Thunder, Perfect Mind
Thunder, perfect mind
image Paris 183o
There is something deeply satisfying about thunderstorms. They have an awesome, primal power. In the city they would bring relief. A few days of heat turning the air into an eye-stinging acrid poisonous gas, the heat of the sun multiplied as it is absorbed by brick, concrete and asphalt then radiated out again through the brief hours of darkness. Restless, unsleeping in stifling semi-dark. And then…a breath of cold wind and a flash of light….waiting, counting the seconds until…. SOUND. Not always a ‘boom’, sometimes a tearing , ripping, wrenching, rending noise, as if the very fabric of the world was being pulled apart.
Another FLASH, another SOUND. Closer now. Mixed with a throbbing, drumming noise. Rain. A staccato, rattling. Hail. FLASH. SOUND. Right over head now. And then the deluge begins…
Afterwards, the air is clear, drinking in great draughts, cool and refreshing, body tingling, alive, ecstatic. Even in here in this great city.
And in the countryside? Last night began a walk in bright evening sunshine. A few minutes saw me pass from a small island of houses and streets into the great sea of green. So many shades of green, - the greens of the rushes and reeds of marshland, the greens of trees and bushes, the greens of fields (yellowed here and there where the deep grass had been cut for silage). The path I followed tracing a trajectory of transformation: of ‘present’ into ‘past’, the stuff of future archaeologies and histories.
Here a great river once ran through a cold desert of naked rock, sand and gravel, mud and silt. The land’s flesh stripped, skin flayed by the ice knives of a glacier, grinding and creaking as the weight of millions of tons of frozen water laid waste to all in its path. What is more fleeting, more transitory, more delicate, more fragile and beautiful than a crystalline flake of snow? Yet as snow flake piled upon snow flake some 20 or 30 thousand years ago upon the summits of the hills which still mark the horizon here, their individual transience was transformed . They ( how many billions I wonder?) fused into a mass of ice which rose a mile high above the highest hill. As gravity’s mechanical force exerted its mindless will, the mountain of ice spread and crept downwards along pathways of least resistance towards an ever receding sea. No life survived this slow motion assault . The very soil, the soul of the land, was caught up and carried before and beneath the glaciers to be dumped in thick dense layers beneath what is now the Irish Sea.
Centuries passed. Hundreds of centuries passed. Perhaps 10 000 years. And then the ice began to melt. Steams of water began to trickle beneath the sheets of ice. Lubricating the glaciers’ progress, the ice sheets moved more swiftly. As the snow flakes ceased to fall, the great ice mountain began to die. A landscape, like that of Iceland today, began to emerge, a re-virgined land, veined with rivers of melt water.
One such river ran here, taking the most direct route to a rapidly rising sea. It carried all before it, its waters suffused with mud, silt and sand and gravel . But as the accumulate resource, its frozen capital, was released each spring, so its strength and power began to wane. Where ever a ridge of rock remained, its waters were pooled and gave up their burden of rocky fragments. In time the river could no longer surmount such obstacles in its path. So it found a new route to the sea, leaving in its wake a four mile long by half mile wide strip of what is now marshland.
In 1864, a railway branch line to Kirkcudbright was built on a low embankment across the narrowest part of the marshland - through which a canal had been built in 1765. In 1991, a road was built on a higher embankment. The canal had fallen out of use by 1840, the railway was closed in 1965. In 2006, the disused railway was made into a footpath, with a wooden bridge crossing the canal built on the footings of the old railway bridge. This was the path I followed last night.
As I did so, I could see and hear a thunder cloud forming. As I progressed along the path, the storm moved closer. I watched the lightning flash down over Keltonhill and felt a cold wind which shook the blossom from the hawthorn trees which have grown up beside the railway. The rain began, so I took shelter under a bridge which carried a farm track over the railway.
It was not quite the intended outcome. I’d brought a pad of paper to jot down some ideas. How could I tease out the connections and overlaps between Thomas Carlyle and Kenneth Grant? And to Hegel, Marx, Breton and Debord?
