Tim Parks on consciousness

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If the mind is marooned in the head, pulling levers and pushing buttons (alone or in a team) to tell the body what to do — then our knowledge of the outside world will always be suspect. How can I know a world if I’m not part of it, if I’m stuck in Plato’s cave unable to experience the reality without, if I’m seeing colors where there are no colors, smelling smells when, as Galileo would have it, there are no smells?[1]

  1. The popular and orthodox view [of consciousness]: It is produced by your brain and exists exclusively in your head. This is supported by almost all neuroscientists and many philosophers. Most textbooks give this view as proved.
  2. The minority enactivist view: Consciousness arises from our active engagement with the world and requires both subject and object to happen so that conscious experience is extended through the body and into the environment. This view is supported by some philosophers and a few neuroscientists.
  3. The minority Spread Mind view: Experience is made possible by the meeting of the perceptive system and the world, but actually located at the object perceived, identical with it even; in short, experience is the same thing as the object.[2]

The present orthodoxy is that there are black holes, but no smells. We are in the Platonic cave and need instruments of every kind to look at the higher reality outside, even though what we actually experience are only readings on instruments. We are trapped on one side of a Cartesian duality wondering what’s on the other, constructing a hypothetical ‘reality’ in figures, predictions and ideas.[3]

While the brain may be ‘responsible’ for the pain we feel in other parts of the body, it is apparently immune to pain itself. You don’t feel a scalpel cutting into it.[4]

Consciousness is all change, accumulation, dispersion, things that unexpectedly remain active, or repeat themselves, over years and years, a few words a teacher said at school, still very much in hearing range — things you thought had gone but suddenly come back — the smell of a certain red sauce they poured on ice cream in your infancy wafts by you fifty years later at a street corner [in a far different place] — and things you imaged would remain, must remain, they hurt so much or give so much pleasure, and yet are quite gone, or so it seems; in fact there must be many such things you don’t even know you’ve lost; you performed them once, then never again.[5]

[1] Parks, Tim. Out of My Head: On the Trail of Consciousness, New York Review of Books, New York, 2018: 32.

[2] Ibid, 129.

[3] Ibid, 156.

[4] Ibid, 207.

[5] Ibid, 267.

for CR

tentacles1

I keep his letters close, rereading

so not to forget

reading and rereading

his poems

lamplight dimmed

justice is a concept

for philosophers

our human heroes

die prematurely

slowly

but always die

alive and breathing in their works

a return to emptiness

staggering vitality

it’s the writing life he

wants for me

it’s what I want for myself

also for him to live

in books and human tissue

in garden-side conversations

yielding bounties:

encouragement

humor

inspiration

words often evade the novelist

this does not excuse him

from honing the craft –

language for the living

and the dead

he must remain open

receptive to the world

imagination engaged

use your gift, he said

listen to life’s

lost songs and last chances

cherish everything

live the writing life

Sergio Pitol on books

The book accomplishes a multitude of tasks, some superb, others deplorable; it dispenses knowledge and misery, illuminates and deceives, liberates and manipulates, exalts and humbles, creates or cancels the options of life. Without it, needless to say, no culture would be possible. History would disappear, and our future would be cloaked in dark, sinister clouds. Those who hate books also hate life. No matter how impressive the writings of hatred may be, the printed word for the most part tips the balance toward light and generosity. Don Quixote will always triumph over Mein Kampf. As for the humanities and the sciences, books will continue to be their ideal space, their pillars of support.

