by Jeremy Johnson
Composed by Rory Fleming
Pick a sign. A symbol. Anything that you can pull out of the “hat” (in of itself a limited construction, and a word) to represent the cosmos and infinite. You can’t? Of course you can. Humanity is hard-wired for projection. If you deny this test out of the fear of inadequacy, that is a better guess. The horrors and ecstasy we come up with, the common themes of immortality through the recycling and recombination of familiar data picked up by the five senses in a limited time span, plus knowledge through ever-improving though supremely incomplete education: they all come at a price, the sacrifice of the visceral through increasing degrees of separation. So everything comes out of man, is based on man, even our conceptions of moving away from man to embrace the perspectives of “others” (others meaning the trees, the critters, the flowers and the languages of such), for that is defined by otherness and will never be the same, truly understood like our experiences are to us. A holistically different paradigm rules their word: a monkey cannot begin to register calculus; calculus is paper and paper is torn up or eaten, not absorbed for information beyond that; likewise, we do not touch its communication, although we think we do. Definitions based on what the defined is not leads to alienation yet, tragically, the natural order of logic depends on dialectic, and the escape into non-dualistic thinking becomes just that, escape, in communicative day-to-day rules. But, it remains. We feel that immensity of the skies, the stars, everything. We feel that it is there, not arbitrary, but the idea of “other things” is arbitrary, at least conceptualized in that particular way.
So what is the symbol of the cosmos and the holy infinite, then? A dying dog licking its wounds infinitely and forever healing? Yes, and no. The water pouring into those, an assortment of colored vases that mold and shape the infinite into little detectable shapes, manifestations into form labeled “phenomenon”? “No.” The creator god of all religions into one, holding hisher arms wide out to embrace all that ever was. Why? Why not? It is humanoid in our mind, even when it’s not, even when a mystical abstract nothingness. Yet it is always different, undefinable, the beautiful “black box” of the ancients and the moderns, that is the root catalyst of mystical experience, and what the astral romantic should aspire to explore forever AND today.
There is a beauty to unattainability; that, no-man-no-woman, is our muse, though it has up to this point been repressed in the spheres of the constructive, represented by the negative, heralded by negating terms and ideas in the realm of fiction. Lovecraft, the god of cosmicism, understood the miniscule nature of the Great Egotist, Man, and sought to singe him, punish them in his stories. This is a beauty for the dark preacher and the self-loathing, decadent audience in “I’m right.” Self-fulfilling, this seems to me, in the sense that meaning and affect is negated and the stakes of drama are surgically removed with clinical precision because we know it ends in doom in the first few sentences. This to some significant degree neutralizes the so human drama we come to expect in the idealist (our biggest friend) and the beauty of his stories. Perhaps it is not their fault and divine romance is not the goal of these trickster tellers. Though, we have a new mission. The question we ask is thus: Can today’s artist legion take into account the immensity of the All-Thing, All-Sight without hugging the wall of the abyss forever but instead trying to climb it valiantly?
The artistic process must become mystical practice if it is to truly survive and return its relevance in this ever more burdening and exponentially complex, thoroughly technologized society. The mystical quest is the trying to grapple with the unattainable, that which we lack understanding for on a transcendent and divine level, walking away with always a greater sense of some crystalline cosmology and the divine. As we continue to lose sight of the beginning of things and the ending of things in terms of narrative of things we use every day (but perhaps wanting to say it’s “just” narrative says something about our loss of romance!), the foundations of computer programs for instance, keep in mind that we never had that hindsight in the first place with the universe at large, as a whole. This should increase our respect and reverence exponentially to almost trance-like states. It is up to us, those with keen sensitivities to these senses and the embracing of these impulses, to communicate that humble but insurmountable ecstasy to others in a still beautiful way that is effective, affective, not pedantic, bringing back the power of self-contained story and myth and complete narrative with the post-modern influence and awareness of the helplessly fragmented (that was, contrary to common belief, always a component of the human narrative – the way stories were told was in many ways willful, not just naïve) in a fashion that is not simple manipulation, but SEDUCTION, minus the venom. It was always a part of the holy act, seduction by virtue, perhaps, or seduction by the power of the mystery of the world, wanting to be a part of that story, willfully ignorant or not, and truly believing. Fundamentally, in our storytelling, it must be handled individualistically and explicitly, the respect for the infinite, and we should delve right into the belly of the beast, trying to explain what we experience and feel in our wildest dreams.
This is the core mission of the ASTRAL ROMANTICS. How is this even done, or even possible?
1. Remember that you must die (“Memento Mori”), but never forget the existence or power of magick and narrative dreams (for all stories are dreams, and all “things” are stories), especially as rigid practice.
2. Do forget the “mandatory” requirement of beginnings and ends as formal necessity; all things lack beginnings and ends and all things are beginnings and ends, depending on the angle. Recognize the strength of the “grand narrative,” but do not fall prey to it without consciousness in all elements of conscious thought. Forget the mentality of sheep. To apply this to the art of storytelling, work to forget how you got there at the new segment when appropriate, so you yourself as author are gone for the ride, travelling with the characters as a character yourself (or many of them).
3. Clear your head and lose your body, only temporarily. Do not think, but feel, and know, that you are just another stray feather from the grey body of the most tempestuous bird. You are united by feelings; all your feelings come from the same source, and to whom am I speaking but humanity? All your rage, anguish, unites you as a family. So is it so different, what everyone is experiencing? What I am getting at is, “why fight?” Why dwell on the conflicts of your own personal experience? Let your empathy swell and spread through the veins of everyone who has every lived as you write, putting your pen down to record what in that present and ever-present moment feels like the accumulation of all that has ever been up to that point. What it feels like is the end of history. Use your clearness of mind to fly and travel through every point in time, present and what you perceive as the future. Do not limit your channeling to one voice. Forget your ego and let the world breathe through you, God’s only true Aeolian Harp. Jump perspectives, as all perspectives are underneath everything else, trappings but not merely trappings, one. Sing, scream, do whatever it takes in your own life to never forget “the one.”
When we are children, we are reminded that we can do anything, explore anything, venture to the most obscure corners of the universe, seeing varieties of landmarks along the way, but then we learn and remember that we can die at any moment, that life can “pass us by” and we are taught that if we do not gear ourselves toward the safest future now the chance by evaporate before our eyes. Do we not remember that we ourselves as adults even are considered children by the universe, which has been alive much longer than us and will persist to exist long after we die? Anything should be within our grasp in some fashion, even if our bodies cannot survive the jump. It is water from the same source. The water that sustains us is the water within us. But if we shake that water up too much, that water will leave us and rejoin its source. It flows into ever-increasing, ever more complicated structures, and then just falls back down as the rain does in its lifecycle. The particles of dust that accumulate on our skins will rejoin the universe soon enough and float through space as part of us. There is no conquering or conquest of anything, just mindset, and this is an approach to take when wanting to feel the power of you without feeling control, for control is both paradoxical and pathological. We do not control anything, nothing controls us. Float amongst the waves in orbit.
If we realize this, intimately, then it should only follow that we are able to relate to all things, even if it is bound by the human way, a way founded by the material granted the universe that we exist within. We should not feel guilty for the human way. We should follow it, however, earnestly and honestly, and to its logical extremes within reason, which is the only way to do it justice.
One technique I have found helpful in regards to staying true to the cause of ASTRAL ROMANTICISM while writing of fiction is to write in “fragments,” but not fragments in sense of isolation but in the sense of parts and wholes, part/wholes, shards of a story bundled together like green onions or a bundle of hay and united in that way but still having their own autonomy to themselves in each of their contexts. When playing an ancient game called Go, I realized once again the beauty of the thing that is simultaneously simple and complex but more than that profoundly “just is,” by merit of its singular quality. It is the equivalent of shifting sands with a fork in a Zen garden, except you play it, and you can try to think about your strategies and your moves but once you move you forget why or when you moved in a magnificent fashion; there is a ghost and an itch of importance to your last action, but that is it, much like the fading of memories in each of our lives but on a much more rapid time scale. The way you play this game is as follows: Two players sit at opposite sides of a square wooden board, the only markings on the board being the eternal grid. Each player has many dozens of white and black chips to place down on any intersection of lines, without any guided force besides the other player and this. One chip is placed by one player, then another is placed by another player. When the node of one color is surrounded and ensnared by the context of another color, it returns to its source and the tide of influences shifts once more.
