The Disease of the West

      Snyder: I quote to you one of Basho's disciples who took down something Basho once said to a group of students. He said, "To learn about the pine, go to the pine. To learn about bamboo, go to the bamboo. But this learn is not just what you think learn is. You only learn by becoming totally absorbed in that which you wish to learn. There are many people who think they have learned something and willfully construct a poem which is artifice and does not flow from their delicate entrance into the life of another object.
      
Geneson: So when Sartre, the Western philosopher, goes to the tree, touches the tree trunk and says, "I feel in an absurd position—I cannot break through my skin to get in touch with this bark, which is outside me," the Japanese poet would say what?
      
Snyder: Sartre is expressing the disease of the West. At least he's being honest.
      The Oriental will say, "But there are ways to do it, my friend. It's no big deal." It's no big deal, especially if you get attuned to the possibility from early in life.
—from Gary Snyder interviewed by Paul Geneson, The Real Work

Wrote Jorge Luis Borges in "A Yellow Rose" (Prose Pieces from El Hacedor in Selected Poems 1923–1967, Delta Books edition),

Then the revelation came to him. Marino saw the rose as Adam first saw it in Paradise, and he felt that it lived in an eternity of its own and not in his words, and that we may mention or allude to a thing but not express it, and that the tall proud volumes casting a golden haze there in a corner of the room were not (as his vanity dreamed) a mirror of the world but only one more thing added to the world.
      This illumination came to Marino on the eve of his death, as perhaps before him it had come to Homer and Dante as well.

Words are not the things they represent—of course—but tools that human creatures use in group for the purpose of successfully navigating spacetime. Of course the rose lives in its own eternity and not in our words—but our words may well, and do, mirror the rose to the degree necessary to provide sufficient toolness to Human of the mirroredness in Word of Rose.

That the books in the corner could have been both reflective of the world and one more thing added to the world—as is a raindrop on a windowpane—appears not to have occurred to the writer. The understanding of Being as containerless, counterpartless Unity in which the differentiative subtools both, either, and neither exist only in Mind as constructs of creaturehood Perception appears to have been more remote still.

That Borges the Reporter might be positively untrustworthy rather than merely haplessly obtuse is evidence of the disease of the West as pandemic. Wrote he in the preface (translated by Norman Thomas Di Giovanni in Jorge Luis Borges: Selected Poems, 1923–1967) to the 1964, 1966, and 1967 editions of Obra poética:

What is essential is the aesthetic act, the thrill, the almost physical emotion that comes with each reading....Literature's magic is worked on us by various artifices, but once the reader finds them out they wear off. Out of this comes the continual need for greater or lesser variations, which may recover the past or prefigure a future.

In this, Borges, no less than Sartre, exemplifies yet another aspect of the disease of the West: Art as Magic Show, Artist and Audience mutually exploiting each other toward blindness to What Is in thrall of mere sleight of mind.

But is "The Disease of the West" really a disease? The ability to cogently perceive the relative containedness or uncontainedness of What Is—the ability to have such issues occur to one to be issues at all—requires the operation of attentive, perceptive, and processing power that is demonstrably non-uniform across population. Perhaps what appears to be The Disease of the West—the ever-elaborating rendering, by Art and Science, of World as magic show—is, as driven by the net rather than determined by the unanimous, as good as it gets, and the actual Disease, such as it is, is believing otherwise.


  Copyright © 2008–2016 by David Newkirk (DavidNewkirk@gmail.com). All rights reserved.
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