I listened to the sound of the thunder , almost overhead now. Felt the coldness of the air, gusts of wind scattering rain drops over the page. A pool of muddy water gathered and began to creep towards me. Looking around for inspiration, all I could see were some black smears of soot on the red/ brown sandstone of the bridge. The last steam train had passed under this bridge over 40 years ago, but the smoke of its passing had not dispersed. I jot a few words down:
Crouched down under an old railway bridge- listening to a thunderstorm overhead + rain words - where are they - here - where they are written - or where they are read?
Carlyle - Johnson’s ‘ghosts’
Which may seem a bit cryptic, but is quite useful. The words were written at a specific place and time. I can mentally see myself writing them, even took some photographs. The piece of paper on which I scribbled them is before me as a type them. Now they appear on a computer screen. At some point -as yet in the future- they will be read on another computer screen. The one you are reading them on ‘now’.
Or the words could be being read on a printed page. Should I wish to ensure their survival for an extended period of time, they could be carved on to a piece of rock, written on a piece of clay which is then fired or on some suitably enduring ink on parchment. The words of the text ‘Thunder, perfect mind’ were found written on sheets of papyrus (a reed) in a clay jar at Nag Hammadi in Upper Egypt in 1945 and have been dated to AD 390. http://www.gnosis.org/naghamm/nhl.html
But words are more than just markings on a page, or a stream of binary digits in cyberspace. Words also exist as a set of ‘meanings’. So where do the meanings of the words exist? Immediately as a set of impulses in the brain of the writer/ reader. I suppose that with some form of highly advanced brain scanning technology, the very electro-chemical impulses generated as each word is read could be monitored and displayed. But would the brain activity so monitored ‘mean’ anything? Not as it is on a screen. It would have to be interpreted , have to be translated back into words, into language, into context. Take just one of my words: ‘thunderstorm’. How many contexts and associations would that give? As writer, I have already suggested a few - ‘Thunder, perfect mind’ for example. Then there is ‘What the thunder said’ from T. S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” .. and the Cramps’ song ‘Voodoo Idol’ “Lightening split the sky and thunder shook the ground”.
So although I was alone under the railway bridge in the middle of a thunderstorm, other, ghostly, presences were sheltering there with me. Looking up at the smears of soot on the stonework of the bridge, the thundering ghosts of long lost steam engines also haunted me. The space seem too small, too confined to have ever accommodated such entities. Their memories lie at the outer edge of my childhood. I was only six when the last train passed beneath the bridge. But visiting a ‘heritage’ railway a few years ago, the pungent aroma of coal smoke and hot oil, the hissing clanking sounds and sheer physical presence of a steam engine passing the platform were immediately familiar sensations.
How long will these ghosts from the Mechanical Age continue to haunt the green fields? A few centuries yet. Half a mile or so from the railway bridge the remains of 2000 year old (approximately) Iron Age ring-fort can still be traced around Meikle Wood Hill. The railway bridges will in time collapse, several have already gone, although one has been replaced with the wooden foot bridge mentioned above. The earthworks, the cuttings and embankments will survive, perhaps for 2000 years, like the ditches and mounds of the Iron Age ring-fort. The meaning of this ‘old-straight track’ [= ‘ley-lines’ as imagined by Alfred Watkins in 1920s] may be lost, but it will survive.
Following the track of associations evoked by the thunder storm leads to more ghosts. The ‘johnsons ghosts’ I scribbled down whilst shivering in the suddenly cold evening. Twenty kilometres/ twelve miles north west from Kelton Mains farm (the track to which I was crouching beneath) lies Craigenputtoch. In the farm house here, surrounded by open moorland and patches of cultivate land, Thomas Carlyle wrote ‘Sartor Resartus’ in 1830. Although physically isolated from the dramatic events of the time - a revolution in Paris, the Captain Swing rural revolts of southern England and the opening of the Liverpool to Manchester Railway - through newspapers, Carlyle was aware of these events.
