The Dangers of Meditation

I had been thinking for some time now of what I now realize can be called “Cartesian meditation”, I mean, the sort of meditation that Descartes performs in “Meditations on First Philosophy” — I mean, a kind of highly concrete introspection, involving the inner eye, looking inwards, and so on. People who read Descartes, or whatever, today, may be … lured in by the clarity and simplicity of such practices, and also by a subtle sort of condescension, by escapism. It would be nice to make money in that way, by lying, I mean, and by leading a kind of innocent existence. But there is seriousness there that we may miss, I here accuse people of not reading Descartes seriously enough, especially those who enjoy him or think they understand him. Cartesian meditation, like all meditation, is a very real way, a mode of thinking that we have to respond to, of responding to the world — not so much at it’s essence, but at it’s step — before we take the first step, the first of many steps. I am not talking here about the foundations metaphor — “before we start constructing edifices we have to lay the groundwork” — but rather about steps, walking, movement — meditation is to the step as the critique is to the groundwork.

The basic thesis of Heart of Darkness involves the dangers of meditation. What’s so interesting about Kurtz is the sincerity of all those around him, he doesn’t promise power, fame, etc. so much as truth, as a kind of meditative truth. Marlow is inexplicably drawn towards him and inexplicably finds himself defending him — one of the central questions of the book — why? Why if Kurtz is not worth the life of the foreman lost to get to him, for example? But in order to think about this form of meditation we may will have to think beyond cartesian meditation.

… one thing troubles me highly, which is that meditation, unlike ideology, is true … it’s true in some sense. We have for the longest time been blissfully equating thinking with peace, with progress, and so on. Even for the critique, we have been equating that with self-questioning, doubt, all good things. I had a talk with someone today and I found myself, despite my best efforts, falling back to such banalities. How many times, for example, have I said that love, and not hate, is the justification for most violence? (Hate associated with guilt, doubt, and so on…) And I have quite a few drafts in my computer regarding Nietzsche’s On Truth and Lie, which is at once — true, I mean, I have thought about that work in relation to what feels like basic, preliminary insights — and at the same time, specific, powerful.

There is a kind of … historical theory, I guess, in Heart of Darkness, where history is seen not as the struggle between good and evil but rather the struggle between … light and darkness, maybe. Light here symbolizes knowledge, clarity, self-interest, and so forth — it is associated with reason, communication, and nihilism. (And sometimes with death and bone.) In a sense, anything goes, everything has an exchange value, but we are kept from each other’s throats by the careful balancing of self-interest. I mean, not the balane between self and other but the balance of conflicting self interest. I am not against light, I live, it feels like, in a world of light. When I sometimes stumble into darkness I feel the need to lash out and defend myself against these goddamn idiots who think they are so much cooler or more soulful than me and cannot recognize how common interest works. I hate you too, but let’s just keep it to our interests, shall we? I think I have plenty of these moments in previous entries.

The darkness on the other hand is associated with … yes, meditation, but not cartesian meditation, but rather, the feeling of a kind of significance, the feeling of the step. Well, that is the entire effort here: how do we go beyond cartesian meditation? I have a few drafts where I talk about Pandorum, which is a recent sci-fi movie. Well… the movie is not important, the point is that, whenever we take interest in anything, we find that it is due to a kind of weird fascination rather than any kind of satisfaction of desires, aesthetic pleasure, and so on. I took interest in Pandorum because it dealt with a kind of space sickness, a kind of insanity in the depths of space. Well, it also tied heavily to Heart of Darkness, Lord of the Flies, and various questions about restraint. But what fascinated me definitely had something to do with the “step”, with the supernatural .. the subconsciousness. I mean, if you think about it, the supernatural is a kind of underlying questioning, the question of the daily course of events, of the step by step.

With Kurtz, too, there is this notion of the —

TBC

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