 

Pitol, Sergio, trans by George Henson. The Magician of Vienna, Deep Vellum Publishing, Dallas: 6. 

notes from Fraser (2019)

fright

Determined to unshackle market forces from the heavy hand of the state and the millstone of ‘tax and spend,’ the classes that led the [pre-Trump progressive-neoliberal] bloc aimed to liberalize and globalize the capitalist economy. What that meant, in reality, was financialization: dismantling barriers to, and protections from, the free movement of capital; deregulating banking and ballooning predatory debt; deindustrializing; weakening unions; and spreading precarious, badly paid work. Popularly associated with Ronald Reagan but substantially implemented and consolidated by Bill Clinton, these policies hollowed out working-class and middle-class living standards while transferring wealth and value upward—chiefly to the one percent, of course, but also to the upper reaches of the professional-managerial classes.[1]

This is the genesis of Occupy Wall Street that didn’t homogenize and died publicly humiliated on the streets of Everywhere, America. It was unorganized and nowhere near as thoughtful and ordered as those it tried to engage in conflict.

To achieve hegemony, the emerging progressive-neoliberal bloc had to defeat two different rivals. First, it had to vanquish the…remnants of the New Deal coalition…in place of a historic bloc that had successfully united organized labor, immigrants, African Americans, the urban middle classes, and some factions of big industrial capital for several decades, they forged a new alliance of entrepreneurs, bankers, suburbanites, ‘symbolic workers,’ new social movements, Latinos, and youth…Campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1991-92, Bill Clinton won the day by talking the talk of diversity, multiculturalism, and women’s rights even while preparing to walk the walk of Goldman Sachs.[2]

I was uneducated and witnessed my grandmother grandstand for the challenger, her photo printed on the front page of the local paper as an adoring fan holding a sign with teeth gleaming in the first few rows. Latina and Ute, she felt she finally had her pale-faced champion.

Progressive neoliberalism also had to defeat a second competitor, with which it shared more than it let on. The antagonist in this case was reactionary neoliberalism…While claiming to foster small business and manufacturing, reactionary neoliberalism’s true economic project centered on bolstering finance, military production, and extractive energy, all to the principal benefit of the global one percent. What was supposed to render that palatable for the base it sought to assemble was an exclusionary vision of a just status order: ethnonational, anti-immigrant, and pro-Christian, if not overtly racist, patriarchal, and homophobic.[3]

The mutation of the republican party from tea party and freedom caucus-influenced to co-option by Trumpism. Either get fired in humiliating fashion, adopt the disgusting and disrobing policies, or, if you’re lucky, get out by the skin of your back.

The rust belt region, along with newer industrial centers in the South, took a major hit thanks to the triad of Bill Clinton’s policies: The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the accession of China to the World Trade Organization, (justified, in part, as promoting democracy), and the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, which loosened regulations on banking. Together, those policies and their successors ravaged communities that had relied on manufacturing.[4]

I like to think the thoughtful folks of my generation, if voter-aged, would have been so outraged by Glass-Steagall that the idea of its passage would have been constitutional and democratic sacrilege. But we had no idea. Sacrilege, as we found out, was wasted forethought. Democracy and constitution were words.

An African American who spoke of ‘hope’ and ‘change’ ascended to the presidency [in 2008], vowing to transform not just policy but also the entire ‘mindset’ of American politics. Barack Obama might have seized the opportunity to mobilize mass support for a major shift away from neoliberalism, even in the face of congressional opposition. Instead, he entrusted the economy to the very Wall Street forces that had nearly wrecked it…Obama lavished enormous cash bailouts on banks that were ‘too big to fail’ but [he] failed to do anything remotely comparable for their victims: the 10 million Americans who lost their homes to foreclosure during the crisis…All told, the overwhelming thrust of his presidency was to maintain the progressive-neoliberal status quo, despite its declining popularity.[5]

I worked two jobs seven days a week during this time, one of them for two years at a foreclosure law firm. I saw an average of 100 foreclosures cross my desk each day for one state alone for at least one of those years.

President Trump’s policies have diverged altogether from candidate Trump’s campaign promises. Not only has his economic populism vanished, his scapegoating has grown ever more vicious. What his supporters voted for, in short, is not what they got.[6]

I disagree. Each day another hundred supporters are won. Trumpism is a reaction just as the news cycle is a reaction. Each creates a dialogue of re-reaction in a culture of continuous faux-action. The real action is the reaction, and thus the philosophy is based on re-reaction.

