You know, I think that it all started that day when Rick said that he needed a new sense of self in order to get started. I know it seems kind of weird, that just his saying that, that that could actually start things. But really, when you stop and think about it, isn’t that how things start?
I remember this time from back when we were all kids, when Jerry built this crazy thingamajig--I mean, you know how he was always building one thing or another-- and-- it’s just that this particular thingamajig was remarkable for its being really out there, even for Jerry, I mean it was really creepy looking. Even today I can still see it in my mind’s eye. There was just something about it... So, anyway, Flannery and I were playing some goofy game on the street in front of his house-- we all lived on the same block back then, remember-- so this crazy thingamajig of Jerry’s was sitting there, amid the debris of Jerry’s other works-in-progress that were just about always scattered about the front lawn on any given day back then. Now, Flannery and I had both taken notice of Jerry’s creation, and commented on it to each other, but being kids, we had quickly moved on and soon were just doing our thing, in our own little world, when all of a sudden this thing that Jerry had made started MOVING. I mean, one minute it was just sitting there, another inert piece of matter, and the next it was ambling along like it was the most natural thing in the world. Let me tell you, when something your sensory apparatus has identified as being an inanimate object-- and when all of life’s lessons up to that point have told you to expect an inanimate object to remain inanimate-- well, if that inanimate object without giving any notice just up and starts walking around, it’s startling, to say the least. We just froze. We were, like, wwooaahh... Jerry, of course, was nowhere around, missing out on this, his moment of juvenile glory. Well, we kept staring at this thing and it just kept moving. It was crawling along sort of like a giant wounded insect. Dragging itself and then falling and rolling and then somehow righting itself and moving on. I have to admit, I was pretty terrified. So, of course, Flannery was the one who finally decided to go over and take a closer look. Being the smart girl that she was she grabbed the biggest stick she could find before heading over. Just in case.
The big question that’s been in my mind ever since that day is, what actually makes something start? And, furthermore, what is starting, really? I mean, what happened when Jerry’s thing started? What? Well, I know what you’re going to say, that the truth is just totally mundane, that somewhere in that contraption an electrical circuit was completed as the result of some inevitable victory of gravity over tensile strength that simply occurred utterly at random and which allowed the necessary connection to be made, and that this enabled current to flow through the circuit and so power the movement of the machine, converting the potential of Jerry’s design into the kinetic of its purpose. But I tell you the question still remains. When the circuit is completed and the current starts to flow, an order is emerging out of chaos. When you have a starting you’re going from a sort of nothing to a sort of something. But how? What’s happening at that moment?
OK, OK, I know, I know, I’m obsessing. Alright, already. So, where was I? Oh, right. So, there was Flannery creeping up on this lurching monstrosity with this big stick tightly gripped in both hands, raised above her shoulder, ready for the downstroke, when suddenly there was this high-pitched whine that seemed to be coming out of nowhere, but must have been coming from the thing. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up. Flannery froze. I could tell that she couldn’t decide whether to strike it with her stick or run away. There was this moment of high drama, where the decision hung in the air. The dictionary definition of suspense. Then, before Flannery had a chance to do one thing or the other, just as suddenly as the whole thing started, it stopped. Jerry’s thingamajig fell silent and stopped dead in its tracks. We held our breath. Nothing. Finally, despite being the human embodiment of cowardice that I am, I managed to screw myself up enough to walk over and join Flannery. Buoyed by my presence she poked with her stick at the now inert agglomeration of odds and ends. Still nothing. She poked at it a few more times and then rolled it over on its back. Only then did it occur to us to go get Jerry. I don’t know why we didn’t run and get him right away. I’ve always felt bad about that. But, hey, we were kids! What did we know.
So we ran across his lawn and pounded on his door. His mother answered and we breathlessly tried to convey to her the magnitude of importance of the message we had for Jerry, but she would have none of it. They were in the middle dinner, and then Jerry had his homework to do, so whatever we had to tell him would simply have to wait until tomorrow. And that was that. When we finally got to see him the next morning on the way to school, he thought we were making fun of him at first, I guess because we must have been so over the top about it. I mean, it made a big impression on us. Anyway, he finally came around to believing us around lunch time and boy, did he get excited. He couldn’t wait to get home to work on it. He was sure he was onto something big. But when he came home he found out that his mother had taken it and everything else lying on the lawn and thrown it into the trash, like she periodically did-- just in time for the garbage men to take it to the dump. I think that was about the most upset I ever saw Jerry. He was crying and screaming at his mother and calling her a bunch of names, and ended up getting grounded for a month. Of course, during that month he managed to start a whole mess of new projects.
So, really, who’s to say that things didn’t start that day when Rick said he needed a new sense of self in order to get started. It was back around the time he totaled that insanely hopped-up hot rod of his. Remember? The one with the big, slick fat tires and the chrome side-pipes and all that other stuff? Right, it was just after they broke up. Surprise! Right, she was Mike’s little sister. She’s not around anymore, she moved away years ago. Lucky for Rick. He’d probably still be eating his heart out if she were around. Anyway, Rick was in the middle of his patented post break-up-wreck depression, swearing this way and that, never again, never again! Well, we’d all heard that one before, so we just laughed and bought him another drink. But, no, no, he kept on insisting: this time it would be different, this time he would change. We kept on laughing and buying until he said he didn’t want another drink, and then, while we may not just then have actually started in on thinking, Rick’s declining of a drink definitely formed a sort of prelude to the main act that began a short while later when Angie walked in. It was sometime after Angie’s appearance that Rick said that he needed a new sense of self in order to get started. When Rick said that it occurred to us that maybe he was serious this time and, well, then I think it’s safe to say that actual thinking began to take place. And once we started to think about it, it did sort of make sense that a new sense of self would get things started. Because a sense of self is really a product of the mind, when you get right down to it, and a new sense of self would be a redesigned product, and if the designer-- the owner of the self, in this case Rick-- did his or her job right it might actually be new and improved, just like the ads say. And a new and improved sense of self, I thought to myself, well, who knows what that might do!
