July 16 1996
Dear rh -
"Bingo! Since keys are keys, not the rooms and the contents of the
which they open, it seems salutary to consider the rooms opened by chemical
keys to be simply ourselves, rather than something alien and/or dangerous.
To which I must reply, "Yes, but..." because, something I picked
Jung, I am always aware that the self is not simply or merely anything.
The Self is the mother of all abysm. The central fact about reality is
that we do not know what we are. Therefore all other questions are
unanswered. That is why the psychedelic frontier is so compelling and
exciting to me, because it is such a powerful tool in the prosecution on
ontology, pursuit of the understanding of the nature of true being.
I liked your comments on Merleau-Ponty et. al. I had the good fortune to
audit much of Hubert Dreyfus' course on Phenomenology years ago at
Berkeley. But my own preference is for Alfred North Whitehead, as you are
in Whitehead country may I presume to recommend "Process and Reality"
some light summer reading. Be prepared for surprises, Whitehead is no
Positivist and believe that feelings are , as he would put it, "the
primary datum of experience" and his mathematical grounding is impeccable.
I am sorry this reply is short. I am packing for one of my periodic
forays on the road, to sing for my supper. I will try to get e mail along
the way. But in fact things are likely to be a little choppy as I move
from Hawaii to Boulder to Manhattan to Phoenix and on to Esalen over the
next three and a half weekends. I will be back in my little grass shack
after the 12th of August. I am enjoying our conversation in slow motion
and judge by the e mail that so are other folks. This has got to be good.
July 16, 1996
thought you might catch me up on that, after I'd already posted. Half right
is all wrong in such matters. Let me redefine "self" (a dangerous,
dangerous move!) as everything capable of apprehension, in full or in part,
including a perception of the perceptual and organizing apparatus, not to
mention a perception of that perception up to several levels, until attention
itself peters out. In short: what is perceived is self, including the perception
of self as objectified subject. This would subsume the alien question and
leave its extra-phenomenological aspect unfactored. This escapes the blind
alley of solipsism, which the healthy heart refuses to countenance even
if the reason is willing.
We see what we see of the alien factor but are aware that we do not encompass
it. Allegory of the cave. But what we do see is part of the perceptual data
which defines self, albeit with the apprehension that our data handling
circuitry is unable to correlate and subsume-as-self more than a few of
its extruding dimensions. And the sense of being looked back at (eye on
the pyramid) by something unknowable can get the danger bells clanging.
God? Gog? Magog? Yog Suttoth? Archangel? Bogeyman? My intuitive sense is
that it's a glimpse of the biological "mind" with which we build
these bodies and brains and has the same relationship to us as a tree to
its plucked or fallen fruit. On the other hand, absolute otherness is inconceivable,
which is not to say it doesn't exist. Self is only all we see, not necessarily
all there is. Maybe.
Gosh, ANW for vacation reading? I'm currently reading the Diaries of Rev.
Frances Kilvert, 1887-97, full of local lore and mythology. He's sent me
on a quest across cow and sheep pastures for the Ffordd Cross (pronounced
"Forth") a small standing stone, maybe four feet high, which bears
prehistoric inscriptions. No luck in two attempts, though I know I've been
within a few hundred feet of it, via directions I received at a local farmhouse.
My other reading is an old edition of horror stories by Algernon Blackwood
& "the Complete Idiot's Guide to Photoshop," which is way
over my head. I was perhaps put off reading Whitehead by Wittgentstein's
estimation that the "Principia Mathematica" by him and Bertrand
Russell was a crock of shit. Of course LW didn't believe in arithmetic in
the first place, so felt that any extrapolations assuming arithmetic a priori
were ill founded. But I won't let him boss me around and will check out
"Process and Reality" as recommended.
Have a hell of a trip and kick some intellectual ass. The Humahumanukanukaoppawa
(sp?) will await your return.
July 17 1996
I am packing to get out of here, will print your letter and take it with
me. I am taking the old 170 but can't be certain of communicating. But
was amused to hear that you are reading Algernon Blackwood. He is one of
my favorites. Is "The Horror of the Black Museum" in the anthology?
about "The Windigo"? It is the all time 'bad news in the woods'
And yes, all those guys, Wittgenstein, Whitehead, Russell were bitchy as
cats. We can't let them lead us around, much of it is advertising they
all and each closer to the mark than the others would have us believe.
Don't know exactly where you are but I enjoyed Kennet Longbarrow in Devon.
July 17 1996
I'm reading a 1916 copy of "The Listener" which doesn't have those
stories in it. I've read several Blackwood stories with sinster trees though
and think I know the one you mean. "The Listener" story, despite
its unsatisfactory ending (Blackwood seemed to throw closure in as an afterthought
but is a master painter of hideous depression - same fault as Lovecraft)
is one of the best haunted house stories I know of. M.R. James and Sheridan
LeFanu also know how to haunt a house properly.
Great Victorian horror is the most accurate imaging device for the sensations
of dangerous alien otherness that I know of. MR James is the most sophisticated,
Lovecraft the rawest. Science fiction may have greater scope of definition,
but seldom the sheer evocative power of the Victorians. The best modern
evocation I know of is Philip K. Dick's semi-delirious "Radio Free
Albemuth" which he later enlarged into the (to my mind) much less successful
Valis trilogy. I once found the address of and made a pilgrimige to Dick's
house in Venitia, five minutes from where I lived in China Camp, outside
San Rafael. This was some time after his death. I saw a great big man with
a close cropped white beard come out of the house carrying a brief case;
the spitting image of PKD. I just filed that under "?".
Am in the Welsh Marches near Haye on Wye, a land of peace and pastures,
the least populated area of GB. Sheep in the meadow and doves in the dell.
Antihistimine in me. Must do Devon someday - passed through it on the way
to Cornwall last decade. This trip, should I break free of the local spell,
I intend to visit Scotland for the first time. Shame on me if I don't, who
plays the highland pipes and was born with the name Robert Burns.