In March this year (2007 e.v.) along with fellow students from the University of Glasgow’s Crichton [Dumfries] Campus I visited Craigenputtoch to hear a lecture on Carlyle given by Dr. Ralph Jessop. I found the experience deeply disconcerting. (As Ralph himself did). Apart from the addition of electricity, the farm house is unchanged since Carlyle’s day. It was as if Carlyle was still in the room, a tangible ghost immediately present.
Why should this be so? The answer lies in Carlyle’s own words, where he discusses the nature of ‘ghosts’ [the ‘Johnson‘ mentioned is the 18th century Dr. Johnson who wrote the first dictionary and whose life was recorded by Boswell]:
"Again, could anything be more miraculous than an actual authentic Ghost? The English Johnson longed, all his life, to see one; but could not, though he went to Cock Lane, and thence to the church-vaults, and tapped on coffins. Foolish Doctor! Did he never, with the mind's eye as well as with the body's, look round him into that full tide of human Life he so loved; did he never so much as look into Himself? The good Doctor was a Ghost, as actual and authentic as heart could wish; well-nigh a million of Ghosts were travelling the streets by his side. Once more I say, sweep away the illusion of Time; compress the threescore years into three minutes: what else was he, what else are we? Are we not Spirits, that are shaped into a body, into an Appearance; and that fade away again into air and Invisibility? This is no metaphor, it is a simple scientific fact: we start out of Nothingness, take figure, and are Apparitions; round us, as round the veriest spectre, is Eternity; and to Eternity minutes are as years and aeons. .. Ghosts! There are nigh a thousand million walking the Earth openly at noontide; some half-hundred have vanished from it, some half-hundred have arisen in it, ere thy watch ticks once.
"O Heaven, it is mysterious, it is awful to consider that we not only carry each a future Ghost within him; but are, in very deed, Ghosts! These Limbs, whence had we them; this stormy Force; this life-blood with its burning Passion? They are dust and shadow; a Shadow-system gathered round our ME: wherein, through some moments or years, the Divine Essence is to be revealed in the Flesh. That warrior on his strong war-horse, fire flashes through his eyes; force dwells in his arm and heart: but warrior and war-horse are a vision; a revealed Force, nothing more. Stately they tread the Earth, as if it were a firm substance: fool! the Earth is but a film; it cracks in twain, and warrior and war-horse sink beyond plummet's sounding. Plummet's? Fantasy herself will not follow them. A little while ago, they were not; a little while, and they are not, their very ashes are not.
"So has it been from the beginning, so will it be to the end. Generation after generation takes to itself the Form of a Body; and forth issuing from Cimmerian Night, on Heaven's mission APPEARS. What Force and Fire is in each he expends: one grinding in the mill of Industry; one hunter-like climbing the giddy Alpine heights of Science; one madly dashed in pieces on the rocks of Strife, in war with his fellow:--and then the Heaven-sent is recalled; his earthly Vesture falls away, and soon even to Sense becomes a vanished Shadow. Thus, like some wild-flaming, wild-thundering train of Heaven's Artillery, does this mysterious MANKIND thunder and flame, in long-drawn, quick-succeeding grandeur, through the unknown Deep. Thus, like a God-created, fire-breathing Spirit-host, we emerge from the Inane; haste stormfully across the astonished Earth; then plunge again into the Inane. Earth's mountains are levelled, and her seas filled up, in our passage: can the Earth, which is but dead and a vision, resist Spirits which have reality and are alive? “
The sheer intensity of Carlyle’s writing here surely transcends ‘space and time’ ? It is immediately present, even now 177 years later. Sweep away ‘the illusion of Time’ and were we not then in the presence of Thomas Carlyle as he wrote these words in the same space - Craigenputtoch - as we were ourselves? If anything, were we not the shadows and the ghosts - whilst the real and substantial were the words composed by Carlyle?