And so I started thinking harder. A social order-- and I don’t think that you can really say THE social order at this point in time, as it seems to me there’s more than one out there right now, although I must say that it looks like we’re headed towards just one and so there may actually be the social order one day, just not today-- anyways.... A social order can be approached as a giant contraption, like something Jerry would make, only vastly more complex. Now, within this giant contraption, each of our beings has to have a function. Even somebody who looks like they’re doing nothing, well, don‘t let appearances fool you, they’re doing something. It may just be that no one’s figured out exactly what yet. Anyway, our functions are certainly fluid. Just ask anyone who’s changed jobs a few times. For most people it’s not that big a deal to switch from this to that to another thing and then back again. Granted that we eventually tend to settle on something, I’m simply pointing out that there’s nothing in the manual that says we have to. I believe that human nature is inherently flexible, and not only that, but that this flexibility has played an important part in our success as a species. What am I getting at here? Well, what I’m trying to get at is that the key to all of this is the self, which I conceive of and address here as an entity distinct from our being. In extending my employment of somewhat mechanical metaphors, I would define the self as an information processor that manages the being’s function. It is a simple step to go from this premise to the relatively minor conclusion that a change in a being’s function would force a change in the sense of self. You only have to consider this proposition for an instant to realize that it is a statement of the obvious. Now, my question here is, can we take the next logical step and state that the relationship between self and being, between the processor and the function, is a two way street, and thus state the corollary: that a new sense of self would enable a new function for the human being in possession of that particular self?
Clearly, people do change their sense of self over time. However, the question remains: How is this change effected? And, contained within the span of this over-arching question, is the question on which we need to focus at this exact juncture, which is: Can an individual consciously initiate a change in their own sense of self? and having initiated this change can this same individual channel it to a specific, desired end?
Rick started to answer this question that day when he asked these questions: What part does language play in the creation of the sense of self? Can I manufacture a new sense of self through language alone? Do I even need to use language to create a new sense of self or does some or all of the process take place in the pre-verbal-- or even pre-symbolic-- realm? If in fact the process of constructing a sense of self takes place outside of the symbolic realm how do I access the process? Is it possible to participate in the self without language?
OK, OK, I’ll admit it. Rick did not use these exact words. In point of fact, Rick did not use any of these words. But I know how his mind works so I’m translating him here for the sake of clarity. But in essence, these were the questions he asked. Satisfied?
So, anyways, I said to Rick: Hey, those are really great questions. And I thought about it for awhile and I came back with this. Ritual. Now, ignore for a moment, if you will, the historical debate as to whether it was through ritual that language developed in the first place-- which, I will freely admit, I believe to be the case-- and focus instead on the answer that ritual, in and of itself, supplies. Ritual is a way, possibly the first way, to experience the self as an entity distinct from being. I will go on record here as being willing to go so far as to suggest the possibility that it was through ritual that the self was originated. I told Rick then and there that I thought all human change was brought about through ritual. And that as far as the question of language was concerned, language was simply incorporated into ritual at some point and that while, yes, it was technically possible to create a new sense of self through language alone, before doing so one has to first acknowledge that it is ritual and ritual alone that brings about any change in the self, and that only by recognizing the ritualistic context of a particular use of language can the change be effected, and finally that the key to getting this right was understanding the part that narrative plays in ritual. Narrative predates language and is ritual’s greatest legacy. Narrative permeates all human endeavor. Every human activity involves narrative in some way.
And Rick was like: Yeah, well, maaaybe, but, like, I always seem to get into a big fight with my girlfriend over something I never seem to understand and then we break up and then I wreck my car; I mean it happens every time. What’s the story here? And then he hit me with this one: Don’t rituals always involve some sort of sacrifice? When Rick said that, that’s when the light bulbs started switching on in my head.
