywhere, the secular world ends up believing it will provide knowledge which is actually outside its remit. The illusion is not to even recognise this remit: all scientific "truth" presupposes the perceptual process.

Yet perception is not a basic or simple phenomena at all. Getting behind mere perception takes you outside of physics and into metaphysics.

I am not a fan of a lot of organised religion, but increasingly I find that I am even less a fan of "scientific triumphalism", and particularly in very recent years, this era of "digital totalism". Religion is less about knowledge and more about "religiosity", and science is even less about "religiosity" and more about explication of the perceptual world. Both would do well to remember that, rather than set up pointless straw men that cover topics that extend outside their scope.

Returning to the alienated youth, their uncomprehending resistance nevertheless does originate from the correct place, even if they direct it towards the wrong goals, moreover, in a futile manner. This correct place is to recognise that we should not allow the spirit of man to be crushed into faceless oblivion by a tyrannical Utopian vision of "progress" where progress simply means that everyone becomes comfortably satiated into an unthinking slathering cooperative whole. We should not conform purely to make life easier at the expense of our higher individual values. More is not always "more". Human beings are not simply a biological "machine" in an even bigger corporate machine, in a globalised machine or anodyne collective consciousness. Technology is a merely useful extension for us as a human: not the other way round.

We do not serve the system. The system serves us.

Equally, the natural world is more than mere system.

It is always essential that we keep "sticking it to the Man", even if we are ultimately crushed under the oppression of the Man. Resistance might indeed be futile: but futile resistance is still better than no resistance at all. So I come full circle: an "alienated youth" (though, incidentally, I never spent my younger days listlessly wasting away in the park or street corner!), I recognise that I am both a product of the system and my own man, and so can reengage with the alienated fight against the faceless bureaucratic machine that wants to reduce us all to soulless human atoms. The fight is one that is more intense than ever because it requires us to disengage from the apparatus which purportedly supports us but in fact helps fuel the very system we oppose.

We must stay Upright.

* On a more cynical and disturbing note, it is worth pointing out that the politics of fear dictate that the order of the ruling elite is best preserved by exploiting and manipulating the fear of the populace. Global terrorism is the product of the manipulation; indeed, this very manipulation and its incessant media coverage was its very genesis. Indoctrination via ideological tooling operates just as much in the supposed free thinking modern democracy as it does in the brain washing fundamentalist camps. The parameters, methods, and techniques used for the indoctrination are simply different. You create common consensus by shouting loud enough from enough preassigned sources. This creates the illusion of objectivity and balance. The Chinese government has  demonstrated its expertise in this respect rather ruthlessly, and indeed carelessly. The Western governments are simply more subtle - and therefore ultimately more effective, since they are betrayed less obviously. Eventually the growing middle class of China in this era of technological liberalism will tire of its overly autocratic government: so it will then simply learn to be more subtle.

For the majority is surely always right: majority support is purchased  by engineering the apparent problem and solution such that it seems the only reasonable thing to do. Something becomes morally justified as soon as it has the support of the common consensus.

History teaches us the error of this line of thinking every bit as much as it teaches us the error of the fascists.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Of words and ink and dreams

It has been a very difficult month – dark times living in such poverty. I feel a disconnect with the world a lot of times. But another post for that.

The only good thing about my current experience with life is that it is fuelling my creativity; I'm withdrawing ever deeper into my own world. I've started making slow progress with a novel. Slow and steady is my goal: it is the discipline and persistence that is perhaps the most fundamental barrier to writing a book. The analytical rational mind tends to predominate. Worst of all, the constant demon that must surely plague just about everyone who attempts anything creative: the fear that your creation is worthless or garbage. My creative writing is incredibly bizarre, currently extremely incoherent structurally, a very strange fragmentary mix of elements that should be completely incompatible. This may prove to be the case.

However, I shall doggedly plod on. It must evidently be my particular style or inner voice that is driving me to want to attempt to create a tapestry from so many grossly divergent threads. The straightforward, sensible, traditionally developed novel just doesn't seem to work for me.

I suppose it reflects the type of fiction I like to read. My favourite writers tend to evoke that dreamy landscape, that quixotic inner world that much surely exist at the deepest being of anyone that truly knows oneself; the absolute strangeness that doesn't get vocalised or really communicated in the more plain light of day. In terms of modern authors, I'm thinking particularly of David Mitchell and Haruki Murakami. Interestingly both have a Japanese link. Japan left a deep impression on me when I visited in 2007: the country has such a wonderful sharp contrast between the two extremes of time: nowhere is more futuristic than Tokyo, and just a short distance out you have the most incredible verdant countryside with ancient Zen temples. An incredible transition.

It also reflects what my personal experience is of living in this new 21st century. An incredible torrent (and here, even the word "torrent" has two meanings; the figurative, and of course, more literally - in this sense - the digital counterpart that plays such an important role in file/information sharing) of so many contrasting demands, time periods and resources. It is certainly a truism to say we are living in a connected fully globalised world. The change over even the last 20 years has been astonishing - though you don't really notice it until you mentally step back - but I can still vaguely remember a time before the internet really played any role in most people lives. Back around 1990 significant numbers of people were just starting to get PCs in their home, but connections were still sketchy, sluggish dial-up.

Now broadband is ubiquitous in the developed world. To not have a computer and internet connection at home has reached the point of being a bizarre anachronism. The societal effects of technology are so complex and prodigious that I am not sure that anyone has fully grasped, nor indeed will - since it is a constantly moving target at ever increasing speed - precisely how it is changing us all, in this constant "feedback loop" of the digital ether.

Anyway, I digress. I've felt strangely regressive recently, perhaps as a result of what I feel to be the hidden emptiness of this new digital landscape - I think the way that it is playing an increasing role in mediating human interactions (particularly social network sites like Facebook and the like) is potentially dangerous. It seems that the more "connected" we become, the more we become individually alienated. I will qualify and develop my particular line of thought on this probably highly fashionable topic more substantially some other time. In any case, what a joy it is to reconnect in a much more old fashioned sense with pen and paper, computer turned off: no background sound of fans, no distractions of the temptation of a billion (largely pointless) bits of information at my fingertips. Yes, the old but familiar information overload theme that has in fact been cropping up ever since the dawn of the industrial age, but really come into its own since the dawn of the "information superhighway".

So, with a few spare pennies I've managed to put aside, I bought myself some rather splendid new fountain pens, and of course, some equally splendid inks to go with them.

Lamy pens have always made terrific value fountain pens; inexpensive and extremely smooth. They write very well indeed. I had a Lamy Al-Star, an aluminium pen with the same common nib as the Safari and Nexx but managed to lose it at a festival (it was rather stupid of me to take it in the first place, rather than a simple biro...).

Anyway, so I was keen to replace this. I got the Lamy Safari in a great bright orange colour. It has a plastic body rather than aluminium, but is the same slick design otherwise.




Text: "The Lamy Safari* really is a fabulous pen for the money. For less than £15, you get a beautifully smooth writing instrument. Ink flow is consistent, generous; the nib glides across the paper with ease. This one is in a funky bright orange colour, a special edition for 2009. The plastic body has superb ergonomics and is very comfortable to write with. An extrovert coloured pen deserves a refined and subtle ink; this is Diamine's wonderful Kensington Blue.
*With medium nib fitted."

Link to high resolution image of this writing here, for those of you who'd like to attempt to manually decode my scribings or see the ink colour in better detail.

I also got the Lamy Nexx, which is even more comfortable to hold, has an even more contemporary minimalist, lean design. Same, wonderful, smooth M nib.





Text: "The Lamy Nexx has the same winning nib as on the Safari (again I went for the medium nib; I'll get another Lamy pen with a fine nib in future). This pen is even more comfortable to hold, the aluminium body is perfectly tapered. I think the styling is lovely, though it would perhaps look even better if the barrel/grip were black rather than grey-blue. Conservative styling: therefore extrovert ink! Incredible colour! This is Diamine's Pumpkin. Delightful red-orange."

Link to high resolution image of this writing here (the preview image has distorted the colour to mucky brown).

Finally I also went for the Platignum No. 1. For a relatively cheap pen, this is a marvelously heavy and solid pen; everything is solid metal. The nib is a bit "leaner" than the Lamy's, not quite as effortless, but has been very controlled with a solid ink flow so far. All the pens are of course very new, so time will tell how the nibs "run in".




"The Platignum No. 1 really does feel surprisingly luxurious for a £25 pen. It is quite weighty, and all the major components are finished in substantial metal work. This nib is definitely a lot narrower than on the Lamy's which might be a contributing factor as to why it is not quite as smooth. Time will tell how the nib runs in, but for now it certainly has a lot more of a 'tooth' than the Lamy M nib. Nevertheless, it is still a good pen for the money, and I believe the nib will improve over time. Ink flow is good. This ink is Diamine's Light Green. A perky but really natural green: a philosophic colour!"

Link to high resolution image of this writing here.

The inks are the rather delicious Diamine inks, a traditional British ink manufacturer. An energetic red-orange "Pumpkin", and a wonderfully subtle but sophisticated "Kensington Blue", both part of their "New Century" range, and the delightfully natural looking "Light Green" part of their "Old English" range. I just love the traditional Victorian looking ink bottles.

Going back to pen n' paper is bringing out the creativity again. With nothing to interact with or distract, you're faced to create from the very depths of your void. So I'm writing sections of my novel in pen and ink, then typing it/compiling it up into a word processor. As a result everything is immediately effectively getting written twice. No doubt once the material builds up to a decent quantity, I can start to constantly rewrite, expand, and hammer it down on the computer to start - hopefully - building it into one coherent novel.

My most fundamental and overriding goal at this point is simply quantity. I think the mandate to the National Novel Writing Month is absolutely right: just get the words down for now. To have a novel you need your 100,000, 200,000, or half million words down in the first place. Once you've got the quantity you can rewrite it all to get that all important quality. It doesn't matter too much at this stage even if it is all nonsense. If you've written 400,000 words of rubbish, with some dedication you can hopefully find 200,000 words that are resolutely not total rubbish.

At the very least, you'll have tried. Every attempt I've ever made at writing anything substantial - and in terms of a novel, I've tried many, many times! - has just always fizzled out after about, oh, say 10000 words. I set an impossible quality criterion, over analyse it, worry too much about where I'm going to take the story. Far better just to plough on regardless, write whatever desire, and see where it goes. Trying to plan everything too far in advance tends to kill of the creative, spontaneous energy: this is my problem. I'm always guilty of this. I just need to roll with it a bit. See where it goes. Relinquish that control.

Perhaps by doing that, eventually, I'll get to a point where the belief really does become strong that I do have a novel here, that it  is perhaps worth something. In the meantime, I just have to go step by step.

So my target is very modest: just try and average about 500 words a day on the "project". It doesn't matter how, or in what storyline, or indeed any detail - just 500 more words for the book, every day, more or less, week after week. I'm no longer segregating out fragments: everything is just getting chucked into the novel. I'll worry about turning it into some type of at least slightly sane plot-line later on. Once I've got a lot of material, if I've got whole swathes that I still don't know what to do with, I can always excise them for future use (or deletion...). But for now: everything, regardless of how irrelevant or disconnected goes in. Regardless of how good or bad I think it is, too - which is probably even more critical at this stage. I'll figure it out somehow.

With this very basic strategy, I'm hoping I'll eventually reap some dividends.