No man is good enough to be another’s master. – William Morris
Tinariwen on the stereo, a bit of incense going, good family discussion on the nations situation… What a great day.
Another entry with The Joyous Cosmology, and we are winding up the month with a visit with the art and quotes of Mr. William Morris. We highlight a nice cabaret act from Oakland, “Vermillion Lies”, and the poetry of Christina Rossetti.
Hope this finds you enjoying the early days of fall!
On The Menu:
William Morris Quotes
Vermillion Lies – Circus Apocalypse
Joyous Cosmology – Parts 4 & 5
Christina Rossetti, Poems
Vermillion Lies – The Astronomer
Art: William Morris
William Morris Quotes:
A man at work, making something which he feels will exist because he is working at it and wills it, is exercising the energies of his mind and soul as well as of his body. Memory and imagination help him as he works.
I do not want art for a few any more than education for a few, or freedom for a few.
If you cannot learn to love real art at least learn to hate sham art.
If you want a golden rule that will fit everything, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.
It took me years to understand that words are often as important as experience, because words make experience last.
Not on one strand are all life’s jewels strung.
So long as the system of competition in the production and exchange of the means of life goes on, the degradation of the arts will go on; and if that system is to last for ever, then art is doomed, and will surely die; that is to say, civilization will die.
Vermillion Lies – Circus Apocalypse
Joyous Cosmology – Parts 4 & 5
– Alan Watts
I am looking at what I would ordinarily call a confusion of bushes—a tangle of plants and weeds with branches and leaves going every which way. But now that the organizing, relational mind is uppermost I see that what is confusing is not the bushes but my clumsy method of thinking. Every twig is in its proper place, and the tangle has become an arabesque more delicately ordered than the fabulous doodles in the margins of Celtic manuscripts. In this same state of consciousness I have seen a woodland at fall, with the whole multitude of almost bare branches and twigs in silhouette against the sky, not as a confusion, but as the lacework or tracery of an enchanted jeweler. A rotten log bearing rows of fungus and patches of moss became as precious as any work of Cellini—an inwardly luminous construct of jet, amber, jade, and ivory, all the porous and spongy disintegrations of the wood seeming to have been carved out with infinite patience and skill. I do not know whether this mode of vision organizes the world in the same way that it organizes the body, or whether it is just that the natural world is organized in that way.
A journey into this new mode of consciousness gives one a marvelously enhanced appreciation of patterning in nature, a fascination deeper than ever with the structure of ferns, the formation of crystals, the markings upon sea shells, the incredible jewelry of such unicellular creatures of the ocean as the radiolaria, the fairy architecture of seeds and pods, the engineering of bones and skeletons, the aerodynamics of feathers, and the astonishing profusion of eye-forms upon the wings of butterflies and birds. All this involved delicacy of organization may, from one point of view, be strictly functional for the purposes of reproduction and survival. But when you come down to it, the survival of these creatures is the same as their very existence—and what is that for?
More and more it seems that the ordering of nature is an art akin to music—fugues in shell and cartilage, counterpoint in fibers and capillaries, throbbing rhythm in waves of sound, light, and nerve. And oneself is connected with it quite inextricably—a node, a ganglion, an electronic interweaving of paths, circuits, and impulses that stretch and hum through the whole of time and space. The entire pattern swirls in its complexity like smoke in sunbeams or the rippling networks of sunlight in shallow water. Transforming itself endlessly into itself, the pattern alone remains. The crosspoints, nodes, nets, and curlicues vanish perpetually into each other. “The baseless fabric of this vision.” It is its own base. When the ground dissolves beneath me I float.
Closed-eye fantasies in this world seem sometimes to be revelations of the secret workings of the brain, of the associative and patterning processes, the ordering systems which carry out all our sensing and thinking. Unlike the one I have just described, they are for the most part ever more complex variations upon a theme—ferns sprouting ferns sprouting ferns in multidimensional spaces, vast kaleidoscopic domes of stained glass or mosaic, or patterns like the models of highly intricate molecules—systems of colored balls, each one of which turns out to be a multitude of smaller balls, forever and ever. Is this, perhaps, an inner view of the organizing process which, when the eyes are open, makes sense of the world even at points where it appears to be supremely messy?