Although somewhat obscure today, Sartor Resartus was a deeply influential text. It inspired Dickens, who dedicated ‘Hard Times’ (his industrial novel) to Carlyle. It inspired Andre Breton, who mentions it as an inspiration in his 1924 ‘Manifesto of Surrealism’. The phrase ‘all that is solid melts to air’ in Marx and Engels ‘Communist Manifesto ‘ is very close to Carlyle’s “So that this so solid-seeming World, after all, were but an air-image” in Sartor Resartus. Less ambiguously, Carlyle’s words “ Cash Payment had not then grown to be the universal sole nexus of man to man” were directly borrowed by Marx and Engels as ‘the cash nexus’.
To fully explore the strange currents set in motion by Carlyle’s text would be a fascinating exercise, but one which is beyond me. Rather I want to explore the possibility of an imaginative (imaginary) link between Sartor Resartus and the work of Kenneth Grant (1924-). Discussing Carlyle/ Sator Resartus at a course seminar at the Crichton following the Craigenputtoch lecture, I suggested the text ‘almost made sense’ - a view disputed by fellow students who found it ’almost incomprehensible’. It reminded me, I said of Kenneth Grant’s ‘mystical interpretations of Aleister Crowley’. However my attempted adumbration (which means at once to outline or partially reveal and to over shadow or obscure ) was less than helpful.
But then Kenneth Grant is one of (if not the most) challenging writer of English alive. To read any of the nine volumes of his ‘Typhonian Trilogy’ is to experience a prolonged and profound ‘derangement of the senses’. It is as if Carlyle, rather than going on to write his history of the French Revolution and become the eminent Victoria ‘Sage of Chelsea’, had entered more deeply in to Herr Teufelsdrockh’s ‘Philosophy of Clothes’ and spun it out into a Hegelian corpus of work. Since a recent study [Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition: Glen Magee: 2001] claims that
Hegel is not a philosopher. He is no lover or seeker of wisdom — he believes he has found it. Hegel writes in the preface to the Phenomenology of Spirit, “To help bring philosophy closer to the form of Science, to the goal where it can lay aside the title of ‘love of knowing’ and be actual knowledge — that is what I have set before me” (Miller, 3; PC, 3). By the end of the Phenomenology, Hegel claims to have arrived at Absolute Knowledge, which he identifies with wisdom.
Hegel’s claim to have attained wisdom is completely contrary to the original Greek conception of philosophy as the love of wisdom, that is, the ongoing pursuit rather than the final possession of wisdom. His claim is, however, fully consistent with the ambitions of the Hermetic tradition, a current of thought that derives its name from the so-called Hermetica (or Corpus Hermeticum), a collection of Greek and Latin treatises and dialogues written in the first or second centuries A.D. and probably containing ideas that are far older. The legendary author of these works is Hermes Trismegistus (“Thrice-Greatest Hermes”). “Hermeticism” denotes a broad tradition of thought that grew out of the “writings of Hermes” and was expanded and developed through the infusion of various other traditions. Thus, alchemy, Kabbalism, Lullism, and the mysticism of Eckhart and Cusa — to name just a few examples — became intertwined with the Hermetic doctrines. (Indeed, Hermeticism is used by some authors simply to mean alchemy.) Hermeticism is also sometimes called theosophy, or esotericism; less precisely, it is often characterized as mysticism, or occultism.
and since Grant’s work lies within (and beyond) the ‘broad tradition’ of Hermetic thought, I suggest this is a useful analogy. But unlike Hegel’s hermeticism, where the sheer weight of abstraction glacially grinds down all resistance, Grant’s texts ripple and pulse with a profound sense of Otherness. They are deeply disconcerting. They resist not only rationalisation, but the very act of reading itself.
