The Underground Lady [Page Forty-Two]

Old sayings are sometimes hard to interpret.  For instance, we say, “The devil is in the details.”  However really it is not the details we mean to condemn, or something hidden within their dense constellation, but the neglect of them.  If we did not speak so much in parables when we wanted to give good advice to each other, perhaps we would be better at following the rule the first time. 

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The more important point to draw from our tendency toward the obscure, is that the axiom, or parable, or fable, is one way we have of containing wisdom, of keeping it for ourselves.  Whatever the case in other traditions, and despite brilliant modern uses of these methods—in Wittgenstein’s use of the paradox for example—we must rely on directness.  Perhaps especially when we are being indirect.

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Sometimes getting angry is necessary.  This seemingly obvious fact (to some) escapes many people today.  As proof, think of the prevalent confusion between the words “enrage” and “outrage.”  To enrage another is to incite fury in them, to fill them up with rage.  But to feel outrage means to exist in an already present condition of upset, with vaguely defined origins and contours.  In fact, in the way these words are employed today, “enraged” is almost always used to express the intense anger felt by another—and this is taken to mean something that is unjustified or excessive.  Notice that people seldom describe themselves as being enraged; they are described as such by others, later on, as witnesses to the horrible seizure of a person by some sort of chthonic deity.  Even when people self-describe in this way, they take on the aspects of a witness toward their own behavior, treating their actions with the proper critical distance.  But in the past, “outrage” was the more commonly employed term, used to describe an act of violence, of injury or insult, committed upon someone of importance.  This usage has fallen away as middle class people have become more and more protected from physical violence by the authority of the law and the fear instilled by custom.  Instead we are left with this facile, impotent word, “outrage.”  Ridiculous.  Anyone who describes themselves, or encourages others to describe themselves, as “outraged,” is certainly not familiar with the real depths of anger.  For anger, like any other emotion, has its depths, profound and terrible.

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The greatest musicians and artists in our time tap into the latent rage caused by the class system.  Some of their techniques of desublimation and controlled expression come from the shaman.  This is why aesthetic experiences evoke greater responses than any religious ritual, which have become tame and orthodox, supportive of the status quo.  Even when there is an expulsion of high emotion in religious gatherings, it is firmly directed at the object of orthodoxy.  But in our art we seek a freer range.

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Catharsis is a wholly inadequate way of explaining the intense responses people feel for certain artistic works.  Better to study the techniques of ecstasy developed by the shaman of the Russian steppes, as Mircea Eliade did, than to indulge in simplistic generalities about release.  As Eliade pointed out, the point of shamanic ritual is not just to express the otherwise inexpressible—a moment of amnesty for those emotions usually regarded by the tribe as taboo—but to nurture and expand upon these emotions, and to reinvest them in constructive, collective endeavors.  He also points out that the shaman, when he is not needed, is treated as a scourge, much like we treat artists outside their vocation. 

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The Underground Lady points out that I have allowed an old mythology to pass by without challenge in the preceding: altered states of consciousness.  This idea is almost so foolish that it denies any meaningful refutation.  It is an imaginary animal made up of other imaginary animals, like a chimera with the head of a unicorn and the hind quarters of a pixie.  What goes in between?  Who cares.  First there is the spurious notion of something as immediate as consciousness being altered, when alterity implies a precedent, an entire history, and not simply the abbreviation of memory offered by an immediate act.  And a history of what exactly?  Now you see the second objection: there is no such thing as consciousness.  There is an existent.  There is existence.  But where does this leave consciousness?  Out in the cold, begging to be let in to our considerations.  More paper has been wasted on this topic than should be necessary to explain away something so inanely conceived, so unprovable, as consciousness.  This should suffice:  When you take your consciousness to the beach with you, does it bring its own towel?

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Of course what we are really talking about when we talk about our consciousness, is being, and the insoluble condition of our existence both as materiality and as a being.  Nothing is truer.

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