(including Dionysus’ Confession)
“The Aeon is a child at play with colored balls.” – Heraclitus
I have, for most of my life, had a very good relationship with my father, cast in the normal North American/Anglo-Saxon mode of a distant tenderness, mixed with a nervous care and a complete lack of explanation. Fathers have obscure motivations; one always knows why – and how – a mother will behave (even in the most extreme instances), but fathers are odd birds, swimming in air currents both invisible and unpredictable. They’re flying about, swooping down to the nest to regurgitate a quick meal, then disappearing for a space of time, on their own business. The mother undividedly gives her own life to her child; the father gives his children a share – and only that – from his own being.
It may have been ever thus. Among Homo Sapiens, after all, the barren sex has no particular attachment to their presumed progeny. Until the patristic reigning in of the female procreative impulse – perhaps seven millennia ago – paternity remained an indistinct idea, and genealogy traced its path through the mother and mother’s brother, those being the two most clearly defined relations. The office of the uncle has roots far older than the reign of the father, reaching into prehistory, and today remains second in importance among male relations.
Much has been made of the subsumption of the matristic cultures of the Aegean by the patristic cultures of the Indo-Europeans; the one known cultural residue from this transformation is the concept of the father, as expressed both in paternity and the pater familias, which exaggerated itself into the heavens as El, the god of the Semites, and Zeus and Jupiter and Set and Ahura Mazda. Fathers are jealous – for themselves, rather than their children – and reign from on high, dispensing justice or arbitrary bolts of lightning (where the two can be clearly separated), and rule with an iron fist, unassuaged by pleas, emotions or pity.
Fathers are, almost by definition, cruel.
Much has been made, in modern times, of the war of the father against his sons, from the Oedipus of Freud to the Deleuzian critique of culture, which allows that as long as the father persists as an institution, power will continue to function as the instrument of culture – and culture will display a broad schizophrenia. To be placed underneath the iron fist necessarily implies that we will be inspired by delusions of escape; every revolutionary from Prometheus to Fidel Castro has struggled against the power of the father, and through this battle – more often than not – become identical to that father, a historical incidence of endotromania so commonplace it seems positively banal. Here’s the new boss, same as the old boss.
Just as regularly, people have dreamed of bringing this wheel of karma to a stop, of dethroning the father and replacing him with nothing. The great project of anarchism – which can trace its roots back to ancient times – has insisted that every man should be his own master, that there is no father anywhere. In this sense, anarchism is not so much revolutionary as reactionary, seeking to turn the clock back to a prelapsarian state of undifferentiated relation, where the bonds of power have not conflated with the bonds of blood. But our culture is built entirely from the magical relationship between blood and power; without this bulwark it would entirely disintegrate. For this reason anarchism remains a universally abhorrent solution to a well-understood problem, the cure being perceived as worse than the disease itself.
Even so, we are all anarchists, in our own ways, at least in these modern times.
Human beings experience an unusually long period of dependency after birth, this being the period of time when the brain grows to its full size, and the infant begins to explore its fullest capabilities, such as movement, speech, and intellectual understanding. All of this happens under the watchful eye of the mother and by the father’s good graces. It appears – in times past – that this education fulfilled itself by the time the child reached his early teens, hence the Bar Mitzvah and the initiation rites for aboriginal Australians take place around age thirteen, with the first blush of puberty. In these cultures, a sexually mature human is accepted as an adult.
We’ve adopted a different attitude in the modern day, and keep “teenagers” (a very new term, possibly dating from this century) in a defensive, childlike dependency until they reach a culturally defined age, such as sixteen, eighteen or twenty-one, and have almost completely eliminated the rites of passage which mark the translation of the child into the adult. The father has attempted – with the best of intentions – to keep the children in his care until they become too powerful; hence the “generation gap”, which, at its boldest, represents a fundamental power struggle between two adults, of which, only one has cultural validation in this status, while the other wages war to obtain it. This battle represents the vestigial remains of the rites of passage.
Culturally, we appear to have two options; we can magically endow the child with the properties of the adult, or we can wait until the child seizes the opportunity to become an adult by storming the throne of the father. As we appear to have abandoned the first option, we seem consigned to force our children into an eternal war against the father, but this war has more opportunities open to it than victory or defeat; however briefly, the opportunity of anarchism opens to each of us, as we fight to become adults. We become adult in opposition to the father, but that does not necessarily imply we need to become as our fathers. Anarchism is a magical act of self-determination – as is its inverse – which requires not only a rejection of the father but the rejection of what the father represents. If the child lusts for the throne, the newly-formed adult will recapitulate the actions of the vengeful father; if the child lusts only for freedom, the adult finds himself free to adopt whatever ontology he deems appropriate.