In order to move into that light, however, I first had to take a step back and ask another question: Can a purely intellectual decision effect a real and actual change in the physical reality of the material world? When material reality is altered by human agency, can the origin of that alteration ever be considered as existing purely in the realm of immaterial thought? Is human agency simply a vehicle for immaterial thought to enter and interact with the material world? In order to answer these questions we must first answer the questions upon which all of them are based: To what degree is human agency real and to what degree is it illusory? Is there any part of the intellect that is truly immaterial? Or can, conversely, every aspect of mind be reduced to the material, to electro-chemical reactions that science is presently in the process of deconstructing and diagraming, cataloging and comprehending? And if this is so, then what, if any, difference is there between scientific thought and ordinary thought? Or should we instead view the situation as being in the hands of powers beyond mortal ken that have intentions of their own that are simply and eternally beyond our grasp in every sense, which use the agency of human beings as vessels for decisions that are made a priori and without either our knowledge or consent? In other words, can you or I or anyone start something just by thinking and then saying that you want that something to start? Or is it that the desire to start something is in and of itself simply a continuation of a force that exists outside of human will that simply uses any given specific human agency as a sort of organic switch that needs to be thrown in that particular place and at that particular time in order to channel the flow of energy that is moving immutably from infinity to infinity for ever and ever across the universe? What, in the final analysis, constitutes a decision? I think that if we make even only the feeblest of attempts at grappling with the aforementioned questions, we can safely come to the conclusion that no decision we make, no matter how seemingly arbitrary, absurd or purposely abstract, can be conceived of as being ours alone, as being the product of solely our own will or even of our own desire; that every decision ever made or ever to be made is part of a larger whole; that there has never been nor will there ever be a completely independent thought or deed. Everything is influenced by everything else. All is connected. Which, takes us, logically, back to Rick, and what made him say that he needed a new sense of self in order to get started. In order to get started he needed a new sense of self. Let us now take a closer look at need. Perhaps we would do better to say that it was this need, then, that actually got things started, that it was not the decision so much as it was the need. If we were to do so would this take us closer to the truth? Is need, rather than decision, a definition more proximate to the core reality of the motivating force in human society? In other words: are all decisions predicated on and preceded by need, and is it the interpretation of this need, its translation, indeed transfiguration, that constitutes decision? Asking ourselves these questions, as Rick doubtless asked them himself that day, will help us get closer to a proper understanding, but certainly, as Rick must have discovered himself, the answer to these questions most emphatically cannot be a simple yes. To clarify this: decision in and of itself is not an isolated event that springs forth fully formed from human consciousness, it is rather a process in which human agency is positioned in the stream of the universe, of nature, and during the course of which the human organism exploits its evolved traits to interact with the forces amidst which it finds itself and forges a decision out of these raw materials; the elements of human existence are compounded by being put in relation with those elements of which the human being is itself composed, resulting in the creation of a decision. In this sense, decisions are immaterial artifacts, and the decision maker a craftsperson, an artisan, a metaphysical potter modeling the raw-material of need into a vessel of decision in which to carry action rather than water. So I think that it was simply a matter of Rick’s needs no longer being met by the identity which he had constructed. It was the fact of these needs no longer being met, the emergence of unmet need into the marketplace of Rick’s psyche, that led to the instigation of a creation of supply of fresh produce, harvested from the matrix of Rick’s fertile imagination, that in turn itself had come into being through a lifetime of immersion in the world around him. So, the need which surrounds and informs the imagination, which reveals to consciousness its own dependency on the raw physical material world of nature and the universe initiates the circuit that decision completes by leading to action, which reestablishes consciousness’s interaction with the universe, the material, physical universe that was ever so briefly suspended during the instant of the decision’s transpiration. I think that when Rick said he needed a new sense of self in order to get started, that it was in this way, this manner, in the completion of this circuit, that it really started.
At that time, the master narrative of Rick’s being was the acme of simplicity. It was composed entirely of two aspects: Cars and Girls. Cars and Girls were the twin peaks of a bipolar mind-set, about the axis of which Rick’s existence orbited, held securely and fixedly, bound by the gravity of this intractable dyad. Outside of this, all that life had to offer was to him nothing more than background noise, like the sixty-cycle hum of AC current.
Now, I tried to lay this out for Rick, that his narrative was so simple that there wasn’t much room for variance in his self-sustaining rituals, that if he didn’t look towards some major structural change, it looked as though his personal rituals would remain in this primal sacrificial model wherein sex and death did a dance around the fire in the updated dress of Cars and Girls and that there was every chance that he could spiral out of control, that, in fact, the laws of motion are such that this eventuality was practically inevitable, that, in short, if he wanted to survive he needed a new configuration, not just replacements for Cars and Girls, that he needed to get away from the bipolar model entirely, but to be honest, I’m not really sure how much if any of what I was saying got through to him or if it was more a case that my words, or even just the fact of our holding a conversation at that particular moment, activated a process that had lain dormant within him up until that point, as it lays within all of us to varying degrees and at different times. Metamorphosis is too strong, too dramatic a word to describe what Rick began to undergo at that point. I think a more accurate and properly proportioned term would be reconfiguration.
