Monday, October 03, 2005

Dynamic Stasis: Chaos=Completion, or You Want Some Hate With That?

Michel Foucault rejected Sartre because Sartre held choice to be the highest human ideal. This never really jibed with Foucault's postmodernism, wherein the "individual" was little more than a whirling confluence of social and economic forces, human relationships a tangled web of power dynamics. Individuality is subservient to the "identity group" in postmodernism, which leaves choice a somewhat illusory commodity that can only be won collectively; whereas Sartre tended to be suspicious of the notion that groups existed as anything other than arbitrary arrangements of individuals, each of whom is as lost as another in the face of life's absurdity . . . and yet, perhaps paradoxically, each is equally in control of his or her destiny.

Granting that, despite a postmodernist's affinity for deconstruction and appropriation (thank you, Derrida) I've always been more Sartrean than Foucaultian (although I tend to prefer Camus, who saw a sense of purpose in life's arbitraria; and who, not coincedentally, chastised Sartre for his inexplicable support of Stalinism), I've often been confused by Foucault's failure to see a contradiction between his rejection of Sartre and his embrace of Samuel Beckett. On the surface, Beckett's characters seem swept up in the tides of circumstance as Foucault seems to have imagined; and yet there's no getting around the fact that the theatre of the absurd, while postmodern in the character of its worldview, grows from the soil rent fertile by the work of the existentialists. More importantly, Beckett's characters--helpless as they may seem in the face of fatal inevitability--continue, like the anti-hero of Sartre's Nausea or Camus's The Stranger, to assert some (perhaps feeble) force of individual integrity, to choose courses of action and succumb to their consequences.

Scholars on this matter are probably slapping their forheads at my facile distillations; and those of you who don't care one way or the other are, of course, already bored. Faced with despair, however, I will take refuge in whatever philosophical conundra seem to apply.

See, 'Stine and I work. Not an insane amount, but enough: Full-time, diligently and with an eye for detail. We're both more than willing to work more than we do: She's lobbying, as always, for more clients, and has succeeded recently in finding a fairly brilliant part-time gig (Go Team!!!!). I've been applying, on a large scale, for part-time evening-and/or-weekend work to supplement my current full-time income, hoping to take advantage of my current disillusionment and, let's face it, utter boredom and dissatisfaction with the theatrical form by paying down some debts and ensuring my financial security. So far, no good . . . or rather, only limited good: I've got a little money coming in from a 6-hour per weekend gig selling merchandise for a long-running, wildly popular local production at the theatre where I work during the week.

None of this is going to help us this month. If we include the money I'll get Thursday, the money my mother's graciously loaning us and the paychecks coming in, we might just make rent. The other bills will be covered through the generosity of our overdraft protection, which will mean that our account will be about $400-$500 in the hole come the next round of bills. What's worse, I don't see much in the way of potential for improvement, at least on my end: I lack the skills that tend to lead to lucrative employment. And while 'Stine is in a growth industry, I sometimes fear that, realistically speaking, health issues may impose limits on how much more I can reasonably expect her massage to bring in . . .

All of this might have been moot (well, not moot so much as secondary in importance) if the original reason for our poverty and my near-unemployability--my/our love of and ambition in the arts--still applied in any measure for me. As it happens, I feel such antipathy for the theatrical form and my (perceived) place therein that I'm not even certain I want to act again, especially considering that the biggest hit in which I've participated have been among my least satisfying artistic experiences, while my most potent artistic experiences seem to have been carried out for audiences consisting largely of crickets (or, even worse, of people who seem to have given all credit for my work in said pieces to my director--those of you who know me know which show and which director I'm talking about). My hope, in distancing myself from acting, was to turn my attention towards other aspects of my interest/aptitude: Exploring my writing and my love for the rogue strains of popular music by writing music reviews; using that same love of music to turn my recent forays into gnostic philosophy into an industrial opera; immersing myself in martial arts study with the hope of either qualifying myself for instruction, learning enough to create my own form and/or finding a way integrate my martial study with my philosophical and artistic pursuits, maybe even reinvigorate my love of theatre. The original purpose of the extra part-time work I've been receiving was to fund these activities, to earn the money to buy new music and see performances for review, pay for martial arts classes, buy the seminal touchstones of gnostic literature (or at least pay to photocopy them from library books), take some writing classes . . . something, anything to make this life appear as more than a ludicrous, empty, futile scramble to try--and fail--to turn arbitrary work into necessary, but maddeningly unsatisfying, resources (which exist, it seems, primarily to perpetuate the same absurd cycle).

