And the winner is . . .
Time for my annual regifting post. Here it is:
Sitting in Tokyo over an innocent bowl of sake, my philosopher friend from London brought up Zeno’s paradox. Damn philosophers. Always something. He knows more about ancient Greek philosophy than I do, but let me have a go at it from the poet’s side of the field.
I guess Zeno’s paradox (5th century BC) comes in various forms, but I think of it in terms of space. Paradoxically, mathematically, motion is impossible. To move from point A to point B, we have to cross midpoint C. But to move from point A to midpoint C, we have to cross midpoint D. Etc. But since simple geometry tells us that there are an infinite number of points between any two points, we can never get to the nearest midpoint.
Or forget about midpoints. In order to move we must cross an adjacent point. But there are an infinite number of points between us and any adjacent point. In today’s computer programming lingo, we’d have to execute an infinite number of tasks before reaching the adjacent point, which is impossible.
There are only two conclusions I can draw from the paradox. Either it shows us that motion is truly impossible or it shows us the limits of logic – that logic can solve a lot of local problems but there are points at which it fails as a conduit of knowledge and results in an absurdity.
My tipsy interlocutor pointed out that the paradox works along a time axis as well. The idea of a linear flow of time is equally impossible, as we’d have to move past the adjacent moment, which is impossible. However, conceptualizing it along a time axis opened a different tangent of thought for me.
My more devoted readers will note that I’ve looked at the following William Faulkner quote HERE as a way of theorizing time:
“The past is never dead. It’s not even past” (Requiem for a Nun, 1951).
Pondering the Faulkner quote led me to consider that our conventional way of looking at time – with the past as a thread disappearing into some distant place that no longer exists – is actually counterintuitive. Doesn’t it make more sense to see the past as something very much still with us, but at a depth, providing the real-time substructure of the present, just as the rings of a tree do not disappear as years go by but rather continue to provide the real-time substructure of the tree? In the same way, the “past” is not gone, but is right here, at a depth, providing in real time all the folds and substructure without which the present would collapse.
So if Zeno’s paradox suggests that we cannot move along a linear path of time, does the tree ring model of time show us a way out of the paradox? On the one hand, it seems to do so, as it shows we can conceptualize the manifold of time without requiring a linear flow. On the other hand, we still need some kind of wiggle room, as time, though not extending backward into some now-absent past, does recede to the center (of the tree) or the depth (on which the present stands). Would Zeno be able to grant us so much without giving up his precious paradox? To untie this further knot in the fabric, we need a to add a third category to space and time. And here it comes …
Kant, in the Critique of Judgment (1790), speaks of the dynamical and mathematical sublime, and makes a rigorous case for the power of human reason as the sublime human faculty. In the mathematical sublime, for example, we might look up on a starry night and imagine how many stars are up there. The imagination, however, can only stretch so far and is overwhelmed by the sheer numbers in the scenario at hand. Reason, however, can step in and calculate numbers beyond what the imagination can fathom (estimating that there are something like 1024 stars in the universe). It is reason that inspires the highest awe in Kant.
Now let’s use Zeno to turn Kant on his head. Reason leads you down the rabbit hole of Zeno’s paradox, and there you get stuck. No motion. But where reason folds into absurdity, imagination steps in and liberates us. We imagine ourselves in motion. We imagine ourselves moving through time. And if reason can’t back that up, that’s reason’s problem. And if the flow of our experience into the future is an imagined flow, so much the better. Without imagination, perhaps Zeno’s paradox would hold. Reason is trapped in what is; and what is, is fixed. The world as a static object of knowledge. But imagination is the one faculty that allows us to project and manifest all manner of possible futures. Imagination creates destiny, and imagination is what moves us toward that destiny.
So philosophers and scientists, keep up the good work but go to the back of the bus. Poets, artists, and mythmakers, move forward.
“In art and dream may you proceed with abandon” (Patti Smith)
“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination encircles the world” (Albert Einstein)
“Artists are here to disturb the peace” (James Baldwin)
Now for my real poetry, click the book cover below.
mountain lantern light
breaking through bamboo and ice
a thousand angels
Boys don’t produce spermatozoa until puberty, but the ovaries of a newborn baby girl already contain all the ova she will ever have.
And for a fine adult fairy tale with many an echo of Alice and her trip down the rabbit hole, it’s not too late to go look up Alice.
Anyone who reads this blog knows I travel a lot. Nine countries so far this year, five of them via hitchhiking. It came up the other day – how people often get rooted to a place, how they come to feel trapped in a place, even though – or partly because – they love it. Fine line between rooted and trapped. I don’t have the answer. But since the conversation turned to music, I’ll ramble through a musical tangent.
First and most obviously, we thought of the Eagles song, “Hotel California,” with the title as a thinly veiled metaphor for California itself. When you’re out in the desert looking for relief, it’s a place of glamour and glitz that pulls you in. Lovely women and sweet summer sweat, pretty boys and pink champagne. You think it will satisfy all your desires. When you finally realize that the place “can’t kill the beast” of desire, that it’s a surreal dream with a dark underbelly, it’s too late. You are a prisoner of your own lifestyle, unable to escape.
