Thursday, March 15, 2007

Arthur Koestler's a Bleedin' Genius!

By way of preamble, Larry has to say that he sometimes struggles with what to post on Dove Tale Writers, mainly because, after all, he does have Mental Blog to maintain. (As if it's some sort of dependent child huddled in the corner unobtrusively clamoring for attention. If he could claim a tax deduction, or get the child tax credit, wouldn't that be great? Coupla hunnerd bucks a month to feed the blog its bits and bytes...)

Anyway...he tries to keep his Dove Tale posts within the parameters set by the hosts--DoveTalers all--so, something literary or related to writing or the writing life (of which he knows little since he doesn't write but types very well), however tenuous the connection.

Having said that, he can tell you that he debated this one. But his decision was made for him by the appearance in what he's been reading of the phrase "dovetailed into the familiar." How could he not post to Dove Tale with that before his eyes?

He's been reading (again) a book by Arthur Koestler entitled Janus: A Summing Up. It's hard to describe what this book is about without rewriting the book or creating an inordinately long review, which Larry doesn't want to do. Suffice it to say that Koestler sums up and pulls together some of the themes he wrote about in previous books, with the emphasis on one of his main theories. This is the theory of the holon, a word he coined, which means that organisms (social, political, physical) are both complete individual entities and integral parts of larger entities at the same time, and following different sets of rules depending on which aspect is predominant at any given time. Thus the title: Janus. Two-faced. You follow? Larry doesn't either. Read the book...

Larry first encountered Arthur Koestler in his famous novel Darkness at Noon. Wikipedia says:
Koestler's most famous work, the novel Darkness at Noon about the Soviet 1930s purges, ranks with George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four as a fictional treatment of Stalinism.
Can't argue with that, eh? Both Larry and HWSRN come by their political obsessions honestly. Steeped in it since their early teens...Abby Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Eldridge Cleaver...(all Yanks, you'll notice...)

Larry's first copy of the book looked just like that photo. Now it looks like this because somewhere he picked up a used hard-cover copy:

Except he can't find it. Perhaps it was confiscated by the Yoni School as seditious material. More likely it's in a box in the barn where they keep the hyper-literate horses and a Shetland pony for short potes. Now Larry will obsess about this because, after all, it could be a first edition! Larry has been known to acquire such things by accident.

As you can see, Larry loves to blog cuz he can be a ramblin' man, and if you dare to edit him he will pout with great vigour.

But back to the task at hand...Some years later, Larry discovered these two books by Koestler: The Act of Creation and The Ghost In the Machine. He swallowed them both in one gulp, as they are part of a trilogy, Janus being the hat trick. These two works are an intellectual tour de force in which Koestler mines the fields of physiology, biology, anthropology, philosophy, psychology and who knows what else. Larry's not sure, but he thinks that Koestler was, in fact, the one who coined the phrase, ghost in the machine, which has become part of the lexicon. In that book, he examined the development of the brain and came to the conclusion that humans are psychotic because the modern brain developed without making proper connections to the ancient brain. We became intellectually powerful enough to destroy the planet without becoming emotionally powerful enough to stop ourselves. A rather pessimistic conclusion, but he also discusses the possibility that this can be overcome, since we are smart enough to invent/discover mind-bending chemicals/drugs which could alleviate this flaw.

In any case, Larry's so impressed with these books that he recommends you go out right now to the bibliothèque or or wherever, get copies and read them. They're eminently readable and actually not too technical.

But now, after Larry's droned on and on and on about ancient history and long-forgotten reading habits, let's get to the main point of this post. First of all, Koestler states something that we probably all know, or should:
Drama thrives on conflict, and so does the novel. The nature of the conflict may be explicitly stated or merely implied; but an element of it must be present, otherwise the characters would be gliding through a frictionless universe.
Larry sez the fruitfulness of Koestler's writing is demonstrated by the fact that this passage inspired his pome, Frictionless Universe.

But now Larry wants to quote a (unfortunately long) passage from Janus:

With due respect to Shakespeare's 'All the world's a stage', one might say that the ordinary mortal's life is played on two alternating stages, situated on two different levels -- let us call them the trivial plane and the tragic plane of existence. Most of the time we bustle about on the trivial plane; but on some special occasions, when confronted with death or engulfed in the oceanic feeling, we seem to fall through a stage-trap or man-hole and are transferred to the tragic or absolute plane. Then all at once our daily routines appear as shallow, trifling vanities. But once safely back on the trivial plane we dismiss the experiences of the other as phantasms of overstrung nerves.

