…I am ill because of wounds to the soul, to the deep emotional self…only time can help…and a certain difficult repentance, long difficult repentance, realization of life’s mistake, and the freeing oneself from the endless repetition of the mistake which mankind at large has chosen to sanctify.
– fr. D. H. Lawrence, Healing
Several months ago, in the period of ongoing Democratic relief and hope following the 2019 election and shock after the attack on the Capitol, we visited some old friends in the western part of the state. Conversations took place that I’m sure had included, on Orin’s end per usual – damaging references to liberal politics and the President. That must be why I was taken aback, going to their refrigerator, to see Joe Biden’s picture posted there. My surprise, I supposed at the time was due to there having been no rush to defend their guy, even though Orin had given them ample openings to do so.
That is, either the friends – seminary grads like me – chose not to engage with us on the matter of our political difference or they are not personally offended by scurrilous talk about Biden – either way, something about it really bothered me. I am familiar with this politics without passion; who isn’t? Politics reduced to “Of course I’m a Democrat, what other possibility can there be, unless – and I know you don’t want that – we concede victory to the Trumpies?” The predicament I was in too, was wearyingly familiar – trying to – liberal that I am – accept my friends on their own terms without obliterating my me! What this feels like, in relation to that passionlessness, is that my reality – in which, whatever it is or is not, passion is a constitutive ingredient – is totally eclipsed in liberal reality, The real pain and suffering this causes me – my desire being to keep an inner fire burning, not to pariah myself! – ought to tell me something.
It does, actually. I know this sounds melodramatic to the naked ear. But hear me, I am trying to explain my despair – for which I can blame only myself – without blaming myself too much! The pain of such an experience of social “self-snuffing” tells me that I, too, can receive history’s grace if I would give up my soul. The demand in neoliberal America to give up the soul is real, and it is never mentioned. Really, few people are aware of the deal that was struck in some smoke-filled room to look the other way when they shoot the hostages! The fact I – chicken-heart that I am – refuse the demand to abandon my soul keeps me with the only claim I have to a political identity, which is “anarchist” before it is anything else. Although “socialist” would sound better and make more friends, socialism’s pragmatic working within the system, worthy and admirable, is a rebuke to anarchist passion.
Paradoxical as all hell, this political identity I’m stuck with – that cannot compromise “all men are brothers” – arises out of my selfishness as an artist! That is, after all the trouble I went through to re-connect with my creative imagination, “as good as dead” until my early forties, after the first-ever experience of joy upon finding my voice, I cannot and will not give it up!! These are facts in my biography! Please, when the time comes, don’t exclude them from my obituary! Even though the only way I can maintain contact with my soul is to enter this room, sit down at my word processor, and write – pathetically clinging to a quite underground existence, making not a nickel from my efforts, penury at some not-so-far-off future point a real possibility – no price can be put on it.
At the same time I struggle with anarchist identity – the only political identity I can claim – in my world. This sense of oppression – marginalization – directed at my “otherness,” though invisible to the marginalizers, is real. I must trust this even if only I am saying so. How else does one stand up for one’s individuality? How does one “co-exist” (that popular bumper sticker among liberals!) in a social reality that accepts me but not my ideas that are also me? I could, if I were somebody else, handle it differently, put the burden of proof on the ones who cannot see my otherness. That is, since there’s no acceptable way to be anarchist in society, I could make my total self unacceptable – live out the full beatnik-hippie counterculture that flips the bird at bourgeois convention. I get it, admire it even, but apparently I’m one who, for better or worse, must preserve rapport with non-mind-altered convention as well.
Based on the evidence so far, I’m forced to conclude, if I am not to betray myself, that anarchist Truth must be and only can be underground, existing down there in the depths the souls knows, automatically marginalized along with all metaphysical claims to reality. Not so much because people make up their mind not to go there, but because the deal’s been cut; it is a matter of indifference in liberal reality if the soul is alive or not.
That indifference underlying progressive liberal reality makes it, even though conscious liberal identity be Trump-opposing and abortion rights-supporting (i.e., good), inescapably nihilist! Though it may never know itself as such, nihilism can be detected by others in the liberal’s absence of passion – a difference more of vibe than deed, that makes it so difficult (for me) to detect. Liberal nihilism is masked, at best, in a camouflage of “can-doism” that can accomplish much that is good as long as the narrow focus is strictly kept. Widening the focus, including the impact of all progress on all others, including upon the commons of our Mother Earth, this good is seen to be thoroughly blemished and ultimately self-serving. It is self-serving because it cannot be “other-serving.” It cannot be other-serving because of the indifference to the first “other” upon which all “mattering” depends. Here, in the abandonment of the alive soul, is the birthplace of nihilism.
Looking all around, the evidence is everywhere – history has reached its meaningful end. Without recovering anarchist passion for the ancient vision of unity and brotherhood – the only acceptable condition for “human becoming -” all we ever can attain socially depends upon meanness and power struggles; Empire gets the last word.
