Monday, February 08, 2010

A bug's life, John Gray, homunculus

Nasty headcold, poisons everything. This is a bugs’ planet; always has been. We are but their latest and temporary vehicles; no arts, no letters, no society… Sorry, came over a bit John Gray there. I’ve been dipping into Straw Dogs lately, perhaps the most highbrow toilet book on the market, trying to remember what I thought about it. I’ve remembered now: Gray is brilliant at gutting popular truisms, but then often makes an unjustifiably strong claim himself. This creates an unusual effect: you read through each passage, many of which contain wonderful, pithily-expressed insights, nodding and thinking "hmmm, too true, too true… ooh he’s got us there… Egad! Touché Mr Gray…" but then at the end the overwhelming feeling is one of profound suspicion.

For one example relevant to the bugs' life point above, Gray slashes at the western notion of the coherent Self, arguing that a Taoist-style flow of impressions, experiences and contingencies is a truer representation of reality. But then he asserts, boldly and unequivocally, that the Self is an illusion. Well this may be true, but then it may not. It may be that we are simply not very good at recalling and ordering things clearly, leaving the impression of an incoherent flow of impressions, experiences and contingencies, and this is the illusion. And there may be countless other explanations and interpretations, each consistent with some sort of Self. And if there is no coherent Self, how come we are able to look back on our lives with such bitterness, resentment and regret, John Gray? There are many such over-confident assertions in the book – some much more obvious than this one. Might write about it later in the week.

That said, at times like this one feels there is something in his final, final conclusion – the purpose of our lives is just to see. With a poisonous headcold one yearns for nothing so much as to be a lonely goatherd, healthy and free of the bugs in the clean wild elements, watching the sun circle and the white snow turn red as strawberries in the summertime.

9 comments:

Peter Burnet said...

A lonely goatherd? I don't ever recall yearning to be that, not even with a raging fever. A bonobo maybe, but not a lonely goatherd. That's doubtless because I'm in denial about the coherent Self.

What is it about our times that defines profundity as the end result of a spiritual journey that culminates in a celebration of our affinity with the grub?

worm said...

The goatherd may have a tapeworm, or perhaps a nasty goat-based sexually tranmitted disease, depending on how lonely he is

Sean said...

I was watching the secret life of chaos
the other day and was thinking ying and yang was way ahead of its time, and so it seems was Alan Turing.

Self it seems is the point of contact between the past, the present and the future, so Gray knows where to look but does not know what to look for.

Brit said...

Worm - you're as bad as John Gray, shattering my comforting illusions.

Sean - yes, there's a lot of interesting convergences between these ancient mystical thingies and modern science.

Peter - you hit upon another of my problems with Gray. He writes almost as if nobody in the west has ever thought about the anti-anthropocentric view of man as just another critter on a tiny planet in the vastness of uncaring space. In fact, there is a long tradition of this; such dismal ponderings are part of the human condition. It's a starting point, not just a conclusion.

Gaw said...

Isn't this tendency to make 'over-confident assertions' puzzling? He's so obviously self-contradictory.

He's at his least credible when he writes on contemporary economic history, where his position is the mirror-image of what he calls the market fundamentalists, very much trading in those platonic forms he elsewhere derides.

As I say, puzzling. Perhaps it's a clever demonstration of what an 'incoherent flow of impressions' looks like?

Andy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brit said...

Yes Gaw - for a confirmed sceptic he doesn't half make a lot of dogmatic assertions.

Always worth reading though- a v challenging thinker.

Nige said...

Hey- I've just been listening to Fleet Foxes! Should be a 12" vinyl LP, the jacket strewn with strands of rolling baccy and crumbs of resin...

Brit said...

I think that's the Special Edition, Nige.

Fleet Foxes is a work of great and lasting beauty.