The highest form of human creativity is the endeavour to bridge the gap between the two planes. Both the artist and the scientist are gifted -- or cursed with the faculty of perceiving the trivial events of everyday experience sub specie aeternitatis, in the light of eternity; and conversely to express the absolute in human terms, to reflect it in a concrete image. Our ordinary mortal has neither the intellectual nor the emotional equipment to live for more than brief transition periods on the tragic plane. The Infinite is too inhuman and elusive to cope with unless it is made to blend itself with the tangible world of the finite. The existentialist's Absolute becomes emotionally effective only if it is bisociated with something concrete -- dovetailed into the familiar. This is what both scientist and artist are aiming at, though not always consciously. By bridging the gap between the two planes, the cosmic mystery becomes humanized, drawn into the orbit of man, while his humdrum experiences are transformed, surrounded by a halo of mystery and wonder.

Needless to say, not all novels are 'problem novels', subjecting the reader to a sustained barrage of existential conundrums. But indirectly and implicitly every great work of art has some bearing on man's ultimate problems. Even a humble daisy has a root, and a work of art, however lighthearted or serene, is ultimately nourished through its delicate capillaries by the archetypal sub-strata of experience.

By living on both planes at once, the creative artist or scientist is able to catch an occasional glimpse of eternity looking through the window of time. Whether it is a mediaeval stained-glass window or Newton's formula of universal gravity, is a matter of temperament and taste.
Janus: A Summing Up
by Arthur Koestler, p.146-7

So there.

Larry makes no comment.

He has been dovetailed into the familiar.

Update March 17/07:
Koestler also spends a good many pages demolishing Darwinism, evolution, natural selection. He says random mutation has been proven to be irrelevant and natural selection is a tautology. Larry hasn't gotten to the part where he provides an alternative explanation (except that it's "a mystery" and far more complex than earlier scientists imagined) but it probably has something to do with his holon and hierarchical organism theory.

Larry's not scientifically adept enough to judge this argument, but to him Koestler is pretty compelling. Larry wonders if the Intelligent Design proponents know about this, and hopes they never find out cuz then we'd have a helluva mess on our hands, eh?


Anonymous said...

When I read this post I immediately thought of the poem in your blog, Larry, about the universe without contrast. I didn't know quite what to say about it. I love the poem. But the concept , although not strange to me, always gives me the feeling that there is something amiss. Maybe it is just that we as human beings are not made up to understand no contrast.

I ever had a book written by Arthur Koestler.(Or was it about him?) I can see the book on the place of my shelf it ever was, long ago, in a different place. But it doesn't seem to have come with me through all movements. Oh well!

Anyhow, reading along The following poem with the "Two Worlds" concept came to my mind. It's long, I hope it copies into the blog. Here she comes.


(from Spirit Walker by Nancy Wood.)

For us there are Two Worlds of being.
The First world is the outer world we live in,
A shell that encases the body, an attitude
That stifles the mind and pretends
That money is the measure of worth.

The first world is harsh, though comfortable,
Alluring, though vain. It is the popular world
Where everyone longs to be, yet once they arrive.
They dream of new directions. In this world
Everything cost something and what is free costs more.

The First world is one of wheels and destination,

Membership dues and limitations. It is sanctuary
For those who desire conformity in all things.
Here duplicate people wearing duplicate clothes
Speak a language without meaning, and think thoughts
Without substance to their form.

The First world is where everyone lives, yet
No one actually survives. It is an acceptable address
Where you forfeit all that you are for what
You will never become and what you are not
Is what you are those around you to remember.

The first word has power, but no strength.
It is one of mirrors, but no reflection.
In this world, there is success, but no mystery.
Goals, but no journey, In this world,
Boundaries keep ideas from colliding.

The Second World is the inner world of harmony,
Where you can go anytime your spirit aches for company.
Here you can listen to the songs of rocks and leaves and
Embrace the wisdom of rivers and essential things contained
In raindrops or a flower’s belly or the earth’s warm breath of spring.
In this world, beauty is companion to mystery.

The Second World is one of joy and curiosity,
A connecting thread to birds and oceans, plants and animals.
The Second world is one of children’s laughter, Woman’s songs,
Men’s stories, the essence that remains long after the experience
Has passed on. In this world all circles return.

The Second world is where you can travel
On the wings of dreams or the tails of newborn stars.
This world is revealed through rainbow’s colored eyes,
Or in a spider’s silver road between two leaves,
Or even in silence, the kind that follows ecstasy.
The Second World is able to survive without the first,
But the first world cannot last long without the second.
The Second world offers meaning to existence
While the First World offers existence only.
Between these two worlds
Lies reason, the seam that connects one world to another.
The Second world is yours for no money.
The First world is yours for no effort.
Which one will you choose?

Ha, it worked. That's All folks, for now.


Anonymous said...

Oh,oh, when I was walking Simon, (dog) I suddenly seemed to remember that I have blogged the poem by Nancy Wood before. Can't remember when. Sorry if I went into repeat. But it has to do with that contrast we live which makes the non-frictional universe so incomprehensible to me. Is it even harder to grasp for people that are exposed to the four seasons, especially for those who live in the North?

