February 2023

The Long Curve of Descent

Brian George

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Brian George, Uroboros and Pyramid, 2003

One morning, when I was four years old, I was sitting on the third floor back porch of my family's three-decker. It was 1958, and Worcester, Massachusetts, was still regarded as the industrial heart of New England. Looking out, I could see smoke puffing from tall smokestacks, a freight -yard and a railroad bridge, hills with houses perched on them that rolled into the distance, and a few miles off, on one of the highest hills, the gothic architecture of Holy Cross College. How wonderful the day was! I could not have asked for a more perfect moment. My grandmother had given me a large chunk of clay. And then, I was no longer looking out over Worcester; no, I was hovering above the Amazon, making snakes, canoes, and villagers out of the substance in my hands.

As I worked, however, I became frustrated. It occurred to me that I had succumbed to a creative block. I grew angry. I could not believe what I was seeing. My hands were small. My mind just barely worked. My imagination seemed like a blunt instrument. I remembered what it was like to create real snakes and villagers.

Since that morning, I have explored a variety of methods to get from the place where my feet were planted to the larger space that surrounded me, which was not, of course, mine in any personal sense. The path has been a labyrinthine one. My raids on the inexpressible have imposed many contradictory demands. Scholarship and meditation have opened onto vision, onto a mode of knowledge as intimate as it is vast. An ocean, of a sort, boiled, and I could feel the enormous pressure on my skin. Convulsing on the current, I was thrown here and there. Over time, the heat of vision has given way to a much cooler sense of transparency. Now the years no longer turn in any one direction. Space, the magician, stops to show how the trick is done, as I reach for the child playing with clay on his back
porch. But always, there are gaps, which demand that I let go of any sense of certainty, which also ask that the reader should play a more active role.

Without gaps being left, my raids on the inexpressible would serve as no more than travelogues. My goal is to take the reader to a space that will pose a subtle challenge, a challenge that may, upon reflection, turn into a threat. The reader must then return to his own coast. He must do his best to convince himself that no shift in his perception has occurred.

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Salvador Dali, Splitting the Atom
(Dematerialization Under the Nose of Nero), 1947

In a critique of my essay "The Stranger Face of the Friend," Dave Hanson wrote:

    So as you step in and out of the implicate order I can only suggest looking at your intention, honing your control, looking for opportunities to heal others, and seriously questioning everything you experience on the journey. I would like your writing more if it was simpler and more direct, but that is me. I don't know that just because something comes to us from "the spirits" it is any more meaningful than the sound of the toilet flushing. I'm surrounded by people who "see things." I don't understand the underlying meanings of most of it, so I plant more vegetables.

    My dog died. I miss him. I can feel his body under my hand. My wife is working too hard and worries too much. I have a broken ankle and hate crutches. I can't do what I love to do and when I'm back on my feet I'll waste precious time. A Native American spirit showed me a painting I am supposed to do, over twenty years ago, and I haven't done it…Can your visions help heal another? That's all there is.

I responded: As regards "healing," my small role as a healer has to do with the reclamation of collective memory. In my explorations, bits and pieces of lost history become clear, "as if lit for the first time by a brilliant star," as de Chirico would say. For whatever it is worth, I then attempt to tell others what I see. For me, healing has to do with the discovery of our wholeness, which exists, to some extent, beyond us. This challenge is like the real gesture that we make with our artificial hand. There is water in a cup. It waits for centuries for us to drink it. Yet, though broken, we have never ceased to be whole.

Upon birth, having exited from the All beneath the stern gaze of Necessity, we are only allowed to bring a few meaningless details with us. One by one, the pages vanish from the book, as earlier, our footprints had vanished from the ocean. Only mist marks the biodomes of the cities that we left. A buoy clangs, in the distance, somewhere. We have forgotten more than even the omnipotent are aware of, far more than they know themselves. Trauma locks the doors to the dark theatre of the body. We Are What We Eat: the bread of dreams, the sewage of the dead. The rest is junk DNA—or so our controllers would prefer us to believe. A strange presence guards the other half of each symbol.

I would speak truth to the powers that oppress us, who, if they are monsters, are not quite as unrelated to us as we think. As we breathe out, they breathe in, and vice versa. It is our pose of wide-eyed innocence that has tempted them to act badly. Our stealth has been impeccable. It has, perhaps, been too impeccable, by a factor of 10,000. We have shown few tells.

"Who are we? Where do we come from? What are we here for? Where are we going?" These are the questions that the artist has been hoodwinked by society into asking. Such questions are stupid. We should know better. It is possible that they constitute a crime against the Soul. In the stomach of each reader, I would plant and tend the acorn of Omphalos, the one intersection, in order to make the asking of such questions obsolete.

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Adolph Gottlieb, The Voyager's Return, 1946

You have asked, "Can your visions heal another?" I tend to view myself more as a catalyst than a healer—a role that has a higher percentage of the energy of the trickster—but the two roles are related. The term "shaman" is used somewhat ironically in the essay. I would make no claim to be one, any more than I would speak casually about world transformation, as so many do. There are more than enough snake-oil salesmen. Preferring to learn from real snakes, I would reverse engineer the most dangerous of toxins.

