Spiritual Smörgåsbord ?


Question: can we chip off pieces we like and leave the rest?
Purists and true believers will always say NO.


The question arises because I recently began to re-re-read Robertson Davies’ Deptford Trilogy (Fifth Business, The Manticore, World of Wonders), last visited maybe 20 years ago. Besides being a cracking good yarn and highly literate in a Canadian/British mode, it involves an extended meditation on entangled lives, on interwoven Stories, and on friendship. The second volume, The Manticore, was the source of pretty much everything I know of Jung. And now, in the context of thinking about life, and legacy, and Stories, it seems worthwhile to revisit one of the influential syntheses of the internal worlds.

Interlude: On our many passages between Nova Scotia and New England we would pass by a bizarre theme park/sculpture garden in deepest New Brunswick, called Animaland, the entrance to which was graced by a skeletal statue of a horse.

Betsy joked that it was “a place for the Jung at heart.”

Jungian analysis (AKA ‘analytic psychology’) proceeds from a foundation in anamnesis, an exercise by the analysand in extended autobiography (‘subjective confession’) aimed at confronting neurosis (seen as a “state of disunity with oneself”) and an attempt at self-cure of “mild dissociation of personality”.

“We can start almost anywhere. But from what you have told me I think we would be best to stick to the usual course and begin at the beginning.”
“Childhood recollections?”
“Yes, and reflections of your life up to now. Important things. Formative experiences. People who have meant much gto you, whether good or bad… We look at your history, and meet some people there whom you may know or perhaps you don’t, but who are portions of yourself…”
(The Manticore pg 70, 71)

This seems not irrelevant to some of what the Convivium is exploring. It’s not that I wish to immerse myself in Jungian bathos, but some of the terminology and background ideas may be provocative, evocative, useful to myself and others, so it’s useful to try to set out the framework, and to pick and choose elements that seem resonant.

…we are attempting to recapture some forgotten things and arousing almost forgotten feelings in the hope that we may throw new light on them, but even more new light on the present. Remember what I have said so many times; this is not simply rummaging in the trash-heap of the past for its own sake. It is your present situation and your future that concern us. All of what we are; talking about is gone and unchangeable; if it had no importance we could dismiss it. But it has importance, if we are to heal the present and ensure the future.
(The Manticore pg 100)

Powerful notions in the Jungian cosmology include the collective unconscious, broadly conceived as applicable to all Mankind, and coming from “somewhere beyond”, a “dynamic psychic substratum” encoded in myths “common to all humanity, on the basis of which each individual builds his or her private experience of life”—a grand and contentious notion [how transmitted? how across cultural/linguistic boundaries? from what origins? what are the Universals?].

Archetypes (“identical psychic structures common to all”) are another realm generally associated with Jung.

You may call these figures many things. You might call them the Comedy Company of the Psyche, but that would be flippant and not do justice to the cruel blows you have had from some of them. In my profession we call them archetypes, which means that they represent and body forth patterns to which human behavior seems to be disposed; patterns which repeat themselves endlessly, but never in precisely the same way…
(The Manticore, pg 229)

And here we quickly find ourselves in deep waters. I ran across a list of 300+ Archetypes, the most familiar of which are

The Self

The Anima

The Animus

The Shadow

The Persona

The Father

The Mother


The Child

The Wise Old (Sage)

The Hero

The Trickster

The Maiden

The poignancy of this Archetype thing may be appreciated with another list, immediately resonant for the males among us:

The four healthy archetypes of boyhood are:
The Divine Child
The Hero
The Precocious Child
The Oedipal Child

The eight shadow archetypes of boyhood are:
The High Chair Tyrant
The Grandstander Bully
The Know-it-all Trickster
The Momma’s Boy
The Weakling Prince
The Coward
The Dummy
The Dreamer

Shudder.

11ii1937

In my search for efficient entrée into Jung, I’ve been reading the excellent Jung: A Very Short Introduction, and I also found Daryl Sharp’s Jung Lexicon: A Primer of Terms & Concepts, worth a few minutes of your time to scan and thus to realize how integral and hermetic and inward-facing the world of Jungians is, and how vast and dauntingly impenetrable. The idea of breaking off a few convenient ideas or insights would be Anathema to true believers, but there are tasty bits that seem to accord with notions we’ve already discussed among ourselves, such as

Individuation: to “realize one’s own potential, follow one’s own perception of the truth, and to become a whole person in one’s own right”, “to work with and confront the unconscious” as a lifelong process.

