Tunnel Ahead

Pluto. Underground. Lineage. Plans.

Pluto lived in the Seattle underground, the old stores abandoned below the raised street level project completed after the substantial fire of 1889. One night, after a poetry reading in Pioneer Square, Sylvie and I slipped down to visit Pluto. He was busy mapping out the Seattle Shanghai Tunnels, where the gods could get lost on vacation. Cities built upon cities give rise to strange rumors, seeping stories trying to explain what can’t be seen: the buried, the covered, the closed, the past. And the stories, like the people they depict, pile up, one sitting upon another, and their lineages when described set the characters and their plots upside down. Put no stock in the dead weight of your coat of arms. Neither be impressed nor depressed by what occupied your forebears. Your great great great grandfather may have been a prince or a pirate, a saint or an executioner, a sage or a fool; what does any of it have to do with you? A distant aunt may have been Catherine the Great or Catherine of Alexandria; so what? What system of serfdom is necessary to break the wheels that broke the backs of the ancestors eaten by cultural vultures and laughing hyenas and that continue to roll over so many? Where we come from is a matter of chance, unless there exists some Grand Plan, but there is no such plan, unless Hands Off is a plan. If where we come from is a matter of chance, so too is where we are headed. That does not mean we should forgo working to make good choices, but that we can’t fully control or even see or hear all the variables of influence, and that what looks like reward may be useless decoration. A purse is something that must be carried.

“Tunnel Ahead”
is episode 26 of
Ball Lightning
a Novel in Progress
in Serial Format at The Coming of the Toads.
(Click link for continuous, one page view of all episodes.)

The I Ching (Book of Changes); or, where one should not try to be all-knowing

In harmony with the Book of Changes, the 3,000 year old Chinese pursuit of wisdom, I chanced across a copy (3rd ed., 21st printing, 1985), for $2, at a garage sale this past weekend. It’s the Bollingen hard copy, in fair condition, with dust jacket, for which Jung wrote the original foreword, not as worried, he explains of his inability to explain the I Ching to what he calls, in 1949, the “Western mind,” a mind that might best be described by Hexagram 29, “Bound with cords and ropes,” because he was then in his “eighth decade, and the changing opinions of men scarcely impress me any more.” Not only that, but, continuing Hexagram 29, “If you are sincere, you have success in your heart, And whatever you do succeeds.”

The I Ching provided Jung with a practical field of study for his concept of synchronicity, the theory that effects don’t always have measureable causes – or, at least, when we turn our attention away from causality (as John Cage did in his works involving indeterminacy), we seem to form a more perfect union with nature – by which Jung meant, in his foreword to the I Ching, physics.

Yet it’s not clear whether today’s physicists agree or not – that a truly exceptionally simple theory of everything (one that satisfies Richard Wilhelm’s desire to “…[make] the I Ching intelligible to the lay reader”) might be held in the random throw of three coins. In any case, globalization may have already made the Western mind boundary-less, ubiquitous on the planet, but the I Ching is still out there, waiting to be discovered. Like the gospels, the I Ching has, since Jung wrote his foreword, been “pinched and poked,” as e. e. cummings said in “O sweet spontaneous,” by the “doting fingers of prurient philosophers.” Yet, Jung says, “security, certitude, and peace do not lead to discoveries.” In this regard, at least, if in no other, the I Ching would still appear appropriate for “thoughtful and reflective people who like to think about what they do and what happens to them…,” and like to think beyond “reason and pedagogy [which] often lack charm and grace.” Of course, who wants to hear that today’s answer is the same one offered 3,000 years ago? Might make winning the research grant a bit more difficult.

Jung argued that the I Ching is best suited to questions of self-knowledge. That the I Ching has changed over time, been abused, cast aside, like the gospels, should not, with regard to its use toward self-knowledge, Jung seems to be saying, in his foreword, dissuade contemporary readers, for “often our relations depend almost exclusively on our own attitudes, though we may be quite unaware of this fact.” Why would anyone consult the I Ching today? Because, as Jung says, “The I Ching insists upon self-knowledge throughout. The method by which this is to be achieved is open to every kind of misuse, and is therefore not for the frivolous-minded and immature; nor is it for intellectualists and rationalists.” But it is, in other words, the perfect fit for our ideal, general interest reader.

Jung acknowledges that “to one person its spirit appears as clear as day; to another, shadowy as twilight; to a third, dark as night. He who is not pleased by it does not have to use it, and he who is against it is not obliged to find it true. Let it go forth into the world for the benefit of those who can discern its meaning.” So Jung asked “Why not venture a dialogue with an ancient book that purports to be animated?” In an age when neuroscientists like Jonah Lehrer argue that “the mind is really just a piece of meat,” it would not seem that such a dialog as Jung suggests having with the ancient book can do any harm. But if I put the question to the I Ching, is the mind really just a piece of meat, I’d better be ready for the answer: Hexagram 36, “Darkening of the Light,” “…one should not try to be all-knowing.” Not only that, but, Jung adds: “The less one thinks about the theory of the I Ching, the more soundly one sleeps.”