Rejected epigraphs for the 33-1/3 book.

by waxbanks

First, from the brave scholar Couliano, assassinated while working at his university:

For every individual thinks part of a tradition and therefore is thought by it; and in the process the individual obtains the cognitive self-assuredness that what is thought is experienced, and whatever is experienced also has an effect on what is thought. This complex process of interaction among human minds allows us to perceive in beliefs that many of us still share obscure roots going back to the Palaeolithic age and perhaps even beyond, toward the dawn of Homo sapiens. Otherworldly journeys seem to belong to this class of beliefs in that they are among the most tenacious traditions of humankind. (I.P. Couliano, Out of This World, pg 11)

I don’t know that I seriously considered that one, honestly, but it’s here in my epigraphs file. The next one got rejected because I’d already used it in the Fall 97 book:

A first definition of this complex phenomenon, and perhaps the least hazardous, will be: shamanism = technique of ecstasy. (Mircea Eliade)

The idea of ‘techniques of ecstasy’ — replicable, fine-tuned approaches to ecstasy as a problem space rather than a vague poetic/mystical aspiration — has been a powerful one for me these last few years. I’m no engineer, but I went to engineering school, and have always felt an intuitive affinity for an idea of beauty that I learned at MIT: elegant solutions as expressions of high creativity, of truth (i.e. beauty). When I need to explain something about writing and creativity, I often reach for ‘technical’ metaphors (classes on algorithm design/analysis and differential equations were particularly rich with metaphoric resources); I think of psychology as topology and understand magic in terms of attractors in a field. I utter the phrase ‘premature optimization’ at least three times a week.

And so Eliade’s gorgeous formulation makes perfect sense to me — and made sense for the book, since Phish’s ‘resort to a dialectical algebra’ (Kierkegaard via Milch, meaning basically ‘turning to logic when pure emotional expression seems daunting’; i.e. ‘playing complicated music in order to scaffold a freefloating improvisation of such simple beauty…) has always been a technique for approaching (creating) something ineffable together. But the Milch quote captured the idea nearly as well, I thought, and the quote from Phil Hine was needed to drive home the point that the topic of the book is, at least to me, funny stuff.

So Eliade ended up on the cutting room floor.