I am further spurred to wondering whether all of these aspirations are pipe dreams, whether any talent I've lead myself to believe I have is a sham, whether I'm indeed such a mediocre intellect and self-absorbed spirit that to imagine I could accomplish the sort of tasks that actually contribute to culture and community is a fantasy spoon-fed me by the occasional over-indulgent family member, teacher, lover or fan. I sit at my desk and wonder whether I fail because, at a cellular level, I am a failure, that I'm not only inadequately qualified to fashion an art that suits me, but that I am, in fact, inadequately qualified to create even those arts I find overly pedestrian.

I feel unfinished, the confluence of several strains of mediocrity that have spent the last 33 years conspiring to convince me I was of any worth whatsoever. And it fills me with such ennui, such anomie, such antipathy, such HATE that I live as a viper whose venom-producing glands have burst from overuse, flopping about as I die slowly from my own poison, the contempt that has fuelled my greatest perceived triumphs turning my very blood corrosive. It all came to a head on Friday, when a screaming match erupted twixt 'Stine and I over the sub-pitiful state of our financial affairs, and I bombarded her, viciously and unfairly, with the full weight and fury of my nihilism, my desire to pull the world in and crush it underfoot, scrape it from my shoe, swallow it whole and vomit it into the unforgiving cosmos . . .

Then I had my acupuncture appointment Friday afternoon. My five-element acupuncturist, so we're clear, is who I see instead of a therapist, as she engages me in a significant amount of discussion and cognitive resolution; and the acupuncture, with its emphasis on constitutional balance and energetic redirection, is what I use to fulfill the purposes of medication (though I do take St. John's Wort). I won't go too far into my skepticism regarding therapy and medication--I could take up a whole post with that, for one thing; and, as with religion, I hate to appear to disparage those for whom such ideologies and solutions work--except to say that my experience with therapists has been that they're often unwilling to treat existential dilemmas as such, and that both therapeutic models tend to be pointing me in the direction of making peace with a world and a culture against which I really wish to wage a more effective war (or at least establish a diplomacy without an insufferable level of compromise). Being of a metaphysical bent, and close enough to my age as to avoid an unbridgeable generation gap, my acupuncturist is better able to serve my needs than anyone else I've encountered.

But more importantly, she did what any therapist does: She listened. She listened to my tirade, an outpouring of content unlike any I've offered anyone (until I decided to write this post, of course). She listened, and she sympathized. She didn't have any advice, and that was fine. It was nice to have someone acknowledged that it all just sucked, that it looked like I was doing all I could be expected to do. Who knew that mere validation could feel so cleansing (I hear you snickering, 'Stine, and you can stop it right now).

After that, of course, she poked me with needles in all the appropriate spots; and more than at any other appointment, I felt calmed, cleansed, renewed. My hate had diffused, leaving a warm despair. Everything was hopeless, still; but I felt that I could embrace that hopelessness, wrap it around me and be warmed by it.

She also loaned me a book, called Nourishing Destiny, a traditional Chinese medicine text that delves into the abstractions at the heart of Chinese mythology and philosophy, and the parallels between these metaphysical guideposts and the actual mechanics of technique that guide the practitioner. Aside from reminding me of the parallels between Taoism and Gnosticism--thus renewing my fervor for exploration of both--the book also offered me a concept that, in the face of my current dilemma, I find immeasurably bracing: The idea that the Tao (or Dao) is "chaotic yet complete", that hun (chaos) and cheng (completion) are the ultimate principles of life.

Like Foucault's "confluences", I am a being out of control. Of course, if the original principle from which we are separate, which we call Tao (hence separating ourselves further by giving it a name, but can allow ourselves to discuss and explore by so doing), is chaos, all control was illusory. But like Sisyphus, the Greek mythological model for both Sartre and Camus's understandings of the existential dilemma, I can find purpose in opposition, in pushing the boulder up the hill. Of course, Taoism suggests that I should flow with nature rather than opposing it, which makes the analogy harder; but then, I'd have to suggest, faced with that conundrum, that what I oppose isn't nature, but that which opposes nature . . . or more importantly, that which opposes my nature, my own little piece of the void.

