Ahistorical Break: A Bridge Between Worlds

Image

The following is the final draft of an ongoing analysis of temporal metaphysics and its usefulness to subversives the world over.

A Bridge Between Worlds

Throughout the continuum of historical progress, a parallel compilation of antagonistic breaks and prolonged resistance has acted as a barrier against its momentum. What is the nature of this opposition, and from where does it find its strength? Peering through the lens of metaphysics, we can explore the memory of animistic presence and mythical culture to gather insight on the everlasting tension between the spirits of the past and the dominating powers of progress. The ruptures in time that pervade the collective unconscious each and every time these forces collide are survived by those who carry the winds of struggle today, and in understanding the past all dissidents share, the contemporary adversaries of progress may grasp a uniquely powerful weapon in the struggle against domination: remembrance.

Of course, the mythical as a source of power is no foreign concept to totalitarian regimes, social democracies or the vanguards of faux revolutions. How has this power been co-opted from the hands of free people and transformed into religious juggernauts of terror? Can our only response be the total rejection of the spirit, and if not, how do we reclaim the intangible? This essay is not simply a request to consider the potential role of metaphysics in contemporary struggle, but a challenge to experiment, delve deeper, and grasp the practices it implies for the sake of not overlooking what could be yet another tool at the disposal of those who strike against civilization.

I. History

History is the concretization and reduction of memory. Memory, as a function of human biology, is “central to hunting and gathering”, and “becomes important the bigger and more dangerous the game, the more helpless and far-traveled the gatherers”.[1] The role of human memory is to engage in the active overlapping of one’s present experience to the personal, social and ancestral experiences of those who lived before them. For hunters and gatherers, the remembering of landmarks and the spatial linking between them assists in the cognitive function of tracking down animals and locating edible and medicinal plants, being led by one’s ancestors to the place of fresh water, or being possessed by their spirit during a hunt. Likewise, the remembering of ceremonial and cultural practice provides a link between the ever-present now and the traditions of one’s ancestors. This form of remembering lies at the base of a pre-industrial conception of time. As opposed to linear progression, time experienced cyclically precipitates an interaction between what was and what is. In history, the past is reduced to a lifeless, unapproachable other. Cyclical time allows the present and the past to meet, generating moments of intersection that break the laws of modern temporal physics, a dance and play between different worlds.

Perceived temporal reality is determined by the collective mode of living found in any given human culture; in this way, cultures of the Paleolithic and Neolithic eras differ in their conceptions of the past, present and future- the fragmentation of the 24-hour day and the invention of the clock both signal this. The former era relays the events and experiences of others throughout time via myth, whereas the latter creates a systematic and chronicled series of successive events named “Progress”, characterized by the victories of the most powerful. Describing the adherence to history as historicism, Walter Benjamin asks, “With whom does historicism actually sympathize?” The answer is, of course, the victors- the heirs of the accumulated power won by all prior conquerors. This creates a lineage of dominion, wherein all cultural documents are displays of that power, certificates of the successful repression of all free people.[2] Historical time tells us simply what happened, in contrast to mythical time, the spiraling of worlds. These worlds remain separate and dormant only insofar as ritual and spiritual practice, or rather the lack thereof, fails to bridge them. Such a phenomenon exists as a “hidden present” because it is both here and now, yet totally out of reach to those who have never thought to reach out for it; like a shadow, we can play around with its manifestations, but not until we acknowledge the possibility of interaction between it and the object that casts it.

