Alan N. Shapiro, Visiting Professor in Transdisciplinary Design, Folkwang University of the Arts, Essen, Germany

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Journal Entry: The Void, by Mary Fox

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Journal Entry: The Void, by Mary Fox

Introduction

What follows is neither philosophical, nor academic. It is, however, both self-indulgent and self-referential, as a journal can only be. It presents no “truths” and it is peppered with inconsistencies and flaws, because I am. I began my journal in May of this year in an attempt to retrieve myself from a guilt-ridden existential “tailspin” and in the faint hope that I might finally return to “writing”. Unconsciously and somewhat anticipating this event, I decided to “name” my journal, All Aboard My Mid-Life Crisis.

I might just add before I begin that one of the preparatory rituals I performed each time I wrote was to put a CD in the stereo to play on a continuous loop – to inspire the day’s musings as it were.

This was written accompanied by Kraftwerk’s Man Machine.

The Following Thursday, July 26 – I Did Some Reading Since – Honestly …

God, this looks really bad, that I haven’t written anything in almost a week I mean, but I have read quite a bit of Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock, so I haven’t been totally idle. It also has been more a case of my not having been inspired to write anything, of having nothing of particular value to say, and of the damning effect of constant rain and grey skies. It has truly been a miserable summer so far, it has now been raining almost daily for over seven weeks and it is very difficult to remain positive and creatively productive when it is like that. What a waste of a summer holiday and I had such great plans. That’s the story of my life, — great plans, unrealised. Stop beating yourself up Mary! Whatever!

What I can recognize though is that I am extremely unfocused, I find it difficult to concentrate on exercises such as reading, not because I cannot understand the texts but rather because I get bored or distracted very quickly by something else. This inability to remain connected is, I believe, due to my not knowing where I want to go with what I am reading, my not knowing what I want from the text anymore than I know what I want from life itself. I was ready to make the shift this time last year while I was voraciously reading Heidegger and On the Spiritual in Art but now I feel separated even further from my passion. I simply do not work well without input, I need someone to bounce my ideas off, someone to engage with, otherwise it feels like I’m having a one-way conversation which is, I suppose, what I have now resorted to within these pages. Isn’t that a bit sad really, talking to yourself, — am I another casualty of Toffler’s Future Shock? I reckon that I am really, my situation regarding my research was certainly affected by the acceleration syndrome within academia, churning out journals, books, doctorates, etc., — terrified to take time in doing so. A real case of “more haste, less speed”, caution and measure have become the new leprosy in research, bigger is better, size is everything, quantity over quality, speed is the new black, god is dead and we have killed him! What would Nietzsche have to say about the present world and what on earth would Ouspensky think of it all? I can only imagine. These days I tend to be full of ideas and no action; another learning curve for me, so much to learn, and it is endless, as it is I struggle to find a legitimate excuse for zero productivity.

(…)