Later that same afternoon, Robert takes us over to his barn from which he has been cleaning out junk and piling it into a big and battered Buick convertible, with all the stuffing coming out of the upholstery. The sight of trash poses two of the great questions of human life, “Where are we going to put it?” and “Who’s going to clean up?” From one point of view living creatures are simply tubes, putting things in at one end and pushing them out at the other—until the tube wears out. The problem is always where to put what is pushed out at the other end, especially when it begins to pile so high that the tubes are in danger of being crowded off the earth by their own refuse. And the questions have metaphysical overtones. “Where are we going to put it?” asks for the foundation upon which things ultimately rest—the First Cause, the Divine Ground, the bases of morality, the origin of action. “Who’s going to clean up?” is asking where responsibility ultimately lies, or how to solve our ever-multiplying problems other than by passing the buck to the next generation.
I contemplate the mystery of trash in its immediate manifestation: Robert’s car piled high, with only the driver’s seat left unoccupied by broken door-frames, rusty stoves, tangles of chicken-wire, squashed cans, insides of ancient harmoniums, nameless enormities of cracked plastic, headless dolls, bicycles without wheels, torn cushions vomiting kapok, non-returnable bottles, busted dressmakers’ dummies, rhomboid picture-frames, shattered bird-cages, and inconceivable messes of string, electric wiring, orange peels, eggshells, potato skins, and light bulbs—all garnished with some ghastly-white chemical powder that we call “angel shit.” Tomorrow we shall escort this in a joyous convoy to the local dump. And then what? Can any melting and burning imaginable get rid of these ever-rising mountains of ruin—especially when the things we make and build are beginning to look more and more like rubbish even before they are thrown away? The only answer seems to be that of the present group. The sight of Robert’s car has everyone helpless with hysterics.
The Divine Comedy. All things dissolve in laughter. And for Robert this huge heap of marvelously incongruous uselessness is a veritable creation, a masterpiece of nonsense. He slams it together and ropes it securely to the bulbous, low-slung wreck of the supposedly chic convertible, and then stands back to admire it as if it were a float for a carnival. Theme: the American way of life. But our laughter is without malice, for in this state of consciousness everything is the doing of gods. The culmination of civilization in monumental heaps of junk is seen, not as thoughtless ugliness, but as self-caricature—as the creation of phenomenally absurd collages and abstract sculptures in deliberate but kindly mockery of our own pretensions. For in this world nothing is wrong, nothing is even stupid. The sense of wrong is simply failure to see where something fits into a pattern, to be confused as to the hierarchical level upon which an event belongs—a play which seems quite improper at level 28 may be exactly right at level 96. I am speaking of levels or stages in the labyrinth of twists and turns, gambits and counter-gambits, in which life is involving and evolving itself —the cosmological one-upmanship which the yang and the yin, the light and the dark principles, are forever playing, the game which at some early level in its development seems to be the serious battle between good and evil. If the square may be defined as one who takes the game seriously, one must admire him for the very depth of his involvement, for the courage to be so far-out that he doesn’t know where he started.
The more prosaic, the more dreadfully ordinary anyone or anything seems to be, the more I am moved to marvel at the ingenuity with which divinity hides in order to seek itself, at the lengths to which this cosmic joie de vivre will go in elaborating its dance. I think of a corner gas station on a hot afternoon. Dust and exhaust fumes, the regular Standard guy all baseball and sports cars, the billboards halfheartedly gaudy, the flatness so reassuring—nothing around here but just us folks! I can see people just pretending not to see that they are avatars of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva, that the cells of their bodies aren’t millions of gods, that the dust isn’t a haze of jewels. How solemnly they would go through the act of not understanding me if I were to step up and say, “Well, who do you think you’re kidding? Come off it, Shiva, you old rascal! It’s a great act, but it doesn’t fool me.” But the conscious ego doesn’t know that it is something which that divine organ, the body, is only pretending to be.* When people go to a guru, a master of wisdom, seeking a way out of darkness, all he really does is to humor them in their pretense until they are outfaced into dropping it. He tells nothing, but the twinkle in his eye speaks to the unconscious—”You know….You know!”