If mythical time brings the past to us, then history pushes it far away into a distant nowhere. However, the difference between historical and mythical time is not a concrete one; the former exists only as an illusion enforced by cultural practice, a widespread cognitive block to prevent the free play of time and space that is always otherwise there. As this block widens the gap between worlds, one’s knowledge and ability to access them is slowly diminished, pushing them farther out of concurrence with the rhythms of their place- that is, the spatial housing of memory.[3] During the transition to arrhythmia, the accumulation of written record gradually replaces oral traditions, adding a sea of “secular data” to the mythos of existing cultures until finally the data itself totally overshadows the stories of the previously mythical life. Here lies the departure from ancestral life, cognitively grounded in “prehistoric, mythical consciousness with rituals of eternal return, mimetic conveyance of values and ideas, the central metaphor of nature as culture, and, most of all, the incorporation of the past into the present.”[4] Eliminating the experience of phenomena ensures the dominance of historical data as truth. As the latter proliferates, the former takes reduction after reduction until all that is left is institutional religious symbols reformed inversely to accent the motives of progress and control.

Historicism attempts to distinguish itself from myth by creating the illusion of objective truth, monopolizing the past and invalidating the stories of mythic cultures:

Levi-Strauss argues that history is not a true sequence. It is fallacious to conceive history as a continuous development beginning with millennia and then going on to centuries, years, and days. These different frames are separate domains, the larger units characterized by explanation, the smaller by information. As Levi-Strauss points out, historical thought is analytical and concerned with continuity and “closing gaps and dissolving differences” to the point that it “transcends original discontinuity.”[5]

It is important then to remove history from its pedestal of objectivity. Still, this reduction of status does not equate history to traditional myth; not only does history lack the function of connecting humans to a place, but its dominance actively precludes the possibility of such cultural/ecological linking, and it is because of this inversion of function that we must still distinguish history from myth in the process of exposing the false illusion of its objective truth. Additionally, Levi-Strauss remarks on the closing of gaps and the dissolving of differences; discontinuity, being the memories of ancestors and those who have fallen to the progress of history is lost by the road-paving nature of history. Not only must historical truth widen the gap between planes; it must also close the gaps on the plane by which it operates and glean over the inconsistencies that would delegitimize its purpose. What’s left is a continuous series of victories and technical progressions moving onward without question or interruption. As any living being knows, lived experience is very different. It involves inconsistency, conflict, and constant redirection. Time slows down and speeds up, things that feel one way at first can feel very different later on; we experience things that cannot be explained. Only when these incongruencies are ignored or rationalized away can the non-reality of total consistency and uninterrupted progression justify itself.

II. Presence

The metaphysical concept of presence can be defined as the experience of being present. It has gone by many names: Hegel described it as being-there (“dasein”) and Heidegger termed it as being-in-the-world. Presence is the total inhabiting of one’s body, the dissolution of borders between the internal and external, animated by one’s immediate environment in jetztzeit[6]. The feeling of presence must ultimately elude humans living under modernity, a time-space where direct lived experience is replaced and shaped by entertainment and communication technologies, psychoactive and pain-killing pharmaceuticals, housing and transportation apparatuses, and the total mechanization of our surroundings merged with psychoses such as the mind/body split, the human/environment split and the pathologizing of synaesthesia, leaving us both mentally and physically removed from our bodies, detached from our senses, and isolated from any sort of living environment, any sense of place.

Phenomenology is the study of direct experience. While the methods of science reduce human perception to mechanical and chemical bodily functions, phenomenology validates perception as experienced. For example, the framework of phenomenology permits us to acknowledge that the sight of words on a page immediately generates the internal aural sound of words being read, and by such observation we can hypothesize and draw conclusions about what it meant to interact with nonhuman life before alphabetic symbols on a page replaced the sounds of animals, plants, and the elements. The existence of a synaesthetic response to reading demands a closer inspection of human perception:

In truth, the human experience of magic – our ancestral, animistic awareness of the world as alive and expressive – was never really lost. Our senses simply shifted their animistic participation from the depths of the surrounding landscape toward the letters written on pages and, today, on screens. Only thus could the letters begin to come alive and to speak. As a Zuni elder focuses her eyes upon a cactus and abruptly hears the cactus begin to speak, so we focus our eyes upon these printed marks and immediately hear voices. We hear spoken words, witness strange scenes or visions, even experience other lives. As nonhuman animals, plants, and even “inanimate” rivers once spoke to our oral ancestors, so the ostensibly “inert” letters on the page now speak to us! This is a form of animism that we take for granted, but it is animism nonetheless.[7]

