Wednesday, March 16, 2016

7923. BELOW THE WATER LINE (pt.193)

(pt.193) [bruno, pt.2]
My Avenel has always been
disappearing, growing smaller,
diminishing. In that respect, it's
a perfect analogy to the previous
piece. The disjointed attempt to
counter the loss. An avoidance
of having things disappear. Most
everything that I have of Avenel
no longer exists and it is all, therefore,
a mental reliquary of what was  - 
and I've had to find ways of retaining
the memories. As each thing recedes,
and is 'physically' lost, there have
needed to be ways of preserving
the after-image, the mysterious
'gone' location : that original house
that was both train station and library,
those old 'mansions', the swamps and
fens and junkyards, Avenel Street
before the cut and the dig, all that was
lost because of it, old school days. the
churches and the fields, the chickens
and the farmlands  -  everything
imaginable. I've had to find systems
and formulae to keep that ever-diminishing
field of reference from falling through
its own black hole. The symbolic aspiration
of the previous chapter's analogy to the
'General Dynamics' campus was meant
to be a means of doing that. I'll get back
to that in a bit. A reducing ground.
One of my first intellectual forays was
into the old 'memory systems' of the early
literate days. I've already mentioned 'The
Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci', yes, but
even earlier and more overwhelming to me,
has always been the character of Giordano
Bruno. I wished he could have lived in
Avenel with me. The idea of the physical
manifestations of things disappears and
the ghost shadows linger, yet with life,
is mine, and held dear. In about the year
1600, Giordano Bruno undertook his own
perilous intellectual adventures in this area:
On Ash Wednesday, in thay year, 1600,
Bruno, a philosopher and former priest
accused of heresy by the Inquisition, was
taken to the Campo de' Fiori, the city of
Rome's execution grounds, and burned. He
was taken there on a  mule, the traditional
means of transport for people going to
their death. (It was also a practical means,
for after years in the Inquisition's prisons,
many of the condemned could not walk).
Once placed upon the pyre, a crucifix was
held up to his face. Witnesses wrote that he
turned away angrily. He could not speak,
having been gagged with a leather bridle,
and a spike driven through his tongue. The
fire was lit beneath him after he'd been tied
to the stake (Ah! The Inquisition!), and when
it had burned out his remains were dumped
into the Tiber River. Bruno was born in
Nola, near to Naples, in 1548. A bookish
boy, he was sent, at the age of 14, to Naples,
to be educated - a move that left a permanent
mark on his mind. (Naples was the fifth largest
city in the world then, housing masses of
fishermen, seamstresses, laundresses, porters,
carpenters, sausage makers, blacksmiths,
wheelwrights, and water sellers who went
barefoot in the mild climate and lived largely
on bread and figs.) Above these plain folk
were the grandees who ruled the city; below
them were the beggars and the prostitutes who
swarmed the alleys. The experience taught
him, plunged as he was, suddenly, into urban
chaos, survival skills. It also was the source
of what would later be hid governing image
of the universe : 'fullness; infinitude.'
Not exactly 'Avenel', no, but you
can get the picture. In my own personal
gut of the world, I managed to combine
the scale of an Avenel into the huge
mesh of my streetside NYC, before
long. But Bruno was a guiding light,
wherever I went  -  seminary to home
to New York. All I learned of him,
I put into my personal reference
room of this world. My 'library', as
it were. It was, mostly, in that library
I dwelt. The Dominican education
that Bruno got was conservative, run
by 'religious nobility'  -  that didn't
mean they behaved any better than
anyone else; there were cases of assault,
theft, forgery, and the 'chronic problem
of fornication' (don't you love how I
phrased that). He learned there to move
among the ruling class; he also aquired
intellectual rigor. He was taught the
conservative, Scholastic philosophy of
the time. All those wrong things which
back then (too) were insisted upon as
'right'. After that, on his own, he
encountered Neo-Platonism, and it
transformed his thinking. The Scholastic
system was of strict, system building.
The Platonist system was of poetic
exaltation. The third was all his own :
'a dark wit born in his parents' little
house, and stiletto sharpened on the
streets of Naples.' In time, the darkness
came to rule his thoughts. he wrote of
his: 'irritated, recalcitrant, and strange