So here I am, as broke as before and as broken as ever, finding little solace in the mechanics of my daily life. I'm as uncertain of the future as ever, as frustrated by my incapacity as before. I don't know that I have the capability to transcend my economic circumstances or to re-engage with creative endeavour. I may be doomed for the mediocrity I despise. And I'm not okay with it.

But I'm here. My suffering is colored with some sort of perspective. My hate has the potential to become something else. Maybe not anything useful, maybe not anything that will pull me from the vicious--and still detested--cycle of meaningless work for pointless commodity. But I can feel my venom slowly clearing from my body, making room for . . . perhaps nothing.

It's not much of a happy ending. It just happens to be where, as of so far, it ends.


Blogger amandak said...

Yay for purging! I'm so glad you're back, and that you're allowing some of us out here who care about you to also listen to where you're at, agree that it sucks, and not give you any advice.

4:31 PM  
Blogger thelyamhound said...

Bless you dear:^)

5:11 PM  
Blogger Stine said...

I, too, am glad that you decided to get all your thoughts down. Sometimes it does wonders, and clears energy to make room for different energy to enter the system.

As you well know, I have no answers either. It does suck. But something I do know, that someone who actually thinks of, and types the phrase: "Scholars on this matter are probably slapping their forheads at my facile distillations" - WILL come up with some sort of answer to his/her existential angst.

"Who knew that mere validation could feel so cleansing (I hear you snickering, 'Stine, and you can stop it right now)"

- Are you trying to make me hot?

I love you sweetie. Even though there may be no answers right now, I think it's huge that you wrote it all down. Like we were saying last night, many people lack the self-reflection to even go there.

9:27 AM  
Blogger rob said...

" a fantasy spoon-fed me by the occasional over-indulgent family member, teacher, lover or fan."

You know...I've always felt a little more at home with the thought that the individual has ultimate power over their well-being/will/what-have-you. How can I not? I'm a narcissist and a control freak. It's a philosophy that's been pseudo raped from an ancient Toltec way of thinking that states that how we feel is a construct not based on others and their opinions, but on our opinions of ourselves. If someone tells us we're great and we feel good about that, it's not them telling us that we're great that makes us feel thus, it's us telling us that we're great.

The funny thing is, albeit probably the most cliché thing I'll say this week, we are our worst critics. We are the ones who live with the ick and the phlegm and the ugliness inside of us and know, honestly, just how terrible we really are. Because of that, we should all be down in the shitter all of the time. But we're not...

We're not because we also know that we are capable of such extraordinary things that, despite our glass-half-empty souls, we ultimately believe in ourselves. We allow ourselves to dream big, not because others "spoon feed" us hope, but because we allow ourselves that hope. We allow ourselves the hope because we have earned it. It's my belief that any talent/dreams/ambitions we attribute ourselves, we have earned rightly, in spite of that inner critic telling us that we suck festering hemorrhoids and should probably hang it up.

I'm not going to tell you that you're great. Even if I did, you shouldn't take it to heart. My opinion doesn't matter. But I do think that you owe it to yourself to tell you that you're great, even though you feel so far removed from even adequate to believe it.

Enough of the Toltec and more of the Tao..."shit pans out." It's what I tell my friends, even myself, when things can't seem to get any worse than they already are. No matter what, shit always pans out.

Now I'm just babbling, though, so I'ma shut my ass up.

Post - This may be the wrong thing to say and the wrong time to say it, but I thought you were pretty great in "Action Movie".

1:17 PM  
Blogger thelyamhound said...

No, that was a lovely thing to say at a pretty crucial time to have said it. Actually, I really appreciated your whole post. I think sometimes it's easier to think I suck ass, thus allowing myself to be pleasantly surprised when I do anything of note or worth. Obviously, this approach has more than run its course (which doesn't mean I will abandon it, only that I should.

Bottom line: I appreciate, and can scarcely argue with, anything you said in your post. Thank you.

5:04 PM  

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