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words and wit of the alchemical bard
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The grammar of ecstasy — The world within the word.
(aka This Counts, Somehow it Matters & A Higher Dimensional Section of Reality)
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Intentionality in Language-Created Realities
Intentionality in Language-Created Realities
Day Month Year 1982-2000
Location, City, State
This is a fairly small group and I'm feeling fairly confident. I'd like to talk about language today, and I will attempt to open this with a performance, which is something I rarely, like never do. (Terence performs Jabberwocky)
That's worth hours of the other stuff. Well, I hope, I assume most of you recognize that as Lewis Carrol's Jabberwocky, which was an example of verbal intentionality and syntax overcoming absence of inscribed meaning. This is what's happening here, that the intentionality of meaning is so great that it overcomes the absence of conventional definition, and we've been talking a lot in this section about language and the origin of language, and we've also been using language in a fairly free, and in some cases unusual and in some cases outrageous manner. So that's what I mean when I said it makes sense to examine the tools. We are particularly neurologically outfitted for the production of small mouth noises, rapidly modulated small mouth noises. We can do this, I've proved it myself, for hours at a time without exhaustion, and what is going on than is that rather than the rippling of plumage or the rubbing of hard body parts against each other, since we don't have any hard body parts to rub against each other, most of the time, communication in our species has taken the form of neuromodulation of small mouth noises. Now these small mouth noises are transduced into acoustical waves, a physical phenomenon which moves from point to point in ordinary Newtonian space. The acoustical pressure wave strikes the ear, the ear conveys the particular unique signature of that arriving acoustical wave into, what for lack of a better term we have to call the mind. And the mind takes this acoustical signal and compares it with an imprinted dictionary built up out of experience. It does this very very quickly. THe speed with which the dictionary is consulted and each arriving word is identified, its syntactical class understood, and its intentionality in the domain of meaning is recognized, is very very rapid. It represents the most rapid sort of intellectual activity that we undertake as human beings. Thought is a similar phenomenon, but it is an interior dialogue and God help us lets hope that we understand our thoughts better than what people say to us because in the case of our thoughts we are both the one communicating and the one communicated to. Language is this double-edged adaptation of the human animal. It is obviously a multifaceted, multipurpose, adaptive advantage in all environmental situations because if you can image and linguistically process evolving situations, you have a leg up over an organism which is hard wired for reaction along the line of instincts. Yet, in the domain of cognition, it's almost as though language has exceeded its usefulness because someone said 'language was invented to lie'. Well, perhaps that is too cynical, but certainly language obfuscates reality. It cannot help but do this. It does it in the following manner. A child, born into what the psychologist William James called a "blooming buzzing confusion", a child born into the blooming bussing....attempts to isolate complexes of activity. Complexes of color, sound and tactility, and the nurturing parent provices names. This is a kitty, this is a bird, this is a blanket. What is happening here is that the blooming buzzing confusion is slowly being tiled over by an interlocking and seamless set of names and syntactical structures which literally, then, stand for reality. They stand for reality.