Once I wrote,

Dark we say is evil, Light we say is good, though in cold, black dark we'd die, and in hot, white light we'd perish. One consuming the other would make a blank. We are the battleground, our task to see them equal. In their balance lies the promise of the rainbow; in colour we live.


Anonymous said...

I remember a conversation I had long ago with one of the artist who worked in the same department as I did, at the newspaper. It was in the trend of your poem. No frictions, no sorrow, no bad things, no extreme happiness, just constant contentment. I argued that it would probably be boring. He said, (His name was Nico and I was in love with him, which he didn't know) that it wouldn't be boring, because that was all we would know. Nothing else to compare it with.

He also told me that no matter how abstract your art, no matter how off beat your drawing, a chair would still have to be recognized as a chair. He drew me some examples.

He was a piano player. Maybe he still is. I was seventeen. He was thirty four. I am seventy one. He would be eigthty eight. Maybe his pitch black hair is white now. What contrast!

Larry Keiler said...

Key phrase, WT, "we are the battleground, our task to see them equal..."

Larry's always thinking in Buddhist terms these, you are right, as human beings we're not set up for no contrast. We live in a dualistic universe. Non-dualism makes no sense to a human. But to Buddha it does. The Buddha says our mind (or call it soul) is not a duality, not something contrasted, but simple pure clear light (energy). But we're confused about this, building up for so long all our likes and dislikes, concepts and contrasts...we can't remember what the clear light was/is really like.

Your artist friend is maybe right, maybe not. The Buddha recognizes duality, recognizes contrast, but makes no judgment about this. Because judgment/discrimination is one of the things that creates suffering. They say Buddha can have a man on one side offering him the greatest riches you can imagine, and a man on the other side slashing his arm, and Buddha has equal love and compassion for both. He knows the difference, but it does not affect his "feeling" for either one. So, Larry's thinking maybe Nirvana is frictionless but not featureless.

Larry will have to write a longer post on Mental Blog. He's been thinking about it already, but it may be a while before it's finished.

(Recognizing a chair as a chair...Larry lately read more about Picasso...a lot of artists and art lovers and critics spent a lot of time trying to do just that with Picasso's Cubist paintings...the book he just finished reading made a point of saying that Picasso never, ever, became totally abstract...but he seems to have pushed the limits of representation as far as they could go)

Anonymous said...

Frictionless but not featureless.

Why am I thinking about the ocean? Always movement. An ocean can be calm. Still moves. An ocean can be wild. Driven by wind. Underground earthquakes. Tiny waves. huge waves. Little fish. Huge fish. Whales. Storms. Don’t they cause friction? Can the ocean be a feature without friction?

Do people see the ocean as they are? The universe as they are?

Why are they what they are?

In a book ”Deceptions and Myths of the Bible,” Lloyd M.G. Graham writes:

“Stars are Suns. Suns are centers of violent forces. When an old star dies, it becomes a young planet, and that violence is still in it, hence the earthquake and volcano. When life forms appear on it, that violence is in them also; it is in us , and that drives us to war and killing. If we would have peace, we must learn the cause of war.”

That points to people, creatures, being what nature is. Born from violent forces. So if people see the ocean as they are, they see what made them what they are.

Maybe Rainer Maria Rilke comes closer, “How should we be able to forget those ancient myths that are the beginning of all people, the myths about the dragons that at the last moment turn into princesses? Perhaps all the dragons of out lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave.

Here dragons, violence, and princesses, beauty? are one and the same thing. Duality but one.

Do, in principal, not think Buddha and Jesus the same way? Wasn’t Jesus really preaching balance? Forget what people make of him. Did he not love sinners and saints alike? Wasn’t he aiming at something beyond good and evil, something way other than how people believe things are?

You think Jesus studied Buddhism among other ways of life?

Isn’t there a principal to the universe that occasionally, rarely, seems to be grasped by a human, and that human is named different ways, according to time and times, Buddha, Jesus, Arthur Koestler…

Whatever, I wouldn’t want to meditate and study and lock myself away, to learn about this, to seek the perfect answer, to the loss of the beauty of nature. Something tells me that we have to live the world we have, fully aware. Appreciate the wonders we are surrounded with. Connect the inner and outer. Find the balance within.

Enough for now. I am looking out to your new Mental Blog post on all this.


Anonymous said...

You guys are soooooo deep. An ocean, yes. I love you both - but how could I not love the ocean of you? It's my nature....

And Larry, not to get caught up in your and Netty's conversation - more mundane things on my mind - which of course is the crux of this conversation - I am really impressed that you did that link thing in the body of the your blog posting that lead to your poem. Way kool....

Okay, buddhism. Larry, what do you like best about it? Or rather, find the most satisfying? The mental reasoning, the logic? Or the practical expeience of it?

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