In the contrast world of ordinary consciousness man feels himself, as will, to be something in nature but not of it. He likes it or dislikes it. He accepts it or resists it. He moves it or it moves him. But in the basic superconsciousness of the whole organism this division does not exist. The organism and its surrounding world are a single, integrated pattern of action in which there is neither subject nor object, doer nor done to. At this level there is not one thing called pain and another thing called myself, which dislikes pain. Pain and the “response” to pain are the same thing. When this becomes conscious it feels as if everything that happens is my own will. But this is a preliminary and clumsy way of feeling that what happens outside the body is one process with what happens inside it. This is that “original identity” which ordinary language and our conventional definitions of man so completely conceal.
The active and the passive are two phases of the same act. A seed, floating in its white sunburst of down, drifts across the sky, sighing with the sound of a jet plane invisible above. I catch it by one hair between thumb and index finger, and am astonished to watch this little creature actually wiggling and pulling as if it were struggling to get away. Common sense tells me that this tugging is the action of the wind, not of the thistledown. But then I recognize that it is the “intelligence” of the seed to have just such delicate antennae of silk that, in an environment of wind, it can move. Having such extensions, it moves itself with the wind. When it comes to it, is there any basic difference between putting up a sail and pulling an oar? If anything, the former is a more intelligent use of effort than the latter. True, the seed does not intend to move itself with the wind, but neither did I intend to have arms and legs.
It is this vivid realization of the reciprocity of will and world, active and passive, inside and outside, self and not-self, which evokes the aspect of these experiences that is most puzzling from the standpoint of ordinary consciousness: the strange and seemingly unholy conviction that “I” am God. In Western culture this sensation is seen as the very signature of insanity But in India it is simply a matter of course that the deepest center of man, atman, is the deepest center of the universe, Brahman. Why not? Surely a continuous view of the world is more whole, more holy, more healthy, than one in which there is a yawning emptiness between the Cause and its effects. Obviously, the “I” which is God is not the ego, the consciousness of self which is simultaneously an unconsciousness of the fact that its outer limits are held in common with the inner limits of the rest of the world. But in this wider, less ignore-ant consciousness I am forced to see that everything I claim to will and intend has a common boundary with all I pretend to disown. The limits of what I will, the form and shape of all those actions which I claim as mine, are identical and coterminous with the limits of all those events which I have been taught to define as alien and external.
The feeling of self is no longer confined to the inside of the skin. Instead, my individual being seems to grow out from the rest of the universe like a hair from a head or a limb from a body, so that my center is also the center of the whole. I find that in ordinary consciousness I am habitually trying to ring myself off from this totality, that I am perpetually on the defensive. But what am I trying to protect? Only very occasionally are my defensive attitudes directly concerned with warding off physical damage or deprivation. For the most part I am defending my defenses: rings around rings around rings around nothing. Guards inside a fortress inside entrenchments inside a radar curtain. The military war is the outward parody of the war of ego versus world: only the guards are safe. In the next war only the air force will outlive the women and children.
I trace myself back through the labyrinth of my brain, through the innumerable turns by which I have ringed myself off and, by perpetual circling, obliterated the original trail whereby I entered this forest. Back through the tunnels—through the devious status-and-survival strategy of adult life, through the interminable passages which we remember in dreams—all the streets we have ever traveled, the corridors of schools, the winding pathways between the legs of tables and chairs where one crawled as a child, the tight and bloody exit from the womb, the fountainous surge through the channel of the penis, the timeless wanderings through ducts and spongy caverns. Down and back through ever-narrowing tubes to the point where the passage itself is the traveler—a thin string of molecules going through the trial and error of getting itself into the right order to be a unit of organic life. Relentlessly back and back through endless and whirling dances in the astronomically proportioned spaces which surround the original nuclei of the world, the centers of centers, as remotely distant on the inside as the nebulae beyond our galaxy on the outside.