condition, content with nothing, stubborn
as an old man of eighty, and skittish
as a dog that has been whipped a
thousand times.' His nickname,
he said, was 'the exasperated.'
That's all enough of the plain biographical
stuff; it goes one. Bruno eventually fled :
fled the Dominicans, fled the priesthood,
fled the Inquisition, trials, interrogations,
all the rest. Eventually, a trusted friend
turned him in after he returned home (bad
move, returning), but  -  here's where
we'll get involved again with Avenel  -
before that point, traveling, Bruno made
a name too by teaching, for hire, noblemen,
the craft of 'artificial memory.' The science,
(in 1600!) of improving recall. It wasn't a
side project; it was the subject of many of
his Latin writings, and often the source
of his income during his wandering years,
He tutored people in memory skills.
Amcient orators had used artificial 
memory systems, mentally attaching 
their ideas onto statues, or objects
in the rooms of a building, so that,
later, in their mind, they could revisit
their ideas, and thus give seven-hour
speeches without note cards. A man 
named Ramon Lull had refined the
method, imagining memory as a system
of concentric wheels. Bruno adopted
Lull's schema and enlarged it (briefly:
the first syllable was an 'agent' who is 
a mythological figure, (the bull Apis,
say); the second syllable it an action,
(say,'sailing'). The third is an adjective...)
Anyway, it goes, syllable after syllable, 
place and mental picture, one after the
other, amazingly cluttered, all as posts 
to hang memory and thought. Prodigious.
Endless combinations, a giant slot
machine, locking in to his vision of 
an infinite cosmos. Why, you may ask?
Well, what else was there, what else
had they  -  these were people of the 
dark, and of candles and only ideas. 
Every concept they owned was dark
and smoky, all connected to tyrants
enforcing their own warped ways  -  
church, church royals, nobility, craft
guilds, masons, kings, goons, and so
on (a sort of memory list, that was).
Everything Bruno thought, unfortunately,
was 'heresy' from end to end. If there
were countless worlds beyond ours,
this sidelined the Christian story, for 
sure. Creation, expulsion, salvation :
such things might have happened, but
somewhere off in a corner, while other
things were happening on other planets.
(Also eliminated was God's difference
from humanity  -  if God was present, as
Bruno saw it, in EVERY atom of the
universe, then even Transubstantiation
became a silly idea  -  God was already
present in the wine. Ditto incarnation.)
It was all a checkmate, for Bruno. 
His everythingness and everywhereness 
had caught him up. To all-encompass
really encompassess nothing at all! 'God
makes his sun rise over good and bad,'
Bruno wrote. Even Devils were going
to be pardoned. The nobleman who turned
Bruno in was unhappy with his slow
progress in 'Artificial Memory', thinking
his teacher was holding something back 
from him.
I, for myself, only wandered so far : I made
Avenel into my artifcial satchel, a holder
of all things, to which I would return. 
Memory this, memory that : a run of a
few pheasants, where they existed, through
the prison corn fields, their noise, the
shape of their sounds. The garter snakes
we stupid kids slaughtered on the rocks
along the tracks as we walked to Rahway.
The pools of oil and grime, the old dials 
and levers in the junkyard trucks, the wheels
and seats in the cabs. Everything took on
significance. I would sit for hours, quite
literally, in the little metal undergrids of
the underpass rail-lines, unseen, above
traffic an below the trains, just watching.
I had a kingdom, and a parcel of my own
crazy world. I swear, as a kid, as a teen, I
was insane, and kept that way by my place.
The General Dynamics campus site would be 
a wonder. As it disappeared, piece by piece,
as individuals left through the discovered 
portal, decreasing in size, new arrivals would
be brought in. But first thought would have 
to be given to the fact that  -  the larger their
reputation and intellectual vigor on the way
in, so too the greater their void would add to 
the decrease on the way out. Smaller yet, 
towards dissolution. The analogy was  -  
always  -  to Death itself. No way out.
Its success would be its doom as well!
The end was omni-present. This, therefore,
could NOT be the only present there was.
I became convinced. I knew I was truly
multi-dimensional. I lived a hundred worlds.
Every one of them a pulsing, crazed quasar
of information and energy. All I needed to 
do was retrieve it all as it came to me. 
A 'reverse memory' system of my own!

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