We shall in due course analysis the scale of numbers from 000 to 999, which does in fact have Had (555) exactly at its heart. 000 = 70 x 3 = 210. 210 is the number of NphLIM, the ‘builder of the Tower’ (of Babel).210 is also the number of the word Nexhagus, which appears in the writings of Andhadna. Its meaning is unknown , but has the same value as the equally mysterious word ‘Ompheda’ which appears in Liber AL in connection with the Curse, Bahlasti, as the second half of the curse. The Bahti are the Little People, the Gnomes; the Nephilim are the Giants. 210 is also the number of BQBVQ, ‘a bottle’, from the Egyptian word Baakabaka meaning ‘reversal’, ‘topsy-turvy’. In AL III.54, the word peh, ‘ a mouth’, forms the heart of Ompehda , and the mouth can curse as well as bless. The bottle BVBQVQ is turned upside down to release its contents, thus we have BChR (210) ‘ to have pleasure’, ‘to love’, from the Egyptian bekh, ‘to fecundate ‘, ‘conceive’ HRH, also 210, means ‘ to conceive as a woman’, from the Egyptian ar, ‘to make’, ‘image the child/ likeness’, hur, function…
Kenneth Grant: Outside the Circles of Time: Fredrick Muller: 1980: 173
The above may seem confusing, but it is based on a tradition which extends back to the origin of ‘writing’ some 5000 years ago. It is also ‘post-modern’, and can be related to the processes of ‘deconstruction’ and ‘semiotics’ whereby the apparent meaning of a text gives way to multiple alternative ‘readings’.
Although Grant’s particular use of gematria, as this mix of words and numbers is called - related to Greek ‘geometry‘, is peculiarly his own, the process is genuinely ancient. It has its roots in the origin of writing and the problem of how to capture the fluidity of speech and the complexity of numbers in as few symbols as possible. Probably the earliest system of writing began as an accounting system in the temple of Inanna in Uruk in Sumer (now Iraq) about 5200 years ago. This used pictographs to represent the offerings of food and drink collected a the temple. These were marked on clay tablets. This evolved in to the cuneiform system of writing which contained over 700 ‘signs‘. A problem arose when the Sumerian language was replaced by the Akkadian (Old Babylonian) language a thousand years later. Akkadian was a ‘Semitic’ (related to Hebrew and Arabic) language. A cuneiform sign which in Sumerian represented a word (e.g. ‘head’) came to be used to represent a sound in Akkadian (e.g. the sound of the Sumerian word ‘head’). Writing and speech diverged. Written language became a language in itself , one composed of abstract signs which had to be learnt before it could be read.
Furthermore, perhaps as an attempt to reduce the complexity of the system (which required 400 ’basic’ cuneiform signs) Akkadian as a written language was based words having a three part consonant core. So ‘dog’ had the core KLB to which were added vowels to give context e.g. kalbum, kalbam, kalbim (the last meaning ‘the king’s dog‘, I have forgotten the others. I am not a cunning linguist and failed to learn Akkadian when I studied it ). Eventually, since the alternative system of Egyptian hieroglyphs was no less complex than Sumerian cuneiform, about 3000 years ago (depending on sources) the number of signs were drastically cut down to create the first ‘alphabet’.
However, until the invention of the 0 to 9 decimal system of numerals by the Indians (transmitted to Europe by the Arabs) letters of the alphabet also had to stand as numbers. In Hebrew, which inherited the Akkadian three part consonant root system, this gave birth to gematria. The belief was (and still is for many) that by close study of the words of Scripture, the meaning of the words of G_D could be more fully understood and interpreted. The idea was that by translating the consonant root of a word into its numerical equivalent, or by adding different vowels to the root, one word could be changed into another, or that different words could be shown to be essentially ‘the same’. With the advent of Christianity and the writing of Scripture in Greek, a similar process ensued. Although Greek lacked the triple consonant ‘word root’ of Hebrew, it did contain the ‘letter/ number’ link.