[1] Fraser, Nancy. The Old is Dying and the New Cannot be Born: From Progressive Neoliberalism to Trump and Beyond, Verso Books, London, 2019: 12.

[2]Ibid, 15.

[3]Ibid, 16.

[4]Ibid, 17.

[5]Ibid, 19-20.

[6]Ibid, 26.

Pharaoh and servant

What can I do for you this night, master? asked the servant, kneeling before his Pharaoh.

The master paced the tile in shadow, free of headdress, as he preferred.

Arid breezes and swirling garments.

On cloudy nights they ceased their disciplined adjustment of mirrors that

sucked moonlight deep beneath the pyramids

where men and women worked tirelessly in deep chambers

and bacchanals flowed like wine through the night,

poets dawdling by candlelight, observing all.

 

On clear nights, servants were assigned to each mirror station.

The poets admired their discipline but not their fawning

or their status as servants.

A subterranean culture of nocturnal diggers, morticians, freaks, insomniacs.

Most worked through dawn, a manic colony of human ants

exploiting the desert

meeting it, absorbing it, becoming it.

Darkness and mystery deep as history and tradition.

 

Bring me a wife, said the Pharaoh.

His eyes burned in the half-light. The servant departed.

Myrrh and cinnamon on the breeze, hot as day.

Moonlight battled cotton clouds of aquamarine, gray, white.

What will become us, wondered the Pharaoh.

hunter/hunted

Lakeview

I hauled twenty-three loads this week, he said. I’m drinkin til I pass out.

We hefted oversized mugs of gold beer to our faces. The manager and bartender eyed us. A racist-sounding country singer drawled from the overhead speaker.

He said: Worst of em was Reno to Chicago. I rode a storm the whole way. Truck blowin this way and that.

His name was Nick and I met him at this shitty bar one hour and two mugs ago. Truckers are a lonely bunch. Nick came here to drink. I walked over from the stop because I was bored.

I said: I did twenty last week, so I feel you.

We’d started to settle into a drinking rhythm, a locomotive just catching full speed.

My wife’s asleep by now, he said, flipping his phone on the bar top.

We don’t ask after another trucker’s family, even if there’s something we want to know, even if we freely offer those details about ourselves. I looked at my watch.

Where you from? he asked.

We drank. I said: I’m from everywhere but right now I live in Vermont.

Vermont, he said, staring into the distance.

I noticed he was near done with his beer, so I gulped mine down. I motioned for the bartender to pour us another.

Nick said: Thanks.

You got the last one, I said.

Let me ask you, he said. You ever do time?

I thought it an odd question. Because I’m black? I wondered.

I made no expression, no movement.

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha I’m just fuckin with you, man! he laugh-shouted, smacking my back.

I drank and nodded. This beer would be my last. Darkness at the windows kept me from seeing night in Spokane. It was almost closing on a Tuesday night. Only a few other losers wasted their time in the place. Most of them worked there.

I fuckin did time, he said, humorless. Then he distracted himself with the monitors above the bar and drank down half the mug. A minute passed and he turned his head toward me, his eyes shiny and unfocused.

He said: We should get a hooker and tag team her.

I smiled. I thought he was joking, but he was serious. He lowered his voice to a whisper.

I can get us something young, he said, drunk, looking over his shoulder, then mine. I know a guy here in Spokane.

His eyes reached for mine and landed. The skin on my back rippled to my shoulders, riding a wave to my scalp. Again I made no expression. I nodded solemnly and drank.

Young as you want, he whispered, looking back to the TVs above the bar.

I must have misunderstood him. What we talked about after that is blurry, indiscernible. I don’t know how I got back to my rig. Most of the trucks were gone when I woke at dawn.

I saw him again ten months later in Colorado Springs. I’d thought about him every day, wondering if I’d imagined the episode. I saw him refueling at a hauler station and reintroduced myself.

