This is the last post of a series of three under the same title. After this post, I am taking the summer off; but I will return to blogging sometime this fall.
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We’re not experiencing a crisis of capitalism but rather the triumph of crisis capitalism. . . . The present crisis, permanent and omni-lateral, is no longer the classic crisis, the decisive moment. On the contrary, it’s an endless end, a lasting apocalypse, an indefinite suspension, an effective postponement of actual collapse, and for that reason a permanent state of exception.
— The Invisible Committee, To Our Friends*
In what I have come to regard as the truly proper sense of the term, a “prophecy” is a telling, a speaking-forth and thereby letting-be-seen, of truth. Prophecy tells truth in a way that emphasizes what might be called the “futural” dimension of truth’s nature as sheer arrival. Truth as truth is always in arrival—which literally means “touching shore” (from Latin ad-, to or toward, and ripa, shore)—insofar as truth itself is the casting of light wherein what is shows itself. When that light stops shining, truth stops being truth. It follows that only a literally “fore-casting” speaking of truth, one that casts truth forth, speaks truth truthfully, that is, truly accords with the always advent-al (from Latin ad-, plus venire, to come) nature of truth itself: Only prophecy truly tells the truth.
So understood, a prophecy is a sort of screen-vision, an “image” in and as which truth literally fore-casts itself. The term “screen-vision” should be taken in a sense parallel to that in which we speak of a “screen-memory,” in the sense I have discussed in this blog before—as well as in my book The Open Wound: Trauma, Identity, and Community (CreateSpace, 2013). In that sense, a screen-memory is a memory that simultaneously conceals and reveals—or more precisely reveals in its very concealing and conceals in its very revealing—thereby reflecting the very nature of the trauma of which it constitutes the “memory.” Insofar as a trauma is an event that, when it strikes, cannot be “processed” or “comprehended” by those it strikes, such an event cannot be retained in any simply representational image, as though in a snapshot. It is in that sense not available to be “remembered” at all, if remembering is taken to be no more than pulling up some sort of representation of an earlier, already comprehended or experientially processed event, its quasi-photographic reproduction in a “memory image.” What has never produced at the level of such an image in the first place cannot later be re-produced in one either.
Thus, as traumatic, an event is not an objectified externality that can simply be referenced by images or other signs that are supposed to represent it thanks to some iconic, indexical, or even just conventionally symbolic connection. In that sense, the relation of images to the traumatic is actually the same as that of “sacred languages” to the sacred, as Benedict Anderson describes that notion. “A sacred language,” as I wrote in recounting Anderson in my preceding post, the second of this series, “does not refer to some world from which it is separated off and set at a distance. Rather, a sacred language projects a world, opens a world in the first place, letting it first be as a place where people can build a dwelling for themselves.” In the same way, what we might call a traumatic image—whether in the form of a “memory,” or of a “vision”: that is, casting backward or forward respectively—would be an image that was not distanced from the traumatic event it imaged, distanced in such a way that we could speak of how closely the image “resembled” the traumatic event itself. Instead, the image would itself belong to the traumatic event as such, literally pro-jecting or retro-jecting rather than just “re-presenting” it.
So, for example, the “screen-memory” of a traumatic event itself belongs to that very event, being part of its event-ing, as we might put it. The screen-memory of a trauma is itself, we could say, one of the “after-shocks” set off by the initial shock of the trauma as such—thus belonging to the very process whereby the traumatic shock continues to “register” itself. In that way—serving in effect as what we might call “after-images” of trauma, to parallel talk of “after-shocks”—screen-memories of traumas would be images in which those traumas retrojected themselves, or made their mark backward into “memory” itself. They would thus serve as a sort of “screening” of trauma, in the sense of a sort of surface on which (more properly, “as” which) trauma could cast itself.
If taken as “representations” of “what actually happened,” such memories would indeed be “inaccurate,” often extremely so. They would therefore be “false” memories in the sense at issue in talk of “false memory syndrome” and the like: memories that, taken as subsequent, reproductive representations of a preceding event from which they stand away at a temporal distance, mis-represent something already presented at some preceding time. All treatment of traumatic screen-memories as such falsifying representations, however, is a falsifying treatment of memory itself, which is really never such a paltry thing as a mere recording device, an apparatus for taking snapshots, as it were.
