I am tired of all this “woe is me” talk about how we have to repress so many of our natural instincts in a civilized society. It assumes a nostalgia for some natural state in a past time. But there is nothing natural about clinging to a “lost, innocent” past like this. This clinging is itself the unnatural thing. What is natural is to be alert to the needs of the moment, and to express yourself in that moment.
We are self-repressed because we spend so much time drifting along, not living truly and passionately in the moment. We have to take personal responsibility here for our actions and our impulses and our beliefs. It is not going to solve anything to shift the blame to some abstract thing you have dreamed up, such as civilization, as being at fault for repressing your natural urges.
Yes there is the daunting prospect of a society engulfing us, over-filled with people and their needs conflicting with ours. But through all this, what holds us back from our expression of natural urges? Not some outside force, it can only be some stronger urge within us that takes precedent. Reflect on that urge, look into it in great detail. Dissect it, determine where it has come from and why it leads you to act as you do.
Only through self-understanding of this kind can you get past the old story of society as repressing us. And come to the realisation that we have repressed ourselves, while all the time possessing the most natural urge of all in our reach. Grasp it, live it, don’t run from it, for you will only run in circles.
During my life, it has been a constant war waged against settling into fixed thought patterns. It got to the stage, at one point, where I was prejudging anything I read in a book or magazine, anything I watched on tv, or saw on the internet.
I was no longer letting the object in the world speak to me, and tell me its truth. I already had it pigeon-holed so that it fit neatly into my system of categories. I was not listening to the world, I had become deaf to it.
This is the situation I have faced in recent times, and I have only just become consciously aware of it, to begin to fight against this tendency, these past few months. It may have given me a sense of control and security. A sense of completeness to my understanding of the world. But it was a completeness that bred a complacency. And this complacency led to me losing touch with reality.
So I am having to learn to listen to the world all over again. I had everything prejudged, predetermined, predestined, in a nice self-serving system. This system must be brought down. A few years back I did a physical clearing of my hundreds, if not, thousands of books. Now it is time to do a mental clearing of the concepts some of these books have planted in my head.
I am starting fresh and turning to writers who illustrate a great listening ability to the objects that surround them in their world, so that I can learn and develop this skill for myself. It is a move away from the great systematic thinkers I once admired so much. Immanuel Kant, Arthur Schopenhauer, Edmund Husserl. Too often I have began to see in them a tendency to subordinate particular phenomena too readily and too easily to their general classifications without giving the specific phenomena concerned their due.
I was reading a book of late by John Gray. I already feel I know with his books that you are going to get the same perspective over and over again. The same pattern is followed, the same system is used repeatedly, to subjugate the complex world to his system of thought. It makes for a great veneer of self-confidence, but it is only on the surface, and does not strike very deep. Edmund Husserl tells me in his cartesian mediations he is going to take nothing for granted at the same time he is saying exactly what he wants the conclusion of his meditations to be! This is not true thinking. Following a set pattern, a path through the woods already flattened down by others is not thinking. It is merely habit, routine, a reinforcement of a genuine and original thinking that occurred sometime in the past.
The security this provides has become stifling and oppressive to me, so it is time for me to learn once again the art of listening to the world.
Feelings long repressed, a love cut short
no other object can I pursue, loves no sport.
My harsh words and judgments daily regretted
feelings and emotions needlessly upsetted.
Lost in a world that makes no sense
No finality, nor chance for recompense.
Over such small, insignificant concerns
I raised up indignant, while your heart burned.
you bared your soul to me,
for my prideful, judging eyes to see
I was ruthless, thoughtless, in judgement
blinkered by my begrudgements
No other object can there be for me,
for my affection, cut short by mutual decree.
I have your poems, letters and kind words,
I read them now, like I have only just heard.
An unrequited love so deep and profound,
proceeded in me without a sound.
Whilst the very same thing proceeded in you
And yet here I am, you are there, and I don’t know what I can do.
A placeless sense of frustration, anger
Common noise, sound and chatter.
Appropriated space, claustrophobically enclosed
Featureless faces, questioningly disposed.
In a practical dash, a rush to complacency,
a parting with trash, scrambled up frequencies.
No end that can be justified,
through which this can be dignified.
A beginning simply absurd,
no rational voice to be heard.
Planted in the middle of this formless mass,
a trivial riddle, thoughtless and crass.
Awaiting some meaningful conclusion,
finding only a barren seclusion.
Deep in the pit of my stomach
lies a churning fit of despair
an anxious strain of vulnerability
a ceaseless refrain from societies complicity.
if only to reach out and love another!
something in which to take cover
an escape and a hiding place
a warmth that smothers all disgrace.
No option to take this route
I remain silent, mute, enveloped in quietude
The road ahead is barren, long and dark
but peacefully on that journey can I embark.
It may be some way distant
lost among fluffy, insubstantial clouds
but vision of it is constant
steady, consistent and proud.
To make it to that bright place
with firm resolve and grace.
A chimera will it prove
on a broken record, just another groove?
A place already been, or not worthy of the time
never to be discovered, is this a perfect crime?
one step ahead, always out of reach
never to be neared nor breached.
Real or illusion?
it can’t be attained,
we are all in collusion,
a goal forever feigned.
This is something I have found more difficult in recent years. I think for a number of reasons. Partly I have read a lot, and so now, much I read is just going over the same ground. Partly also, I have formed more fixed conceptions of things, and so I go into reading a book with a more closed mind. Not open to a new experience. Another factor I think is the sheer number of poor quality books out there these days. It really is a matter of looking for a needle in a haystack.
But this is a challenge I should look forward to and embrace. The days of being able to pick up almost any book and glean something of interest or value from it are long gone. Most books I have judged unworthy of the effort as soon as I take a first look at it! Just based on the look of the cover it may say to me this is trashy fiction, for instance. The more frustrating time is when I see books that have an interesting premise, but once I start reading the book, I feel the author is letting me down, and not living up to the possibilities of the premise.
Anyway, I have recently managed to find a couple of books worth the effort, and that have lived up to, and exceeded, my hopes for them. So I suppose it is a matter of patience. I cannot find any fixed pattern to finding a good book. I am not much for reading many books by the same author. Though I made an exception for Frank Herbert, as many of his books were good in very different ways. And the Dune series was like one long novel really. Akin to In search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust, I suppose. Another one I have read and enjoyed. But when you get these authors who write a series of separate books with the same basic structure and plot devices, with only superficial differences, I only need to read one, if that, and I have read them all, as far as my interest is concerned.
So, in worry of picking up on these predictable patterns I avoid reading too much by one author as a general rule. What procedure then can I use to decide what book to read next? I tried being genre-specific, with sci-fi, after the success of reading Dune, but that was to limit myself too much. And it was to categorise a book before reading it, and so prejudge my interpretation of it. I was coming to expect something from a book, a fix, rather than being open to the possibilities of the book providing some new experience.
In summary, I don’t think there is any sure-fire method for finding a good book, anymore than there is a set method for living life. But all we can do is be open to the possibility of a new experience. If we are too clouded up with preconceptions, and prior expectations, we are sure to fail in finding a good book, as we will not be reading it, but just getting confirmation in every sentence of what we could already read off from our own mind.