March 3, 2017 (Friday)

by Yule Heibel on March 2, 2018

A thought arose regarding the shallow grave. It had something to do also with a remark about mind, made by David Gelernter in an interview with Conor Friedersdorf in The Atlantic. He said something about one of Coetzee’s characters, the character’s mental level, the issue of thinking passively and in pictures (visually) as opposed (I suppose) to thinking verbally, which is a kind of abstraction (visual is concrete), and which is also, it seemed to me from how Gelernter was framing it, directional. If you want to go from A to B, you have to think in that second (verbal-abstract) mode (I think that’s what he was getting at), whereas if you’re contemplatively staying where you are, you’re probably thinking visually. (I’m afraid putting it like this has utterly bowdlerized David Gelernter’s formulation, not to mention his meaning and intent. But, w/e.)

The thought which arose in my mind this morning was this: you can’t dig your way out of a shallow grave. If you try, you just end up with a deeper grave. Granted, it won’t be as shallow anymore, but it’s still a grave. You’ll still be lying in it, going nowhere. So, if you can’t dig your way out of it, how do you get out? This is perhaps where visual thinking actually can help propel you – not exactly sure how or why. Typically, propelling yourself forward would be based in abstract thinking and goal-setting, the identification of something more than intention. But imagine, visualize, though, that you are prone (or even supine) and nearly self-immobilized in that shallow grave, sort of like the Coetzee character Gelernter mentions, who sits on a bench and is full of “wunschloses Unglück,” endurance, an utterly passive individual. And a simple desire (“Wunsch”) to move is not going to come from the head. It will have to come from the imp, the irrepressible pixie who throws things into chaos, flitting from finger tips to pelvis to ankles, shins, legs, making them twitch and move. That twitching – so curious this word is “witching” with just a “t” in front! – has to animate the body. Itch, witch, twitch: come alive!

At this point, picture it, the legs might, as though of independent mind, fling out of the grave, perhaps even one on each side of that ditch. There’s no one direction yet at this moment. The arms may follow, or the torso, in which case the body will choose one or the other side, in the case of legs having gone both ways. The head may try to stay behind, but itching, witching, twitching through the chaos pixie’s sparkling electrification, it will flip up and out of the grave. It’s due to the erratic, impish pixie quality, which is the child, the “fuck you, I’m alive, deal with it” child that comes alive and says to mind: screw the shovels, stop digging yourself into a deeper grave, there’s life to live, and I shall have it!

What happens now, of course, is anyone’s guess. Granted, you’re no longer lying supine or prone in that shallow grave, but you’re not quite on your way. The pixie, however, is excitedly fluttering about, ready to help you find your way. If it sounds like I’ve just described scenes from Hook where Peter Pan tries to catch his shadow, or, more aptly, Tinkerbell creates total chaos by busting into a grown woman’s form, so be it. Maybe Barrie was on to something with the pixies. And children. Lost boys – and girls. It’s not childish to want to find them, and if pixies help, then bring in the pixie!

Last night we went to the Cabot to see Forgotten Farms. Great little documentary, but so unsatisfying in so many ways. As one of the audience members, a woman who has studied farm economies (as well as coming from, it seemed, an anti-GMO perspective, something the film resolutely did not endorse), put it: you’ve presented us with an overview of a whole bunch of icebergs, but the massive issues underlying the visible bits remained unexplored. The Q&A was interesting, featured the two filmmakers plus three women, dairy farmers, from the Herrick Farm, who explained the co-op system of milk buying. I did have the impression the farmers sleepwalked into their co-op dependence.

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