Now, the most amazing thing is that Rick’s new sense of self started out still being constituted solely by cars and girls! Wait, wait! you’ll see, it really was a new sense of self nonetheless, because it was entirely reconfigured. You see, before that day Rick always imagined that somehow it was the car that got him the girl, that the only way to get the girl, a girl, any and every girl in the entire known universe was to get the car that was the right one for her and then sort of just cruise up beside her in this certain manner that drew her attention first to the car and then to its occupant. That pretty much was that as far as his mind and its methods went. So, clearly then, Rick had fallen prey to the belief that the car superseded the man in a woman’s mind. One key to understanding this obvious lapse in judgment on Rick’s part is the fact that despite having put, even by that time, a great many years between himself and high school, he still somehow managed to conceive of the opposite sex as girls, rather than the women that they, at least for the most part, clearly had become. And sure, in high school girls, not necessarily having developed a fully formed sense of judgment as to the character and relative worth of members of the opposite sex, may very well, at least in some cases, have based their estimations of a male more on the worth of the car he shows up in than the character of the person behind the wheel, but Rick, presumably based on one or more pivotal formative experiences during his development in this area during high school got that particular idea fixed in his mind as a sort of eternal verity, and never managed to conceive, until that day in the bar, of the possibility that this concept might be other than what he held it to be, that it might just be something he had latched onto in a moment of haste to make do in a single instance or perhaps even a series of situations and that it happened to work quite effectively; but that that was all it was-- just something he had put together on the spur of the moment. Maybe he went on a winning streak right out of the box. It happens, Lord knows. But like any serious gambler, who starts out, as they all inevitably do, on a strong winning streak, grows to believe that they have somehow devised a “system” that is responsible for their success, for their winning, for their scores, Rick had misinterpreted the facts and fallen into error. Rick’s system, like that of the gambler, is invariably devised after the fact, is an ad hoc ex post facto rationalization that projects the imagination onto the unknown, that takes the unknown and imagines that it makes it known in an arcane and mystical fashion which is predicated on a single misprioritization of belief, of placing first the belief in the self, in one’s own management of the forces of the universe, of being in control, in charge. This mistake is the beginning of the end for anyone who steps down that path, for every trip that starts out in that direction ends the same way: in pain and disaster, being crushed by the very same forces that one thought were being kept under control, the stronger the belief in the system one has devised the more painful and crushing the defeat. With Rick it became an obsession, his system, and slowly but surely it took over every corner of his being. He perceived truth where there lay only error.
It is probably advisable to take a side bar here and state that the degree to which one becomes obsessed with a particular behavior is directly proportional to the degree to which it is in error, for the greater the error of a behavior the greater needs to be the denial of that error in order for that particular behavior to be able to continue, and this denial of error requires a proportionate degree of self-belief in order to be maintained. The greater the self-belief, the greater the delusion, for self-belief inevitably leads to a denial of reality, of the universe, and this in turn leads to an ever greater need to compulsively repeat exactly that action in which lay the root origin of the error, over and over and over again, to fill the void wrought by the denial of the universe, bringing the actor ever closer and closer to the ineluctable disaster: this is the definition of obsession. The greater the initial error the greater the final defeat, and the more catastrophic the damage on the individual the greater the reconfiguration of the identity. The only way out, the only way to break the spiral is a confrontation that leads to a recognition that leads to a preemptive reconfiguration. But it is very difficult for a preemptive reconfiguration to be successful, for to be so the recognition which is its precondition must be complete, and this is rare. There is definitely an argument to be made for simply letting the obsession run its course, for the reconfiguration that occurs at the conclusion of the crisis is most often successful as the disaster destroys the error in its entirety. Whereas a manual preemptive reconfiguration risks leaving a fragment of that error intact, which could then lead to the entire cycle beginning all over again.
Now, since we’re talking arguments, let’s take an opposite case, let’s presume that it is possible for an exemplary individual to be completely natural and therefore entirely free from error, to embody in action the perfect truth, to exist in absolute harmony with reality; that intention in the case of this individual overlaps 100% with the actuality attained by the actions undertaken. According to this argument then, supposing this to be possible, there would be absolutely no compulsion to repeat any behavior, as soon as an act was committed all thoughts of it would disappear forever and no desire to repeat the act would remain. This occurs, at least to a degree, as the experience of most of us will all attest to, when we are young, in our earliest years and, at least in most cases, the ability to reproduce this behavior tapers off slowly but surely as we age. Again, as in all things there are exceptions: some, even as children are preoccupied and obsessive at all times, and are seemingly never able to experience a moment of this natural behavior and harmony of which we are speaking. Never in their lives ever. Never. Not one single time do they feel the harmony of nature. That’s rough, if it’s true. Let’s hope that it is just a construct of the mind and that words can never be expected to be able to fully embody the story of the world as it transpires in flesh and blood, that a code is a code is a code is a construct of the mind is a byproduct of the flesh and blood, that it’s what’s left over from life and never the real thing, and that we will forget about it just like time on a clock that passes and passes over and over again always the same while always different. It is, as far as the clock, the same over and over forgetting. The time leaves. Good-bye good-bye good-bye to all that I can’t remember anymore what happened I mean where did the time go I wonder sometimes the time the same different where when I mean why....
Some, on the other hand seem to be able to hold onto that youthful ability to act naturally without preconceptions or prejudice and be spontaneous throughout their lives. Others regain in retirement and old age the spontaneity that they had lost, sacrificed at the altar of work. Play is the word that covers what we’re looking at here. Play as the opposite of work. Play as the natural use of our bodies, minds and beings, the 100% intention/actuality overlap. Play. When work becomes play all will be finally right with the world. Humanity will inhabit Eden once again. Mankind’s greatest error of self belief, forming the core conceit of all humanity, is the singular delusion of private property. This in turn leads to the manifest archetype of the compulsive repetitive behavior of obsession: buying and selling. If you think long enough and dig deep enough, all human obsessions and their consequent compulsions are connected in some way to, if not actually rooted in, the single error of this core conceit. The day work becomes play will be the same day that private property ceases to exist. Until that day, however, we have our work cut out for us and it is not cut out of the cloth of play.
But the day Rick said that he needed a new sense of self in order to get started, well, that day, something started, something started that started in all of us, that started us moving together, in unison, heading in the right direction. And ever since that day I have to say that I think we’re going to make it to wherever it is we’re going to.