Projection: “confronted by a field of ignorance, we project into it our own psychic activity and fill it up with meaning.”

clarity


salt1x4

All the world is taken in through the eye,
to reach the soul,
where it becomes more,
representative of a realm deeper than appearances:
a realm ideal and sublime,
the deep stillness that is,
whose whole proclamation is
the silence and the lack of material instance
in which,
patiently and radiantly,
the universe exists.
(Mary Oliver, “Emerson”)

Allegories and Agglomerations


vent Allegory

I’ve been thinking about this image ever since I captured it back in August, and wondering how to explain what I saw, what it means, and how it fits into my evolving sense of personal engagement with photography.

The train of thought came about during a yoga nidra session, as I lay immobile for 40 minutes or so with no other visual stimulus than a ho-hum quotidian ventilation duct on the ceiling 15 feet above me. The suggestion was that I close my eyes, but they decided to remain open. The eyes seem often to have minds of their own. The wider context included about a year of deep and deeper immersion in photography, including lots of reading and writing and thousands of photographs studied and taken.

Contemplation of the metal duct provoked the insight that narratives unfold —the case with most tessellations, and also with the presentation of groupings of images, exemplified by my galleries of faces on rocks and other materials. As one looks and studies and ponders, unexpected visions and associations arise, and underlying realities emerge, or (as it might be) are imagined.

The duct itself is pretty simple: a utilitarian presence with little or no artistic intent, a piece of unpretentious industrial design, one of many thousands of ducts, formed of sheet metal in a way that is sensitive to function and to market pricing, and surely not imagined by designers and manufacturers as the inspiration for anything. Geometrically it’s just a triangle, mirrored and then mirrored orthogonally into a symmetrical diamond shape. But upon contemplation it’s clear that there’s more to it: a something else that might be a Creature manifests, equipped with eyes and even a tongue. And suddenly the duct is not so simple, and inspires the viewer to consider Unfolding, and Creaturehood, and Allegory.

Namaste, tout le monde.

The next morning I returned with a camera and found that the Creature was still in residence, and was as provocative as it had been the day before.

The Full-frontal Spiritual Manifestations: gods, godlets, daemons and other beings project seems a direct outcome of the adventure with the duct.

Addendum: the wee hours found me considering that Agglomerations consist of Agglomera, and that the singular would thus be Agglomerum; Agglomeratio would be the act of gathering up Agglomera. By itself,

30xii1832
is just an oddly-shaped rock, but in company (Agglomerated) with others of its ilk, other possibilities emerge:

30xii1832 30xii1833 DriftInn1i1817

DI6ii077 DI7ii059 DI25i18072

DI2i1876 Wass29vii18079 28xii1816

fruits of the morning’s beachcombing

13i1901a

Stuff keeps washing up along my personal tidelines, some of it simple flotsam or jetsam, some of it elements in evolving sculpture and macramé, some of it of indeterminate utility. It All Counts, as my mentor Allen Smith said of the work of the Reference Librarian.

Two cases in point, the first an enduring puzzlement reeled in and partly digested a few months ago, the second a new discovery this morning, via a posting to The WELL’s State of the World (Paulina Borsook) which seems to make sense of the first:

  1. Timothy Morton’s
    Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World

    “…Global warming is perhaps the most dramatic example of what Timothy Morton calls ‘hyperobjects’—entities of such vast temporal and spatial dimensions that they defeat traditional ideas about what a thing is in the first place… concepts such as world, nature, and even environment are no longer a meaningful horizon against which human events take place. Instead of inhabiting a world, we find ourselves inside a number of hyperobjects, such as climate, nuclear weapons, evolution, or relativity. Such objects put unbearable strains on our normal ways of reasoning.Insisting that we have to reinvent how we think to even begin to comprehend the world we now live in, Hyperobjects takes the first steps, outlining a genuinely postmodern ecological approach to thought and action…”

