Every so often I feel as though I need to reestablish (or establish anew) the principles of the Freehoodship, which means getting not merely at the principles, but at the principles behind the principles, to the deepest layers of human motive and action, where even the subtlest residues of duty and compulsion dissolve and the free human being arises full of enthusiasm for action, for missions in the world that are also alembics for the individual spirit.
Google, Apple, and Facebook are known for the unusual interview questions they ask prospective employees, ostensibly hoping to distinguish the especially creative and hardworking from the rest of us. When I create my behemoth tech company (the freehoodship), I will subject prospective employees to a ritual meeting with death like the one I briefly describe in my documentation of mission #25. I would “test” prospective employees with this ritual because I would want to see whether they could think symbolically, experience reverently, and reflect deeply. In the years that I have played death in this ritual, I have realized that for the experience to mean anything, one must experience it as a symbol of a human life, that from the time one is led into the room (into life) until the time death taps one on the shoulder, one has simple, but powerful, ways to live the life one wants. Will I stand in front of the candle in the middle of the room and await death? Will I run away from death as he wanders slowly through the room? Will I consciously go and face death? Will you look into the face of death, literally? You can tell a lot about somebody by how she participates in this ritual. Indeed, many these days find it difficult to achieve the heightened attention and reverent engagement that a ritual demands, particularly rituals unsanctioned by institutions thousands of years old.
First trying used to be so easy, then I had to try to try. Now I welcome myself without expectation to the age of crushed expectations. My first mission there? To accept as true Kant’s “thing-in-itself”? Ouch, but doable, because there’s always something I don’t know, like some unknowable “thing-in-itself.” To finally concede that the spiritual world is just an illusion? Okay, we’re getting somewhere, but still only like a scientist hoping to remove the memories of beheadings while ignoring the beheadings themselves. How about if my first mission is to just give up? No way! Impossible! You can’t be serious! That’s my first mission? I don’t even know where to begin.
For mission 26, what’s supposed to be my most spectacular yet, I’m organizing the important sounding “first international leaf-catching tournament.” Why, you ask? Well, ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved to catch leaves on windy days in autumn, and I’m pretty good at it. Also, at the moment, I’m trying my damnedest to squirm out of my tightly fitting exoskeleton of “you-must-be-great-and-important-and-therefore-ought-to-do-more” and this leaf-catching project with its whimsical and non-utilitarian nature, seems like a fun and beautiful way to spend some time using my pincers outside my lonely hermit crab shell, so to speak. I have yet to decide on dates — it of course depends on the weather and seasonal changes — but I’m thinking November 1 or November 15.
If we were to make a three dimensional model of contemporary thinking, we would get something like the urban core of New York City: lots of rectilinear positive and negative space, and predictable circulation patterns through these spaces. Into this conceptual geography, however, come we at the freehoodship, Parkour novice expert novices, projecting ourselves “Deleuze-style” into spaces only the liberating (not liberated) imagination can access, risking whole-heartedly beyond failure or success on the plane of immanence.
In Volker Harlan’s interview with the artist Joseph Beuys, Beuys refers to our habit of “retinal seeing” not only as it relates to visual art, but also to the rest of the world, including each other. According to Beuys, this sort of seeing is superficial, passive, and cold. He insists that only a more active, multi-sensory, and participatory mode of sensing reality, one that involves the imagination, will keep us from plummeting further into alienating and unhealthy social forms. In my experience, the outcome of protracted retinal seeing is apathy. We are called upon, therefore, to take up a practice of cultivating a more conscious and creative engagement with our lives and our communities, treating each as great art projects, what Beuys calls “social sculpture.” The freehoodship is my attempt at social sculpture.
From the title of this blog one not familiar with my writing and the ethos of the freehoodship would be little surprised if I were now to launch into some patriotic USA chanting disguised has reasoned argument; I am not going to do this. Like Thoreau, I think patriotism or nationalism of any sort is “a maggot in the head,” and thank you very much, I already have enough of those in that very location. My maggots are not of the patriotism sort, though they are patriotic, pledging allegiance to my double or shadow as if it were the corpse they feed on, and I think it is. Anyway, these maggots, my maggots, your maggots, go by other names, such as “guilt,” “shame,” “hubris,” and “depression.” They have voices so much like our own — they are highly skilled at doing voice impressions — that we don’t realize, often for many years, that we are not them, that even the trusted voice of our conscience is frequently not even our own, but rather, one of those maggots. But if one is interested in freedom, true human freedom where the motive is a pure love of the deed, then one first begrudgingly loves and then fully loves the wise teachings of these maggots, funny as that sounds. Indeed, if rightly employed, these maggots will eat the dead shit out of your head. And trust me, that’s a good thing!
I was reading Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” today with a class of 12th graders when we came upon the following lines: “And there is no trade or employment but the young man [or woman -- Whitman wouldn't object] following it may become a hero.” What he said made me immediately think of the previous blog post in which I speak about my reaction to all the contemporary talk about and attraction to heroes, both real and fictional. I would like to think that Whitman’s take on heroism would be much like my own in that he would have contagious confidence in every human beings’ capacity for leading a heroic life, yet he would not just acquiesce to that particularly popular view — which I’m about to exaggerate, but not much — that seeks to bolster self-esteem by giving a laurel wreath to anyone who simply falls out of bed on time. Can’t we have heroic potential as well as accountability and personal responsibility for everyone? Yes, we can all be heroes, but we can all be lame too. The real ideal is to make the ideal real, which is not like injecting the ideal into the real like botox. This has everything to do with heroism, if you’re wondering.
I’m a bit ambivalent about the use of the word “hero” on this website and in modern culture generally. For some reason, a part of me cringes nearly every time I hear it. This reaction may be because I think we use the term too easily, as though we’ve all been infected with the “everyone-gets-a-trophy” virus. I hope it’s not because I have unacknowledged elitist tendencies that reserve hero status for only the few — the few whose qualities are a lot like my own, only far better. The part of me that is beyond cringing or not cringing, however, wants to live in a world where to be a hero takes great dedication and sacrifice, and where, at the same time, people realize they have what it takes to dedicate themselves to and sacrifice themselves for what they most love. In this world there will be no need for generic superheroes with generic superpowers — the ability to fly, x-ray visions, etc. – for we will each of us realize and cultivate our uniqueness and ipseity to heroic degrees. I imagine a space in this world for a hero whose superpower is the ability to transform suffering into compassion with a heart made powerful by its infinite weakness. She would wear no mask.
For a long time I’ve thought of myself as an interventionist artist or artist provocateur (on a very small scale, mind you), but I’ve come to realize lately that my approach, my purpose, and my values are less about needling and provoking and more about inviting and evoking — a more subtle sort of intervention, one that hopes to appeal to human freedom and moral intuition, one that hopes to access the superconscious (the higher self) as opposed to trigger the subconscious (the lower self). Though a more subtle approach, I would suggest that it is more radical and iconoclastic than the traditional provocateur’s approach. I say this because the mindset of the traditional provocateur has much in common with a mindset that found purchase in the West during the scientific revolution. This mindset was founded on a vision of nature, and later of all of reality, including the human, as essentially mechanistic, meaning everything could be manipulated if one could just find the right lever. We have come to design pesticides, animal testing practices, psychotropic drugs, and even social policy based on this mechanistic model. At the freehoodship, however, we seek to establish other, ethically committed, models of reality, yet models that are conscious, so to speak, of their own obsolescence, of their own limitations. We realize that models ought to be the training wheels, not the bicycle.