At the border of the world  

At the border of the world, MacBastard came upon a group of men standing around next to a small building by the road. As he approached, they stopped him and demanded he identify himself. So he told them the names by which he was known, the places he had recently visited and some of the people he had met during his travels. Then he described the region where he had been born and to which he would one day return in preparation for dying. As he talked, they looked at him with mounting derision; all but one seemed to be laughing at him, sarcastically and unkindly. This was a man a little older that the others. He looked MacBastard in the eye, saying that this was all very well, that his names, where he had been, and the people he had recently met were indeed descriptive of his existence on this planet, and to some extent a measure of his “identity” – as he spoke the word, the man held both hands wide in front of his head and made two small swift movements downwards with his index fingers. It was a gesture that MacBastard did not know. However, the man continued, this is not sufficient to grant further passage. He would also need papers, by which the authenticity of his identity, as well as his eligibility to travel further along the road could be established. Normally this would be a document, issued by the authorities of the region of his birth, or of his permanent place of residence, upon which were noted certain of his unique distinguishing features and biographical characteristics. Without such a document it would not be possible to apply to the authorities for permission to enter. MacBastard looked back into the man’s eyes, seeing both his sincerity and the terrible delusions deeply embedded in his words. That it is necessary for a person - in addition

1  

 

Duncan Spence © 2012

At the border of the world   their being materially present, in addition to their being in command of their experience and in addition to any willingness to recount this honestly - that a person must be in possession of a document conferring upon that person something symbolic and abstract, signifying their value and position in society, and that makes reference to selected bodily attributes and biographical events. That the declarations persons make of themselves are not to be taken at face value, that who a person claims to be is always to be regarded with suspicion until such time that the person is able to supply evidence of this in the form of an officially recognised document upon which it is recorded that this is indeed the case. MacBastard knew immediately that pointing out the logical circularity to the man would be like falling into a whirlpool, that challenging the contradictions entailed here would only create conflict, and that without such a document, nothing he could do or say would make any difference to the situation. There was power at work here and power said he needed papers. The other men were watching him for his reaction, seemingly on the look out for signs that he had already committed some sort of transgression. So MacBastard simply stated that he had understood the situation and then turned back along the road he had travelled. He did not look back. After a while, he left the road to find a way through open country in the general direction of the border that the men were guarding with their small building and impossible abstractions. Presently he came upon a narrow valley with only one way through. Beside a large boulder sat an ancient couple - a man and a woman - their presence almost indistinguishable from the sparse landscape. They surveyed him inexorably. There is a place where the inanimate, the abstract and the monstrous intersect. The old woman was insistent. Although she  

2  

Duncan Spence © 2012

At the border of the world   was uncomfortable with the formalism of her formulation, it was the only way it could be said. She looked at him a little more intensely, pulling his attention further into her ancient being, taking him to a dark place known only to those who experience prolonged betrayal - false hope, misplaced idealism, the tension between unfettered optimism and deepseated pessimism – those whose innocence never dies. This place exists, she said, at the far edge of a series of dualisms, which were empowered by history to dominate, to control and to oversee. It has no substance save for the repetition of procedures and practices, no reality that extends beyond believing in it, no actual existence, it is no power that cannot be opposed and destroyed. But it is a place where fear, retribution and ressentiment are reproduced, where there are rules and sanctions for those who break them, where good timekeeping, orderly administration and the disciplines of production are valued above natural cycles of catastrophe and equilibrium. It is in fact the normal state of affairs for inhabitants of most human societies - this universal metropolis. The old woman spread her arms out around her, signifying her surroundings, and smiled broadly, briefly proud of her wisdom. In society, she emphasised, pulling MacBastard into the finest details of her impeccable consciousness: where new individuals are presented and learn how to be respected, where each makes herself presentable, becoming respectable, always respectful of present configurations of power. She smirked at her word play but seemed also to have lost the thread. Eventually though, she sighed, most people learn that power is empty, that being seen to be obedient is as obedient as being obedient. Most just use this for their own personal ends as they travel through the lives they discover too late to have been already laid down for them by the habits of society. Playing the game, enjoying the ride. Others find here

3  

 

Duncan Spence © 2012

At the border of the world   a motivation to engage politically - even though the enemy is essentially fictitious. Only a very few see it as an insight into the nature of things. Nobody really stops though, having observed this to be the case, and then considers the consequences. Nobody ever asks what it means that power is empty, what follows from the fact that pretending to obey power is as acceptable as actually obeying. Her demeanour changes suddenly to an absolute frustration. Why pretend that power exists at all? Why play its games, follow its rules, and repeat its habits and procedures? Why follow the paths always already laid down, why die a slow living death by accepting – however ironically – the destiny of the life you once believed freely to have chosen? Then she paused, finding composure while searching out the next words, careful to be going to say what she means, and to mean what she says before letting the language flow. The strange inversions and convolutions of thought that are necessary, she declared eventually, in order to experience the truth of this state of affairs, and the extreme power – the strength of will, the determination - required thereafter to find a place where there is actual contact with natural forces, living energies and material events, are not easy to describe. Each must find a unique path. With this her thought seemed to stop. The lessons of modern enlightenment, she mused suddenly, breaking the infinite measure of the moment, the hope that reason will embed itself in the minds of free individuals, who organise their lives according to democratic principles and who are motivated by higher ideals to work for the general benefit of all, the hope that reason will shine a light, bringing humanity at last to a state of universal equity and civilisation, must defer to more ancient insights. To experience no self, no knowing subject, and yet to know the absolutely infinite substance of creation. In an instant,