In contrast to any such “snapshot” images, traumatic screen-memories stand to the trauma they remember as sacred languages stand to the sacred they bespeak. Sacred languages do not refer to the sacred but rather name it, speaking it forth. In the same way, screen-memories do not represent trauma but rather embody it, showing it forth. And since trauma as such “conceals” itself, in the sense of always in effect withdrawing itself away from what can be comprehended within experience, that self-concealment must be respected in any proper memory image of trauma. Traumatic memories must remember traumatically, as it were.
In parallel fashion, what I am calling “screen-visions” must envision traumatically. Just as screen-memories are not re-screenings of features already shown before, so are screen-visions not previews of coming attractions. Put differently, they are not predictions: saying what will be, before it has come (from Latin pre-, plus dicere, to say). Rather, they are prophecies: voicings forth of truth (from pro-, plus a derivative from Greek phanai, to speak). We might also say that screen-visions are truth-projections (from pro-, forward or forth, and Latin iacere, to throw or cast): truth casting itself concretely forth before us, in order then to cast its light back, upon what is and has been there all along—retro-jecting itself to manifest as and in screen-memories.
That double-stroke of retrojective projection, in turn, clears a space and time—e-jecting it, we might say: that is, casting it out and open. It is there, in that opening, that we have room to dwell.
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I made the same mistake in Mazatlan in 1982 that I would say Günther Anders made in Japan in 1958 (see my preceding post): I confused prophecy with prediction. I interpreted what I was seeing as a vision of things yet to be, in the sense of things that had not happened yet, but would some day, after an interval (concerning the length of which I was able to form no definite conclusion). However, I eventually—but already long ago by now—came to a very different understanding, in accordance with which what I saw on the beach in Mazatlan back then was no prediction of what would someday be, but was instead a screen-vision, which is to say a truth-projection, of what is.
At any rate, whether taken to be a prediction or taken to be a prophecy, what I “saw” in Mazatlan in 1982 came to me in a sort of double vision, as it were. I saw at once two different but interrelated things. The first was what I can best express as the sheer vacuity and nullity of what passes for reality itself today at the level of surface appearances. By “surface appearances” I mean all the standard stuff–good, bad, and middling—of our modern commercial “civilization,” as epitomized by a middle-aged, relatively well-off American couple briefly escaping the dreary northern winter of Denver by flying away to spend the Valentine’s Day weekend at a touristy beach resort in a town that lives off such tourism along the warm, Gulf-coast of Mexico. I saw the emptiness of “all that,” projected as its inevitably coming collapse.
The other thing I simultaneously saw—in effect seeing through all the glitter of the surface of the pretend reality, to what that surface disclosed in the very attempt to cover it over, seeing though to it as it were the lasting, underlying sense of the very sensory level through which I saw it—was the inexorable return and triumph of the very thing all the glitter and glitz of modern global market commerce is designed to mask and devoted to keeping away, or at least to perpetually postponing. I saw, through the irreal itself, the return of the real, as it were.
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In accord with my initial, mistaken understanding of the nature of my vision at the time, I took the “return” at issue to be something that was going to occur eventually, rather than as something already here. But as I eventually came more fully to understand it, my vision on the beach at Mazatlan was actually a sort of invitation to cross over the Jordan into the Promised Land, so to speak, that is, to stop sham-living in a sham reality, and instead simply to start really living now, today—just taking up residence in the reality of what I would years later, in The Open Wound, come to call “the irrelevance of power.” It was an invitation to live awake to the nullity and insignificance of the whole global commercial illusion I was seeing through: to stop granting that illusion any status, any authority over me any longer.
In one longstanding tradition, the devil himself is said to have no power except what we give him ourselves by our resistance to him. That’s one way of appreciating the Christian injunction against resisting evil. Then, too, there are vampires as they were depicted in the movies that gave me nightmares in my childhood: those vampires who come into our rooms to suck our blood, and turn us into vampires ourselves in the process, but who can come in at all only if we first let them in—which, of course, they use all their considerable wiles to tempt us to do.
