this will be the century of chaos

Posted in the wide world, Transformations on November 14, 2015 by Christy Rodgers

We’ve known about blowback at least since “sow the wind, reap the whirlwind” was written. But a vast, entire, astonishing empire of glittering cities, speeding cars, shiny restaurants, metal music, and digital devices has been constructed over the pliant land by pretending that we do not know.

Oh, what a paradise it seemed!

strangelove in santa margherita

Posted in dreaming california, Transformations on November 13, 2015 by Christy Rodgers

The other day a photo story appeared: the hovering starburst in the LA sky of what was later revealed to be a nuclear missile test, as seen from “a Girl Scout singalong in Central Park, Rancho Santa Margherita.”

The missile was not armed, we were later informed. I wonder: if the Girl Scouts had been, would it have made a difference in the outcome?

electric guitar solo

Posted in a person, Transformations on November 12, 2015 by Christy Rodgers

The white-bearded rocker onstage at the Fillmore has lost no ferocity, no longing, and only gained in skill. He is a little stiff when he jumps on the big licks, but – what a relief! – he manages it. A white-bearded man in the crowd near us is not so lucky – he topples during a song, and can’t get up. His friends circle him caringly, crouching to assist him, talking quietly to assure him and themselves that his heart is not going to stop or burst yet. The rest of us stand tautly around, tense, alert, like herd animals when a predator is near.

Earlier, as one song built to a prolonged crescendo of dark and impossible desire, there came to me two impossible moments now deep in the past. Two bodies covered with a film of red sand in a rug-lined Berber tent in the Moroccan desert, a blind world of blowing sand outside the billowing walls. Two bodies on a straw pallet in a guerrilla encampment in the tropics, a tin roof thundering with rain.

Only dullness was ever foreseen for me by my class, my country, my time: sated physical needs, procreation, a responsible job. Dull privileges forever beyond the reach of most of the people i encountered out there in the deserts, the rainforests, or the busy slums between them. (Except procreation, which just about anyone can manage.) I did not escape the dullness entirely; almost no one does, but there were moments, and in the background somewhere when i think of them now will be the sound of an electric guitar reaching flawlessly for a climax with the age-old impossible desire of all the youth in the world.

dispatches from the island of knowledge

Posted in Concerning literature, culture shifts, Transformations on November 8, 2015 by Christy Rodgers

Mandelbrot’s fractal set is an abstraction; still the nature of our experience is fractalesque. For there are invisible patterns that do seem to repeat at ever-larger scales: individual consciousness, human history, the cosmos.

For example there is the fact that our personal experience is not any kind of a straight line but rather a series of waves and when we are in one, we think it is all and all, and accurately represents the largest and most enduring picture – and then we pass to another and must acknowledge that the whole pattern shifts, that it is always shifting. But not randomly – those layers of unexamined past experience are always solidifying, hardening into the cruel shape of the present, as real as mountains. Proust understood this, more than any other writer I have read. And so described habit as a monster. He knew that most of what shapes us we do not, and cannot control, at least as the fundamentally isolate little beings he felt us to be.

And so praised art, because it could make of the insubstantial kaleidoscopic evanescent debilities of an individual consciousness something that took manifest form and persisted in the material world far beyond the duration of that or any single consciousness, regaining and vindicating unique experience – time – that was otherwise lost: forgotten, irretrievable, pointless.

Physicist Lee Smolin wrote Time Reborn, not Time Regained. He looks at it another way, and sees, instead of ironclad timeless laws guiding the physical universe, a kind of evolution at work that echoes (or is echoed by) biological evolution. A “principle of precedence” that starts out randomly, developing, down the eons of repetition with alteration, what his outrider colleague in biology Rupert Sheldrake calls “habits, rather than laws” for the physical universe. For this to be true, though, flowing time must be fundamental to material reality, not an illusion or a property that emerges out of other phenomena.

Most of his fellow physicists and mathematicians scoff at this. After all, Einstein! Time is (hypothetically) just an extra dimension in a spatial continuum; it is not a universal standard; its passage is relative to an observer: slowed by accelerating mass, limited by the speed of light, and all that. After all, (somewhat against Einstein) time is (theoretically) reversible or even non-existent at the quantum level. Anyway, once the equals sign has been established in an equation, it doesn’t just evolve into greater- or less-than over time, they say.

Science is always looking for what is fundamental in material reality, but the scientific method is one that with regard to this question may be, as Sheldrake says, “like burning down a cathedral and sifting the ashes to understand the architecture.” Or perhaps building a lovely thing out of mathematical symbols that one then decides is just as real as Chartres – more so, because it is permanent, independent! (That is, isolated. It stands alone, disdainful of all context, as Chartres cannot.)