  2. Force Majeure at UC Santa Cruz


    Five Understandings

    First understanding

    Nature’s economic system stores the energy that it does not immediately need
    mostly in carbon formations

    Second understanding

    Nature does not charge a profit as do culture’s economic systems

    Third understanding

    All natural systems are dissipative structures with individuals that form them living,
    reproducing then dying with indeterminacy as a norm

    Fourth understanding

    All natural systems have learned to nest within each other, and, within a context of
    symbiosis contribute to collective systems survival, sometimes with abundance

    Fifth understanding

    Human constructed artifacts particularly legal, political, economic as well as
    production and consumption systems seek constancy but are often in violation of the
    laws of conservation of energy pointing toward systems entropy

Working out the implications, awaiting the next tide…

Christmas ephemeral

It began with a dozen very local oysters (Ice House Cove, thanks to Toni and John who presided over their growing). The very local trick for opening them is to put them in the oven for a few minutes, just until the shells open. Absolutely delicious. A byproduct is some of the salty oyster liquor leaking into the pan and crystallizing with the residual heat. Instant abstract, sort of galactic in flavor:

oyster pan

Of course I couldn’t let that be the final act…


salt1x4

And there were a couple of other captures from the same pan:


oyster pan

oyster pan

enigmata

I like me a good enigma, and I’ve used that word in all sorts of connections over the years, but never thought to inquire into its etymology and various senses. Dictionaries seem to agree that the Greek ainos, ‘fable’, is the original progenitor, but others cited are Greek ainisessthai, ‘to speak allusively’, and Latin aenigma, ‘riddle’. The modern senses favor

  • mysterious
  • puzzling
  • hard to explain
  • inexplicable
  • hidden meaning or known thing concealed under obscure words or forms
  • dark saying
  • baffles understanding

Looking over my own past uses, I seem often to invoke enigma in describing something non-obvious that interests me or piques curiosity or captures my attention. An artful story is what’s required to dispel murk (or mirk). See Narrativium for the how and why.

Most dictionary senses seem to favor the textual enigma, but I’m especially drawn to visual instances, in which there’s something unresolved


Orrs Island mystery

or ???huh???
children at play

or flat-out puzzling

This morning in the Back 40

or ambiguous and suggestive of multiple possible readings

the morning after the night before

or just plain weird

31x18068

Edward Gorey on writing:

…the way I write, since I do leave out most of the connections, and very little is pinned down, I feel that I am doing a minimum of damage to other possibilities that might arise in a reader’s mind. (New Yorker Dec 12 2018)

Photographers who traffic in enigma and abstractions of various kinds, and/or explore Buddhist and Taoist notions of the contemplative owe a lot to Minor White. Herewith some of my thoughts from more than a year ago: Major Minor.

just a stump

Digital processing is really a marvel, especially in the ease with which one can tweak an image to express different flavors, moods, attitudes. The danger is that it’s easy to take the tweakage too far, but that’s really subjective. Here’s one from yesterday in which various changes are rung (as Bill Skinner was wont to say). It’s worthwhile to contemplate why one might prefer one or another version.

the unedited original:
stump as shot

cropped and adjusted, subjectively pleasing:
stump1

monochrome, with green filter:
stump b+w green filter

using Lightroom’s “Infrared” preset:
stump "IR"

using Lightroom’s “aged photo” preset:
stump "aged"


Of course I see a creature, probably a large-mouthed fishy person (a staring eye in the upper center)

Goreyana

Two tasty bits from a Book of the Moment, Floating Worlds: the letters of Edward Gorey & Peter F. Neumeyer:

yesterday I happened to notice in the mirror that while I have long since grown used to my beard becoming very grey indeed, I was not prepared to discover that my eyebrows are becoming noticeably shaggy. I feel the tomb is just around the corner. And there are all these books I haven’t read yet, even if I am simultaneously reading at least twenty… (pg 128)

I tell myself not to remember the past, not to hope or fear for the future, and not to think in the present, a comprehensive program that will undoubtedly have very little success. (pg 130)

The book brims with such gems.

and here’s a quasi-relevant image to accompany the above:


profile
The Flickr note for this one says “Part of the prep for a ghastly dental procedure, but I was amazed to see the profile of my father and both brothers. Ignore the vacuity in the NW quadrant of the image…”