Down and at last out—out of the cosmic maze to recognize in and as myself, the bewildered traveler, the forgotten yet familiar sensation of the original impulse of all things, supreme identity, inmost light, ultimate center, self more me than myself. Standing in the midst of Ella’s garden I feel, with a peace so deep that it sings to be shared with all the world, that at last I belong, that I have returned to the home behind home, that I have come into the inheritance unknowingly bequeathed from all my ancestors since the beginning. Plucked like the strings of a harp, the warp and woof of the world reverberate with memories of triumphant hymns. The sure foundation upon which I had sought to stand has turned out to be the center from which I seek. The elusive substance beneath all the forms of the universe is discovered as the immediate gesture of my hand. But how did I ever get lost? And why have I traveled so far through these intertwined tunnels that I seem to be the quaking vortex of defended defensiveness which is my conventional self?
Going indoors I find that all the household furniture is alive. Everything gestures. Tables are tabling, pots are potting, walls are walling, fixtures are fixturing—a world of events instead of things. Robert turns on the phonograph, without telling me what is being played. Looking intently at the pictures picturing, I only gradually become conscious of the music, and at first cannot decide whether I am hearing an instrument or a human voice simply falling. A single stream of sound, curving, rippling, and jiggling with a soft snarl that at last reveals it to be a reed instrument—some sort of oboe. Later, human voices join it. But they are not singing words, nothing but a kind of “buoh—buah—bueeh” which seems to be exploring all the liquidinous inflections of which the voice is capable. What has Robert got here? I imagine it must be some of his far-out friends in a great session of nonsense-chanting. The singing intensifies into the most refined, exuberant, and delightful warbling, burbling. honking. hooting. and howling—which quite obviously means nothing whatsoever. and is being done out of pure glee. There is a pause. A voice says. “Dit!” Another seems to reply, “Da!” Then, “Dit-da! Di-dittty-da!” And getting gradually faster. “Da-di-ditty-di-ditty-da! Di-da-di-ditty-ditty-da-di-da-di-ditty-da-da!” And so on, until the players are quite out of their minds. The record cover which Robert now shows me, says “Classical Music of India,” and informs me that this is a series edited by Alain Danielou, who happens to be the most serious, esoteric, and learned scholar of Hindu music, and an exponent. in the line of Rene Guenon and Ananda Coomaraswamy, of the most formal, traditional, and difficult interpretation of Yoga and Vedanta. Somehow I cannot quite reconcile Danielou, the pandit of pandits, with this delirious outpouring of human bird-song. I feel my leg is being pulled. Or perhaps Danielou’s leg.
But then, maybe not. Oh, indeed not ! For quite suddenly I feel my understanding dawning into a colossal clarity, as if everything were opening up down to the roots of my being and of time and space themselves. The sense of the world becomes totally obvious. I am struck with amazement that I or anyone could have thought life a problem or being a mystery. I call to everyone to gather round.
“Listen, there’s something I must tell. I’ve never, never seen it so clearly. But it doesn’t matter a bit if you don’t understand, because each one of you is quite perfect as you are, even if you don’t know it. Life is basically a gesture, but no one, no thing, is making it. There is no necessity for it to happen, and none for it to go on happening. For it isn’t being driven by anything; it just happens freely of itself. It’s a gesture of motion, of sound, of color, and just as no one is making it, it isn’t happening to anyone. There is simply no problem of life; it is completely purposeless play—exuberance which is its own end. Basically there is the gesture. Time, space, and multiplicity are complications of it. There is no reason whatever to explain it, for explanations are just another form of complexity, a new manifestation of life on top of life, of gestures gesturing. Pain and suffering are simply extreme forms of play, and there isn’t anything in the whole universe to be afraid of because it doesn’t happen to anyone! There isn’t any substantial ego at all. The ego is a kind of flip, a knowing of knowing, a fearing of fearing. It’s a curlicue, an extra jazz to experience, a sort of double-take or reverberation, a dithering of consciousness which is the same as anxiety.”
