An Invitation To Catastrophe

by Milo Clark

December 2, 2002


"The easiest secret to keep is the one no one wants to hear."

--Daniel Quinn, After Dachau

I no longer use the word "reality." Why? Whatever may be called "real" is totally subjective. My antennae go to full alert whenever I see or hear something alleged to be "reality." Same with anything claiming to be The One of anything. Even what I may view as "reality" for me is severely distorted by incalculable, probably unknowable, certainly complex and mutually interacting sets of polymorphously perverse variables.

To be aware of these multitudinous variables affecting our consciousness, our understandings, is likely impossible. Freud and all who attempt to delve into the human psyche, at their best, can only take murky snapshots of past processes from which to make hazy, obviously biased guesses about present and future possibilities untainted by probabilities.

The active suggestion is to look more closely at the perspectives and perceptions of anyone claiming to interpret "reality" for you or me. In pursuing this suggestion, I look as closely as I can at assertions of a "reality" which are totally at variance with what I perceive from where I stand.

Anyone who points to "reality" is pointing exclusively to his or her view of actuality known, in fact, only to them. Assuming that a person's view or opinion (mine included) is anything other than personal is nonsense. Which, in this bizarre time (perhaps all time) remains surreal. The surreal is then our dominant actuality.

Dali's familiar paintings of limp watches apparently draping over tables out of perspective gives a visual approximation of distortions which are easy to identify.

Columns of type in The New York Times or The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal or The Financial Times, The London Times, The Hilo Tribune-Herald et al., commonly employ the word "reality" to describe the surreal in actuality. These columns of type, representations of "reality" are, in actuality, quite surreal.

Most viewers will accurately report that they can see the limp watches of Dali's artistic surrealism. They are viewed or appreciated for what they appear to be: an artistic interpretation created to stimulate an effect, probably more accurately defined as an affect.

Those who scan columns of type in print matter (such as this) are advised to maintain awareness of the actualities involved. While my written opinions (such as this) may be based on intricate attempts to research, to understand (if possible) events and processes to which I have no direct access, I am also and always interpreting from a lifetime of experiences quite unique to me and quite different from others. I keep that in mind. It helps me to maintain a sense of humor on one hand and an appropriate distance on another.

It is, perhaps, easier to identify the content of The National Enquirer, The Star or other supermarket tabloid scandal sheets as unreal although popular. In terms of sales, the tabloids far outsell the other, more mainstream "newspapers." Their popularity represents a choice for surreal in preference to actual.

Polls have shown that readers of "newspapers" tend to believe what they read. TV and radio "news" also are believed by very significant numbers of viewers and listeners.

Previously in writing about perception and perspective, I have pointed out that any two people in the same space will see and sense differently if for no other reason than the angles of refraction occasioned by where they are standing in reference to each other and any object or objects in their fields of vision or available to their separate senses.

A simple story illustrates the point. Two men are standing on opposite banks of a river. One shouts to the other, "How do I get to the other side?" The other answers, "You are on the other side."

As what is sold as "real" becomes more and more surreal, I caution all to be aware of both their own and others' needs to call it what it isn't.

As Daniel Quinn sharpens his telling of his "real" in his latest book, ten years in the writing, The Holy, (1) so I sharpen mine. There is, in actuality, nothing to do, nowhere to go. We separate ourselves by constantly engaging in attempts to do and to go rather than simply to be as all other sentience is. As evolved, humankind continually shows a complete incapacity to let be what is.

And therein lies our story, our invitation to catastrophe.

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1.  The Holy, Daniel Quinn, Context Books, New York, 2002, ISBN 1-893956-30  (back)


Milo Clark, a founding member of Swans, comes from a classic Eastern Establishment background culminated by a Harvard MBA. Perversely, however, he learned to think. Applying thought, he sees beyond and tries to write about what he sees. He now lives in the rainforest of non-tourist Hawaii near the lava flows.

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Published December 2, 2002
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