Donald Bartheme wrote, in The Dead Father, that none of us need ever have fathers again, if we so decide. Most of us are unaware that we even have a choice.
But back again, to my own father.
I have intense respect for a man who had a fair portion of his brain removed nearly thirty years ago – in a barbaric era, as contrasted with modern neurosurgery – who came back from the hospital injured, beaten down in ways I still can not understand, who fought against double vision and a serious trimming of his cerebellum, and walked up and down the short corridor to our bedrooms, night after night, until he could dispense with his cane, and stride unassisted through life. All of this when he was younger than I am now. It turned his hair gray, somewhat prematurely, but it always seemed to me that he wore it as a silent badge of courage. He never seemed bitter about the tumor that could easily have killed him – a growth the size of a large orange, lodged in the back of his head – and has counted all the years that have followed as a gift, a span of experience he never really expected to enjoy. Only years later did I hear that he had last rites pronounced before he went into the operating room, a good Catholic, covering all the bases.
Some time after he had fully recovered, after he began to work again and my family slowly paid down fifty thousand dollars in medical bills (a lot more money, before the inflation of the late 70’s), my mother – who had broken herself keeping the family together during his long illness and recovery – decided she’d had enough of him, and threw him out. For no particular reason, no cruelty or battery or perceived lack of empathy. I believe she simply decided that she deserved better, staging her own Fort Sumter on a summer’s day in 1982 when she lost it completely, beat up her son and threw her husband out.
While my father could confront mortality, disability and illness with almost beatific peace, he could not face the loss of the only woman he had ever loved. It broke him when my mother asked him to leave, shattered his soul into countless pieces, and drove him into a deep depression, which – some six months later – my sister rescued him from as he sat on his bed in a roach-infested efficiency apartment, by insisting that they rent a home together. In the years that followed, he recovered his spirits, but never his soul, which seems connected to my mother’s by bonds both irrational and impossibly strong. My mother, now happily remarried, knows this, and I believe she finds my father’s failure to move on in his emotional life as perplexing as her departure seems to him.
I suspect this is a story common to many divorces.
My father has taken care of me all of my life; periodically my own mental health would disintegrate, owing to seasonal depressions (a characteristic inherited from my mother) or over-zealous use of various drugs, and every time he has taken me in, given me a roof over my head and fed me and allowed me to come back to myself. Every time I have reacted to this kindness by lashing out, resentful of my own failures, translating hatred of myself into undirected anger. Even this he withstood, always.
Finally, he tended his own mother, as she grew increasingly senile, unable to cope with even the most basic tasks, and, long after his siblings had steeled themselves into staying away from a mother who had become a madwoman, he continued to care for her, surrendering that task to a nursing home only when her demands exceeded his own resources, physical and emotional; still, it tore him up inside. He regretted failing her. When she passed away last Winter, it seemed to offer him no release, even though she had been freed from the prison of her flesh, for he continued to ask himself what he could have done to make her own last days more comfortable, and more human.
It had been enough – far more than enough. But he could not bring himself to think so.
We all hoped that – after my grandmother’s passing – my father would enter the world of the living again. Instead, he revealed that nothing had changed in him for nearly twenty years, that the wounds of the divorce had never fully healed; it had left him with keiloid scars on his soul, which can not be removed by any surgery. My father, I now realized, had nothing left inside him, and whiled away his time, waiting – I can only imagine – for a death denied him thirty years ago, before his own world had come apart so utterly. His siblings moved on, his children found better jobs and married, and he noted it all, but remained untouched, outside the flow of time, unaffected by all the life around him.
I found this unconscionable.
I would make a poor suicide. Life, vitality, the doing of being, this is all for me, and – when considered honestly – all we ever really have. I can drug myself (and do so, regularly) but this, even in its most extreme, has been a search for experience, a lusting after epiphanies which – as dangerous as it is – speaks of vitality, rather than resignation. I can not imagine any situation in which all possibility stands exhausted, every line played out, but I have seen others in this place, both friends and relatives, and wonder how they ever come through it.
Of course, I am not a fifty-nine year-old man with a broken heart.
Nevertheless, I sit in judgment, because I dread – more than anything else – becoming infected with the sickness that has consumed my father. I fear what has happened to him, the darkness which has consumed his soul, and I wonder – honestly wonder – if I can escape that fate. This man has taught me everything about ethics, about living properly in the world, and it has only lead him to destruction.