So, unless you are the kind of very fortunate person who speaks many many languages fluently, and has a sense of this relativity of the intent to communicate, you are barred from realizing the context-dependency of your own language. And we all are like this. This impressed me very much in the amazon because the first time i went to the amazon i knew nothing about botany, and it appeared to me largely to be green. and when i returned some years later, having made a fairly thorough study of the taxonomic families of tropical plants, it was vast, intricate fascinating, domains because I had terms for all these exotic floral forms, leaf forms, seed expression, morphology, you see. Nature's expression in the world of form is called its morphology. Morphology is the science of form. Well, form, we tend to think of it as a Platonic concern. After all, aren't the forms somewhere in a platonic hyperspace, arent they somehow above and beyond the machinations of language and perception- well, they are if you're a Platonist. But when we look at natural form, the enterprise of science has been to attempt to describe natural form. This is essentially a program to be carried out within the domain of language, and this has been entirely overlooked by the philosophy of science so far ad i can tell. I mean, the world is not made of anti-mu-masons, and quarks, and photons, and electromagnetic fields. Reality is made of words. Reality is made of symbolic interlocking linguisto-mathematical constructs. Everything beyong that is oure conjecture. I mean this is what you learn in philosophy 1. The relativity of knowing, the impossibility of actually nailing down the ontos of what is presented int eh theater of perception throught an exercise of epistemic knowing, it cant be done. Brain cannot fully elicit, elucidate brain. There's a tautology there. So language is something that springs form teh biological matrix and the neurological matrix within us, and the major theme of this siren song to us is that it allows us to know the world and to communicate it. Well the truth is it does allow us to know the world to some degree, and it does allow us to communicate about it, but a price is paid at every step of the way- first of all, because we are concrescent entities of feeling, this is ANW. We are concrescent entities of feeling, yet our language prepares us to describe a 3-dimensional spacial world between solid objects. So it is not true to the perceiver, you see. There is a kind of break of faith with the world. Language betrays. Language betrays in order to mean. You know Archibald McLeach said "a poem should not mean, but be" and this is a reasonable statement of a poetic, but it is not a basis for a theory of communication. A theory of communication depends on correct mirroring of the meme that is being transmitted, no matter how far down the line it has come.
Well, we talked earlier, we talked in earlier sessions about the impact of biogenically active and psychoactive amines in diet, specifically in the diet of early hominids in Africa, suggesting that the catalysis of neurological development that has gone on over the last million years in the human species was catalyzed by what was at first a random exposure to these things, then a deepening exposure brought on by the consequent synergy of increased visual acuity. In other words, some of these biogenic amines were conferring increased visual acuity, and this was shifting the reproductive mathematics in the direction of those individuals that were allowing this psychoactive substance, i mean, lets be frank about it, into the diet. Then later we saw that sexual arousal was also a concomitant to admitting this item into the diet, and at higher doses and deeper exposures, a deepening sense of what we can call, without defining, the other, the other. I read recently an interesting paper called 'the felt presence of the other in unusual environments' and it was an article about the kind of hysteria that overtakes people lost in the wilderness. The sense that they are being stalked, or followed, or observed, and in its mildest form I'm sure we have all have experienced this. It's the sense of being observed when you know you're alone in the wilderness. We seem to be...you know, we have very strong fight or flight hard-wiring in the organism, and we also, when we admit it, these biogenically active amines into the diet, we set ourselves up for a kind of undefined frontier between ourselves and the other. Language took its place in that fissure and began to create the earliest images of the other. The antecedent to the image is the feeling, and that was the point that i want to make, that in all cases, antecedent to the image is the feeling. The felt presence of immediate reality, which is the unique provence of the individual. We choose to attempt to communicate it, but it is, always and forever, by the nature of the situation, ours and ours alone. Well, the idea then that language is a double-edged adaptation that has both served us and betrayed us on different levels, needs now to be looked at in the light of the fact that culture is more and more consciously becoming a project carried out in the domain of language, by, for instance, propagandists, both governmental and commercial. Reality is more and more in the image, and when we talked about virtual realities, and the tendency of technology to create the dream utopias of the unconscious prehistory and shamanism. You see that what is happening is we are, as a global