Direct human experience is characterized by reciprocation; only in cultures where total dominion is the modus operandi do humans fail to recognize this. We encounter dynamic presences that “confront us and draws us into relation”, and to these presences we respond. The suspension of reciprocity with our surroundings occurs when we become absent from them, “forgetting or repressing our sensuous involvement.”[8] If, for a moment, we evade the suspension and experience some form of unexplainable phenomenon, inter-species interaction, a hex brought into fruition, hyper-awareness of control apparatuses, a distortion of time, skill or strength beyond one’s normal capacity, etc., then it must be quickly whisked away from our thoughts, unacknowledged by our peers, and stripped of whatever potential meaning that would be otherwise derived by the individual. This is the consequence of living in modernity, devoid of the traditional and cultural context that would help us reconcile these experiences without denying them.

Being present, or being-in-the-world, can be described as the moments in which our selves are submerged by our immediate surroundings, reflecting or responding to the ecstatic essence of another being or place, engrossed in engagement with the happenings around us. Many cultures have different names for this engulfment; the Malay people have named it latah or amok.[9] Human presence is fluid and oscillates between stable and unstable manifestations. We can find steadiness in a singular presence for an entire evening, but in a moment of danger, melt into something else entirely. Affected by latah, the human facing the threat of a predator will become possessed by it, imitating it furiously as a reciprocal defense.[10] This is the drama of presence, a sort of existential drama where one’s presence becomes unstable, a phenomenon that has necessitated a variety of rituals and magical beliefs among humans in animistic culture to renew one’s presence post-crisis.[11]

Modern humans feel a similar instability in the modern world. The urbanite lost in twisting unmarked woodland, deprived of familiarity with his surroundings and without a clue as to the way out, the way back to the metropolis, or “the hipster stripped of his cell phone, the petty-bourgeois family deprived of TV, the driver whose car has been scratched, the executive without an office, or the Young-Girl without her purse”.[12] Cultural landmarks (street signs, buildings, city grids) and commodities accumulated as appendages of the individual, generating a sense of identity, yet consistently failing to engage the subject in anything lasting, and concluding with the common crisis of identity felt when those commodities or landmarks founder. The quality of the modern crisis of presence might look pathetic to onlookers- they bear no meaning outside the context of civilization, yet they feel very real to the experiencing individual. What dignity was once found in the destabilizing and re-stabilizing presence when peering into the eyes of your predator is now lost. The crisis of presence, nurtured and alleviated by an active engagement with the natural world yesterday, lies in disrepair today, recuperated totally by commodities. Our relations with those commodities replace our emotive relation to other beings. A vacillation of presences, a constant alterity of form, now crystallized into single identities, changed only by the comings and goings of those new commodities, and thus slightly altered identities, encapsulating the essence of novelty only as long as one’s direct context necessitates.

Presence determined by falcons and slugs, redwood forests and coastal beaches, rivers and mountains, fire and rain, meets instant cooptation. The commodities responsible “make for decent crutches provided they can be changed up often enough”.[13] Replacing the free interplay with the self-possessing life-world, the technologies of the industrial setting now possess us. These apparatuses interrupt us from our primal engagement with magic, and the world becomes concrete, static and lifeless. Today, we still feel the crisis of presence, but instead of the pendular disintegration and re-creation of the self, we experience a constant tension, suspended and pinned into being.[14]

 

Human presence that escapes the grasp of Capital finds itself not only outside the logic and realm of modernity but also in its active obliteration. The total dissolution of the constructs that enforce our separation, the elimination of borders between bodies, and the burning of barriers in the way of free movement open up space-time conducive to our present being. What we are talking about here is the end of the metropolis and the sabotage of its apparatuses of control.