4  

 

Duncan Spence © 2012

At the border of the world   and always. Smiling broadly, she produced a little book from the folds of her clothing, and quoted: Wenn man unter Ewigkeit nicht unendliche Zeitdauer, sondern Unzeitlichkeit versteht, dann lebt der ewig, der in der Gegenwart lebt. At which point the old man who had been sitting quietly listening throughout the woman’s reasoning, moved forward with the confidence of a young dog. For thinking beings, he said briskly, it is no longer self-evident what it entails to be this; what it means to know that we exist in this place is not to be taken for granted - others will always have other perspectives and the thinkingness of our being is very likely simply to have been an effect of those forces by whose interaction the intersection of the abstract, the monstrous and the inanimate comes into existence - a symptom, part of the problem, that which is in need of solution. Both our thinking and the languages we have inherited to express this are so deeply complicit that we are unable to excise ourselves for a clear view, nor otherwise comprehend our complicity. The old man was animated and enthusiastic, merrily dancing along with the words, perfectly complementing the sullen precision of the old woman whose thesis he appeared now to be expanding. The effects of thinking this through with any kind of integrity, he said with school-masterly emphasis, are powerlessness, alienation, contradiction, intellectual stagnation and frustration, vulnerability and defensiveness. The road through the quagmire to the clear waters of truth is long and lonely. If you do not want to lose all your friends, to endanger your mental health, to risk falling into the pit of addiction, to ruin your capacity for intimacy and trust, to become manipulative, deceitful and disingenuous, and to separate yourself from the rest of humanity, then do not even begin the journey. Remain docile, unconscious, obedient, blind and ignorant, dependent on the lies and deceit that keeps your consciousness happy. Keep turning the cogs of the big machine  

5  

Duncan Spence © 2012

At the border of the world   with your habits, your personal tastes, and your unreflective choices. Be inanimate, abstract and monstrous. Know that when you are gone you will have had no life, that it was all for nothing, that your achievements will have been empty, that you will be forgotten quickly, that there is no God waiting in final judgment at the gates to the afterlife who will at last see in you the essential good. All remnants of benevolence are gone; yet he is smiling lovingly. He stands triumphant, facing everything else in his magnificent solitude - the old woman, MacBastard and all he carries, the world around him and all those who could be possibly addressed by his tirade. Facing even you the reader, eyes leveled, securely, supporting the wisdom he is bearing, imploring you to understand the greatest weight of your own life, your very own moonlight and your very own spider, before releasing you to be, or to do anything else, holding onto this monstrous, abstract, inanimate truth in the timeless living present, in your face, here, now and always. For you have always already known there can never be anything else. Without knowing this, there is no being to speak of. Only existence akin to that of a component. Like a fierce young lioness reacting to the chance of an immediate kill, the old woman sprang up again, turning now on the old man. You are not going to trap me with that negativity of yours, she snapped, breaking the spell that the old man’s rhetoric had been able to produce. All that thinking just took you further into the pit of hell, and your polemic carried the rest of us along with it. All we got was a stark confrontation with an empty identity inhabiting a place bordered by nonexistence, insignificance and delusion. You do not come back into any kind of material relation with any actual energies with life - after your excursions into those ... into that ... darkness ... the old woman stopped in mid flow, wrestling with feelings of revulsion and disgust.

6  

 

Duncan Spence © 2012

At the border of the world   The old man crestfallen, could not believe that she had again found it necessary to attribute to him a negativity: there were indeed negative moments in the discourse he had spoken, he seemed to be repeating, but this meant neither that there is any “him” producing the discourse - some sort of reflection of his inner being - nor that this should be the origin of anything negative. It misses the positive message of the epiphany, the transition of being and the movement of wisdom, the creation of a place where this division between negative and positive has no power. The attribution of negativity must then be a projection, he retorted, an effect of the way the discourse was received, of negative elements of the logic of interpretation. So too, the attribution of identity onto the person of the speaker must be an effect of the unique position and history of the one who hears and reacts, a reflection, all of it a kind of reification. This hideous dialectic must then be an effect simply of our material relation, that we are two alone together in the wilderness of society. Surely she must realise this. One day you will come to understand, she interrupted with a superior air, that your life is always, and has only ever been, entirely bodily. That all those ideas and theories you constructed about the external world - you know, that place with which you refuse to engage, and yet insist on observing at all times, and in many levels of detail, from a distance created by retreating backwards inside your own head; that these were all elements of the mechanisms by which you refused to engage, remaining ever-vigilant and satisfying a misplaced desire for control, maintaining a condition of stability from which to derive a false sense of security. Psychological mechanisms. These are just methods by which you keep your own particular unique secret, silent and unconfronted, as you squander life under the illusion that you are in control.