culture, abandoning ourselves in a way, to the image, because nothing else can be done. There aren't enough resources, there are not enough metals in the planet to give everyone the kind of standard of living that is enjoyed by the technocratic elites in the West. So instead there has to be this trade-off in image. Now this is not something new, we see it reflected in American life over the whole postwar era because, I don't know if you've noticed, but in order to make good on the grand promise that was to accrue to the American middle class consequent on the defeat of fascism, this utopia that was to come to be- for it to happen it was done tackily. That was the price that was paid. You know Eric Yonch said "the question regarding space colonies is not 'is it possible', but how will we keep it in good taste. And this was a question that was not answered by american culture in the 50's. It was essentially a suburban, modular housing, modular product, modular values, modular lifestyle paradise that was sold as a the consequences of the completion of the american dream. Part of what we have been living through this period is a hallucination of improper language. I mean, now because of the changes going on in the Soviet Union, the fiction of this implacable enemy bent on putting a tank on every street corner in the world is now exposed as a cultural illusion, a fiction. And I'm not entirely persuaded that was simply all a horrible misunderstanding. It seems to me these illusions played very strongly into the hands of different factions on both sides. Political realism is also coming-to-grips with language. You know the french sociologist Jacques Guilmol said "there are no political solutions, there are only technological ones. The rest is propaganda" well, you know, people howl to the high heavens. But in fact ideology which is a kind of street corner form of metaphysics, ideology has been just a pervasive cancer on the Western mind ever since the burning of eleusis. I mean we just can't get enough of it. You know, we may look with horror on the funeral of the imam, but believe me in the history of Western civilization there have been scenes go down that make that look like child's play. Recall to you just as an example, the Alpagencian crusade, when in order to stamp out a heresy, the inquisition was turned loose in southern France, and the professional killer who was put in charge of this operation was a career man named Simone de Montforte and his lieutenants came to him at one point in this campaign and said "we have the city surrounded, we are laying siege to" i believe it was Carcacon, and they said "but there are 7000 Catholics within the walls" he said "kill everybody, God will recognize his own." So, you know, the 20th century has not cornered the market on the ways in which language can distort and is used for political purposes to distort reality. A very poignant example of that that I have personally had to deal with is a lot of my work in the Amazon has been in an area of the Colombian Amazon called the Lower Putumayo. And I venture very few people this afternoon have any association to the lower Putumayo, but in fact British banks with the collusion of Peruvian ruling families in the early years of this century created a mini holocaust in the Peruvian, it was then Peru, in the Peruvian Amazon, in the pursuit of rubber. And what this was about was going in to these tribal areas and showing these people how to collect wild rubber, and then telling them, you know, you bring in this much, the first time you don't bring in this much, we remove the soles of your feet with a machete. The second time you don't bring in this much, we kill you. And 45,000 Indians were exterminated in the Columbian Putumayo.
Going there years after this atrocity, I was amazed to see the lingering effects of the misuse of language. The Colombians, who were not politically associated with this- later in the 30's it was ceded to Peru, referred to it as it the Devil's Paradise, and the idea is that 'savages', note this word, 'savages', are savage. And therefore we must be more savage. In other words, preliterate culture is taken as an excuse for the rise of the beast in the colonizer. And this is entirely done, how this trick is done is through the misuse and abuse of language, where 'civilization' is what is being brought to these people, even though what appears to be being brought to them is the institution of prostitution, social diseases, slavery, madness, death. But in fact no that isn't it, it's civilization, its a set of reasonable values. well the consequences of working out the reasonable values that were exported into the colonial world throughout the 18th and 19th century, the consequence of that, is the appalling contradiction presented by modernity, where the major portion of real wealth of great nations is shoveled into a standing prop of weaponry which had better never be used because if it is used, it spells armageddon. If it's not used, it's simply the worst investment anybody ever dreamed up. So, this kind of betrayal of language and use of scapegoats- see that's what was happening with the United States vis-a-vis the Soviet Union- the scapegoat, the godless communist. It's what was happening in the Putumayo between the rubber barons and the Indians they were exploiting. They thought they were civilizing them. So, the imaging of the world gives permission for various kinds of relationships to it, and people never question. You know, once they pledge allegiance to a