For a great outlaw country expression of trying to escape that Golden State metropolis, see “L.A. freeway” by Guy Clark, who hung around Austin a lot when I lived and worked in the music clubs there during the Stevie Ray Vaughan era. Jerry Jeff Walker (who would also pop into our Austin music clubs back then) recorded the Guy Clark song HERE on his self-titled album before Clark released it himself.
And now back to the Eagles song. Here’s the last verse.
Last thing I remember, I was
Running for the door
I had to find the passage back
To the place I was before
“Relax,” said the night man
“We are programmed to receive
You can check out any time you like
But you can never leave”
Let me arbitrarily use that to segue to this fantastic live version of “Can’t Find My Way Home,” with Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood joining back up on stage, along with some next-generation stars like Derek Trucks, many years after they released the song on the Blind Faith album. At the 10-second mark, when Clapton taps the button with his foot, those of us who have been around a while go on alert for the signature sound of Clapton’s guitar (which comes at the 20-second mark) 😊
So if like Clapton and Winwood you can’t find your way home, if you just can’t shake that “warm smell of colitas” that has befuddled Eagles listeners for decades, just sit back and watch the best ever pop culture appropriation of “Hotel California” in this scene from “The Big Lebowkski”.
Hotel California, The Eagles
L.A. Freeway, Guy Clark
Voodoo Chile, Stevie Ray Vaughan
L.A. Freeway, Jerry Jeff Walker
Can’t Find My Way Home, Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood
Hotel California soundtrack scene in The Big Lebowski (dir. Coen Brothers)
Product Links (click image for link)
Get’m books for Christmas. Below are choice picks at bargain prices by two-time Faulkner-Wisdom Prize finalist, Gary Gautier.
All on Amazon worldwide or in bookstores around the US. For e-copies, select “Buy for others” to send as a gift. For signed copies, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Click covers for links.
Kindle: 99c this week only
Signed copies: $14.50 + shipping
Alice’s little utopia in a dreamlike forest begins to crack when strange things start happening. A small deformed creature with a bowling ball head appears out of nowhere and turns to Alice for support. Her trips to the pond start to bring transcendental omens and strange visitors. Thus begins a journey in which Alice wanders away from her idyllic home to find another world and to slowly connect the dots of her own world’s missing history. This post-apocalyptic adult hippie fairy tale is comic, poignant, thoughtful, and sparkling, a magical tapestry with many threads.
Schematics and Assemblies of the Cosmic Heart
Signed copies: $9 + shipping
A poetic landscape with the impact of human passion and imagination. The poems are both personal and archetypal, rich in intimate joy and sadness, but also connecting to something abstract and eternal. The focus may settle on a brittle image, domestic or mythical, or on a brief feeling that opens a transcendental vista and then, perhaps, closes again. Each poem is tightly sculpted and easily read, but in a way that keeps readers reaching into the heart of their own cosmic lives.
Love’s Ragged Claws
Signed copies: $7.85 + shipping
Faulkner-Wisdom Prize finalist. In this short novella, Gabriel enters confession for the first time in 50 years and tells the priest he has only three sins, all sins of the flesh, and the confession opens up the byways of human identity and human relationships as it weaves the tale of three sins. The account moves back and forth across decades, pulling out the little epiphanies that would be reference points of meaning for the rest of Gabriel’s life.
Faulkner-Wisdom Prize finalist. In a culture of health food stores, gurus, quacks and seekers, Phil’s stagnant life is rattled when his charismatic brother shows up with the news that he has murdered someone and asks for sanctuary. Thus begins a dramatic comedy of misdirection, as our heroes find racism, madness, and unlikely friendships as they roll through the Louisiana bayous into New Orleans.
The Vietnam war resistance, psychedelic drugs, sexual openness, the freedom of the commune – it seemed that everything about the 1960s could be incredibly liberating or wildly destructive. Filled with the sights, sounds and ideals of the Age of Aquarius, this hippie epic follows Jazmine, Ziggy, Ragman, and a coterie of hippies as they discover an LSD-spinoff that triggers past life regressions and sweeps them toward a dramatic climax.
Spaghetti and Peas
Signed copies: $14 + shipping
What would you do if you saw a snake in the lettuce? Rachael had to figure that out fast. And she found a magical adventure in her own back yard, within smelling distance of the spaghetti sauce her dad was cooking on the stove. Enjoy this zany, richly illustrated, hardbound picture book as a read-aloud or early reader.
In a neighborhood full of quirky characters, three kids’ search for hidden silver in an abandoned house pits them against forgotten ghosts and the house’s dark memories of racism and betrayal. The quest for the silver is especially nerve-racking for Annie, the kid who actually sees the ghosts. Her friends want to believe her but can’t, and she herself is torn between running away from it all and following the ghosts into the house’s dark history.
Signed copies: $5 + shipping
Phineas Frecklehopper was not always picked first at sports. He couldn’t always remember to take a bath or brush his teeth or do his homework in every single subject. Still, he considered himself a normal boy in most respects. But he did have one peculiar hobby, or at least others thought it peculiar. He loved to cook. But could rendering a recipe really make a hero? Absolutely! Read to see how. Then cook Phineas’s sample recipes! Ages 8-12.
First book $3.50
Second book in same shipment $2.00
Additional books in same shipment $1.00