In 1988, I had a dream in which a green figure took me by the hand. He led me layer by layer through an underground megalithic complex. We came to a door with a corbel arch and then entered a great hall, at whose center was a mass of writhing snakes, lashing this way and that, copulating, and tying themselves into knots. Moving closer, it became apparent that the snakes were all made from rubber. Thinking, "There is nothing to be scared of," I reached down to pick one up—and then immediately felt it sink its fangs into my hand. My guide said, "We always mix in a few real ones for effect!" The pain in my hand was sharp. Even now, I can feel the impact of the fangs.

Like the rubber snake that bites, I would pierce the reader's psyche. My vision is meant to wound, not heal. Any healing may or may not happen later on. A cosmology is embedded in the cross-weave of the text, in the toxin of the snake, in the body of the reader, a cosmology that even now exists in its first and final form. What heals and what harms are in no way antithetical. Good habits may, in fact, be symptoms. Hidden energies may disturb us. We have infinitely far to travel to reach the space in which we breathe. What the snakes do not know, the birds may be willing to volunteer, so long as one is open to the removal of one's head. From long before Gobekli Tepe had been built, such birds have been looking for new spheres with which to juggle. They may or may not choose to return  their playthings to each owner. Neither snakes nor birds see safety as important. As goes the head, so goes the year from which it comes.

Brian George, Snake, Bird, Pot, and Lotus, 1990

Jasun Horsley once pointed out that whenever I would go to write "2012" it would always come out "2112"—a kind of metaphysical Freudian slip. There are cycles within cycles. We should not jump to any conclusions when we place ourselves within them. We are, at a minimum, a thousand years out of practice. Can one individual be healthy if the world died long ago? As I probe my wounds, I am hesitant to give others the peace of mind that I do not allow to myself. Shock at one's corpse-like decrepitude can be viewed as a big plus. Vision and healing may not always coincide.

Since the end of the Paleolithic Era, it is possible that we have been riding a long curve of descent, in which all things once transparent have become more and more opaque. We do not remember what our hands are for. Our speech is inert. Our intelligence cannot exit from the top part of the skull, a door whose key has been broken off in its keyhole, an aperture that lacks oil. Once, our story had been written on the leaves of a great tree. The leaves have been torn off. The glyphs on them are illegible, and that tree is now a stump. Preprogrammed from beyond the clockwork of the stars, the decline we have experienced does not appear as such; no, some trick of perspective causes us to hallucinate an ascent.

Archetypes break like toys, left over from a childhood that never did exist. We discard them. We ask, "Why is it so difficult for us to see into the cosmos?" We speak loudly. We do not hear the response. The cultures we dismembered have been sucked into a cloud. Their outcries circle, and then fall like rain. The last civic structures are consumed by a decentralized plutocracy. "Who put you in charge?" we demand. "Do you have any vision at all?" Our overseers then announce the launch of the next generation iPhone. The Guardians of the Homepage tweak our algorithm. "May you live in interesting times," goes the Chinese curse. We do, for better or for worse, live in "interesting times," in which we must reconfigure all traditionally fixed roles. At the age of 64, I am just beginning to figure out what my public role might be.

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Mimmo Paladino, Alhambra, 2006

A role is a social construct, with a set of rules attached. Society can make no rules that the Self is obligated to obey. Why should space concern itself with the shoe size of its mouthpiece? To point people towards what they know but have chosen to forget may be no more than an exercise in futility. Some types of exercise are almost certainly good, others, not so much. To serve is to press Soma for the gods, to show others how to do so, to save some reasonable portion for oneself. What a waste of Soma! How sad the situation is! Why does the public not follow your instructions to the letter? Even now, my knees creaky, I still find myself at a perpetual beginning as I test the strength of my lineage, tongue-tied, a bit nervous, as naked as a child who has just stepped from the womb. And here I had pretended to have the answers to each question! "Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself," as Whitman said.

For such is the prerogative of the preexistent Voice, and of its vehicle: WE.

All periods cohere in the one moment of my Memory. With a shock, one notes that the old becomes new. By the power of my austerities I have vacuumed up all of the water from the ocean. Cities shine there. I am Death—the Shatterer of Worlds. My weapon liberates multitudes.  


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Brian George is the author of two books of essays and four books of poetry. His book of essays Masks of Origin: Regression in the Service of Omnipotence has just been published by Untimely Books at
https://untimelybooks.com/book/masks-of-origin. He has recently reactivated his blog, also called Masks of Origin at https://masksoforigin.blogspot.com/. He is a graduate of the Massachusetts College of Art, an exhibited artist and former teacher. He often tells people first discovering his work that his goal is not so much to be read as to be reread, and then lived with.
For more of his writings in Scene4, check the Archives.

©2023 Brian George
©2023 Publication Scene4 Magazine






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