‘Circling the fire,’ ‘tiptoeing around the issue,’ ‘going in circles,’ ‘chasing your tail,’ ‘in a spiral,’ ‘back where we started,’ all of them meaning at some point Will you fucking get on with it.
My left eyelid has been twitching for a week. I’ve wondered daily when it will stop; more recently I wonder whether I can stop wondering. I know both that anxious attention is anxious, so worrying isn’t helping — anxiety never ever helps anything, don’t let anxious salesman fool you — but one level deeper I know that ‘helping’ isn’t necessarily necessary. ‘That’s a lot to work with,’ the adept says of some irritant, not only to tolerate or ‘live with’ but to build on. This idiot twitch is really happening, and while I want it to stop, one level deeper I want Someone to acknowledge my wanting and do something about it. I want to be able to reward someone with love for making the problem go away.
Of course, treating love as a reward is a problem in itself.
‘One measures a circle, beginning anywhere.’ I keep coming back to that phrase.
Of course I can’t bring myself to read an entire book of Charles Fort, almost no one can. I didn’t read Being and Time for Professor Rota’s Being and Time seminar either, but it changed my life all the same, which might make me a fool but we’ve learned — as if we didn’t already know — that there are worse things. What makes Fort both welcoming and troubling is that, having made private sense of things, he presents his findings and surmises — presents himself — in a way that admits of possibility and error. He’s all middle (nor was he a thin man).
Even Fort’s straightforward recitations of reported fact, his summaries of eyewitness testimony, feel like modest proposals — beyond his dry (‘telegraphic’) style Fort committed to a rigorous ambivalence, which only sounds like laziness or a cop-out until you try it.
Note: what makes Fort’s disciples so much easier but less interesting reads than their inspiration is that (with rare exceptions like RAW or John Keel) they aren’t, in the end, committed to Fortean epistemological radicalism: they’re interested in the effects that Fortean skepticism can generate, whether for aesthetic pleasure and as intellectual/creative toolkit, but the modern ‘Fortean’ worldview isn’t broken-open in the way Fort’s was. As such, today’s Forteans have boring pragmatic but reassuringly solid ground to push off of, where Fort was always in the middle of radically disconcertingly open intellectual space. It’s not hard to see why; maintaining a mind so open that bugs can get in is…well, hard work. And there are bugs.
I’ve kept bringing up Fort in the context of this tarot series partly because they’re close neighbours in the concept-map of postwar American ‘fringe’ interests, mostly because the playful rigour which Fort brought to his (perhaps mad) collecting and writing is the very definition of antirational systematic — i.e. ‘magical’ — thought and praxis. ‘Underlying oneness!’ is the hook, but ‘sit with nonsense until it starts to make sense’ is the boring, fulfilling work.
Insofar as the Fool’s Errand — by which, here, I’m content to mean ‘the “divinatory” tarot as inspirational tool’ — is about patient engagement (with one’s many selves, circumstances, perceptual frames, possible futures, abandoned pasts, misapprehended alternate presents), sitting/wrestling with the World until you realize you’re in it or just it, Charles Fort perfectly embodies its lessons (no, its arc, or method or just uhh vibe?). ‘The truth will out’ is usually presented as a threat but Kekulé and his ouroboros-vision of the benzene ring manifest the other side of that circle: ‘Visions come to prepared spirits.’
Not that circles have other sides, is the whole point of the whole point.
Professor Rota’s class met 7-10 on Friday nights and we’d spend hours in his genial company banging our heads against Being and Time — though the class was mostly Husserl if I’m being honest — and then adjourn to Deli Haus in Kenmore Square, three or six or more of us, to bang our heads against some sandwiches and the broader difficulties of being 20 at the turn of a broadly difficult millennium. I liked the teriyaki+pineapple on grilled chicken. We’d talk about what it’d mean to be ‘authentic,’ whether/how that was possible, pronouncing the word in Rota’s marvelous Italian accent (with hand gestures in the same accent), taking thinking seriously without taking ourselves that way…
One of the key concepts in the class was the hermeneutic circle, that conceptual movement between whole and part, theory and practice, class and instance, idea and example, form and body, fact and function, proposition and encounter — each ‘pole’ of the oscillation becomes in turn context for the other and vice unsurprisingly versa as a network of (hopefully) ever-clearer, ever-saner associations forms. The world is constructed by this back’n’forth, which isn’t meant as a sexual metaphor though I can’t stop you taking it that way (especially now).
The circle was a tool for imagining (encompassing) an experience of destabilizing incompleteness and contingency. At Deli Haus we’d linger until midnight or more trying to figure out how we were supposed to live, and while in retrospect the answer seems not just obvious but singable — ’round and round and round and round…’ — at the time I certainly wasn’t able to imagine that uncertain in-progress state as itself desirable, any more than I could imagine sexual pleasure in terms other than the orgasmic or conceive of a well-lived life that wasn’t in some material sense rewarded or acknowledged by…Someone.
‘That special someone,’ maybe. Someone qualified to judge, i.e. not me.
The first time I saw a therapist — possibly the very first session — he told me to make a schedule and carve out blocks of free time. ‘Oh, so when I’m working I’m really working,‘ I responded with certainty.
‘No,’ he responded with confidence. ‘So when you’re not working, you’re really not working.’
Years later I announced to him that people cry when they don’t know how to express what they’re really feeling, and he gently corrected me, saying that people cry because it perfectly expresses what they’re really feeling.
During another session he gave me a rubber band to wear on my wrist. ‘When you find yourself biting your nails, gently snap the band…’
‘…to punish myself so I stop doing it?’ I jumped in. Maybe you see a pattern forming here.
‘No.’ Again, confident: ‘There’s no need to hurt yourself. Gently snap the rubber band and focus your attention for a moment. If you still want to bite your nails at that point, you can go ahead. But after you snap the rubber band, the next thing you do, do it intentionally.’
That worked, and so naturally when the rubber band broke I could never find Just The Right Replacement so I demolished my fingernails — which were, at the time, the longest they’d ever been.
I want to say ‘They were never that long again, either’ — please think about the fact that I want to say that — but the deflating truth is, they actually have been. Once. At the outset of plague I managed to go a month or so without pulling or biting them. Didn’t use a rubber band either! Nosiree, I just… Well, I don’t know what I did.
I did something.
Here is what fucking galls me: fundamentally, now is no different from then. But it seems impossible, not just to get back to it, but even to imagine it. If you can’t simply will your desires into being, isn’t it the case that you can never attain them, and so you must be unhappy? Forced to collaborate with the actual universe, which is a losing proposition — it doesn’t wanna help and is full of idiots, many of them carbon based — how can we think of happiness as anything but an accident, how can we believe in a happy ending?
‘Nothing ends, Adrian. Nothing ever ends.’
Dr Manhattan’s whole thing, after all, is that he’s free to exist outside of linear time, and everyone hates that it doesn’t make him happier (i.e. more willing to lie). ‘Time is an illusion, lunchtime doubly so,’ said someone equally wise. Dr Manhattan isn’t ‘happy’ because he’s moved on (not simply to say ‘up’) to the synthesis. Now he’s just real, a concept wholly alien to his superhero colleagues, including the mad ‘villain’ Ozymandias — who misunderstands a realness he might actually’ve been open to, if he’d wanted.
‘One measures a circle, beginning anywhere.’
We all read ‘Story of Your Life’ and watched Arrival and got it, right? Not just ‘noticed how clever Ted Chiang is’ but felt the loss/love story down deep?
The worst thing, I hear, is being stuck in the middle of things. I want to say otherwise but don’t trust my wanting. In the meantime — all time regresses to meantime — we can ask the cards.