- Pieces of Life’s Puzzle
I want to share with you something Xenon shared with me some three or four years ago now.
He and I were sitting in the back area of the Omphalos Cafe. The front door had been locked and we were drinking a bottle of wine. Besides the bottle, the table between us was littered with books we had pulled from the shelves, commented upon, or read passages from.
Now and then we’ve enjoyed that sort of evening, sharing ideas, thoughts and impressions. Neither of us are great conversationalists, although we are both good listeners.
I was drawing him out on the subject of Poetic Truths, or a comprehension of Life or God, or however you want to call it.
‘Artists are few and far between,’ he was saying. ‘I mean Artist in the Priest, Shaman sense. Our culture does not promote that sort of awakening, and especially that sort of growth. There’s too much noise, too many distractions. And those that do attain to…enlightenment, tend to do so behind the scenes.’
I’m paraphrasing here. I wasn’t taking notes.
‘I’ll tell you,’ he said, ‘how I experienced it.’
‘Imagine a puzzle, a big jigsaw puzzle with say a thousand pieces or more. And that puzzle when assembled on your table will be the Essence of Life.’
‘Now imagine the pieces spread on your table upside down. And then there’s one more thing: as you work on the puzzle you can only look at the face side of each piece one or at most two at a time.’
‘You turn one over and study its face. If you know where it goes–and how can you at first?–you place it there, if not, you turn it back over and are then free to look at another.’
‘Over time, if you look at enough pieces, studying them, or just glancing at more and more, one at a time as I said, something begins to take shape in your imagination. The process is very slow, and who has time for that sort of thing nowadays?’
‘But, if you persist, as I did,‘ he said, getting excited, ‘if you experience great joy in linking together pieces as I have, then one day it just might dawn on you–but even that is not quite true, because even that happens gradually over time– but all the same it takes shape, in your imagination, and you know. You Know…’
He trailed off, grew thoughtful. Whether it was the wine, or perhaps the difficulty of the subject, or a combination of both, I’m not sure.
Jon Gregory said:
I am 73 years of age. I just recently stumbled on the Omphalos Cafe while searching Ulysses. I was immediately intrigued by the Ulysses videos. I noticed there are no recent comments on the Omphalos website and would like to know if it is still being maintained or has it been left behind in cyber dust? I would also like to know your thoughts why, in our contemporary modern world, there do not appear to be many, if any, great works of literary art?
Thanks for an excellent question, Jon. Why the paucity of genuine ‘literature?’ And it’s one I’ve attempted to tackle in both video and blog, though as to how successfully who’s to say.
The best answer is that it is a condition of the very age we live in, an age of cultural decline, and an age of character decline (the two are synonymous). Who today has the courage to continue educating themselves, as you and I are doing, to continue the search, to continue asking hard and yet when you get down to it rather simple questions? Who is prepared to undergo a change in his or her life should an answer to one of those questions demand it?
Great works of literary art derive from a deep and courageous confrontation with what Joyce called ‘the grave and constant in human suffering’ and which Joseph Campbell amended with the word ‘joy.’ Who is prepared for such a confrontation these days? Who can forego a conventional and safe ‘education’ leading to a certain level of status and acceptance in society today? I’ve quipped in the past that today people cannot learn how to tie a shoe without taking a course. Isn’t it this very shepherding (sheep herding) through various corridors of education which stunts genuine and living curiosity, individualism, and ultimately character? Joseph Campbell, as I’ve both written and said in video, is scathingly critical of our modern education system (James Joyce’s Ulysses And The Failure Of Our Educational System). Just the other day I finished a fourth rereading of Campbell’s Masks Of God series, and I am even more convinced that it is by far the greatest piece of writing of the twentieth century, by a long shot, and yet still I have not encountered a single soul who has read a word of it.
Because reading something two, three, four times to plumb its depths is hard. Hard and it takes time. And who has or takes the time for such an arduous and (seemingly) unrewarding task? Yet, how can there be further contributions to the heritage of humankind without the stupendous effort required of such an uncertain endeavour? Who has that kind of courage today?
Anyway, that’s all to say school these days is easy. Show up and you pass, which to my thinking is an absolute fail for the education system in general. Joyce by the way, as I’ve said, had nothing but scorn for it, in both Ulysses and The Wake. Only individual trial, effort and unflagging devotion can lead to true learning, enlightenment, or awakening. (My last video on Ulysses was slightly scornfully titled ‘James Joyce’s Ulysses, Wake Up You Blockheads.’) The truth was I had grown tired of the sort of comments left by schoolish lazy blockheads. This place, the Omphalos Cafe, was never intended for them.
So that’s it. I haven’t completely abandoned the blog, though I have grown tired of it after twelve or so years. Having moved to the beautiful mountains of Western Canada I find myself somewhat under-stimulated (besides the majesty of the Rockies) and contemplating a move back to my city of birth, Montreal Quebec. I find I need people around, and youthful people still engaged in the process of questioning, and perhaps even of growth.
Thanks for the question, Jon, it’s the kind of thing that gets me going. Feel free to continue this either here or behind the scenes at email@example.com. All the best, Jeff.