Of course, to say that life is just a gesture, an action without agent, recipient, or purpose, sounds much more empty and futile than joyous. But to me it seems that an ego, a substantial entity to which experience happens, is more of a minus than a plus. It is an estrangement from experience, a lack of participation. And in this moment I feel absolutely with the world, free of that chronic resistance to experience which blocks the free flowing of life and makes us move like muscle-bound dancers. But I don’t have to overcome resistance. I see that resistance, ego, is just an extra vortex in the stream–part of it—and that in fact there is no actual resistance at all. There is no point from which to confront life, or stand against it.
Christina Rossetti, Poems
Hear now a curious dream I dreamed last night
Each word whereof is weighed and sifted truth.
I stood beside Euphrates while it swelled
Like overflowing Jordan in its youth:
It waxed and coloured sensibly to sight;
Till out of myriad pregnant waves there welled
Young crocodiles, a gaunt blunt-featured crew,
Fresh-hatched perhaps and daubed with birthday dew.
The rest if I should tell, I fear my friend
My closest friend would deem the facts untrue;
And therefore it were wisely left untold;
Yet if you will, why, hear it to the end.
Each crocodile was girt with massive gold
And polished stones that with their wearers grew:
But one there was who waxed beyond the rest,
Wore kinglier girdle and a kingly crown,
Whilst crowns and orbs and sceptres starred his breast.
All gleamed compact and green with scale on scale,
But special burnishment adorned his mail
And special terror weighed upon his frown;
His punier brethren quaked before his tail,
Broad as a rafter, potent as a flail.
So he grew lord and master of his kin:
But who shall tell the tale of all their woes?
An execrable appetite arose,
He battened on them, crunched, and sucked them in.
He knew no law, he feared no binding law,
But ground them with inexorable jaw:
The luscious fat distilled upon his chin,
Exuded from his nostrils and his eyes,
While still like hungry death he fed his maw;
Till every minor crocodile being dead
And buried too, himself gorged to the full,
He slept with breath oppressed and unstrung claw.
Oh marvel passing strange which next I saw:
In sleep he dwindled to the common size,
And all the empire faded from his coat.
Then from far off a wingèd vessel came,
Swift as a swallow, subtle as a flame:
I know not what it bore of freight or host,
But white it was as an avenging ghost.
It levelled strong Euphrates in its course;
Supreme yet weightless as an idle mote
It seemed to tame the waters without force
Till not a murmur swelled or billow beat:
Lo, as the purple shadow swept the sands,
The prudent crocodile rose on his feet
And shed appropriate tears and wrung his hands.
What can it mean? you ask. I answer not
For meaning, but myself must echo, What?
And tell it as I saw it on the spot.
Where sunless rivers weep
Their waves into the deep,
She sleeps a charmed sleep:
Awake her not.
Led by a single star,
She came from very far
To seek where shadows are
Her pleasant lot.
She left the rosy morn,
She left the fields of corn,
For twilight cold and lorn
And water springs.
Through sleep, as through a veil,
She sees the sky look pale,
And hears the nightingale
That sadly sings.
Rest, rest, a perfect rest
Shed over brow and breast;
Her face is toward the west,
The purple land.
She cannot see the grain
Ripening on hill and plain;
She cannot feel the rain
Upon her hand.
Rest, rest, for evermore
Upon a mossy shore;
Rest, rest at the heart’s core
Till time shall cease:
Sleep that no pain shall wake;
Night that no morn shall break
Till joy shall overtake
Her perfect peace.
I watched a rosebud very long
Brought on by dew and sun and shower,
Waiting to see the perfect flower:
Then, when I thought it should be strong,
It opened at the matin hour
And fell at evensong.
I watched a nest from day to day,
A green nest full of pleasant shade,
Wherein three speckled eggs were laid:
But when they should have hatched in May,
The two old birds had grown afraid
Or tired, and flew away.
Then in my wrath I broke the bough
That I had tended so with care,
Hoping its scent should fill the air;
I crushed the eggs, not heeding how
Their ancient promise had been fair:
I would have vengeance now.
But the dead branch spoke from the sod,
And the eggs answered me again:
Because we failed dost thou complain?
Is thy wrath just? And what if God,
Who waiteth for thy fruits in vain,
Should also take the rod?
Vermillion Lies – The Astronomer