The Alan Sondheim Mail Archive

Important Things

Our house likes in a small depression in one of Morgantown's hills; as a
result anyone can see into it from above We keep the shades drawn at
night. Around midnight last night, two white males 20-25 knocked on the
door of a house on the next block, broke in, beat up the residence with a
tire iron or crowbar, and stole whatever. Someone might just part behind
our house in the alley, work his way up the side to the porch, wreak
havoc. My body's temperature regulation has always been off, but is worse
than ever here, and I've had slight fevers as a result. Our cat Ossi
Oswalda makes our house feel like a home. There is no red spot on my desk,
no flock of blackbirds, no waiter against which I measure myself, selves,
and the world. The basement of our house is dark, but there is no pile of
rope which might be mistaken for a snake, or a snake which might be
mistaken for a pile of rope; instead there are familiar things and we find
our way round in the dark. We are frightened of Bush and M. Cain; there is
no esthetics to our politics, which are weak theory tending towards TAZ.
West Virginia has the highest prescription drug rate per capita in the
country and it's out of control; I argue with my 'health care provider' to
get basic medicine. No one has stolen our copper telephone wires to sell -
they bring fair money - and I gather some drugs, which we are not on, cost
between $60 and $80 per pill. A letter I wrote to the Dominion Post was
published, decrying the efforts of someone on the state legislature to
teach gun use and safety to school children; the idea is to revive the
local hunting population, which is on the decline. I visited a friend of
mine five minutes after his mother-in-law was given last rites; she is
still alive and spent six hours last night calling out apparently random
numbers. The atmosphere creaks with tension. Changes are about. I will
reread the Diamond Sutra. The small scanner computer in the lab began
screaming this afternoon; it wouldn't stop. We opened it up and found the
fan burned out, everything red-hot. We took a fan from another computer
and so far things are working out fine; I scanned Siva and vajra. Our
friends in Bruceten Mills might have weather damage; the area was hard-hit
and a dam broke last night. Ossi Oswalda is dreaming again. I picked up
Boston on the crystal radio. It's night.

Against this I think of important things, or against these things, some of
which are important to me, I think of things which might be ultimately
important. Of course these aren't things, but events, happenings, and
there is an entire literature about the distinction between the two - a
distinction which is slippery at best and which requires at least a rather
coherent idea of a rather coherent space-time, against which all things
are measured. Or not, for one might well take into account fuzzy logic,
the asymptotic behavior of strange attractors, and the general miasma of
the real world. And who is this 'one' taking this into account, taking
anything into account, if not for a 'one' who is fearless and healthy, or
at least tending towards both? For the philosophy of important things is
by and large taken up from the position of health and equanimity; while
one might not write lyric poetry after Auschwitz, philosophy stands firm.

What would a philosophy of important things, which are not things, from
the viewpoint of ill health or mental disturbance - what would such a
philosophy look like? We might turn to Levinas' existence and existents,
or some of Lingis; we might turn towards subaltern philosophy or libera-
tion theology; we might embrace those who write with their backs to the
wall, as if the Resistance were a model for truth distilled against a
desperation of everyday life and the occasion of that desperation. We
might turn further to philosophy of the sick-bed, to tantric embrace of
death by those still alive, those dying, those already passed. We might
discuss emptiness and the vast sweeping that occurs in Madhyamaka phil-
osophy - and in the philosophy of 'the Buddha from Dolpo,' Dolpopa Sherab
Gyaltsen, who emphasizes a kernel of absolute truth, two modes, not one,
of emptiness. Or we might insist that emptiness is of no consequence and
no occasion, and is not important, or the least important, but then what
is one's attitude towards rebirth and cyclicity, which I believe are at
best medieval concepts? Turn back a moment towards that absolute, or any,
or any other, and one might find safe haven, a harbor, a ground, a primor-
dial existent or backgrounded, a chora for example, out of which good
things occur (one might also think through the idea of 'the fragility of
good things' in relation to the bad at this (empty) point). One argues,
speaks, thinks, within the background just as one exists within the 3K
background radiation of the universe: it's there, not as dark matter might
be, but as the dimmest consistent illumination as the cataclysm of cosmic
birth spreads out, presumably forever. We're heading for the dark, but
will never quite reach it - an opposite of absolute zero, it is the place
or space of the greatest weakening of all.

Absolutes frighten me; I cannot imagine a guru, authority, presence, to
which I would give myself, even in the light of incandescent knowledge.
When I look at important things - being, nothingness, foreground, life,
death, absence, presence, creation, annihilation, motion, language, ikon,
symbol, index, chora, self, selving, others, worlds, true world, worlding,
beings, essence, existence, safe-harbor against home invasion, healthy
temperature regulation of the body - they don't disappear upon scrutiny,
they don't divide, they're not solved or resolved relegated to dependent
categories, they're not illuminated by continued and permanent analysis or
therapeutic. They shift and are messy, their boundaries meld into other
melding boundaries, their skins are sheave-skins which themselves turn out
to be protocols and elemental manipulations. Below all, they're abject,
neither here nor there, neither one thing nor the other, embodiments of
dissolving Sheffer-strokes and their duals. When I look at important
things, my analysis flees from analysis; it is the analysis of flight; of
exile, but exile on the move; of refuge, but temporary at best; of dis-
course, but against the futility of speech, languor of language, loss of
memory which haunts us from before and after our breathing lives. Import-
ant things are neither in the absolutes or categories, nor in the details;
neither the forest nor the trees; and neither the gesture nor the proto-
col. They are not things. They are withdrawals, puckers; they are the
austral and boreal currents among earths and metals in various states of
weather and decomposition. 'When I look at important things, my retina and
its processing.' I might say this writing is a refuge from the night, but
what night, what refuge, what writing? All of my writing, perhaps, and all
writing, perhaps, writing on the wane.

(A note on the images. The vajra come closest a gesture of illumination,
sheave-skin, chora, than any other of the recent images, I think, the Siva
offer (most problematic) form.)

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