What Kittens?


all what you do it come back to you
you got to bear the consequence

(an extended rumination, knitting several trains of thought)

The Young Tuan B3

53 years ago we were in Sarawak, helping to build a new village into which people from 15 Iban longhouse communities would be resettled. This Land Development Scheme (its formal designation) involved the planting of high-yield rubber trees which the Scheme participants would (eventually) tap, thus trading a semi-self-sufficient life on the fringes of the cash economy for full-fledged peasant status, living on the proceeds of their labor in the sort-of-cooperative rubber plantation. They would “own” their rubber plots, but pay mortgages on the land and on the single-family houses in the new village. What could possibly go wrong?

The premise that government-sponsored Development would make a better life for all (schools for children, health care clinics, “Progress”) was almost completely unquestioned. The assumption that demand for natural rubber would increase was unstated, because self-evident to the minds of mid1960s government planners. But that’s not how it turned out.

The new village was built next to the single trunk road that connected to the state capital (some 80 miles away) and continued on to link a series of (basically Chinese) towns, all situated on rivers that had formerly been the primary transportation corridors. Quite suddenly the accessibility of rural hinterlands changed—buses were available to nearby towns, a vastly expanded range of goods and services became available, and participation in a national and international cash economy was ubiquitous.

That process of infrastructural development and contingent change was what I thought I would return to Sarawak to study, but that’s not how it all worked out. I went to Nova Scotia instead, and only occasionally checked in with what was happening in Sarawak. The last 50 years has brought devastation of forests, the building of large dams on several rivers, rural dislocations and resettlements, and the advent of palm oil plantations to take the place of rubber as the principal primary export commodity. The Sarawak we knew is all but unrecognizable.

The new village of 50 years ago was on the edge of a vast and largely impenetrable peat swamp, covered in 100+ foot hardwood trees. Nobody envisioned any possible use for that land, since it would have to be drained and cleared. Nobody thought of palm oil as a possible crop for Southeast Asia until about 1980. That’s when Malaysia (and Indonesia) started to ramp up palm oil planting. Beyond swamp-draining and planting of oil palm, I don’t know any of the details of the development in the area we worked in, but in general the development process in Sarawak involves government and large corporations, and the public face of the operations emphasizes the benefits to one and all of the glorious implementation. The only sure thing is that the little people get squeezed and screwed, while somebody else reaps the benefits.

My attention to this bit of backstory comes about today because of a New York Times Magazine article on the tragedies of palm oil, which mostly focuses on Indonesia, and which raises some wider issues that I’m inclined to discuss under a new rubric: What Kittens?. The reference is to a passage in Don Marquis’s Archy and Mehitabel, written 90 or so years ago but absolutely on the money today. Still more backstory is needed.


well boss
mehitabel the cat
has reappeared in her old
haunts with a
flock of kittens
three of them this time

When I began to read about agriculture, in the early 1970s and before I went to Nova Scotia to do research in what I was pleased to label as “agricultural transformation”, a central concept for my explorations was the importance of exotic energy, by which I meant petroleum fuels and such petroleum derivatives as fertilizers and pesticides. In the 20th century, exotic energy was brought to bear on agricultural production, underwriting its intensification and midwifeing the increasing scale and concentration of agricultural enterprises. It was the inexorability of the transformation process, together with its malign effects upon families and communities, that led me to abjure that line of research as soon as the ink was dry on my dissertation.

I continued to track the significance of exotic energies in human affairs throughout my teaching career, especially in about 15 iterations of a course I called Human Geography. I was never as systematic as I should have been, but I did continue keep eyes peeled throughout the years as a librarian. Some years ago I read a number of news stories about far-sighted experimenters who were using discarded vegetable oil (mostly from fast food fryers) to power their diesel cars. A win-win, one might have thought: recycling a disposable, replacing a petroleum product, carving out an efficiency. Soon after that rash of stories I heard about “biodiesel” as an alternative Green fuel source, and made the assumption that the feedstock must be recycled plant oils… Ah, assumptions. Little did I know that the Southeast Asian palm oil plantations were more and more the primary source of biodiesel, and (hand in hand with deforestation) responsible for much misery along with obscene profits for the perpetrators of ever-larger projects. None of this should have been in the least surprising.