given linguistic model of reality, then that absolves all necessity for further thought. This is what Goebels understood so perfectly- you repeat and you repeat and you repeat, and then when people ask themselves in the privacy of their own mind, the moral question, your answer is on the surface waiting to be heard. Goebels was the first person to create a system where, sitting in an office in Berlin, he could throw a switch and speak to the German people, and McLuhan talked a lot about this, the notion of the creation of the public. What is the public? It's something that comes out of print culture, it's post medieval. It's a phenomenon that can only exist in the presence of newspapers, esentially, that's what gave it it's boost. And the public is a very different thing from the democratic notion of the people because the public is this body of quote unquote 'informed opinion', but this informed opinion is tremendously subject to whim, pressure, propaganda, and distortion. I mean, I don't know how many of you have been following, because we're so isolated here, but what is going on in China is right now totally Orwellian. Films are being watched in darkened rooms, people locate and drag forward, forced to recant whatever accounts they gave of the violence. These film clips are being shown side by side on the evening news, where three weeks ago we were hearing that the army would nver attack the beloved students. Now, the army is patriotically rounding up dissidents, hooligans, bandit elements, and those who would destroy the compact between the party and the people. This is just a shift in language. Remember the scene in 1984 where the party hack is giving the speech and mid way through the speech he's handed a telegram on the podium that tells him that the enemy has changed, it's no longer oceania, they've made peace with oceania and begun bombing eurasia, the other state, and in mid-stride- he doesn't even have to end a paragraph! He can just turn the language and plough off in another direction. Well, is there any cure for this? Or are we simply the prisoners, each of us in our own way, of people smarter than ourselves. Well, not really, I think. Because outside the domain of language is some kind of domain of authentic feeling. We have thousands of words for technological processes, widgets and what have you. Our vocabulary of feeling comprises about 10 words, you know. Love, hate, disgust, revulsion, obsession, like that. Yet, in the same way that we are capable of this very intensely modulated brain-state that translates itself into small mouth noises, we need to be aware of an internal horizon of self-perception that is extremely rich and complicated, and shifting all the time. Now, that's who we actually are. That is not the top-down values of the culture that we wear like clothing. That's who we are. This is what McLuhan said when he said we wear culture like an overcoat. It's something sold to us. You go out and buy it, you try it on. If Time Magazine doesn't fit you, maybe the Economist will. If neither fits, well, try the Journal of Foreign Affairs. You'll find an overcoat that fits, and then that will become part of your culture. I saw the cartoon in the New YOrker last night, the well dressed man and his wife leaving a party and he's saying to her "how can we relate to people who belong to the book of the month club?" YOu know , these are strong cultural disparities. So to overcome culture, really, which I view as provisional and semi-toxic, there has to be a way back to bedrock, to something that is satisfyingly transcendental in an immediate sense. In an immediate sense. So it cannot be a philosophy as far as I'm concerned. Maybe philosophies work for the more rarified among us. They have the consolation of, I don't know, Episcopalianism, Orthodox Judaism, Logical Positivism, whatever trip they've got running. But I've always found philosophy to be recreatsional, and won't really serve. Well, so then what is there? First of all, there is nature. Nature, silently attended, is still a modality that is beyond the reach of the language of most of us, and of those of us who need it most fortuitously, because we have the smallest vocabulary for its description. So, when we go into nature, it's a flirtation with a kind of iridescence, it's a search for, i mean I blush to use such a word, but a lost innocence, which most of associate with childhood. Some of us had terrible childhoods, so we just associate it with the lost paradise of Eden, or a utopia. But in nature there is an implicate order. There is the bedrock out of which the human iridescence springs. And human culture is an extremely evanescent, transitory, and non-equilibrium kind of condition. I mean, the pulse beat of this planet is measured in millions of years. Culture is a phenomenon of the last 40,000 years, and that's generous. So culture has about it this miraculous instantaneous and almost intrusive quality against the background of the rest of the body of nature. But going into nature is not simply a prescription for joining the Sierra Club. What going into nature means is taking seriously the alchemical faith that preceeded the positivist flowering of science. And looking into the heart of matter with the expectation of encountering a mystery. Now, in the most practical sense what this has to mean is the psychedelic experience. Hallucinogenic plants. It cannot mean anything else. Now of course we're in the slightly uncomfortable position of having that be illegal, but that in