I found this a very difficult fact to face, and it me into a deep depression; I could not save my father, and perhaps I could not save myself. But this, I came to understand – when I finally could bear the truth – only meant that I had over-identified with my father, conflated our ego boundaries, confusing the necessary divisions that exist between parent and child. At that point I became fully cognizant of a seminal point in conscious awareness which marks one’s full adulthood: you don’t have to be like your parents. Once I could see this, the way for me became clear.
Cronus swallows his children, fearing they will someday overpower him and rule the world, consuming his issue as his worries consume him. At its core, this can be seen as the fear of change, that the world will become something foreign, and inimical. But Rhea cheated Cronus, hid one of her children away, and the world did change; the Titans overthrown, from Cronus’ stomach came forth a new pantheon. Fathers can not contain their children forever, for the universe must continue to evolve.
A “Just-so” story: The world in the moment before humanity.
In the early morning, a mid-sized child stands erect and looks out from the brow of a low ridge, onto the dusty plains of central Africa. Somewhere, in the far distance, the rift that tore the continent in two – and separated the proto-chimpanzee from his cousin, the proto-human – draws a deep furrow across the landscape. A clear, cloudless sky frames a white-hot solar disk as the temperature soars to a hundred degrees or more. Most of these pre-humans have gathered in the shade of the caves which lie beneath the ridgeline; few trees, in this arid savanna, provide shade. But this child – a nine-year old girl – doesn’t obey her instincts to hide in a cooler darkness. She’s always been different, this one, always felt apart from the troupe, but now she knows why.
Through accident of birth, the subtle drift of genetics and neurology, this child has been graced with an interiority which allows her to reflect on the world around. It appears a seamless, spherical whole, white and bursting through with light, so much like the Sun above her that she’s come out, under its blaze, to contemplate the only object which – for her, and her alone – seems to express the entirety of the world, in the last moment before humanity is born.
The apprehension of world as object – although the child does not appreciate these terms – has been with her all of her life, filling her memories as far back as they can be recalled. It has always been whole, to her, and while all around her act their parts within this world, they fail to grasp what has always been apparent to her; not within them to know, to differentiate between this and that, they act from reflex, conditioning, and the social dynamics of the troupe.
At the final stage of maturation, as the last neurons repeatedly fire themselves into the shapes of a new perception, the egg cracks, the crystal shatters, the unity of the world blown into a countless assortment of fragments, each of which contain the seed of the whole, but remain whole in their own. What could only be contemplated just a moment before, can now be identified, and named.
The world has become a collection of objects, and nothing will ever be the same.
I have been to this ridgeline, seen that child stretch out her arms toward that Sun, and have known the undivided perception of a pre-human world. In the moment before, everything we are does not – can not – exist. We can chart our descent from unconscious animals, but – if we accept our difference as a matter of course – we must also accept the sudden and complete nature of the birth of humanity. No middle point exists between the proto-human and Homo Sapiens; at one point, at one time, we all became human.
We need look not look far to understand the dynamics of this catastrophe; morphogenetic fields shape the mind of the organism – this has been demonstrated, repeatedly – even as they shape the biological form. Once this child broke the silence of the world, all of humanity could understand the words which described it.
Our evolution has components both interior and exterior; we can grow a larger brain, add mass and connectivity to our prefrontal lobes, but these changes, by themselves, confer no wisdom. Once the stage has been set, the biological imperatives satisfied, a defining moment occurs, a singular event which shapes everything that comes after. In The Phenomenon of Man, Teilhard insisted that these moments punctuate the entire evolutionary record from the birth of life itself, a moment of molecular self-consciousness which separated organism from the inorganic forever. Time can not be reversed; the broken jewel can not be reassembled.
This moment of transformation becomes the archetype repeated in all the creation myths of human history; the ingestion of the Fruit of the Knowledge of Good and Evil; the Tower of Babel and the confusion of languages; Zeus’ slash across the stomach of Cronus; each of these describe an irreversible act, a metaphysical occurrence which writes itself into the very fabric of the world, and translates the steady-state into an evolving reality.
As above, so below; we each repeat this act throughout our lives.
I have said before that everything you encounter changes you, that as information passes through you, your being responds to it; ontology shaped by experience. The static moment comes only in the release of death – but this is common knowledge. Every break between what we have been and what we are now become separates us from the father, who would have us close and still, while we long for change, that we might know we are alive.
There is no going back, anywhere, only progress forward, away from the source of life, into life. This I came to in the moment I divorced myself from my father, for I knew what I will become will be so unlike my father – my origin – as to be unpronounceable in his presence.
And so we come to war against our fathers.
