It is my honour to present another collaborative dialogue with poet, lyricist and philosopher Phil Rockstroh.
PR: Recently, the temperature in Paris rose to 108.7 F (42.6 C) surpassing the previous record by 4 F (2.2 C) set on July 28, 1947 of 104.7 F (40.4 C).
Shortly thereafter, during an email exchange with an old friend, a prominent (if the term prominent can still be applied to the professionally marginalised and culturally obscure field of psychoanalysis) Jungian analyst, I addressed this question: Do you still insist my dread pertaining to atmospherically trapped, humankind-generated greenhouse gas emissions are a, veiled in metaphor, longing for human warmth — the stuff of consulting room pathos expressed, in Jungian patois, as Puer aeternus’ (in latin, eternal boy) displaced pothos? Or I was/am highly sensitive to the earth’s (a living entity’s) suffering and I was/am psychically streaming the lament of an aspect of the pantheistic mind of the godhead (i.e., archetypal reality)? Withal, Pan would be apt to rise in the form of panic. According to Greek myth, the gods of the Olympian pantheon are amused and humanity enlivened by Pan’s earthly musks and randy proclivities. But, in our atomised time, Arcana is transubstantiated into a pixel arcade of empty sensation. The breath of the living earth has been shunted from experience thus one hyperventilates…mortified by a subliminal apprehension of the dehumanising, abysmal nature of the medium.
When the weather conditions of the planet churn in humankind inflicted chaos, what is the concomitant effect on the psychical weather systems of individuals? What essences are dispatched from the Great Soul of the implicate order to artists? For example, the canvases of Bruegel the Elder, liming in the language of dreams, the clash of status quo Catholicism and the sectarian shit-storm evoked by the Protestant Reformation? Or Jung dropping to his knees and crawling, heaving with nausea, at his first glimpse of Cubism and his intuitive understanding of the psychological violence, intimated by the art movement, manifested under the soul-defying criteria of Machine Age modernity and mechanistic-based militarism?
The criteria of our wounding and wounded age should be operatic in scale; instead, we are bombarded with the petty minded prattle of mass and social media pikers.
KO: I was thinking about the fires in the Arctic a lot lately. Wildfires that are indeed wild, but have little to do with the natural cycles of this ancient orb. A human induced fever that has led to an all out inferno which erupts each summer with more intensity than the last. And I, too, was talking to an old friend, only she is a climate scientist. She lamented to me her feelings of despair, overwhelming at times. And then we see Paris and across Europe temperatures spiking into unbearable heights. And in the southern hemisphere floods are ravaging the poorest communities.
This is the environmental crisis we are hearing about continuously these days. And it is real and existential. Yet along with this crisis comes the crisis of capital, and the fear that the ruling class is feeling these days. Terror, actually. They understand this arrangement, all of it, is untenable for long term survival of the species (and countless other species as well) yet they are compelled to salvage the arrangement, not our existence. And this sort of madness infects our very psyche, because it is indicative of a kind of slavery. Slavery to a system that has doom and death woven into its fabric. And all the while the slavery is accompanied by emojis and memes. It is a slavery enforced by the ubiquitous screen, yet so few would recognize it as such. Guy Debord would have, but most would likely scoff at the very notion of it.
I know you have written a lot about dreams and so, in this age of existential angst, I’ve been thinking a lot about them too. In my insomnia wrought nights I have found myself longing for them, but when I sleep I am often haunted by their shadows and shades. The living world seeps into my consciousness and sullies it with the flotsam of unmet desires, frustrations and the disquiet of our collective predicament as a species. But then there are moments where a disconnect from the miasma of the conscious world occurs. I find myself in a sort of “dreamtime” as Australian Aboriginal peoples described so eloquently. A place where creation itself is the eternal moment. But everything has been colonized in our age, even dreams to some extent. That colonization is reflected in addictions and obsessions, and in the social maladies that haunt modern society. And it can be seen in the collective madness of ignoring the maelstrom on the horizon.