Though I did not make use of the vampire metaphor at the time, what I both saw and already knew that I saw even back in 1982 when I first had my Mazatlan vision, was that our entire contemporary “civilization” is essentially vampiric in that old, Hollywood way. It sustains its own undead existence only by sucking the blood of the living, and in the process turns all the living into undead bloodsuckers too. However, the problem with bloodsucking, and in the process converting all whose blood is sucked into bloodsuckers themselves too, is that inevitably all the blood eventually gets sucked, so there’s no more blood left for the sucking, and then the whole bloody, sucking thing just collapses. On the beach during my 1982 Mazatlan weekend I saw and understood how true that was of our whole “civilization,” vampiric as it is in its very essence.
But what I basically forgot to apply back in 1982 was that other part of vampire lore I also always knew, that part about us having to let the bloodsuckers in, before they can even begin the whole business. Perhaps better put, I neglected back then to appreciate fully the application to our vampiric global system of the Christian wisdom—a wisdom, I should add, that can in fact also be found in other traditions, perhaps especially the Buddhist one—about resistance only giving power to what it tries to resist.
I thereby failed fully to appreciate that we don’t even have to wait for the devil’s reign to end, before we can come out of hiding and go about living our lives again, and living them “abundantly,” for that matter, just as Christ tells his followers he wants them to do. All we have to do is stop giving power to that old devil. If we do, then—poof! he’s gone! We then see, too, that he never really had any power of his own over us anyway, that it was all just an illusion we bought into, letting him get into us. We can just stop buying into that illusion.
When we do, we will see that the sun has been there shining brightly all along, the grass and other vegetation growing luxuriantly, and the whole world just waiting for building.
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When the house in which we’ve been living since 1991 was itself being built, we had an “invisible fence” installed to keep the three dogs we had then confined to the part of the property we wanted to confine them to. To build such a “fence” it was only necessary to bury a small, insulated wire a few inches below ground, around the area we wanted to confine the dogs to. The wire was then hooked into a low-voltage source of electricity. Then some put electrode-equipped collars went around the dogs necks, so that when the dogs tried to cross over the line where the hidden wire was buried, they’d get a little jolt of electricity. They’d yelp and jump back. After a very short they were conditioned to stay properly within the area we wanted to confine them to.
Everything worked exactly as promised. Soon, we didn’t even need to make the dogs wear the special collars anymore. They just stayed put in their invisible pen.
Not long after that, however, the TV cable company came around and did its usual sort of thing. That is, it buried TV cable where it wanted, without really caring where other things might already have been buried. As a result, they cut the dog-jolting lines of our “invisible fence.” So no electricity flowed through the wire any longer. That meant, of course, that the dogs would no longer get jolted if they crossed the line enclosing the area where we wanted to keep them in bondage.
Nevertheless, the dogs never crossed that line anyway, such slaves to our will had they become. Their prior conditioning continued to bind them. Absolutely nothing was holding them in any longer, except their own ignorance of the fact that they nothing was holding them in. They no longer saw that they had any option. Therefore, they no longer had any option, really.
The vision I had on the beach back in 1982, the vision of the grass growing back over the pathways of the Camino Real and the jungle reclaiming all the asphalted highways around Mazatlan, was not a vision of any distant future. It was a vision of a future already come—the only future there is, has been, or will be, really: the future that shows itself to have been there all along, just waiting for us to enter into it. After all, it’s really been ours all along, just waiting for us to see it, and understand that it’s ours for the entering. Only our ignorance stands in our way.
We just need to be effectively shown that we have an option, which we can then just begin exercising. We don’t even have to resist anything first.**
*Translated by Robert Hurley—Semiotext(e), 2015, p. 25.
**Here, resistance is to be understood in the ordinary way—namely, as a reaction against something that acts originally. As such reaction, resistance not only remains dependent upon what it reacts to, but even ends up being robbed of its own definitive intention, so that it actually strengthens the very power it tries to resist, as Christ was not alone in seeing. That there are other, no longer self-defeating forms of resistance, offering options to dependent reaction, is something about which I have already written in The Open Wound. I will write of the matter again on this blog in the future, probably in a post or post-series I’m currently thinking of calling “Striking Back, Standing Up, and Striking Out,” inspired by the story of the contemporary New Mexico poet Jimmy Santiago Baca, as told in his 2001 memoir A Place to Stand and the documentary film released under the same title earlier this year (2015).