archy she says to me
yesterday
the life of a female
artist is continually
hampered what in hell
have i done to deserve
all these kittens
i look back on my life
and it seems to me to be
just one damned kitten
after another
i am a dancer archy
and my only prayer
is to be allowed
to give my best to my art
but just as i feel
that i am succeeding
in my life work
along comes another batch
of these damned kittens

The world of academic thought and action seems at any point in time to be mappable into distinct Disciplines, though the edges of any Discipline are ragged and permeable. But over time, in decades or generations, the boundaries shift and shimmer, and local heresies morph into schismatic reorganizations; intellectual fashions and leitmotifs come and go, and the focus of the Important peregrinates. I’ve been on the edges of a succession of disciplinary kerfuffles, almost entirely as a bemused observer.

In the 1960s the concept of Development was a leitmotif in many social science disciplines, not least in Economics, Political Science, and Anthropology. After a brief vogue for Ecology, Cybernetics, and a whiff of Sociobiology, in the 1970s and 1980s the leading edge lurched toward Postmodernism and Diversities (thankfully, I missed those morasses). The 1990s found those same fields riveted by Globalization. And the 21st century has seen Global Warming and Inequality come to the fore as the reigning integrative challenges. Each of these seems like an era, and the succession leaves a trail of supposed focal Problems behind, their dilemmas unresolved and their protagonists ageing gracelessly.


but it isn t fair archy
it isn t fair
these damned tom cats have all
the fun and freedom
if i was like some of these
green eyed feline vamps i know
i would simply walk out on the
bunch of them and
let them shift for themselves
but i am not that kind
archy i am full of mother love
my kindness has always
been my curse
a tender heart is the cross i bear
self sacrifice always and forever
is my motto damn them
i will make a home
for the sweet innocent
little things
unless of course providence
in his wisdom should remove them

So I escaped the Wheel in the 1990s, into the aether of Library and Information Science, and enjoyed more than a decade of adventures completely outside of disciplinary argy-bargy, learning and building and following my nose. They paid me to know stuff and find out about more stuff and help others find what they were seeking. I had audience and agency, and an infinitude of things to explore. The 13+ years of retirement continues to present that infinitude, in which I revel. I sometimes miss the audience and the agency, though photography offers both.


these terrible
conflicts are always
presenting themselves
to the artist
the eternal struggle
between art and life archy
is something fierce
my what a dramatic life i have lived
one moment up the next
moment down again
but always gay archy always gay
and always the lady too

But every so often I encounter some subject matter that reopens old files and nudges me toward trying to make better sense of one or another of problems left behind. It was palm oil this time, but who knows what next?


one day she was talking to me
of the kittens
and the next day when i asked
her about them
she said innocently
what kittens
interrogation point
and that was all
i could ever get out
of her on the subject

sources and sensibilities

I’ve been reading Mark Dery’s Born to Be Posthumous: The Eccentric Life and Mysterious Genius of Edward Gorey and finding all sorts of relevant things within. Here’s one that seems to shed useful light on photographic issues of the moment:

E.Gorey’s Great Simple Theory About Art
the theory … that anything that is art … is presumably about some certain thing, but is really always about something else, and it’s no good having one without the other, because if you just have the something it is boring and if you just have the something else it’s irritating.
(in Floating Worlds: : The Letters of Edward Gorey and Peter F. Neumeyer, pg 39)


DI26x1825

Thinking it over, it’s difficult to gauge how very much of my sensibilities I owe to Edward Gorey, whose work I think I first encountered in 1962, thanks to Laura de la Torre Bueno (The Curious Sofa was the gateway drug).



The groundwork before that was surely laid by Charles Addams and other New Yorker cartoonists (via The New Yorker Album: 1925-1950) and of course by Walt Kelly’s Pogo (which I first imbibed in the early 1950s, and have never been without ever since), Don Marquis’s Archy and Mehitabel
and before all Abner Dean’s What Am I Doing Here?
and Heinrich Hoffman’s Struwwelpeter.
Some would diagnose a very odd childhood, and I suppose that’s true, but I thank the gods for it.