7  

 

Duncan Spence © 2012

At the border of the world   There was a moment – almost without duration, yet intense and overwhelming – when everything fell apart, where total chaos reigned and mortal conflict ensued. The individuality of the two was in that moment torn from the substance of creation, their bodies entangled with languages that had taken on lives of their own, subjecting them to grammatical imperatives, to logics of reproduction and determination, and to immanent deconstruction, thereby creating something abstract, monstrous and inanimate of their lives. MacBastard snapped out of the moment and saw the two once again facing each other, each as beautiful and magnificent as the other, replete with love. Having overcome the dialectic to which they had become subject, they had nothing more to tell him and their presence diminished once more into the landscape, but their inexorable surveillance continued to follow his journey up the steepening, narrowing pass. Approaching the head of the pass, standing a little way up the side of the ridge on an outcrop of rock that afforded views of both sides of the divide, MacBastard noticed a being of indeterminate gender, human-like but larger in stature, apparently unconcerned by MacBastard’s motion. At the summit, he saw why this being was standing there, for here there was no view at all of either side; the way he had travelled was now obscured by a turn in the path, and before him stretched a broad watershed of boggy pools and winding streams with no horizon but sky. There was no obvious way across to any valley on the other side, only a rough scar of a path in the rock along the ridge that disappeared round the side of the mountain without giving any impression that it would ever find a way down to land below. The path began moreover from the outcrop of rock where the aloof being stood, still not giving the impression that it had registered MacBastard’s presence. For the want of any alternative, he scrambled upwards in the direction of the viewpoint.

8  

 

Duncan Spence © 2012

At the border of the world   You mean to say that you really do not know who I am? MacBastard did not often find himself in a state of confusion. It was as if this singular being present before him already knew that he did indeed know who it was, but that he had himself forgotten. It had been a long journey, he had met very many people along the way and he felt sure that if he had ever before come upon one such as this, he would certainly not have forgotten. But there was absolutely no sense of recognition. You are remembering in the wrong places, not allowing yourself to know what you already know. I am not in your history; I am here and now before you, all around you, in you, with you, always have been, always will. What you care to make of this experience, and in particular the kind of being you create outside of yourself to give me voice, are of no more or less concern to me than anything else. What you see here before you is a reflection of yourself, so if you do not yet recognise me, or if you are thus not yet able to draw the obvious conclusion, then your journey is hardly even underway. I’ll give you a clue. It began to happen a little less than four thousand years ago. Human beings deciding that the fact that they were able to think things through before acting, that because they were able to use assorted principles of logic and reasoning in order to solve their immediate problems, because they were aware of themselves doing this as they went about their lives – lives that had then, as much as now, to do with feeding themselves, sheltering from the elements, caring for offspring and generally looking after one another, that they must therefore be endowed with an essence that makes all this possible, some sort of faculty that distinguishes them from the other species of being who live on planet earth with them and who are apparently not so endowed. Since then it has been downhill for human beings. It was a very bad decision. All the rest of history’s fallacies are derived or have developed from this fundamental delusion, this faith in a supernatural power that inhabits human bodies and 9     Duncan Spence © 2012

At the border of the world   turns individual human beings into a first cause. The arrogance of it – as if a fox does not think about where to build her lair, or a cat not decide to hunt for mice rather than birds, or elephants not know where to find water. Unbelievable really, but there you go - it just goes to show how stupid human intelligence actually is. You however are not just another blind follower, taking another well-trodden path, are you? You will not be making the same old mistake, nor continuing in this history – in fact, your entire being is dedicated to working against it, to doing something else. At which point MacBastard experienced an unfolding. In an instant he saw the other change into the most complete depiction of himself he had ever seen, and then into something indistinguishable from himself. At the same time he was overwhelmed by the most intense experience of having been himself, as if he had instantaneously remembered every event he had experienced throughout his entire unique history, as if his very own being had been absolutely made known to him and would never again leave his consciousness. Whereupon the other vanished before his eyes, leaving the path ahead open. He stood for a moment pondering the discourse ringing through his consciousness, changed. He tried to imagine how beautiful the planet was then. Before human beings made the mistake of believing they had supernatural powers, the mistake that had brought them in just a few thousand years to the brink of self-annihilation. Clear open skies affording pristine views of the heavenly bodies and their cycles, lush forests and plains teeming with living creatures, majestic mountains and open deserts, mighty rivers and vast oceans of pure water, all of which unfetterd by arbitrary lines on the ground, uncluttered by groups of stupid men hanging around small buildings threatening to do violence with abstractions.

10  

 

Duncan Spence © 2012

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful