Jelly (on a roll)

Jam or Jelly?

My friend Scott was always quick to announce that he didn’t jam. He wrote songs. I liked his reasoning, and it became a part of me. I don’t like jamming much at all. It just wanders around and goes nowhere. I like to get somewhere when I write, even if it’s just a closing paradox. I’m forever trying to get things to gel.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t riff sometimes. Sometimes, weird connections result. I was thinking about Technicolor and quicksand.

Quicksand is easy. When too much fluid quickly enters a loose collection of silica particles, a flux results. The flux doesn’t bear weight easily, and things that rest upon it slide down, engulfed. Is this a bad thing? It’s actually close to HP Grice’s view of the process of making meaning. Essentially, humanity is awash in particles of meaning. We reach out to adjacent particles of meaning (implicatures) and depending on where we are in the cultural flux, we grasp at the particles of best fit dependent on our situation. But the postmodernists claim that the concrete grasp of meaning is impossible and our only choice is to swim in the flux playfully rather than drown, struggling against the shifting tide of history.

The particles of meaning could also be called beliefs. In order to be useful, they need not be fixed— just close to where we are at that point in time. But quicksand is a much more poetic term for the process involved, and naturally it made me think of the Bowie song.

Mr. Crowley, of course.


I’m closer to the Golden Dawn
Immersed in Crowley’s uniform
Of imagery
I’m living in a silent film
Portraying Himmler’s sacred realm
Of dream reality
I’m frightened by the total goal
Drawing to the ragged hole
And I ain’t got the power, anymore
No I ain’t got the power anymore

How can I make this gel with where I am now? It’s easier than it seems.

WB Yeats was a member of the Golden Dawn. Yeats and his beloved Maud Gonne were wrapped up in it, and Yeats was instrumental in exiling Crowley from the order. Yeats believed in responsibilities, whereas Crowley’s edict (appropriated from Rabelais) was “Do what thou wilt.” Freedom from moral responsibility was not something that Yeats could buy into, though as I researched it today, the parallels with Crowley are astounding. The oft quoted Crowley maxim was conveyed in a book supposedly dictated by spirit voices to his wife in 1904, thirteen years before Yeats claimed his own credo was delivered by the same method. The quicksand deepens.

Yeats cut deep to the core of mythos throughout most of his career. It was also the project of Maud Gonne and the women of the Golden Dawn to create rituals for a “castle of heroes” where the old ways of moral responsibility might be recaptured. They were repulsed by Crowley’s debauchery, though they were hardly prudes themselves. The “secret knowledge” that Yeats felt was “just for schoolmates” was part of an effort to reclaim a higher moral ground in Ireland.

The Western Esoteric tradition, which both Yeats and Crowley are voices of, sought to reclaim the power of the individual in a neo-romantic way. There is a conflict between freedom and responsibilties that Bowie conveys amazingly well through his slippery dialogic song. I find it interesting that Bowie chose the image of “living in a silent film” to convey the monochrome nature of the conflict. You can envision the goose-stepping propoganda films, and Ezra Pound’s (or perhaps Mussolini’s) Italy where the trains run on time. All systems are by nature reductive; even when couched in elaborate mystical mumbo-jumbo they don’t capture the full spectrum of life experience. Sometimes bad guys don’t wear black, even if we wish they would, as we all drag closer to that ragged hole in the ground where we find rest.

I’m the twisted name on Garbo’s eyes
Living proof of Churchill’s lies
I’m destiny
I’m torn between the light and dark
Where others see their targets
Divine symmetry
Should I kiss the viper’s fang
Or herald loud the death of Man
I’m sinking in the quicksand of my thought
And I ain’t got the power anymore

“The vipers fang” is a Golden Dawn reference as well,and it seems implicit that if we all did what we wanted it would be the end of society. But there is no stability to be found at either pole; the chorus of nihilism is the only relaxation of tension contained in the song.

Don’t believe in yourself
Don’t deceive with belief
Knowledge comes with death’s release

But in the grand old Greek tradition, the actions of the speaker are not in concord with the chorus. Though the nihilist cry that nothing is worth believing seems trapped in an endless loop, the credo is far outside real human experience. One doesn’t have to be a prophet to believe in something. And believing something doesn’t mean that you’ll believe just anything.

I’m not a prophet or a stone age man
Just a mortal with the potential of a superman
I’m living on
I’m tethered to the logic of Homo Sapien
Can’t take my eyes from the great salvation
Of bullshit faith
If I don’t explain what you ought to know
You can tell me all about it
On the next Bardo
I’m sinking in the quicksand of my thought
And I ain’t got the power anymore

The spectrum expressed here isn’t colorful, it’s reason versus the emotional need for faith. I’ve been told my worldview is monochromatic, and I suppose it is. Too much time as a photographer. Color film (and or CCD sensors) don’t ring true for me. Technicolor lies. When I owned a photo lab in the early 80s, I sent film out to the Technicolor processing plant in Fresno, California. My slides always came back blue. Though it was flattering on skyscapes, it was quite far from the reality of a blanched greyish-brown California sky.

Nothing really captures the spectrum of reality and it seems as if reduction and negation are our only tools to deal with it. Yes, it is quicksand. I may not have the power, but I’m doing my best to learn to swim through the particles I can grasp. I don’t think I’d look as good in a funny hat as Crowley does.

I can’t jam. I’m stuck with making jelly out of my brain. It beats having the blues, especially the phony Technicolor ones.

In a Dark Time is right about poems being “living things.” I’d extend that to words in general. Language is a living, evolving, changing thing. When I first heard this Bowie song, I had no clue about Nietzsche’s superman, or the Golden Dawn, or any of this stuff. I just liked the song. My feelings and interpretation have changed, obviously, over the years. They are deeper now, but I still mistrust the notion of color. I’ve sunk a long way into the quicksand.

One of the weird observations that has been made about me over the years is that I don’t think the way other people do. My process is different, and some people I’ve known have found it fascinating. They just couldn’t figure out how I got from A to B. I g
et pretty twisted-up sometimes.

But I don’t jam.