itself should be a sufficient indication for most people that something is going on. I mean, my take on legality is essentially that of Charles Dickens, who was sort of an Edwardian Anarchist. And his famous throwaway line on that is 'the law is an ass' , and it's sadly true in this case. But i'm not really interested in it as a legal issue. I'm interested in it as a human rights issue if you want to put it that way. In other words, my assumption is that in the same way that the Western mind reached a certain place where it recognized that slavery, whether it made economic sense or not, was morally insupportable, and in the same way than that a universal right to own property if you've got the money has been more or less institutionalized, and the oppression of women is now recognized as a kind of self-defeating strategy of male dominance. In the same way that these things have been signposts in the continuing history of human self-definition. So shall be the understandign that life , liberty, and pursuit of happiness in the age of modern pharmacology has to mean the right to control your own state of mind in the appropriate - subject to the constraints of time, place and manner. And so forth and so on. And that's enough about the socio-political end of it. What is more interesting is the thing in itself, what it is. That it is something which our cultural biases, reaching clear back to the phonetic alphabet, and to the male dominance, the fear that societies run along the lines of male dominance, have of boundary dissolution. I mean, for a thousand years in western civilization, the only boundary dissolutiond that is soally sanction was getting plastered, and that appears to have been specifically for the purpose of getting laid. I mean, as far as research can tell us, for a thousand years nobody got laid who wasn't stone drunk because everyone was such a paragon of social rectitude. Well, I mean it's truer than you think. Alcohol is clearly a medium for permission in a Calvinist milieu. Well, I can talk about this in all kinds of different ways. It's very interesting. I talked about scapegoats, and I talked about the misuse of language. I suppose, since I got that deep into it, I might as well say what I"m thinking, which is that the drug issue now looms as an obvious new horror. I mean, it has all the trappings of the Communist under the bed. I mean I have not yet heard crack-cocaine referred to as Godless. But any day I think the connection will be made, that this is a Godless drug. The problem here is again, a problem of language. We have one concept, 'drug'. It moves from aspirin to heroin, through LSD, and on into television. These things can all be spoken of as drugs. So then what this means immediately is somebody has stacked the rhetorical deck against a reasonable discussion of the matter because our vocabulary is so impoverished. I mean are we to believe that we need the same policy for television as we need for heroin. Are we to believe that psychedelic psychotherapy is to be treated with the same hand that resolves the crack-cocaine issue? So, while the government squawks education, no education is taking place. Rather, what is taking place is a poisoning of the linguistic domain in which we will then be expected to forge a solution. So what I've tried to say on this issue, and some of you saw this month's Mother Jones, may have noticed that they put me in there, more picture than text, which tells you something about an age of symbols. But what I've tried to say is that we need to define drugs operationally. We need to say what it is we don't like, and then we need to find out what it is that does what we don't like. Ok, what is it we don't like. I submit to you that what we don't like about drugs is unexamined obsessive and habitual behavior. Unexamined, obsessive, habitual behavior. Meaning, you know, somebody's into something, and by God, if you get in their way when they're on their way to it, you're in trouble. They do not question their obsession, they indulge their obsession, and they will tolerate no discussion of it. So, unexamined, habitual, obsessive behavior is extremely objectionable to all of us, I think. I mean, we call anything that we don't like, we call it robot-like, automaton, unthinking, zombie, so forth and so on. Well, imagine if our partners in the new global materialism, the Japanese, had introduced into this country at the end of World War 2, a drug, which, within a few years, made such deep inroads into the American population that people were spending an average of 5 hours a day loaded on this drug. What would we think? We would think that it was a crime against a culture on the scale of Auschwitz. But as a matter of fact, we did this to ourselves. Television, introduced at the close of World War II, has become a form of electronic heroin. And it isn't even your trip! They don't even let you go on your own trip. You get a trip designed on Madison Avenue to sell, you know, this year's model of the crapmobile, or whatever else is being pushed. So, unquestioningly, and even as I speak I'm sure there are people in this audience who are revolted at my lack of patriotism and love for an American institution of such nobility and depth as TV. Well, you know where I pulled back from TV, really pulled back from it? IT was when I made a mild knock on TV and someone in the audience said, well you can say anything you want about television, but you must admit that its given our children a wonderful education concerning nature.