How was Rick’s new sense of self new if it still involved cars and girls? Well, it was new because it was reconfigured. This was the key. The ignition key, if you like. The key that, once put into the ignition and turned, started the starting. No longer was it a bipolar model. Instead Rick placed cars and girls within a grid matrix. Cars were assigned to the vertical or, if you would prefer me to be more technical about it, the paradigmatic axis, while girls were assigned to the horizontal or syntagmatic axis. While reconfiguration does not automatically lead to rehabilitation, I will herein maintain that by shifting his sense of self from the bipolar model to that of the grid matrix, Rick freed himself from the repetition compulsion within which he had been up until that moment trapped, and took the first step towards an integrated sense of self, which for Rick was new and thus constituted a new sense of self. Whether this integration would be successful was in no way guaranteed by his adoption of the grid-matrix model, but I believe that by rejecting the bipolar model, along with its baggage of implicit manichænism, Rick had taken the absolutely necessary first step. I further believe that modernity is defined by the grid-matrix, or, to put it another way, that the grid-matrix is the definitive constitutive element of a modern identity, that it is by the conscious adoption of the grid-matrix as the foundation for its identity, that a human being embraces the possibilities and challenges of modernity. For once in the grid it is simply a matter of continuing the journey begun with that first step by taking gradual and incremental steps to fill your identity with the world, how far you go, how much you integrate, and of course what you choose to integrate is obviously different for each and every one of us, but that this is easily able to be the case is the beauty of the grid matrix model for identity construction. In Rick’s case, what had been spinning out of control in the bipolar model was now firmly grounded, even though the constitutive elements-- cars and girls-- were, at least at the outset, identical, the manner and mode in which they were organized made all the difference and allowed movement and growth and finally integration to take place, to occur, to enter the stream of the world of events, of eventualities, of life, of space and time which could now be organized in any number of ways, allowing finally patterns to begin to take shape. Patterns. There are purely spatial patterns and purely temporal patterns but these are in the end theoretical models for all patterns involve finally an integration between space and time. Integration of people and place, mind and matter, spirit and substance. Wherever patterns emerge, learning can take place, for learning is first and foremost the recognition of patterns. And once learning takes place building can begin and out of building comes the future; not the dull blank empty future of time and space, but the fulfilled future of spirit and mind and language and their offspring. Without the grid-matrix, with only the manichænism of the bipolar model to contain your identity, you’re going around and around the same spot, you’re standing still, going nowhere fast and then faster and faster until inevitably whirling apart into pieces that float through the emptiness of time and space until being pulled into the orbit of someone else’s gravity. It was on that day that Rick finally saw this for the first time. It may very well be the first time any of us really saw it clearly for what it was. I think that the exact moment when he first saw this, when it was first fully revealed to him, was, as I started to say earlier, when Angie walked in off the street and sat down next to him there in the I’ll Get By Bar & Grill and finally and forever shattered his highly stressed and intensely fragile world view, allowing Rick to at long last realize that configuration was the key and that he needed a new sense of self in order to get started.
Angie just did her everyday-Angie-thing to everyone all around. To Rick’s dumbfounded and vague and spectral glaze Angie simply responded that she saw us through the window and decided on the spur of the moment to come on in and check us out since it’d been ages. Rick, as we all knew, had had the hots for Angie all through high school and beyond. Rick had won her friendship, but that was it. It was clear to everyone in those days, except, apparently, Rick, that she had her mind on Bennie. And wherever Angie’s mind went, her body followed, and whomever her mind was set on, well, let’s just say that person’s body inevitably followed as well. So Angie was the catalyst. But was she the catalyst to the need for a new sense of self that then in turn led Rick to get started, or was she the catalyst to a desire to get started, for which in turn Rick then discovered he needed a new sense of self? In either event, it was this discovery of the need for a new sense of self in order to get started which caused it all to start.
Suddenly, Rick emanated lucidity in a way and to a degree that had rarely if ever before been witnessed. He turned to Angie and asked, “Angie, what do people want? I mean, you’re a banker, you must hear people’s stories on an almost daily basis. When somebody comes to you to borrow money, by definition it’s because they want something. To buy something, to build something, to do something, to go somewhere, to get married, to have children, to send those children to college... but underneath it all, all of this must, when viewed though the proper filter, when divided by the ultimate denominator that joins all of humanity in a unity of consciousness and desire, all this has to boil down to one single desire, and I’m asking you: What is it? What do people want?” And of course, brilliant as always, Angie had the absolutely perfect comeback which was simply,” What do you want, Rick?”
Staring mournfully into his drink, Rick, was unable to muster a reply, terrified of betraying his true feelings to the possibility of reality. Yes, but! But... it was this terror of being revealed that provided Rick with the impetus to cross over into his own consciousness and see himself, see his own nakedness, that which he was afraid of letting the others see. And by so seeing his own nakedness-- nakedness which, not only was he afraid of revealing to us, but which he had before that moment been afraid to reveal even to himself-- by at last allowing himself to see his own self for who and what it was, at last Rick was able to see what he was NOT, what he was lacking; and what he was lacking was, first and foremost, a strategy. It was this realization that led to Rick saying he needed a new sense of self in order to get started-- which is what he declared right then and there, after downing the previously declined drink. And it was when Rick said that he needed a new sense of self in order to get started that it really started.