But what if, after all, temporal flow might be fundamental – but flowing has simply become inimical to our thinking and thus our way of acting in the world? The scientific method needs to isolate bits of reality in order to analyze them, but nothing actually exists in isolation. Flow is also practically impossibilized (a word of Joyce’s, lover of rivers and infinite recirculations, co-inventor of the “stream of consciousness” in fiction, who evidently did understand something about flow) by our language itself, its hardened tenses, its isolation of two elements that are likewise inseparable in the time-bound, living world: entities (nouns) and actions (verbs). Cf. the wise words of quantum physicist David Bohm, often channeled through the wise spirit of Jeff Shampnois’ Negative Geography.

None of this is to argue against the need for evidence and reason as tools for understanding. It is to argue for a scientific principle of humility: like physicist Marcelo Gleiser’s “island of knowledge.” The island of knowledge as it grows in size never diminishes the sea of ignorance out of which it emerges; instead its lengthening borders come in contact with an ever greater area of ignorance; its growing height merely allows us to see a larger portion of that infinite sea…

born too soon?

Posted in culture shifts, Transformations on November 2, 2015 by Christy Rodgers

We might be early arrivals in the evolution of life-forms in the universe.

That could explain a lot! No one to guide us, no one to learn from. No wonder we’ve been such blunderers – just about everything we’ve accomplished, for good or ill or both, has an enormous amount of serendipity to it. If we’d had any proper mentors, how would we have had the adolescent folly to attempt to eradicate the wisest societies among us, those which, after creating some ancient “progress traps” of their own, in hunting too efficiently and so helping to extinguish forever the beasts on which they fed, came to realize that humans were surrounded by thousands of older and deeply knowing alien intelligences called animals and plants, from whom we ought to learn by patient and respectful example…

The ironic thing about the growing obsession with smarter machines, is that smarter machines as they are currently envisioned will not need what we call wisdom, even if they were to be capable of developing it. In the meantime, even as tools, they make wisdom irrelevant for our survival as well. In the consumer society of today, never mind tomorrow, the more successful we are, the more we get to regress till we are almost infantile.

i stayed in the room

Posted in a person, Transformations with tags on October 30, 2015 by Christy Rodgers

where my friend who had gone into rehab 3 times in the last 5 years kept his 12-step manuals. The loneliness of these books, and the drabness of their conventional pieties made me sad. I missed drinking with him, missed not his slurring incoherence by the end of the evening but the soft buzz of pleasured nerve endings that killed the despair we might have felt at the world’s inability to be other than it was, and the sense of wry adventure we shared in mundane or exotic surroundings (we had traveled together in El Salvador and Colombia but he had lived with his partner for decades in exurban Long Island). I missed the great gift that drinking gives one, which i garnered once unforgettably from a character in a British TV drama: “When you drink, my dear, you are never bored. You may bore other people, but you are never bored.”

But that is why i think John Berryman (who drank too much and ended as a dreadful suicide) has always had the last word about boring:

Life, friends, is boring. We must not say so.
After all, the sky flashes, the great sea yearns,
we ourselves flash and yearn,
and moreover my mother told me as a boy
(repeatingly) ‘Ever to confess you’re bored
means you have no

Inner Resources.’ I conclude now I have no
inner resources, because I am heavy bored.
Peoples bore me,
literature bores me, especially great literature,
Henry bores me, with his plights & gripes
as bad as Achilles,

who loves people and valiant art, which bores me.
And the tranquil hills, & gin, look like a drag
and somehow a dog
has taken itself & its tail considerably away
into mountains or sea or sky, leaving
behind: me, wag.

hiking with zeno

Posted in culture shifts, Transformations on October 26, 2015 by Christy Rodgers

It was a on a hike on Mt. Tamalpais once that i looked down at a piece of ground i was traversing and found that i suddenly perceived that the total complexity comprised in it (just in the span of a stride: organic life, inorganic matter, an uncountable number of dynamic elements overlain, interwoven, all existing together in unique relationship to one another – in just that time, that place, but by extension every element of the microcosm imbricated with places and times beyond) must be greater than anything i could imagine any human (and certainly any calculating machine) comprehending in a lifetime of study. It was just plants and rocks and soil but it was Zeno’s paradox of motion transformed into ecology: if every tiny space contains a functional infinity of complexity, how can we ever understand enough to participate properly in a world of such spaces?

But we do move, and we can participate. Maybe it’s as simple as the Tin Woodsman knowing he had no heart and so, Baum says with a twinkle in his words, being extra cautious of inadvertently crushing the smallest creature underfoot. As simple and as difficult and as unlikely as that.


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