Monday, March 17, 2008

Remnants, abstractions -- garlands of skulls (Part I)

When I say that everything contains its own ruin, that everything, by its very design, accounts for its eventual decay, that every thing is made up of, among other components, its own eventual remnants, how is it that I know this? That is to say, is this something intuited or inherited through some sort of inherent self-knowledge? Is it because we, as humans, are made up of, among other components, our eventual remnants? And is this even the case?

We hear that, cellularly, the human body completely regenerates its own makeup every seven years. Of course this is a gradual, phasic process. That is to say, of course, that we do not simply “change over” every seven years, turning in our old skin for a new one. So we at least, at any given moment, contain our potential remnants, or some form of it. Formally, perhaps we even contain at every given moment, a complete type of our own remnants. This is, in a way, simply to say that everything exists in passing, that everything is bound for its own unique ruin and that, of course, everything as it is at any moment, is related to the particular way in which it will cease to be that which it is at present. But when I casually – flippantly, even – say that everything contains within its very design, its own ruin, do I understand this primarily through myself? Is it my own preoccupation with abstraction of form that leads me to claim this, to believe this idea of ruin and design?

Remnant can be taken to mean “something left over; remainder” or “a surviving form or vestige”. Abstract can describe something having “an artistic content that depends on intrinsic form rather than on pictorial representation” but can also be taken to mean “a summary or condensation” (as in an abstract). To condense can be taken to mean: “to abridge”. To abridge, “to cut short; curtail”. To survive can be taken to mean: “to remain alive or in existence; endure”. A remnant, then, is both an endurance and an announcement of endurance spent. An abstraction is both a shortened form and a more intrinsic form. And intrinsic, of course, can be taken to mean “relating to the essential nature of a thing; inherent”. The abstracted form of myself is, in this formulation, the essential, the inherent form. The implication, here, is that the more inherent is the more abstracted and that the more abstracted is the more intrinsic.

In which direction, one might wonder, can this concept move? In both directions? That is to say, is the form that is shortened to its remainder, to its surviving, utmost abstracted version, the most essential? Can we say that the skeletal remains of a monument were the most essential all along and that the dome, for example, has somehow all along been the least essential?

And of myself? Am I at my most essential when I am at my most abbreviated? If the answer is yes, this implies that time itself engages in no arbitrary abstraction, and that the effects of the course of the planets around the sun are inclined only to making, over and again, the most essential distinctions.
In a way, this puts us all in pretty good standing, wherever we are standing, certainly facing, while standing, each our own unique and inevitable utmost abstraction and most essential. One might conjecture that the global effect of this would be that the world has been and is gradually, over great epochal churnings, bringing itself closer and closer to its most essential forms, abridging all of the more inessential content, getting down, day by day, to the real skeleton of the matter. Helping it along, in this case, may well be a matter of aiding everything in moving toward its most skeletal at every opportunity. But if this seems to present an inconvenient challenge to the general trend of modern living, as it almost certainly does, are we threatened with the possibility that we are not in such good standing as it may have seemed just a moment ago?
Where are those wonderful people wearing garlands of skulls and anointing themselves with the ashes of the dead, to remind us of our (somehow now struggling) natural tendency toward each our own unique and inevitable utmost abstraction? Given the state of things, where can we even begin to invite that spirit in / back in to our lives? Get rid of your television? Smash your rice cooker? Fewer gears for your bicycle? Ride a unicycle? No cycle? Walk? Abstain from political elections? These all seem like trivial moves, given the scope of the question. But can the same not be said for wearing a garland of skulls? I am, personally, privately, drawn to the symbolic severity of this action. But as it is ultimately symbolic, could we not suppose that the entire enterprise is a game made of the systems of symbols in which we have become (or have always been) embedded?

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