Oh yeah, I almost forgot-- you would have killed me if I had forgotten this-- right in the middle of Rick’s declaration of need and intent, Billie walked up to the table. She had noticed Angie sitting there and seeing’s how it’s not everyday that Angie shows up at the I’ll Get By, Billie decided to check it out. Now, of course, she came over with the pretense of seeing who needed what, and pretended to only have noticed Angie once she had arrived at the table, but I could tell by her demeanor-- and I mean, you know I know Billie-- that she knew Angie was at the table before she headed over, and that Angie was the main thing on her mind when she got there.
So, the first thing that happened after Angie asked Rick what he wanted was that Billie asked “Who here needs another round?” It is my opinion that the sound of the word round triggered in Rick’s mind the image of himself whirling round and round his personal, private axis of cars and girls, and it was this image that helped set in motion his move away from this axis and onto the grid. Well, that might seem like pure idle speculation to you, but then you don’t know Rick like I do. Anyway, lest we forget, Angie’s question to Rick was still hanging in the air at this point. It was actually pretty funny, I mean, I know I laughed. So, on hearing, or not hearing as the case may be, Billie’s query, Rick just blurted out, ”I have no game plan!” Now Billie didn’t know what exactly everyone at the table had been talking about, but, not being one to shy away from getting right into the thick of it, no matter what it is, she simply retorted, “Honey, I didn’t ask you if you had a game plan, I asked you if you wanted another drink!” This, of course, cracked everybody up big time, and it is highly probable that the massive release of tension that this enabled was crucial to Rick’s breakthrough. Although you wouldn’t have guessed it at first as Rick’s initial reaction was to slip into a semi-catatonic state. It was a case of overloaded circuits if ever there was one. Angie, like nature, abhors a vacuum, and she quickly broke the confused silence that followed the initial outburst of good cheer by ordering a drink she new quite well she wouldn’t get. Furthermore, Billie knew that Angie knew quite well that the drink wouldn’t be obtainable. I have to admit that I’ve never been able to fully flesh out-- or flush out, for that matter-- what the origin or source is of the animosity, the simmering hostility, the edgy competitiveness that exists between Billie and Angie. It’s always just there, hovering in the air whenever the two of them are together. I don’t doubt that it all comes down to money in some way, as I don’t see it having anything to do with sex, and with Angie, it pretty much always comes down to one or the other. What it is exactly though, I don’t think I’ll ever know. Anyway, Billie’s comeback was a classic: “Let me know in advance the next time you decide to grace us with your presence and I‘ll make sure that I have the ingredients on hand to prepare that particular concoction. Right now you’re going to have to make do with something else, so what’ll it be?”
Now, you may disagree with me here, but I feel that, at that particular juncture, there was certain sexual undercurrent, a certain frisson, if you will, to the word concoction, at least as Rick heard it at that moment, and that this word played a part in pushing Rick over the edge and into the realization that he needed a new sense of self in order to get started. Well, exactly, that’s what language is all about, isn’t it. The symbolic. By talking about something, by using language in place of action we can work through problems with much less risk, and with less of risk’s subsequent consequences, such as physical injury and death, and therefore with greater survival. Sure, of course you could say that language can lead one to take risks that one might have otherwise avoided, that millions have been seduced by language, have been lured to their doom by language. Sure, you can say it, but you would be wrong. It is never language in and of itself that leads anyone to do anything, it is only through error, through a misconstrual of the purpose of language, that anyone has ever been led to an unfortunate end. It is the misperception of language as directive that is at the root of all these historical tragedies of which doubtless you are thinking. No, I disagree with you there. Real language, true language, language as it is meant to be, should only lead to more language, and then to more and better language. Not simply more in quantity, but also more in quality as well. Speaking for myself, my hope is that the more language that I employ, the better it gets, the quality builds to successive levels of superiority, a true stairway to heaven constructed by and through language, built one word at a time. Practice makes perfect you know. In the here and now, in reality, in the case of language as in everything, perfection is fleeting, it exists only for that instant of the apogee of the arc, that moment of absolute suspension where gravity and the forces working against it are in perfect balance, that instant that is the single most beautiful thing in the universe: the apogee of the arc; the moment when all forces are in balance, where the forces allied against gravity have been successfully spent and entirely exhausted but before gravity once again asserts its indomitable dominion. That fleeting oh so fleeting instant. Language can take you there. It can take you to the point where you can see it hear it feel it all at once: that instant at the apogee of the arc. Just like time and space, language never ends. It too is infinite ever evolving from never to ever. Language is the translation of the time and space through which human being moves; it is its fulfillment. It is the record that is eternal where life is fleeting. I suppose you could say that the definition of the end of time is that point at which language finally envelopes us entirely. As of that moment there will cease to be any distinction between speaking and doing, between thought and action, between decision and being. On the other hand, perhaps time does not even really exist, or if it does exist perhaps it never even began. Perhaps all has been language all along and we have simply not been able to see this.