P left about a half hour ago and what I’d written since he left appears to have been swallowed by something, strangely enough just as I had been writing about the void. I imagine that to be some kind of extra-terrestrial response to what I had been contemplating. While writing about the void I had been considering how frequently what I thought about things, particularly things of apparent consequence, seemed to somehow disappear into the void, swallowed down a cosmic plughole so to speak. I tried to remember what I had been mulling over to have come into contact with the void and reckoned that I had in essence been thinking about the notion of “creativity” and in particular how I sometimes, but not necessarily frequently, have moments of creativity that occur in the form of an “epiphany” or a “revelation” of sorts. I was also thinking how natural and acceptable it is in the more or less secular contexts of art or philosophy to adopt terms belonging more recognizably within the world of religion, — but back for the moment to the notion of my epiphany having been “swallowed up” almost as soon as it has been revealed. And just where has it gone? I believe it has disappeared back into the void. So what and/or where is the void? For me any consideration of the void always takes me back to Parmenides, to my particular and arguably “questionable” understanding of him, with my concluding that the void resides in all of us, or rather than we are the void, operating like a cosmic breathing mechanism, inahling and exhaling ideas, beings, and everything that “is”. We are both the breath and the breathing mechanism, symbiotically connected, utterly dependent on one another for good or ill. Parmenides: One cannot conceive of “is not” without simultaneously considering “is”; in other words, we are always there, drifting in and out of consciousness of the void’s existence which is in itself a kind of paradoxical consideration. If the void is “nothingness” then how can we conceive of it? Ouspensky quite correctly argued that, “the Unknown is unlike anything that we can suppose about it”.1 How then can we assimilate our being in the void in order to consider it, does that thereby render us non-existent, how can we both “be” and “not be”? Now there’s a conundrum; just what is our role in relation to the void? In his chapter on “Experimental Mysticism” in A New Model of the Universe, Ouspensky notes that when we are obliged to attempt to describe or understand the unfamiliar we do so informed by our understanding of what is familiar, he says that “there is nothing separate, that is, nothing that can be described separately”, but he adds that in mystical states “the new world with which one comes into contact has no sides [the void?], so that it is impossible to describe first one side and then another”.2 I, in a somewhat predictable fashion, resort to attempting to understand the void by means of finding what’s “similar” or “familiar” to it so I think I’ll try the lazy option of the computer’s Thesaurus. In the Thesaurus the noun void gives forth the following options: empty space, emptiness, hollowness, abyss, space, nothingness, cavity, and hole. Adjectively it offers: annulled, cancelled, invalid, null and void, and negated — verbally it suggest, — cancel, annul, make null and void, render null and void, vacate, reject and finally, to throw out. To throw out. To throw out, now that brings me nicely to Dasein, Heidegger’s concept of man as a being thrown into the world, — does that suggest that the void has thrown us out into this virtual reality, which Ouspensky would conjecture we merely appear to inhabit, only to occasionally lure us back from whence we came? To my mind this seems to make some sense. The void’s comparative noun “hollowness” also appeals to me and for that the Thesaurus suggests: worthlessness, emptiness, insincerity, futility, pointlessness and fruitlessness, now who needs a therapist when they have a Thesaurus? Every prompt you could imagine as a catalyst for self-reflection or self-discovery seems to be there (within the Thesaurus) as each individual word suggests a possible root or alternative. Interestingly, or at least to me, when you look up the void’s opposite, for example “world”, you get the following: earth, planet, globe, humankind, humanity and the human race, which would suggest that the aforementioned are what we essentially see as reinforcing our relevance and reality within this world. Necessarily, we do not consider our reality as inhabiting a void either spatially or socially, rather, we see ourselves as part of some kind of network of planets, systems and/or tribes. We need to feel connected to something or someone in our Be-ing, so not only does the void somehow seem to cancel itself out, it also seems to be teeming with being(s) no doubt similar to ourselves. Now is that really profound, blatantly obvious or just entirely wrong? Continuing with the same theme (Thesaurus), when you click on “abyss” it (Thesaurus) assigns the following: gulf, chasm, deep hole and, again, void, — in the case of the first three each logically implies the presence of something concrete in order that it might exist. Logically, there cannot be a gulf, chasm or deep hole without there being sides or solid parameters to react against, therefore there cannot be an “is not” without an “is”. I would at this point caution myself that “logic” has its limitations when considering the philosophical or mystical dimensions inherent within the void. Anyway, back to the Thesaurus, this is great: now “gulf” throws out “gap” which gives in turn: hole, opening, break, breach, slit, fissure and crack and this again invokes Ouspensky’s observation, “Is it not necessary and possible to recognize that the world is immobile and constant, and that it seems to us to be moving and evolving simply because we are looking at it through the narrow slit of our sensuous receptivity?”3 Which suggests to me that he might have been suggesting that in some ways at least we perceive the world from within the void. Maybe I’m not so mad after all, incidentally “mad” offers amongst many others two particularly relevant ones, “round the bend” and “beside yourself”, — I LOVE IT!

As I appear to be on a bit of a roll, I will briefly consider another Ouspensky favourite “shock”, and amongst multifarious other offerings by the Thesaurus we are given “stun” which means to make unconscious. Now that is interesting because Ouspensky’s view was that we needed to be constantly exposed to shocks, both cosmic and immediate in nature in order to wake up to fourth dimensional “conscious awareness” or “cosmic consciousness”. Does that suggest that we must first be knocked unconscious in order to become conscious, or, as Heraclitus posited, does birth come from death as opposed to the other way around (is that right? I’d better look that up).

Now I’m back to writing drivel so I think I need to turn off the music and see whether anything else mainfests… Silence: — (n.) quiet, stillness, peace, hush, calm, — (v.) make quiet, quieten, shut up, hush, shush, make speechless, — (v.) stop, put an end to, gag, stifle, suppress, quash, smother, curb and its Antonym “encourage”. I am hoping that the silence will encourage thought, start something off, release and give air to whatever, I am hoping in essence for its opposite. I am hoping to rouse my mind or consciousness into action.

NOTES

1 – P.D. Ouspensky, A New Model of the Universe (London: Arkana, 1931); p.312.

2 – P.D. Ouspensky, Ibid., p.312.

3 – P.D. Ouspensky, Tertium Organum (London: Arkana, 1920); p. 115.

 

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