III. Phenomenology of Remembrance

According to Walter Benjamin, remembrance plays a profound role for those resisting the momentum of historical progress. In the Theses on the Concept of History, remembrance is assigned a condition of redemption when utilized against coercive forces. It holds the power to make the otherwise historically complete “suffering of the victims of the past” incomplete, creating a realm of continual struggle, a tradition that extends deep into the precedent and up to this very moment.[15] With every connection to the past, those before us rise from the dead and fight with us and within us, creating a discontinuity in the books of history- an opportunity, however slim, to redeem those made invisible by the pens of historians. We call this solidarity, and it exists both inter-temporally and inter-spatially. It reaches across borders as much as beyond the clock. When in solidarity, we act with the strength of all those who struggle.

Discontinuity in history will be named here as the ahistorical break; a break from the linearity of progress, resulting in a context beyond history. A break in a line, of course, does not recreate a cycle. Breaks in history have occurred since its inception, and every time they do, historians pave over them; they become forgotten, ignored, or reformed into something else. The project of the unsatisfied positions itself in the mode of frequency. On the wave of subversion, the inflection point, the center, is linear history- it is order. Each inflection is a moment of chaos. When the space between inflections and wavelengths are reduced, the moments of chaos overwhelm the moments of order until chaos is continuous and in every moment, rupturing time and space, until the clock stops. In chaos, we breathe, the earth begins to spin again, and the seasons resume their impact upon our lives.

The act of remembering alone fails to attain any element of “tikkun”[16]. Simply remembering the “victims” of progress while maintaining a passive or indifferent role cannot enliven their spirits- only the active subversives of the present who reach into the past, breaking the laws of linear time, may redeem the generations who have fallen before them.[17] In this way, when historians care to remember dissidents, it does not invoke their spirit, or repair the damages of historical onslaught. Inversely, it acts as a deception to today’s resistance, conflating the recuperation of struggle with the continuance of struggle at the aid of progress.

Active remembrance fuses solidarity with “the dialectic of the material and the spiritual […], the stakes in the struggle are material, but the motivation for the social actors is spiritual”.[18] The embracement of the spiritual element cannot afford oversight. Many wish to interpret the Theses through a purely secular lens, while Benjamin believed very much in the metaphysical implications of his text. The Theses do not describe a fanciful story meant for interpretive reduction to materialist function. The logic of this assumption lies at the center of what Benjamin meant to depart from by including a critique of both Marxists and institutional religious sects, who fail to acknowledge the material/spiritual dialectic. What he calls for is a phenomenal interaction with past generations, a spirituality practiced by those sentenced to death during the witch hunts of the enclosure and continually demeaned by historians at every turn. Here we present an often-neglected tool: the sorcery of the spirit.

Unlike institutional religion, the spiritual element described here remains elusive. It will not be contained, and it will never be a party platform. Any single person can invoke it, but it will not be controlled or manipulated. As soon as one tries, it is gone. Every modern religious institution may have attempted to recreate its essence, but in every one of their “holy” spaces we find nothing but emptiness; decorated boxes to distract from the hollow experience of its occupants. If the spirit is reduced to fit the manifesto of vanguards, those who reduced it find their practices without response, and their efforts sabotaged by witches behind the brush. It is a bridge between worlds, by the language of myth, to such a degree that even this text can only make simple gesture.

A method of this phenomenon that Benjamin specifically illustrates can be described as a presence of possession- grasping a memory from the constellation of past struggles and becoming momentarily possessed by it.