PR: The founder of the post-Jungian, Archetypal School of Psychology, James Hillman, provides insight on the situation:
“A crisis is very important, Freud and Jung both had creative breakdowns. I’m in favor of destruction, aggression, hating things. Not bearing things anymore. We think the breakdown comes because our life is in bad shape. But maybe the ideas cause the disorder. Something tries to break through and causes the disorder.”
Kenn, because you made reference to my writing involving dreams. In particular, my musing on the manner, within dreamscapes, the personal is often merged with the collective thus dreams are a viable and accessible realm wherein crises are dramatically limned in imagistic thus metaphoric form, I will elaborate on the subject by applying the poetic lexicon of dreams themselves:
In my dreams, the living and the dead, human and animal, mingle, even merge. A departed friend has transmogrified into a Jack Russell, endowed with the wings of a pelican. Another into an emerald and sapphire, non-venomous constrictor snake that coiled around my left arm transmitting throbbing energy throughout my body.
Other times, we engage in everyday discourse. One friend proffers this advice to me:
“Listen to music by artists archived within yours and my memory and has been neglected.”
Another seemed annoyed at being waylaid into my dream dominion, “I have a garden to cultivate,” he groused. “it is nothing like yours.”
In my dream cosmos, my father’s rage has not subsided. Our fights and our fragile, ad hoc alliances proceed as when he blazed in his orphan’s fury through the waking world. Seven years ago, in the late a.m. hours of late May night, he exhaled his last morphine-hobbled breath. Earlier in the day, his last words to me, as he gazed out the door that opened to a garden outside his hospice room, were “Ah. There is a zoo outside of here. Beautiful.”
Animated by the libation of animal spirits, my dead arrive and depart. Yet: The last Black Rhinoceros has been delivered into extinction. The oceans of the planet, womb of us all, are rapidly dying. Rainforests are burning to ash. Day and night, the predations of Auschwitz are inflicted within vast, industrial slaughter houses. Animal spirits rise within the soul-defying and defanged confines of late modernity as panic attacks and shooting sprees.
It seems as if the dead transmigrating my dreams arrive freighted with the knowledge of our collective folly. What is my place in the realm of parched earth and burning sky? Is lamentation all that remains as the last honest song of humankind?
“Exposed on the mountains of the heart. / See, how small there, see: the last hamlet of words, and higher, and still so small, a last homestead of feeling.” — Uncollected Poems, Rainer Maria Rilke
Song of ashes; building percussion of dry bones. Yet, in my dreams, the rain caresses the fecund earth and animal spirits seem undaunted by their dismal fate. My father’s unflagging animus causes me to awaken; my hands balled into fists. The tautly drawn skin over my knuckles reflects the sheen of mid-morning light.
Father, you have bequeath me with rage. Yet, as the moments after waking pass, the fury becomes a dissipating vapour in the vastness of the day.
In the poetic lexicon of it all: Both the awe-ful and awe-some collide. I navigate the numinous debris field of my life — a gliding mess of conflicted love for the world.
KO: In reading your words I could’t help but be reminded of the Bhagavad Gita and the verse:
“I am the beginning, middle, and end of creation. Among animals I am the lion; among birds, the eagle Garuda. I am Prahlada, born among the demons, and of all that measures, I am time. I am death, which overcomes all, and the source of all beings still to be born. Just remember that I am, and that I support the entire cosmos with only a fragment of my being. Behold, Arjuna, a million divine forms, with an infinite variety of color and shape. Behold the gods of the natural world, and many more wonders never revealed before. Behold the entire cosmos turning within my body, and the other things you desire to see.
I am time, the destroyer of all; I have come to consume the world.”