Yeah, I’ll have to admit, it does get to be a bit much sometimes, even for me. But not today, and not the day that Rick was sitting in the booth next to Angie when the word concoction came out of Billie’s mouth and entered into his brain through his ears and interacted with his already overloaded circuits. Rick started to sweat. The pieces were all in place and then concoction set him off . Concoction. Sounds nice doesn’t it? Language can do that. It’s the way we’re wired. Hey, I don’t pretend to have any more understanding of how it works than you do. No way. It’s a total mystery to me and I like it that way. It’s all part of the road we’re traveling to the purely symbolic realm-- yeah, yeah... the yellow brick road, right. Oz, where dream is indistinguishable from reality. So... Rick, agitated by language, a transformation is catalyzed. He suggests to Angie that she order something that Billie would be sure to have. It might seem incredibly, even pathetically, trivial to mention this, but the fact that Angie agreed to order and then to consume what Rick had suggested, emboldened Rick to keep on moving, to take another step. This is the razor’s edge in the interaction between the symbolic and the real, at least the real of the human community. This is where symbolic exchange leads to structural alterations of individual as well as group and community identity. This is the transformative power of ritual as embodied in social narrative. Taken one iota at a time it always seems utterly inconsequential, but once you realize that we are swimming in a sea of social narrative, that it is all around us at every moment, then you begin to understand. Communication is transformation, always and forever. Communication is to consciousness as chemical reaction is to matter: exchange. But it is also more. Words are electricity. Power. Communication forms the circuit.
And that’s when Louis came in, got a pitcher and joined us. He was in a rare talkative mood, and it wasn’t long before he started in on some stories from his railroad days. The one in particular that has stuck with me ever since is about how he would get totally disconnected from his circadian rhythms and totally lose track of time. It got to the point where he really seriously would have no idea what time it was, even whether it were morning or afternoon. When he looked out the window he would have to ask himself: is that the sun rising or the sun setting? In order to situate and orient himself he had to constantly ask himself: what train am I on? which direction are we headed? are we coming or going? No don’t forget that back in those days Louis would jump at any chance for work, and regulations weren’t then what they are now. It was not unusual for Louis to be working sixteen or twenty-four hours straight, sometimes even longer. You try doing that for twenty years and see what happens. Things that ordinarily would be taken for granted, as a given, became for Louis, back in those days, a constant intellectual exercise, a calculation. It was a job in and of itself just for him to know where and when he was and where he was going in the physical real world. In a way, Louis‘s position was a microcosm of humanity’s situation in the eternal here and now, in the universe. Over the course of millennia we as a community, society, civilization, what have you, have taken some of the greatest minds of all our times to situate ourselves in time and space. Where are we? Where are we going? Where are we coming from? In the universe? In time and space? Where? When? For Louis these questions became daily and constant. Just imagine if we all had to get up every morning and ask ourselves these questions. So Louis, well eventually he just gave up and stopped caring about where and when, it was just too exhausting to keep track of it all. And the punch line is, he was shocked to realize how little difference not knowing made in his life and work. It was quite a revelation to Louis and he has managed to successfully impart it to many of us, myself most gratefully included: The world moves by full of strength and beauty; where it’s going and where it’s coming from are, finally, beside the point and not of any consequence to our daily struggles; it’s only the moving that matters; the energy is in the motion regardless of the direction; you’ll get wherever you’re going at the same time, all roads ultimately lead to the same place. I got to hand it to Louis. It’s a brilliant metaphor for our status in the universe. What does it matter, when you get right down to it, where you are, when you are or even, finally who you are? All that matters is that you are and that you’re moving going living seeing hearing smelling touching being as you move down the tracks of your life. Day or night east or west up or down back or forth. I would like to make the same case for language. That it’s not so much what you say as how you say it. When you keep at it long enough what’s being talked about eventually and of necessity gets lost in the talk itself as language turns in on itself to develop its themes and ideas, as the abstract nature of the human soul comes out into the light of day into the infinity and eternity, words do their job and then go home, back to the immaterial from whence they came. Language is a train driving though the eternal night of ignorance. Its cars are carrying the meaning without which all would be... what? I mean what would it be without words? I mean, really. It’s the phrase the sentence the verse the paragraph the page. The play’s the thing. Most of all though, it’s the conversation, the moment when the words hang in the air between the two of us, that is the moment when language is truly alive, a thing in its own right that eclipses whatever use it is being put to at that moment, transcends its employer and attains pure independent being. In that instant hanging hovering shining, its presence palpable. Just for that instant it is alive. And the truly wonderful thing is that that instant is ongoing all around us all the time. It’s communication. It’s the real power, the real electricity, the light shining out through us from its holy source. It’s the power we’re just the channels through which the essence flows giving birth day after day to the life of language which is to us the language of life. Language is most alive when it’s on the move on the tracks, goinggoingoingoingoingoing but no matter how long or how far it goes, it’s never gone, it’s always there with us telling us what we need to know, taking us where we need to go. All aboard! What? Sure, sure, you’re right of course, you can only take metaphors and analogies so far because they’re still language, you can’t cross the divide, language won’t take you into the real world, but that’s my point exactly. Language can’t take you to the real world it can only take you to the world of language which is exactly where I want to go where I want to be where I want to stay where I never want to leave: language, the world of language, is the new world, the new flesh: language. It is impossible to deny language its ultimate transcendence of the material world, it is the essential element. Communication is transcendent when we exist free of the material world free of the chains of reality. It is in communication-- that moment-- when we are free of ourselves. Yes, anything that communicates can constitute a language and provide this transcendence, certainly, you’ll get no argument from me there; it is not in words alone that language resides and the lack of words in no way prevents language from existing and communication from occurring, but let’s face it: nothing comes close to words in cumulative communicatory power. Like it or not, words rule. We are their subjects. No, I don’t think that in and of itself money constititues a language. Money unquestionably forms a significant part of many languages. In all likelihood it is integral and indispensable to all materially based languages. I mean while money is not integral to the word it does take money in this day and age to communicate anything. It may not feel like we’re spending money right now but we are, even if it’s somebody else’s. But, no, money doesn’t power the machine, it only greases the wheels. No, money does not-- and no matter how hard how many people might try and try again money will never-- power the machine, that’s simply not it’s job and not within it’s powers, immense and far reaching though they may be. Nothing will ever truly start with money. Money is what is used once its already started, to help get the wheels in motion, but by itself it won’t ever start anything. In fact, the proper definition of money, what we can accurately say constitutes its essence, is the past. Money is what we manage to carry with us out of the past and into the present. And that’s all money is or ever will be. It is always and will always be the desire to communicate, to achieve that transcendence that communication offers, that instant of freedom, which starts everything. It is the desire to communicate that is the force that drives the machine. It would never get off the ground without that initial desire, which in no way shape or form can have its ultimate origin in money. Money is the way that language manifests itself in the world, language is materially constituted by, with and through money. Language takes on matter via money. In this was money acts as a sort of dimensional portal bridging the gap between that immaterial realm of language to the material world of things. Words become things though the possibilities created by money under the aegis of the coin of the realm. No, no you’re right, you don’t have to use money it is not an inherent necessity as far as transforming language into material is concerned, absolutely not. It is simply the way our societies, each in their own peculiar manner, have developed to organize our collective consciousness in the material world. It is the principle as well as the principal. But to make at least one thing plain: In the end, money has nothing to do with it. Rick’s starting started like all startings start, with language. This is what I’ve been trying to say all along: that it all started by Rick saying that he needed a new sense of self in order to get started. And it’s still going....
And then Rick said something that made Angie laugh. You know, I’ve tried and tried, but I can’t remember what it was that Rick said that made Angie laugh. But she laughed. And the more I thought about it, the more I started to consider the possibility that it was Angie’s laugh that really got things started, that maybe it was that laugh that led to Rick’s saying that he needed a new sense of self to get started and that maybe it was the laugh that started it; but I guess in the end I’ll never know. It’s the age old quandary: when we say her face launched a thousand ships, is the statement figurative or literal? Clearly, the prevailing opinion would be that it is the former, but I believe that a strong case could be made for the latter. The power of beauty should not be underestimated. Beauty is like a portal through which the light of God shines. It’s the closest glimpse we ever get of the master plan. Angie’s laugh provided Rick with the crucial recognition of the need to get started. Although it’s admittedly a dicey undertaking to try to parse time this finely, I would like to assert here that at this precise moment Rick had just reached the point where he knew that he needed to get a new sense of self in order to get started, that, further, he had intuited the necessary superiority of the grid-matrix over the bipolar, that he had achieved the gut feeling that a leap into the void was required from him to make the new start, but what he wasn’t entirely yet convinced of was the overriding need to get started in the first place and it was Angie’s laugh that provided him with this. Her recognition provided Rick with a confirmation, and the rest, as we are so fond of saying, is history. But while it is indeed history in one sense in the sense of the history of the material world, it is not yet history in the most important and really real sense as far as history is concerned and that is in text. History is only really real once it has been embodied in text. This is the paradoxical definition of history, in that it purports to present a record of events, but it is finally a documenting of the process of providing that record itself. And while in the case of Rick’s discovering that he needed a new sense of self in order to get started it is indeed history in the former sense of the word, it is only now in the process of becoming history in the latter. Angie’s laugh shone a light into the heart of darkness of Rick’s soul, piercing finally the veil which had hidden its contents even from Rick’s own mind’s eye, allowing him at long last to witness and confront his own personal lacks and malformations. Not neccesarily for the first time, certainly, but at the right time. It is quite an enigma, this concept of the right time, yet this inherent mystery in no way mitigates its essential reality: the right time. Things only happen at the right time, never at the wrong time. What is the right time? What constitutes such a thing? How can time be right? How can it be wrong? I think this dilemma can best be apprehended using the grid-matrix model and approaching it in a scalar fashion whereby the individual’s personal grid-matrix replicates and then intersects with the overall grid-matrix of the universe, and there is simply an inherent structural characteristic of this model wherein whenever and wherever any specific point within the individual’s personal grid-matrix intersects with the analogous point on the over-arching universal grid-matrix, then whenever that intersection occurs becomes the right time and wherever it occurs becomes the right place. Did I lose you? Oh well, not to worry, I think I may have gotten lost there myself. Anyway, as to how this all works I won’t pretend to know, but in this particular case involving Rick I think we can find some fairly substantial corroboration for the assertion that the right time somehow necessarily involves the right place as well. Rick was surrounded by his closest friends in the place he felt most at home: a public place permeated by welcome. And, crucially, he was seated next to an object of idealized procreative longing, providing him with an instinctive connection to the future. And with this he was at last able to find the necessary, essential security for honest self-evaluation, and was therefore at long last able to take the plunge. It was when he came up for air that he not only realized that he needed a new sense of self in order to get started, he knew the shape that this new sense of self would would take and the direction it would take him in, and just as, if not even more, importantly, that, at that time and in that place, he wanted to get started. He had discovered the voice of his desire.