Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Streams of Consciousness


“Now I’m a champion of the web – I began writing for Salon in 1995 from the first issue on. But the style of the web, not only the surfing and skimming style that you learn – dash, dash – you absorb information not by reading whole sentences. It’s flash, flash. Email, blog, everything is going fast, fast, fast. So the quality of the language has obviously degenerated. It’s obvious.”

- Camille Paglia

I’m trying to make sense of my thoughts today, but I’m having some difficulty. As I sit here now I’m trying to squeeze at my heart and soul, hoping that in the tension I’m creating the disparate pieces will come together.

The “great ones,” I’ve read somewhere, create only when they detach themselves from reality. Mailer drank himself into a stupor, sat down at a typewriter, and the words just flowed. Kerouac would vomit and follow that up with literary confessions. And, I suspect, Gertrude Stein had just finished a whole plate of Alice B Toklas brownies when she penned “rose is a rose is a rose is a rose” for posterity.

It seems to me that loss of identity is too steep a price to pay for a place in literary history. Me? I’d much rather be a “swinger of birches,” in the mold of Robert Frost:

“So was I once myself a swinger of birches,
And so I dream of going back to be
It’s when I’m weary of considerations
And life is too much like a pathless wood
Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs
Broken across it, and one eye is weeping
From a twig’s having lashed across it open.
I’d like to get away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over.
May no fate wilfully misunderstand me
And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
Not to return. Earth’s the right place for love:
I don’t know where it’s likely to go better.
I’d like to go by climbing a birch tree,
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped its top and set me down again.
That would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than be a swinger of branches.”


I feel the creative impulse, but as I look out my window all I can see is a mulberry tree shedding its leaves. Unlike Frost’s birch, the upper branches of the mulberry, with its stiff upper limbs, are not as pliable. It could afford me the vehicle to climb toward the heavens, but would be too rigid to carry me back to the earth.

If you’ve read this far it’s probably obvious to you that I’m in a melancholy state of mind right now. The mood will pass. It always does. Things are what they are what they are what they are.

I wonder if history is nothing more than one stream of consciousness pitted against another. Or, is it just a matter of civilizations being born in purity, rising in bursts of creativity, heaving in decadence, then falling prey to the barbarians at the gate. Egypt and Babylon come to mind, and so does Rome:

“The citizens of the City of Rome, therefore could not believe it when toward the end of the first decade of the fifth century, they awoke to find Alaric, king of the Visigoths, and all his forces parked at their gates. He might as well have been the king of the Fuzzy-Wuzzies, or any other of the inconsequential outlanders that civilized people have looked down their noses at throughout history. It was preposterous. They dispatched a pair of envoys to conduct the tiresome negotiation and send him away. They envoys began with empty threats: any attack on Rome was doomed, for it would be met by invincible strength and innumerable ranks of warriors. Alaric was a sharp man, and his rough fashion, a just one. He also had a sense of humor.”
“The thicker the grass, the more easily scythed,” he replied evenly.
The envoys quickly recognized that their man was no fool. All right, then, what was the price of his departure? Alaric told them: his men would sweep through the city, taking all gold, all silver, and everything of value that could be moved. They would also round up and cart off every barbarian slave.
“But,” protested the hysterical envoys, “what will that leave us?”
Alaric paused. “Your lives.”
In that pause, Roman security died and a new world was born.”

The barbarian stream swept civilization away. Left in the wake of their conquest was a world void of law, justice, art, literature, science, history, mercy, inquiry, and discovery. It was indeed a dark, dark, time.

One stream of consciousness is born. Another dies. Is that the lesson of history?

The barbarians are once again at the gates. Dreams of a caliphate are once again dancing in their heads. Their tactics and philosophy are being made clear:

“The Americans will exit soon, God willing, and the establishment of a governing authority-as soon as the country is freed from the Americans-does not depend on force alone. Indeed, it's imperative that, in addition to force, there be an appeasement of Muslims and a sharing with them in governance and in the Shura council and in promulgating what is allowed and what is not allowed. In my view-which I continue to reiterate is limited and has a distant perspective upon the events-this must be achieved through the people of the Shura and who possess authority to determine issues and make them binding, and who are endowed with the qualifications for working in Sharia law. They would be elected by the people of the country to represent them and overlook the work of the authorities in accordance with the rules of the glorious Sharia.”

“And it doesn't appear that the Mujahedeen, much less the al-Qaida in the Land of Two Rivers, will lay claim to governance without the Iraqi people. Not to mention that would be a contravention of the Shura methodology. That is not practical in my opinion.”

“You might ask an important question: What drives me to broach these matters while we are in the din of war the challenges of killing and combat?”

“My answer is, firstly: Things may develop faster than we imagine. The aftermath of the collapse of American power in Vietnam - and how they ran and left their agents - is noteworthy. Because of that, we must be ready starting now, before events overtake us, and before we are surprised by the conspiracies of the Americans and the United nations and their plans to fill the void behind them. We must take the initiative and impose a fait accompli upon our enemies, instead of the enemy imposing one on us, wherein our lot would be to merely resist their schemes.”


The barbarians are indeed at the gates. They’re determined. They’re merciless.

I hear the rattle of the saber and wonder. “Does Rome hold any lessons for us today?” Of course she does. In fact, there are many:

“There are, no doubt, lessons for the contemporary reader. The changing character of the native population, brought about through unremarked pressures on porous borders; the creation of an increasingly unwieldy and rigid bureaucracy, whose own survival becomes its overriding goal; the despising of the military and the avoidance of its service by established families, while its offices present unprecedented opportunity for marginal men to whom its ranks had once been closed; the lip service paid to values long dead; the pretense that we still are what we once were.”