Carl Jung is said to written notes toward the end of his life about a “final catastrophe,” and I think of that more and more these days. Here, we stand at the precipice of catastrophe, the casting of our shadows, projected on to the world with such a carelessness. And it connects to this desire for the end, a latent longing for destruction so that things can somehow be renewed, much like the mythology around end times eschatology. But it can be seen in environmental movements too. An acceptance of the end of the living biosphere with no grasp of its eons. No appreciation of its power. That we countenance such a thing is breathtaking. I commiserate with this on a deep level. It speaks to my angst, especially since I was raised in the tradition of Christian eschatology and in seeing what we are, in fact, doing to the web of life on which we rely and of which we are a part of.
I’ve thought a lot, too, about the paintings by Henry Fuseli. The Nightmare, and related paintings, done in the 18th century. And although there is a strong sexual component to them, I think there is more. It speaks to an angst about creation and destruction, and how in sleep we are vulnerable to it all. And in the Dreamtime, as they say, I find myself narrowly escaping catastrophe. Cityscapes are enfolded by the wilds. The wild lands are entwined with concrete structures. And all collide in some cataclysm. A sort of Big Bang or creation story that involves death and rebirth. And in my waking hours I have often pored over scientific papers concerning climate change, habitat loss, and species extinction. I see the destruction happening like a slow moving avalanche, swallowing up hectare after hectare. And oceans coastlines brimming with plastic. So it stands to reason why any of us would feel the impulse of letting go of it all. Of a chance, however remote or undeserved, of rebirth. But the terror of such a thing should stop us all in our tracks.
PR: A yearning exists to find comfort, difficult as it is, confronted by the largely anonymous societal arrangements of the age. Angst, as you noted, Kenn, pummels when one gazes at current vectors of our aeon of industrial/consumer capitalist modernity. Depression’s downward pull, impersonal as gravity, either renders one helpless with misery or dispatches one to ground level. The option of manic flights of distraction are no longer in the realm of the possible. A spirit of habitual evasion has met the embrace of the indomitable soul of the earth.
At this point in our atomised time, dialog is crucial. Not a superficial exchange of snarky memes, nor the soul-defying banality of emoticon generalisations, nor corporate era “self help,” “motivational” platitudes, nor the truncated prose and poetry-devoid and often testy “conversational style” of screen addicted (non)life. Discourses that manage to be, simultaneously, manic and inert.
“I would burn my right hand in a slow fire
To change the future … I should do foolishly. The beauty of modern
Man is not in the persons but in the
Disastrous rhythm, the heavy and mobile masses, the dance of the
Dream-led masses down the dark mountain.” — Excerpted from Rearmament, Robinson Jeffers.
Our lives are diminished by the culture of exploitation. We feel tiny when we stand before the enormity of the monstrous system — but we are not small enough yet to envelop and tear the beast to shreds like coursing legions of army ants.
When considering the fate of the besieged earth, we feel immersed in an encompassing darkness — yet not deeply enough to make the dark our ally.
We are not gods nor angels; therefore, we cannot drown the enemies of life in a torrent of rage-borne tears. Yet we can drown our own complicity insofar as their odious doings.
I have been broken by the system. The hall of infinity mirrors of my mind has been shattered to shards….yet, through it all, now reflects numinous light. My verdant heart, once deracinated in sterile paradise, now opens, in my better moments, into the freedom of air.
I cannot bring a single soul with me there. Or can I?
If it is possible, if you have followed me here, know this: To destroy the earth, is to destroy one’s soul. We emerged from the ocean so that plankton can praise the fiery filaments and the cosmos can know its children thus realise itself.
We are no more alone than is the totality of the multiverse. Thus we need never be wanting for companionship.
Keep the conversation going.
“For look, the whole is infinitely newer
than a cable or a high apartment house.
The stars keep blazing with an ancient fire
and all the more recent fires will fade out.
Not even the largest, strongest of transmissions
can turn the wheels from what will be.
Across the moment, aeons speak with aeons.”
— Rainer Maria Rilke, Sonnets to Orpheus
– by Kenn Orphan and Phil Rockstroh, July 2019
Title piece is “The Triumph of Death” (1562) by Pieter Bruegel.