Pursuing the theme of operationally defining drugs to give us a little more linguistic scope, psychedelics, in contrast to television and heroin, dissolve habitual patterns of activity, and promote examination of motives, and allow a restructuring of habit. Before LSD was made illegal back in the 60's. Very respectable psychologists, such as Humphrey Osmond and Hoffer, were obtaining a 40% cure rate of chronic alcoholism with one high-dose exposure. Well, now understand, this does not mean that LSD is a cure for alcoholism, I mean if you think that, you don't know anything about how drugs work. That 40% cure on one high-dose exposure to LSD of alcoholism means that this person took this psychedelic, it dissolved their boundaries, it dissolved their defenses, they came face to face with the fact that they were killing themselves, and when they came down they reached into their bowels and found enough intestinal fortitude to chop it off. Well this is the dream of all other therapies. Now AA achieves this, but at the cost of closing the mind. A truly devoted graduate of AA does not have an open mind on the drug issue because they have been taught that opening your mind even a little bit may lead you back to the bottle. Well, they're trying to solve a personal dilemma in a context of neurosis. I'm sympathetic to that, but in the meantime the rest of us have to try to make sense of these extremely complex issues because the transcendent, which is what we cannot seem to find and what we are strangling for want of, lies precisely in the direction of this forbidden domain. What are we gonna do about it? In other words, authentic boundary-dissolving internal hierophony does, in fact, reliably occur in the presence of these plants and compounds. But nobody knows what to do about it. We have become so accustomed to seeking the answer that even as a community we have a lot of trouble figuring out how you just face the answer, how you come to terms with the options that are actually available. WEll, I've talked about it today in a slightly more political context because when you hang out at the baz with the state department people, it's just like a virus in the watter. I mean you find yourself raving about triage, Saudi uprisings, infrastructures. I mean there's just no cure for it!
Are there questions? Yes, so the question is about sexuality and the relationship of sex to drugs. Tim Leary, he made a great case for sex and psychedelics. Every time they would say that LSD breaks chromosomes, he would say that they would cause orgasms that last- and he would add a greater increment of time as the propaganda required to hold the numbers steady on both sides. Certainly sex under psychedelics is quite astonishing, although psychedelics without sex is so astonishing...it's uh...it's uhhh, you know, perhaps an embarrassment of riches to pile it on. Now the analogy between sex and psychedelics that I think is the cogent one is, very few people go through life without ever brushing up against sexuality. I mean, you have to have truly bizarre biography for it to never come and get you. On the other hand, it is not only possible, but millions and millions of people do go from the cradle to the grave without ever having a psychedelic experience. Well, to my mind this is just an instance of an appalling infantilism that is culturally sanctioned. I mean, the culture not only doesn't care if you never find out about this, and remain forever immature, virgin, good word. This society, not only does it not care, it's specifically interested in seeing that you don't have this experience. Well, it's part of the birthright. This is what religion *was* for the first million years before it fell into the hands of men who insist on wearing dresses. You know, it was the celebration of an ecstatic reality that could be coaxed out of a magical relationship with nature. I mean, and it's still there. The portals are still there. You're RS232 outlet into hyperspace is still in place, even though, you know, nobody may have plugged in in your family line since Alaric burned Eleusis. Nevertheless, the hardwiring is there, the self-recognition. We are children without this, an d not in the sense of innocent, but in the sense of infantile because this is part of the birthright. How can...
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