Wednesday, May 25, 2005

fragments from the Airconditioned Nightmare

I was drawn to this book while dogsitting last month on Nob Hill. I'd known Miller through Anais Nin as a 19 year old and later through his trilogy, but this book compelled me, and still compels me. I think he saw America damned clearly, with the emphasis on damned. He wound up in Big Sur. He died there.

He describes his arrival in Boston after being overseas in Europe:
"it was like following in the wake of a demented giant who had sown the earth with crazy dreams...there was nothing of the animal, vegetable, or human kingdom in sight. It was a vast jumbled waste created...in a delirium of greed. It was something negative, some not-ness of some kind or other. It was a bad dream..."

I remember coming off the mountain after my second summer at Tassajara and feeling a similar sense of dislocation, and of recognition--of witnessing collective delusion. After months of total immersion in a narrow valley lit by kerosene lanterns and people with humans practicing silence, (I thought of it as akin to Tolkien's "last homely house") to come down into the visual barren clamor of the United States was a terrible shock.

I remember being struck, in particular,by the boxiness and divisiness of all the structures, and how obvious it was to me that these were physical manifestations of thought forms, of beliefs about property, and about basic reality, that were collectively and deeply held, so deeply that they permeated--no, they shaped the landscape. And the landscape in turn shapes us. Serpent eating its tail. We are what we dream, and what other people dream for and about us.

I saw what Miller saw, the jumbled waste, all physical manifestations of the American beliefs about containment, ownership, and Having, all squared into boxes--homes, storage units (so much STORAGE, I noted--things we usually edit out of our visual and mental fields, when we are used to them) hoarding, privacy, division--everything neatly cordoned and contained and seperate, each unit unrelated to its fellows, and the consummate utility (which is a kind of madness, when it is isolated from relationship, as many buildings in the american landscape are) of each structure horrified me and made me feel a deep sorrow. The irredeemable ugliness of american practicality, of american boxiness, of american compartmentalization and american lonliness struck me hard, after those months of communal life, where you could leave your belongings out in public and find them days later undisturbed, where people worked actively to cultivate awareness of their interconnectedness (sometimes to the point of neurosis, but that's a tale for another day).

In the american landscape I see the tunnel vision, the devastating myth of the individual, of the self, in the self contained units, related neither to one another nor to the landscape, but superimposed with what willfullness and what blind despair and what arrogance, the deep practice of segregation that has dominated this country since we first set foot here, the real american dream, the dream of the self in a vaccuum of comforts. Instead of Tiny Tim we have the Boy in the Bubble, every one.

The billboards steal your attention on the highways; they distract you from the superabundance of waste, of wasted space, of surplus.

I felt insane, those first few months back in the world. I was on the other side of the mirror, for a little while. And then I slowly assimilated. Acquired my own things. Inhabited my own bubble. Painfully. It was soul deadening.

I think the web offers us a kind of collective limbo, and also the dream of connectedness. It's shifting and permeable, and the containers we create for ourselves herein are easily breached, linked, (and links are everything, we leap from block to block,like runaway slaves crossing an icy river to freedom! ha!) and we can hook into one another. It's a radical, communal space where people are both freer and more playful. Among other things. I think those wounded by the delusion of seperateness, or the merely wounded (and also the bored, but boredom is a wound, perhaps one of the worse) congregate here to lick themselves, and to connect.

E.M. Forster says "only connect".
Now we can link.
But the boxes in the landscape remain.

4 Comments:

Blogger Boz said...

I think Target has boxes on sale this week.

4:28 AM  
Anonymous AmyJo said...

All right mister, if you don't have anything to say, don't say anything.

Or else come out and say it: Hey, I think this was a boring pretentious post to which I have nothing to add, and by the way I think I'll push your Target-guilt button while I'm here.

So just say it!!!
Say it, Boz.
Say it!

9:27 AM  
Blogger AEP said...

I love it when you get all defensive, it's like so ... oh my gawd!!!

9:30 AM  
Blogger Boz said...

Dammit, that last comment was mine. Quit stealing my identity.

9:35 AM  

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