Oh yeah, he said, eyeing me suspiciously before shaking my hand. Snow and cold swarmed us.

Yeah I remember you, he said.

You need a coffee? I asked, motioning toward the cafe next door.

I said: I’m buying.

He nodded.

Once seated at the table we layered down and thawed and danced around small talk before he leaned in and whispered to me, his breath smoke and coffee, cold sores, rotten teeth.

Last time we talked, he said.

He squirmed in his chair.

In Spokane. I mention anything to you about —?

I looked at him and sipped the coffee.

He said: I don’t know how to put this.

We told each other we’d both done time, I said. That’s what I remember.

Yeah, he said, relief refracting about the asymmetry of his eyes.

He leaned back in his seat.

I said: We said to keep in touch and I never gave you my card.

I plucked a business card from the back of my iPhone and handed it to him. He handed me his card and I put it in my pocket without looking at it.

If you’re ever in Vermont, I said, shaking his hand outside the cafe.

I pulled his card from my pocket once back in the cabin of my truck.

Nick McKesson. Address in Louisville, Kentucky.

Weeks passed and I couldn’t forget him. His odor. I trained both body and technique with him in mind.

Negotiations with crew mates and surreptitious questions to office personnel yielded nothing to Kentucky. When I finally landed a shift to Louisville, the load was light as the spring rain and I drove as long and hard as law allowed. I arrived at dusk and took a cab to three blocks away from the address on Nick’s card. It was hot and humid on foot, but breezy.

I knocked on the building door, unsure of my purpose. It was a trucker warehouse with no lights on. I waited. Footsteps, then the door cracked open. His eyes: squinty and hard and uneven.

What’you want.

Nick, I said, my voice as non-threatening as possible. My body language was bad.

We don’t want none, he said, and closed the door.

You gave me your card, I said to the door. Vermont. Remember?

I waited and the door cracked open again. A fly wandered in.

He sent a hard, suspicious look.

Sorry, he said. Round here don’t get a lot of.

It’s cool, I said. Just stopped in to say hey. I was in Louisville and remembered your card. 

He nodded once, eyeing me.

Want a quick beer? I’m closing up.

Sure, I said, walking into the darkness after him.

Crazy you got me today, he said. I got in last night and I’m leavin in the morning.

The shop was empty of people and machines except one truck, likely his.

I said: I didn’t think anyone would be here.

He opened the refrigerator. Budweiser cans. I took one.

Just me, he said.

I don’t remember our conversation over the next several minutes as I drank the Budweiser. I was too far into my head. The can was empty and fragile in my hand.

Hey, I said, and paused.

I lied to you back in Colorado.

What? he said.

In Colorado, I said. I wasn’t honest with you.

What happened in Colorado? he said.

I remembered our conversation from Spokane, I said.

He was suspicious.

What’you talkin about, man? he said.

Then I hit him. All the attempts in my mind, all the square shots and the misses, the temple grazes, all the scenarios I’d played and replayed over the past eighteen months were nothing compared to the pulpy sensation of his nose and left cheekbone meeting the fist at the end of my right arm, bent slightly at the elbow as I leaned in lighting quick from the waist, a solid strike in any storm, any war, under any circumstances, just or unjust.

He staggered. He could take a punch. Adrenaline rocketed through his body and mind but mine was already in orbit. I pounced atop him with the other fist, then both. My physical shape and training made quick work. I knew what he was going to say when I arrived at the door, about not getting a lot of black folk around there. I thought about pissing on him but hit him once more instead. He lay there like the little girls he — I thought. Then I left.

Library, by Roberto Bolaño

Wreckage

Books I buy

Between the strange rains

And heat

Of 1992

Which I’ve already read

Or will never read

Books for my son to read

Lautaro’s library

Which will need to resist

Other rains

And other scorching heats

— Therefore, the edict is this:

Resist, my dear books, 

Cross thy days like medieval knights

And care for my son

In the years to come

 

 

(From Two Poems For Lautaro Bolaño)