To conclude: although confusing to modern readers, Grant’s gematria is rooted in a tradition which extends back over 5000 years to the very origin of writing. It is also, in its own way, related to the post-modern tradition of deconstruction. Deconstruction and gematria are techniques for creating ambiguity and multiple ( often contradictory or just plain opposite) meanings and interpretations of what otherwise seem to be straight-forward or ‘transparent’ texts. These techniques effectively bring out the ‘poetry’ inherent in even the most mundane prose. The importance of the ‘poetic’ for Grant is shown in this next quotation .
Certain fugitive elements appear occasionally in the works of poets, painters, mystics and occultists which may be regarded as genuine magical manifestations in that they demonstrate the power and ability of the artists to evoke elements of an ultra- dimensional and alien universe that may be captured only by the most sensitive and delicately adjusted antennae of human consciousness... [This] would seem to require that total and systematic derangement of the senses which Rimbaud declared to be the key to self knowledge ... ’ The soul must be made monstrous ... The poet makes himself into a seer by a long, tremendous and reasoned derangement of his senses... This he attains the unknown; and when, at the point of madness, he finishes by losing the intelligence of his visions, he has beheld them!’ This formula of derangement was for Rimbaud, as for some of the greatest artists and magicians, the supreme key to inspiration and the reception of vivid images such as those which flash and tremble upon the luminous canvases of a Dali or an Ernest.
Kenneth Grant: Outside the Circles of Time: Fredrick Muller: 1980: 14/15
The poet or artists as seer, yes. But the poet or artist as revolutionary? Perhaps.
The insubordination of words, during the experimental phase from Rimbaud to the surrealists, has shown that the theoretical critique of the world of power is inseparable from a practice that destroys it. Power's cooption of all modern art and its transformation of it into oppressive categories of its reigning spectacle is a sad confirmation of this. "Whatever doesn't kill power is killed by it." The dadaists were the first to express their distrust in words, a distrust inseparable from the desire to "change life." Following Sade, they asserted the right to say everything, to liberate words and "replace the Alchemy of the Word with a real chemistry" (Breton). The innocence of words is henceforth consciously refuted and language is revealed as "the worst of conventions," something that should be destroyed, demystified, liberated. Dada's contemporaries did not fail to stress its will to destroy everything, the danger it represented to the dominant sense. (Gide uneasily referred to it as a "demolition job.") After Dada it has become impossible to believe that a word is forever bound to an idea. Dada realized all the possibilities of language and forever closed the door on art as a specialty; it posed once and for all the problem of the realization of art. Surrealism was of value only insofar as it carried on this project; in its literary productions it was reactionary. The realization of art -- poetry in the situationist sense -- means that one cannot realize oneself in a "work," but rather realizes oneself, period. Sade's inauguration of "saying everything" already implied the abolition of literature as a separate domain (where only what is literary may be said). But this abolition, consciously asserted by the dadaists after Rimbaud and Lautréamont, was not a supersession. There is no supersession without realization, one cannot supersede art without realizing it. In fact, there has not even been any actual abolition, since even after Joyce, Duchamp and Dada a new spectacular literature continues to thrive. This is because there can be no "saying everything" without the freedom to do everything.
Captive Words: Preface to a Situationist Dictionary: Mustapha Khayati: Internationale Situationiste: No. 10 : 1966 [Translated by Ken Knabb]
The ‘freedom to do everything’ ? Rabelais ’ "fay çe que vouldras"? Or Crowley’s ‘Do what thou wilt’?. But although the Situationists’ ‘Spectacle’ could be equated with the Sanskrit/ Hindu ‘maya’ or illusion, I suspect their critique of the society of the spectacle would be insufficient for Grant. The Situationists essential update Marx, who in turn had updated (by attempting to remove the mystical content) Hegel’s work. And Hegel starts by showing that Being and Nothing are the same:
A. Being. Being, pure being, without any further determination. In its indeterminate immediacy it is equal only to itself…it has no diversity within itself nor any with a reference outward…. It is pure indeterminateness and emptiness…There is nothing to be intuited in it, if one can speak here of intuiting…Being, the indeterminate immediate, is in fact nothing, and neither more nor less than nothing.