I suppose I could console myself with the thought that western civilization won’t fall in my lifetime. I’ll have flown away long before the gates are breached. Why, then, should I worry or even speak, for that matter? I do so because I care. I do so because I must.

The barbarians are pressing the battle to the gates of this global village. The world seems very small now. Things happen in the twinkling of an eye. Civilization has no walls to protect itself. Schemes and doctrines hatched in caves can find their way to the great centers of power and culture.

“Oh, but we have armies,” you say. “How will an army defeat an idea?” I ask. There are some thin threads of civilization, some threads of ideas that have been passed down to us over the centuries since Rome fell. Will they hold long enough to stem the barbarian stream flowing from the east to the west?

The strained threads were once chords that bound us together. But, in a culture where ideas mean little and image is everything, the ties that bind seem like distant fiction. We’re post-modern now and self aggrandizement is the doctrine of the day. In that, the barbarians have almost won over a generation who live and breathe within the gates of civilization. They’re unwitting allies of Osama, who live only for spectacle and their pleasure. There is little or nothing now that binds them to the rest of us. Their god is their belly and they live for themselves alone. The only world they see is the one inside their laptop or I-pod.

Is the world the barbarians are aiming their sights at a coherent, rational world? No, not any more! And therein lies the problem. We’ve become post-modern. The ideas that could sustain us when the enemies close in have been jettisoned for pleasure and spectacle.

Tradition has it that Nero fiddled while Rome burned. Here in America at the turning of a new age I suspect that, if something doesn’t break the cycle, civilization will once again burn. Who will be fiddling? I think I know who, but I’ll leave the question to you, the reader, to answer.

4 comments:

Gone Away said...

Almost uncanny how our thoughts brood upon the same things. Is it the season, as Scot might perhaps suggest? Yet I think we are always aware of these things, even though they may surface only in our darker moods. In the end, our only hope is He who is the Hope of the world.

Daedalus said...

You know, I thought you were going to talk about the American empire crumbling, with all of its warmongering and corrupt politicians and allowing poverty to run rampant... The muhajadeen will be just a blip on the history map when it's all said and done, but America will have a history. Sometimes it seems we are closer to history than we should be.

James Fletcher Baxter said...

Until the oppressors and the abdicators discover that wisdom only just begins with a respectful acknowledgment of The Creator,
The Creation, and The Choicemaker, they will be ever
learning but never coming to a knowledge of the truth.
The rejection of Creator-initiated standards relegates
the mind of man to its own primitive, empirical, and
delimited devices. It is thus that the human intellect
cannot ascend and function at any level higher than the
criteria by which it perceives and measures values.

Additionally, such rejection of transcendent criteria
self-denies man the vision and foresight essential to
decision-making for survival and progression. He is left,
instead, with the redundant wreckage of expensive hind-
sight, including human institutions characterized by
averages, mediocrity, poverty, and regression.

Humanism, mired in the circular and mundane egocentric
predicament, is ill-equipped to produce transcendent
criteria. Evidenced by those who do not perceive
superiority and thus find themselves beset by the shifting
winds of the carnal-ego; i.e., moods, feelings, desires,
appetites, etc., the mind becomes subordinate: a mere
device for excuse-making and rationalizing self-justifica-
tion.

The carnal-ego rejects criteria and self-discipline for such
instruments are tools of the mind and the attitude. The
appetites of the flesh have no need of standards for at the
point of contention standards are perceived as alien, re-
strictive, and inhibiting. Yet, the very survival of our
physical nature itself depends upon a maintained sover-
eignty of the mind and of the spirit.

It remained, therefore, to the initiative of a personal
and living Creator to traverse the human horizon and
fill the vast void of human ignorance with an intelli-
gent and definitive faith. Man is thus afforded the
prime tool of the intellect - a Transcendent Standard
by which he may measure values in experience, anticipate
results, and make enlightened and visionary choices.

Only the unique and superior God-man Person can deserved-
ly displace the ego-person from his predicament and free
the individual to measure values and choose in a more
excellent way. That sublime Person was indicated in the
words of the prophet Amos, "...said the Lord, Behold,
I will set a plumbline in the midst of my people Israel."
Y'shua Mashiyach Jesus said, "If I be lifted up I will
draw all men unto myself."

As long as some choose to abdicate their personal reality
and submit to the delusions of humanism, determinism, and
collectivism, just so long will they be subject and re-
acting only, to be tossed by every impulse emanating from
others. Those who abdicate such reality may, in perfect
justice, find themselves weighed in the balances of their
own choosing. selah

- from The Human Paradigm

Orikinla Osinachi. said...

"...feel the creative impulse, but as I look out my window all I can see is a mulberry tree shedding its leaves. Unlike"

Mulberry Tree Shedding Its Leaves

I look at the mulberry shedding its leaves
I see America in the autumn of life
As the old scales fall off for the new ones.
One generation passes away for another in the passage of time
For we are living on borrowed time.
For civilizations come and go
And every man is buried with his ego.
For every courtyard is a graveyard
The earth bears the burden of the wrath of the earth.
And as the mulberry sheds its leaves
So we must all shed our borrowed plumes
As man comes and goes with the times.