Despite my Episcopalian confirmation, seminary education, stint in the ranks of clergy, and conversion to Roman Catholicism, I cannot now identify as Christian; at the same time, I’m ever more attracted to Jesus. It seems to me Western civilization has come back full circle to face the problem botched two millennia ago in relation to this man who steadfastly opposed Empire. Long “solved” by Christianity’s alliance with Empire and its deification of Jesus, the challenge posed by the man – that human beings must live consistent with the reality presented in the soul, making them inimical to Empire, stands. What that means is, to be consistent with the soul and its process, I must attend (selfishly) to my solitude. Although I must act in order to count (matter) and be accountable in this world, I must pause and let the true, unwanted complexity, the fuller truth, exist in my imagination’s eye. My actions then, may not always be activist in recognizable ways. But they will be in obedience to, in sync with, the “something” that presents itself to me as higher, the highness known only by direct experience with it, in the act of creative expression. Jesus called it abba. Like Jesus, we can name it personally, poetically, for that works best.
That on the whole “mankind” chooses not to live consistent with the reality presented in the soul – as D.H. knew – really is the bottomline cause of our ever-snowballing catastrophe. It causes us not to be able to “read” events in the world, to instead accept the lies of the servant media and their corporate masters and to fearfully keep our distance from anarchist truth. Underground film maker Lech Kowalski’s film Polish Solidarity On the Ukrainian Border puts forward such unwanted, complicating truth, including that of atrocities committed during WWII by pro-fascist Ukrainians against Poles. Lech does so in a way that is not aggrieved and does not emphasize the Poles as victims. In fact, the Poles he talks to are dedicatedly working on behalf of the Ukrainians, sending them food and medical relief. But even these people admit they cannot forget or forgive those atrocities, nor the fact that a pro-fascist group, the banderas, is allowed to flourish in the current Ukraine.
This truth, which complicates the picture of Ukrainian victims vs. brutal Russian aggressors is not one that will come to us via mainstream news networks. It does not fit the dominant picture necessary for history to “progress” as usual, and so it remains, though widely seen in Europe, underground (meaning unseen) here. As an artist, Lech can make the movie he wants to, according to his idea, and the entire (U.S.) movie industry will ignore it, for nobody can deal with its complicating information. What’s a war for if you cannot be cleanly on one side?
And, as I make this case for underground truth, I confess that many of Lech’s films, including his filming of the punk rock scene in NYC in the 70’s, that launched his career, or his film of my dominatrix sister-in-law penetrating a man with a dildo in a Utica Hotel room are too disturbing for me to watch. They offend me. Why are you showing me this? Is this an attack on my uptight bourgeois sensibilities? If so, it finds its mark! But as well, my bourgeois uptightness is unlikely to be changed by someone offending me. In this way, underground anarchist truth, its complications so needed, can come across – as much of hippie and beatnik counterculture did – as exclusionary. Such truth-telling avoids being irrelevant in liberal reality (as it would be if it honored traditional values of marriage and family and sex) but risks more divisiveness.
Disturbing truth begins with the acknowledgment there is more to reality – even to liberal reality – than I want there to be. At the same time, one has a right to know one is included, not excluded. Speaking of Lech’s film with the dominatrix, the truth could be I’m just too uptight to see S & M as a step forward in liberal progress, in the freedom to be my full kinky self! On the other hand, Lech tells us there’s a resurgence of interest in the film in Europe due to the clues it provides to understanding America’s sickness! But there it is again – either way, I feel excluded. The human heart needs lure, not reprimand, not fuck you if you’re too bourgeois to get it, if its right to its passion is to be upheld.
Looked at from the “eternal perspective” – truth, even history’s truth, – is not out to frighten us, to include or exclude us. It just – to use one of the favorite banalities of our time – “is what it is.” Full truth is vast and utterly contradictory, revealed at best only a layer at a time, the very negation of banality. Inasmuch as we manage to shut our eyes to, for instance, Biden’s actual record, or to believe, though the war and its implications frighten us, the Ukrainians have our undivided sympathy, the Russians our enmity, we exclude the possibility of the fullness of reality outside our ken or control, thus clinging to the sense that “unknown” = hostile. We cannot locate the lure, the assurance of inclusion.
Another way to say it: Unless I have a heart that can stand full disclosure anarchist truth, distrust is the only way I can relate to it. For ordinary folks like me, the unwanted truth can be broached only if the reassuring sense of existential safety is present which is precisely what I cannot have without a connection with my soul! But – and this is a really stupid idea, I can’t believe I’m mentioning it – what if liberal indifference to the alive soul, to whether or not an encompassing reality exists, is because we/I cannot believe that an encompassing reality “loves me.” In liberal secular reality this is not remotely a grown-up concern. We are fully prepared from birth to exist without such a bizarre, infantile notion.
What this suggests is if the soul-level, probably unconscious-because-too-painful belief is “I am unwanted,” my existence does not matter, what good can I do that does not contain grief as a shadow ingredient? And does not that shadow ingredient mean there is an element of unconsciousness in all my good doing, a failure to see through my deed to its possible unintended consequences that makes its goodness questionable? This is not the real moral quandary of a person who knowingly commits a hurtful deed and takes responsibility for it but the nihilist failure to enter moral quandary at all.
Perhaps that “not caring if the universe loves me” is why the truth that’s larger and more complicated than what MSNBC News, NPR and the NY Times tell us – practically demands we question all our efforts to be good! For, though good liberal progressive deeds aim at the good and are rightly admired for it, at the same time voting for Biden, believing the Ukrainians are the victims, etc., keeps me blind to the larger truth I don’t want to know anyway because knowing it I could not (I fear) act at all! The complicated truth, anarchist truth, can be borne only in a context large enough to bear it. Such a domain exists, taboo and unrecognized in secular rationalist liberal reality: it is the soul’s action-less (contemplative) domain, aka religion. Admission open but not free.