The storytelling schema of the ASTRAL ROMANTICS can be seen as such as a one-player game of Go. When being particularly “romantic,” it could be said that it is metaphorically a two-man game of Go, with the player opposite yourself being the surrounding circumstances and contexts of your world that you write about (based on perception), and the whole of the universe is the game board with its rules, providing the incredibly loose and simple set of rules from on high (a particular body or forms of bodies can do particular physical acts, can comprehend phenomena within set limits and parameters based on the physical brain, and more without the actual interactions of organisms being predetermined beyond this realm of perceived possibility). The first node that an author will place down can come from anywhere, any mind, and go anywhere on the board, the capacity of collective human imagination within the course of feasibility (but once something happens, it has happened at cannot be retained as infeasible: something of note). The contexts and rules of surrounding life circumstances given by current moves on the “world’s” part create more contexts by which subsequent nodes will be placed in accordance, and whose meaning will be appropriated in/by, deferring its individualistic meaning to an outside context while establishing difference within itself (Ken Wilber calls them holons, or part/wholes). The meaning of one node is never separate, but the node always has its own individuality, its own perceived borders.
But does our conception of the world not arise from ourselves, our perceptions, our own interpretations? So the writing process returns to a one player game of Go(d) anyway, which is as simple and complex as one makes it, as all the water from the same source can rise either in the form of a Dasani water bottle bought for a set small amount and then thrown into a landfill or the glorious ice castle which is established as a luxury resort. A poem or story is exactly the same way, and the metaphor is even more appropriate in the context of commodity culture (though we cannot let that discourage us!) It can be as simple as a grazing wind or complex to the point of hedge-maze and labyrinth, and is always at risk of being forever boxed in. We lay down one node, without structure, unsure of ultimate direction, wait for a “sign” from ourselves or the outside (depending on outlook), respond in course, until the structure gets ever more concrete, while always trying to escape the definition of the other pieces (both futilely and not – and that is fully understandable).
Let’s escape the whirlwind of metaphor for a moment, for metaphor in reckless abandon can blind in its infinite unfurling of light in its multitude of directions without focus. Sometimes you need the right sunglasses. Sometimes abstract does indeed remove us from the focus upon eternal “what is?” and as devout ASTRAL ROMANTICS this is a warning we must heed on every exploration into the cosmic eternal. The game of Go should give you hope that there is something intrinsically, even archaically important and universal about our mission when it is done right, though some questions are still left to be answered or attempted. What does this actually mean to the process of writing? What does our writing actually read like? Who is the audience? Does the audience even have a purpose anymore – can they understand what we are trying to do (can we understand what the other new romantics are trying to do?) – are they relevant to our missions of travel to the universal pinnacle? Yes! Because the answer is in the last question: because it is universal. And also, how does this outlined method of seeing and making progress the cause without falling into the trappings of egotism in the human way?
All serious seekers are obsessive about puncturing the universal in some way, or breaking into it, or whatever narrative they attach to the experience of paroxysm, whether that reach toward extremity is expressed through the head-clearing Nothingness of meditation , through the radical lashings of avant-garde art, or whatever in between. Those not seeking and making a mission of not seeking even have particular moments where they cannot shoo away doubts, ideas which would be the beginning of their paths down contemplation if they did not decide against it. We all want to know what’s out there, to make the universe ours – even those who do not say that such a thing is possible. The narrative that we cannot “own” a part of the universe is also a narrative that casts a shadow on the universe’s brilliance: we cannot escape these visions. Sometimes individuals who are uncomfortable with the efforts of these quests, and the idea of coming out of it all, it being a fruitless endeavor, become angry and deny the existence of any transcendence, because they fear the power of belief. Belief is what destroys and creates nations. Belief is what causes humanity to persevere in the face of trial. Even if what one believes is wrong, it is profoundly potent and powerful. But belief is universal, and this is crucial to keep in one’s heart. By denying the power of belief with such vigor, they are validating the power of belief, which no man or woman truly denies in their heart.
All expressions of the extremity and the unknown shall be different, but united on the massive communal power of belief, accepted and brought into the fore unsheathed. Cultural creatives are quite aware of this unification of broad strokes into narrative through utilization of initially fragmented and disparate sources. Elements of culture in the Information Age do not become hubs for society in the same way, specific and then extrapolated into the realm of the universal through ethnocentric reasoning (we may be inclined today to say “ignorance,” which is not quite fair and that will be touched on later); instead, elements of culture are culture beads, holons, the string of the creator of myths woven through them.
ASTRAL ROMANTICISM is the next step of cut-up culture. Except what it is cutting up to collage is elements (even totalities!) of old and new myths. Each node of story is its own universe, but the beauty in the mural is that each node contains its own universe, reflective of the bigger universe that contains it. In fact, it is no longer a collage, but a naturally flowing blend of sounds and landscapes. Not a remix, a blend. The end of history is not something to be thrown around as something to despair at; according to what has come before, we have been living in the realm of the end of history for a while, and it is inhabitable even if it looks a bit different.
