Cycling in a tiered world

by Suspended Reason

There is a girl in New York City / Who calls herself the human trampoline / And sometimes when I’m falling, flying / Or tumbling in turmoil I say / Whoa, so this is what she means” / She means we’re bouncing into Graceland /

—“Graceland,” Paul Simon

Between the rolling hills and peaks, valleys and troughs; between the local maxima of a fitness landscape, lie local minima where the water settles, pulled downward by gravity, unable to escape. Islands, they are called by ecologists—subenvironments, bounded by impassable terrains—be they bodies of water between lands, or bodies of land between waters, like the stretching miles of desert that separate isle oases. Thus a rock formation, protruding from a crater lake, is an island within an island, doubly separated, doubly bounded. And species’ gene pool, divided mitotically and separated by mountain range, begins to diverge, as iguanas might when castaway—500 miles from mainland—upon Ecuadorian magma.

The peaks of maxima, mythologically speaking: stable equilibria, working structures fitted and tailored to their environs. Heaven to a Christian, or Eden—but we, in the middle, on this earth, never accomplish such perfection. Disruption casts us out, from garden into the wilderness; casts us down, topples us from such great heights into the chaos of the trough—the middle way of media res—where only with labors may we ascend—modifying, experimenting—searching for a new peak, a new stable height, stable for a while. And the road to the summit, unreachable yet ever-sought, is littered with bodies, and they are the bodies of our unsuccessful brothers, the failed regulators, the disproven hypotheses.

Again and again I must submerge myself in the water of doubt. (Wittgenstein, Notes on Frazer’s Golden Bough”)

Or we are Icarus, our wax wings melted at the moment of our greatest joy, plunging us into the Sea below. (Another of Father’s experiments…) From light into darkness, thin air to heavy water: crashing and diving into underworld. Pulled by gravity, sucked by downdraught, whisked by whirlpool drowned. The heavens are a high-flying mania, the ecstasy of low entropies and immaculate conceptions—the world simplified, seeming (as a crack of light between the darkness) to fit a simple model—while Pluto mans the melancholia entropy reasserted, never defeated, the pit of all which escapes our models.

The Sea, the Sea—the unmarked and unstructured, the ever-shifting, the renewing chaos from which all life is born and into which all life dissolves. Violent yet womb-like, the saline of blood. (Blood the Sea taken inside ourselves, the ancestral environ replicated within skinsuit.) Here, in the pit, in the trough where water has settled—in unsimulatable Sea—is our opportunity for rebirth. Menace and carress. Ashen-faced and animated by water. Only in storing up energy, and devising a new form, may we combat its gravity, tame entropy again, and escape the Sea that sits between the mountains. Here, at rock-bottom, some pearl of insight must be retrieved, some realization about the raw reality one has been exposed to. Perhaps with such a shining pearl’s light will we rise again—ascend, awaken to higher faculties and upper airs.

In the mountains you can see for miles. The gaseous air is so thin there’s barely enough oxygen to breathe. Less pressure less gravitational force. Undersea, underground everything is dark, solid, compressing your body.

Undersea, the weight of water crushes us to death, crumples our lungs, forces water into us until our cells split. In the dark and the cold, homeostasis approaches hypothermia. But at too high altitude of altitudes, or the vacuum of space, the water is pulled from your cells—ebullient, evaporating, desiccating you. Oxygen expands rupturing the lungs, boiling and bubbling the blood—the Bends. The body exposed to extreme temperature fluctuations, where skin melts and freezes. We men are fitted to the mesa-, and are mesa-optimizers; the great heights are not ours to inhabit; in their polarity is their similarity.

And the Tower of Dedalus is the Tower of Tarot is the Tower of Babel, the great hope of Esperanto: ONE unified language, ONE god universe (Burroughs), ONE totalizing code and system. The structure of the local max personified, a working edifice built through labor which gives great vantage point in lofty airs. But which sooner or later is struck and brought down by a bolt of lightning, a bolt of reality intruding from outside the system (Murphy’s Law), a bolt of the unaccounted. Or it is overwhelmed and washed away by the tidal terrors of the Sea. Or it is blown over by great winds, or ransacked by vandals. Joyce uses the metaphor of eggshells, Humpty-Dumpty taking his great Fall. The structure of the shell—a protective barrier—cracking, Finn’s ladder tumble leading to resurrection.

But the bolt of lightning is also the lightning of epiphany, for the structure of the local maximum has become obsolete. It is too heavy, not light enough. It is oppressive tyrannical structure. Its collapse is terrifying and liberating. The lightning is the epiphany that wakes the giant from from habituated and ritual slumber, from ready-to-hand sleepwalking and into present-at-hand awareness consciousness. Which wakes us into consciousness. (Was it kykeons lightning-bolt that initiated Plato and began philosophy in the West? Through a cave darkly, Plato came to see the light.”[^1] ) Like a psychedelic, breaking us out of our naturalized norms and semaphores. Awakening-by-novelty, that-which-is-outside-the-tower, awakening-by-estrangement, the defamiliarization of the schema creating a self-consciousness which is at once a Fall from innocence a fall from hubris and also an ascension, the downward motion creating that momenumtum which lets us swing upward again. For diving and floating, ascending and descending, are yin and yangs each contained in each other, and none can say where transcendence ends and death begins.

In this mean world of wretchedness and misery, I thought that for once a ray of sunlight had broken upon my life. Alas, it was not sunlight, but a passing gleam, a falling star, which flashed upon me. In its light, in the course of a second, of a single moment, I beheld all the wretchedness of my existence and apprehended the glory and splendor of the star. After, that brightness disappeared again in the whirlpool of darkness in which it was bound inevitably to disappear. I was unable to retain that passing gleam. (Sadeq Hedayat)

[^1:] Peter Sjöstedt-Hughes, The Psychedelic Influence on Philosophy.”