B. Nothing Nothing, pure nothing: it is simply equality with itself, complete emptiness, absence of all determination and content -undifferentiatedness in itself… To intuit or think nothing has, therefore a meaning; both are distinguished and thus nothing is (exists) in our intuition or thinking; or rather it is empty intuition …Nothing is, therefore, the same determination, or rather absence of determination, and thus altogether the same as, pure being
G.W.F.Hegel :Science of Logic : 1812 [ Translated by A.V. Miller: 1969: page 82]
A few pages later, discussing the work of F.H. Jacobi and Jacobi’s attempt to ‘become one with being’ by forgetting all, including ‘myself’, Hegel says:
With this wholly abstract purity of continuity, that is, indeterminateness and vacuity of conception, it is indifferent whether this abstraction is called space, pure intuiting, or pure thinking; it is altogether the same as what the Indian calls Brahma …This dull, empty consciousness, understood as consciousness, is - being. [As above, page 97]
Brahma satyam jagan mithya Brahman is real; the world is unreal. Ekam evadvitiyam brahma Brahman is one, without a second. Prajnanam brahman Brahman is the supreme knowledge. Tat tvam asi That is what you are. Ayam atma brahma Atman and brahman are the same. Aham brahmasmi I am brahman.
Sarvam khalvidam brahma All of this is brahman.
Bearing in mind ‘ avam atma brahma’ above, this leads on to my final quotation from Kenneth Grant:
It should be abundantly clear to anyone with any experience of astral work and dream control that there is in truth nothing but a wakeful state of consciousness. We call the dream state that after dreaming has ceased; during actual dreaming no sense of illusion is experienced. Similarly, the state of dreamless sleep is described as a state of oblivion only from the wakeful state. Whilst shusupti (dreamless sleep) was being experienced there was on the contrary, full awareness, full consciousness, not of nothing - for that is impossible- but of the Self (Atman). Atman is pure consciousness, I.e. Self without any taint of ego. Because thought does not exist in shusupti, the mind itself, which is but the functioning of thought, does not exist here either; mind is not an entity in itself. Therefore during the three states there is present only wakeful consciousness, I.e. vivid, immediate awareness. In jagarat (wakeful state) reality is masked by objects, which are crystallised thoughts; in the dreaming state (swapna) reality is obscured by thoughts, which appear as real to the dreamer as do “objects” in the wakeful state. In the state of suhupti (deep and dreamless sleep) reality is masked by the absence of thoughts, and this state is mistaken by the unenlightened for unconsciousness or the void. The absence of mentation is taken to imply the absence of the Self ; in truth, it indicates the presence of the Self in its pure state, bereft of all attributes, I.e. thoughts. Pure Consciousness is the sole reality because it is the only factor common to all three states. There is no dream or dreamer; there is only Reality, I.e Consciousness undivided by subject and object. If this substratum is realized it will shine, totally unobscured, and the organism will automatically function with perfect spontaneity in all states.
Kenneth Grant: Aleister Crowley and the Hidden God: Fredrick Muller: 1973: 84/85
Moving towards a conclusion, or at least an ending…
The thunder storm has passed. But today again the clouds are building up. Yesterday I got Michael Taussig’s “The Magic of the State” and read it whilst listening to Jimi Hendrix’s 1968 Electric Ladyland - a cd replacement for the long lost vinyl . I had forgotten quite how powerful it is. The full version of Voodoo Chile suffused with electrical intensity. I daren’t turn the volume up - the house might fall down. A musical thunderstorm mixed with an earthquake.
The Taussig book? Well, he quotes William Burrough’s ‘Cities of the Red Night’ as a source, but in places it reads more like J.G. Ballard. Chapter 13 is called ‘Money and Spirit Possession in Karl Marx’ which gives a flavour. The ‘spirit possession’ aspect is a central theme, healing through spirit possession on the slopes of a magic mountain…not quite Haitian voudon, but similar, related. Here is a short section from a review:
In The Magic of State, Taussig pushes at the boundaries of ethnography when he engages magical realism in order to tell the story of his on-and-off sojourn in Latin America. He does not establish himself as expert or authentic knower in this text but rather as a character; when he does this he relinquishes the role of master (omniscient) narrator. Captain Mission, as a mere character in the text along with others such as the Spirit Queen, the Liberator, Virgilio, Ofelia, or Katy, allows Taussig’s narrative voice to be relativized; each character is more real or more fantastic depending on the events. Certainly, the ethnography remains written from Taussig’s gaze, of which the reader shares of necessity, but this gaze is not the lofty gaze of an omniscient narrator speaking from the center of power, either located in the North or the institution of the university. Taussig does not take a professorial tone of knowledge dissemination; instead, he too is subject to the messiness of existence:
She leaned forward as if challenging me. And doesn’t a caricature capture the essence, making the copy magically powerful over the original? And what could be more powerful than the modern state? For the world of magic is changing, has changed … Wasn’t it Lenin himself who wrote in 1919 … and her voice trailed away …Was this the magic she was referring to, and in that case would self-awareness help any, or was something else required? She grabbed my wrist. You want to know the secret don’t you?
Magical realism is maybe the theme of this essay, starting with Sartor Resartus and Johnson’s ghosts .That ‘realistic’ descriptions - factual or fictional - of ‘reality’ are insufficient. They smooth over rough edges, blur distinctions and just plain evade awkward questions. Carlyle, Hegel, Marx lived through a time when ‘all that is holy is profaned’, when the ‘G_D’ which (who?) had given history meaning suddenly vanished as a living presence, leaving only the image, the shadow of the ‘holy’ … and so they had to follow Blake from The Everlasting Gospel:
Thou also dwell'st in Eternity. Thou art a Man, God is no more, Thy own humanity learn to adore, For that is my Spirit of Life.
Awake, arise to Spiritual Strife.
But without the ‘magic power’ of religion what lay between the brave new world of industry and empire and the forces of chaos and ancient night?
Nothing, it would seem. One irrational system was replaced with another. One form of ‘magic’ with another - in the ‘fetishisation of commodities’ and the transformation of ‘ society’ into ‘economy’. Carlyle’s ‘cash nexus’ (as adopted by Marx) the black hole through which all must pass as :
'All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned ... the need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere' ... [Marx/ Engels/ Communist Manifesto]
Which for me at least helps explain why it is proving so difficult for the ‘magic power of the state’ to adapt to the constraints imposed by global warming. To take the necessary steps - for example in the UK, deciding not to increase capacity at airports or build new roads, but invest massively in an expansion of public transport (including rail freight) - would require a level of rationality the system simply lacks. We are entranced by our fetishes, by our commodities, by ’the spectacle’ and can conceive of no other reality.
My thunder storm was localised and short-lived. It does not seem to have caused any damage and the rain it released was swiftly sucked up by the growing plants in the fields, hedgerows and woodlands of this green rural landscape. But heat is energy. The more heat there is in the atmosphere, the stronger grow the storms. The weather systems become more chaotic, putting greater stresses and strains on the smooth workings of the global economic system. Could it fail?
James Lovelock’s ‘Gaia Hypothesis’ - which treats the planet as if it were a single organism - implies self-regulation of , for example, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere over a lengthy/ geological timescale. Without attributing conscious intent to Gaia, one can imagine how this might work. A species evolves which feeds on fossilised carbon deposits, excreting carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. The species thrives, however there are limits to is success. It may exhaust its food supply (the fossilised carbon deposits) or it may excrete so much carbon dioxide and other greenhouses gases that the global temperature rises to the point where the species can no longer successfully maintain / reproduce its ‘means of production’ . There follows a massive extinction event and output of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases immediately declines. After a lengthy period, homeostasis is conserved.
What is unlikely to be conserved is much of our hi-tech culture. We are more likely to have numerous variations on a lo-tech subsistence agriculture economy and society.