Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Navigating the Starless Night

From an essey by Terence McKenna, a controversial theoretician and a powerful voice for the psychedelic movement.

"Ancient mapmakers relied upon the presence of celestial bodies for their conceptualization of the world, for their external knowledge-making tools, as if a far-off body could help to make sense of our terrestial life/as if it couldn't. Cosmology, as a practice, relied on the construction of an external body of knowledge that the local meaning-maker could situate him- or herself into, and more broadly, their entire society and culture -- the interior is determined by its relationship to the exterior (or the exteriorized). "

"For the ancient Greeks then, the font of Western culture, this cosmology works at once to legitimate the presence of humanity on this terrestrial sphere, as well as providing proof, facticity, for the mapmaker's art: Cosmology not only gives humanity a narrative of its coming into being, but also a rationale for humanity to exist as part of a whole universe. Hesiod, in his relating of the beginnings of terrestrial history, begins with Chaos, with the yawning chasm of the unfilled cosmos -- the eternal vacuum. Into this Chaos, Gaia is parthenogenically born, the first entity, as Hesiod explains that Chaos is no entity at all, but the absence of identity. But whence the earth, dialectical identity is confirmed. And Gaia firstly gives birth to Sky, to blanket her, for comfort. An into this sky, Erebos, the lightless depths of the night, and Nyx, pure night. To them is born Aither, the light of heaven, and Hemera, the day. Gaia proceeds to give birth to her terrestrial children, the mountains, the rivers and seas, the deserts, and the forested wilderness; her first concerns are creating those land-marks that humanity will come to know itself by. Both the person and the tribe, the latter a faulty category imposed by the perception of the world lived in, and the geographical barriers between people. Later, Prometheus and Epimetheus will distinguish humanity from the other animals of the Earth, but through a dependency on their lack -- as if Gaia's gift of a terrestrially founded identity was insufficient......."

"....But these maps are to be burned. No longer do we have external bodies to find, to navigate; our labyrinths are internal, ideological, and imaginary. Our new cosmology is a political one, a purely theoretical one, and one that is as arbitrary as it is necessary. But in this arbitrariness, there is no need to dismantle it: Rather, these mazes of identity are to be celebrated and understood -- the endless labyrinth must become an understandable game of the self. "

"And so we imagine ourselves ancient mapmakers. We rely upon the presence of celestial bodies (the stars of our own reality shows), (re)constructing the world as it has never been seen. Like idiots we stumble across external knowledge-making tools of our own creation, and find ourselves distracted as we march headlong into a future filled with stories of a past we can't remember. But when we look outside of ourselves, and listen to someone else's story, however false or unintelligible it may seem, we begin to triangulate our positions. We mark off locations spatial and temporal and enter into an emerging social sphere. And though our skies may be obscured by the dromospheric pollution of continent-crushing velocity, we begin the cartography of the social. A project for our own times, always changing and never complete, but it does become better, provided we continue to reach towards each other, looking long and hard for new stars to join new constellations, in search of a place we have yet to imagine. "