Malcolm McLaren, excoriable producer of 70’s and 80’s pop bands, brazenly blurted out the secret of the whole game in a scene from The Great Rock and Roll Swindle. His secret to any success among the younger public? “Foment generational dissent.” McClaren, as usual, tells only half the truth, for generation dissent exists a priori of any effort to create it. The rift between the child-adult and the full adult – in our times – can not be broadened to support a commercial enterprise, no matter how carefully crafted its message. McLaren works more like a surfer, who reads the swell and positions a product atop the break of the highest wave; the Sex Pistols got a free ride down the vortex of history, but could not survive the shoals which broke their fall.
Margaret Mead hypothesized that the rate of total change in the twentieth century caused a rupture in the normative continuities that bound the generations. The energies of the war against the father had, through a continuous process of transmission of values, translated themselves into the oppressive power of the father. Within the last three generations, this has become a rejection of the father, in toto, a final turning away from the abyss that separates us from ancient, common history, and turns us about to face the ultraviolet catastrophe of the Eschaton. The articulation of the Eschaton, originally associated with that most patristic of organizations – the Catholic Church – has become the most radical act that can be pronounced. We are from out fathers, but not of them, and their fate is not ours.
Hence our culture has become future-forward, and imagines itself in a distant star-date, cruising the Milky Way, loving the alien. We dream of flipping outward, utterly, strapping ourselves on a beam of light to stop time and see the universe collapse again to a single white point, so like the child who came to create us, in the moment before she became fully human. We lust to apprehend the whole – again – and we bring all of our Will to bear upon the quest, a Fool’s errand which has driven us more than a little bit mad. We examine everything, look under everything, as if checking the wiring in an apartment we’ve inhabited all our lives but have only recently become possessed to investigate. The cabling spreads underneath the floor, inside the walls, comes down from the ceiling and – most interestingly – flows directly into us. Everything comes together, at the end, because we have the evidences of eternal connection, signs and portents of a simple, beautiful unity.
Almost everything we believe we know stands at variance to this reality. Nevertheless, everything is one, and was ever thus. That we can not “see” it means only we have not brought ourselves into perfect understanding, that some work remains. And this work has become the great project of Post-History, the knitting of the world into a visible unity.
Gurdjieff and Ouspensky both repeatedly argued that humanity had become less conscious in the modern age, that we been lulled into sleep by artifice. At the time of their denouncements, an argument could be made to support such claims; but no such pronouncement could be made after Teilhard picked up the Eschatological ball and betrayed the immanence of consciousness as the internal agent of evolution. Just as we can not recede into the Pre-Cambrian era, neither can we “descend” into the mind of the Magdalenians. Consciousness moves forward, although, until recently, it has not looked forward.
So this coming together is not recovery, but rather, discovery. The unspoken wholeness of the world will not drop us into a pre-linguistic consciousness, but rather, into a hyper-linguistic manifold, where each linguistically apprehensible entity maintains identity yet simultaneously conflates into an absolute whole. Cronus eats his children, but they do not digest; while we, nourished by the body & blood of the world, become one with it.
We fear this.
Rejection becomes the last act of possibility. While simultaneously the agent of vitality – boundaries drawn divide organism from the inorganic, and life from life – every barrier fragments a self-assembling whole into ever greater parts, drawing the veil even within ourselves, our thoughts, our cells. We have conducted our analysis of reality – the division of the world – down into the quantum fringes where it disappears from view, and presents us only with a halo of willful possibilities. We have stretched ourselves back until the universe itself becomes a dense white ball of potential in an unknowable singularity. In each we find an edge, not of what is known, but rather, what can be known. Suddenly, all bets are off, and every story sounds as good as any other. All throughout, we spread ourselves wide, only to learn that all we grow to encompass, we can not wholly separate from ourselves; we have recognized a limit to the other. This act is metaphysical and irreversible, another Fall.
In pulling ourselves apart, we become so tenuous that the stars above shine through our being, holding a pile of threads which we thought contained us, but now find only constrained us. We have ceased to wage war with a new battle-cry: “Whatever,” which denies that any possibility, however strange, can entrap us in the petty squabbles of playground skirmish over piles of merde. In this revision of Nirvana, pop-band play and esoteric imaginings erase the boundaries, destroy duality, and leave us nose-deep in an a pool of gray goo, the dark darling of our own dreams, the shadow image of a greater unity than ever before known, a vision which tears the cloth of culture, rips us away from the bounds of bone & blood, and leaves us at play in the bosom of the world.
1 Imix – 4 Kan (5 – 8 January 1999)