The Convivial Society: Vol. 3, No. 21
One square I can't quite circle is whether living in, or under Modernity itself can be a kind of "depth and mystery" introducing "viable desire." I can, and do, sustain myself largely by taking reprieve from modernity in the nooks and crannies untouched by its totalising logic: Nature, art, the company of others, and so on.
However, sooner or later I must return to my computer and get to work, pay my mortgage with my labour, and deepen my 'expertise' within a byzantine bureaucracy. I find myself then wondering if my practices are just more sophisticated forms of "human techniques." Is Vipassana-style insight meditation substantively different from Westernised McMindfulness, if the end-result is still that I wind up back in my computer chair picking through my inbox? Is Jenny Odell spending time in the rose garden any different to spending hours tending to a virtual farm in Stardew Valley, if the result is always that I end up back in my shoebox apartment?
These are genuine, rather than rhetorical questions. My impulse is that our rest and relaxation ought be in service of some viable, shared alternatives to Modernity, yet such a perspective risks turning rest and renewal into a project (which would be very Modernist of us). We also risk a kind of hydraulic experience of life, in which we are constantly oscillating between the enervating nature of modernity and the innervating practices we develop (or rediscover) to sustain ourselves through modernity. Again, this is Ellul's observation of "human techniques." Plenty of rest and renewal practices have been developed as alternatives to Modernity, only to ultimately become incorporated within it. Buddhist Meditation might be the exemplar here, but there are many others.
I don't have any answers. This is a predicament, rather than a problem. However, I find myself thinking of a story Tyson Yunkaporta tells in Sand Talk. He talks about sitting in an airport with Old Man Juma, an Aboriginal elder. Tyson finds himself angry at and within the airport, which he experiences as a symbol of Modernist hell - a feeling I suspect will be familiar to a lot of readers. Juma, by contrast, can see the 'Dreaming' (which we might shorthand as the suprarational Australian Aboriginal 'depth and mystery' par-excellence) in the flows of the airport itself. For Juma, it is all still 'pattern,' and even the destructive excesses of Modernity are part of this bigger 'Dreaming.' The perception is different, and so what Yunkaporta finds draining, Juma finds renewing.
Perhaps there's something in this about paying careful attention to Modernity itself, about learning what it has to teach us. This is, I think, something I'm personally not ready to do, but it may be something worth aspiring towards.
I really appreciated your response to the problem of exhaustion brought on by contemporary culture. Loving attention to the particularities of reality provides a renewing energy and potential for satiation, unlike the dizzying skimming of our culture optimized for the endless growth of compounding interest.
The solution (directing a loving gaze toward reality) seems both simple and difficult. Difficult especially because the worst parts of modern culture work so directly and intentionally against reality. Their technique is optimized toward fantasy.
I'm also left thinking about how we attend toward reality together. Murdoch writes from the perspective of individual struggle. But I wonder how to expand that struggle to a shared effort. Odell gives some hints - curation - similar to Matthew Crawford's advice. Just like we have gym buddies, do we need attention buddies?
I was moved by this latest piece. It captured something that I have been trying to articulate in my own life. I am also reminded of something Eckhart Tolle said about the capacity of nature to replenish us and how our awareness offers something back to nature.
The gist of it was: when we observe our environment, a tree or flower for example, we connect with a present reality and are nourished through this act. But what stood out to me in this idea is that he has suggested that in taking the care to observe our world - to touch into the depth of reality - we offer something back to that which we perceive: awareness of itself.
I find this notion of mutual offering, which arises through awareness, very striking.
I have appreciated these newsletters in my inbox for some time now - I am glad to finally be able to contribute something to encourage this work.
With gratitude, Samuel
We are the work of the Parents.
We do the work of the Children.
Without use of constructs, you will unravel few mysteries.
Without knowledge of mysteries, your constructs will fail.
Find the strength to pursue both, for these are our prayers.
And to that end, welcome comfort, for without it, you cannot stay strong.
~ Becky Chambers
In, A Prayer for the Crown-Shy
Good quotes from Iris Murdoch. If the reality is one of profound and pervasive loss, the knowledge-reward is grief. I suppose I do not understand a non-grief-based way of living. The idea of grief as a process that begins and ends…seems intuitively wrong. Is suffering different from grieving?
I've recently been reading Ursula K. Le Guin's Wizards of Earthsea books. Her wizards' power or magic derives from their knowledge of the "true names" (the depth you spoke of) of people and things. Knowledge of the names comes from the kind of attentiveness described by Odell ("hello raven, hello robin" etc.). Names can't be taken, she argues, they must be given, but my sense is they will always be given to the one who listens.
Thank you once again for a brilliant piece.
I recently picked up Karsten Harries' book, 'The Ethical Function of Architecture.' Outworking the implications of Heidegger's philosophy of technology, he argues that the architecture we create for ourselves reveals our ethical sensibilities.
After reading this, it got me thinking how the homogenized, simplistic architecture of modernity reveals our preference for a limitlessness. Its efficient construction carries with it a message to not give it our attention and "reappropriates being" around the concept of efficiency. Our place itself only gives us one input option - use for the sake of use itself.
All this is making me think further about the question: "How do we encourage dynamic engagement with a world that holds us captive to a single mode of interaction?"
Mon. Sacasas, I have received your free newsletter for many months, but only this morning did I read the most recent one. I appreciate your words about becoming truly aware of the world around us. So often we are very unaware. Michael Reed.
An early complaint about modernity
The World Is Too Much With Us
BY WILLIAM WORDSWORTH
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.