It is indeed not so clever anymore to pastiche disparate forms and ideas just for the sake of unnatural belonging. Hollow enigmas that bring to light the nature of illusion and artifice but do nothing to replace the fantasy, that level of super-exposure, Andy Warhols dancing and singing in their studios and warehouses with critical detachment from it all – this ruse has become recursive and exhausting, and unnatural indeed to continue like it has been done before. The desire to pastiche is actually a natural desire that exaggerates itself in the wake of hypermodern floods and flows of articles and sound-bytes. To not make sense of anything, deliberately, was at first the only way to make sense of anything. We have already had enough time to grow accustomed to a larger degree. The growing pains of the new generation are beginning to cease, the muscles will realize their adult forms: to this, the art world should rejoice!
Bring back affect, I scream at you and your heavens! Bring the feelings of your journeys back to the waking life, feelings that you know you had once, that ran past the corner of your eye in your blurs between waking dream and false memory. Catch it, and bring it back so everyone can see. And be proud and not scared. No one will judge you if the vigor of your claims is strong enough, dripping with conviction. For the best counter we can have to problematic cultural strains is vulnerability, and honesty. We should not fear for acceptability in our quest for beauty. Let morals be temporarily suspended or ambiguous at times if they need be. Live as an experimenter, and record your life, especially thoughts that signify nothing and mean to be. Catch yourself tossing out brief sparks enlightenment, saying it’s all stupid. Once, long ago, you would have never thought it was stupid, even if you kept it away from a superior ear’s radius. The fragile thoughts are to be protected in a stronghold of creator’s understanding. Any human on Earth can and should be able to access our collective libraries if they say the word: that is their pass code, their card. But let them come to you, in weakness, or let you go to them, in strength. Always show that you mean it, whatever you say, no matter how ridiculous, because it is ridiculous. Contradictions are the truth of the universe, but in the sense that both are real, not in the sense that nothing is, no progress is made, and everything is only infinite in relativity. Protect your thoughts, my friends! Be honest. You are believers and you believe in whatever keeps your hearts fit and ready. This separates you from many of your kin in the universe, but that does not need to be and will not forever be the case, ever. I cannot stress these points enough. We are on the bottom of the trough elevating on the unavoidable, un-avoided pulley track back to the peak.
Works of ASTRAL ROMANTICISM can be thought of also as self-built and building castles for which one can live and thrive in: the absolute display of the universe and self as filtered by the aggregate of feelings and images received by affect, accumulated in a lifetime: these works are both prayers in meditation, and the answer to said prayers. Perhaps they are indeed crystal castles of affect, that reflect the many lights (which come from the same source), in a multitude of directions within the contained space, and those rays of light infinitely travel and bounce into each other, changing form but all being generated by the same source: you, and then the universe. The affect I speak of is the sense that you get when you see a sign in shorthand, an image, and it conveys a very nuanced and shaded onion of passions and stories: one can bring their own life experiences to the text or film or instance or pair of shoes on the ground lying down next to your grandfather’s door. Impressionism, impressions granted to the reader of the cosmic organ. The diminishing of affect in art freezes the castle and locks the castle of the soul under the sea, as interpretation is simultaneously meaningless, for the work is simply the exposed artifice, yet necessary, as the naked device of narrative needs the (neutered) interpretation to justify its existence as a work of art. Wisdom comes first, but culturally nihilism is bound to follow. The imagination is refused to run wild in fervors of ecstasy; extrapolation and universal inquiry is limited only to what is in front of you or me. The element of “what is” universally is present in these works, but in the same way that the Anti-Christ is said to wear the rags of the Christ; immensity is not evoked, but a construction of immensity, false idols with no story behind the statue, and that scheming cleverness wants us to give up on the hope and dream that something is behind Warhol’s photo negative of shoes, besides sinking into blacker and blacker space with no oxygen in the tank, and nothing mattering anyway. When you try to apply the rules of affect, of story both within and outside the story directly presented, you get an image such as that. Suffocation. And not necessarily critiquing the suffocation present, lurking beneath the shadows of the narrative and image set most predominately present in our current iteration of culture. So tear down the artifice, the true artifice, the artifice that “all there is” IS the artifice, and reveal an ever-increasing vastness of a world!