Articulating the past historically does not mean remembering it ‘the way it really was’. It means appropriating a memory as it flashes up in a moment of danger.[19]

A moment of struggle offers itself as a flash in the present, a star in the constellation of riots, communes, and criminal subversion. The dissident sorcerers of today will recognize this immediate historical parallel, grasp it, and be animated by its content, its ferocity, and its wisdom toward liberation. When these moments are not taken up by revolutionary force, they are pinned by historical accounts, made concrete as the way it really was. The pinning of the memory is an act of State recuperation. If those struggling do not grasp the myth of the past, power defangs it into a harmless event is the fabric of history. In the moment of danger when the dialectical image flits by, the revolutionary “has to show presence of mind to grasp this unique moment, this fleeting and precarious opportunity of salvation before it is too late”.[20]

Animated by the spirits of the past, we enter a unique presence during battle; the rising and burning of barricades, the communal sharing of immediate material needs, the refusal of cooperation in the hands of one’s enemy, the acts of fire and rage and conviction all reflect the struggles of those we stand in solidarity with in the past- and with this acknowledgement, they are here with us, strengthening us and fighting beside us.

The stars of redemption exist always before us. There is no need to wait for their signal, as they appear to us only once we dive into conflict with power and communion with life. The promises of Social Democracy cannot serve the intuitive urge to drive a stake into the chains of one’s imprisonment. Social Democracy promises a future, if only we work for it, toward a freedom that never presents itself. What they call the future does not exist. The illusory promises of a progress toward freedom demands passivity in a time of urgency, a paralyzing effect, halting our efforts and quieting our discontent.[21] What needs greater understanding is that there is no future. In the context of history, what comes next is not freedom, but emptiness- an intensification of control and dominion. When life is reduced to the shallow survival of Capital, we have nothing to look forward to. When we invoke mythical time, the cycle never implies a future, yet its nature of re-turning implies and trans-temporal connect between the now and everything that was once now.

History, with all its momentum against the living, must be fought against with the power of all past revolutionaries whose struggle is continued to this day. All of the memories of the past act as one, forming a condensed pocket of explosive material that, once held, contains the power to interrupt the continuity of history.[22] This weapon may possess us through the destruction of the material and relational control of our beings. The task is not only to spark these ahistorical breaks, the discontinuities that rupture the time-space of our captors, but also to generate a continuum of these discontinuities, to the extent that no act of civilization will have the power to regain its balance and imposing order.

When we re-live the past in jetztzeit, we experience presence through cyclical time, the same animistic re-turning found during the pre-history of our ancestors.[23] Finally, the interplay of myth, animistic phenomenology, the drama of presence, and the remembrance of the past can be realized. They culminate into a singular resonating idea that describes a common denominator in human perception: that of the qualitative linking with the spirit, a moving interaction with our environment; a quality carried by humans, sometimes even despite the modern conditioning and social domestication of our species. The metaphysics of presence, linking the revolutionaries of today with those who fell in the past, presents to us a new terrain of attack against our common enemies.  Will we find a way of being-there that stunts the progress of history? Will the stars in the constellation of revolt illuminate the path of complete resistance? And if the practice of intergenerational sorcery has merit to us, what else is possible? It might surprise us what other phenomena appear before those who are looking.


[1] Shepard, Paul, and Florence R. Shepard. Coming Home to the Pleistocene. Washington, D.C.: Island, 1998. Print. p.58.

[2] Benjamin, Walter, Hannah Arendt, and Harry Zohn. Illuminations. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1968. Print. Thesis VII

[3] Shepard, p.7.

[4] Shepard, p. 8 and 9.

[5] ibid., p.16.

[6] Present moment, or “now-time”.

[7] Abram, David. The Spell of the Sensuous. New York: Pantheon, 1996. Print. p.131.

[8] ibid., p.56.

[9] Tiqqun. This Is Not a Program. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2011. Print. p.144.

[10] ibid., p.144.

[11] ibid., p.143.

[12] ibid., p.146.

[13] ibid., p.149.

[14] ibid., p.171.

[15] Löwy, Michael, and Chris Turner. Fire Alarm: Reading Walter Benjamin’s On the Concept of History. London: Verso, 2005. Print. p.31.

[16] Hebrew word for reparation.

[17] ibid., p.32.

[18] ibid., p.38.

[19] ibid., Thesis VI.

[20] Löwy, p.44 [emphasis added].

[21] ibid., p.70.

[22] ibid., p.82.

[23] ibid., p.39.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s