The Universe of Illusions

I have been away from writing in this space for more reasons than I really understand. Imminent plans to pack up and more back to Cape Cod are not amongst them, despite my last post, but I still have faith that such eventualities will be revealed in their time if it is meant to be. It is not that I have been off on a crusade against global warming either, despite all of my fiery rhetoric from a few weeks ago. Neither of these things are any less important to me; I was not speaking anything other than the truth when I bathed the topics of climate change and the desire to return home in such urgent tones. It’s just that I fell back into the rhythm of living life rather than talking about it for a little while.

Across the Universe* * *

I spent yesterday reading David Edwards’s Burning All Illusions: A Guide to Personal and Political Freedom and then we watched Across the Universe, that movie about the sixties with the beautifully Beatles-laden soundtrack. They complemented one another in a stirring way.

The basic premise of Edwards’s book is one that reverberates in my core, even as I yearn desperately to push such insights as far from me as possible. He describes the commodified, profit obsessed “reality” of modern life, the inescapable pursuit of property and status that marks Western life (so often at the expense of the rest of the world) and leaves us all empty, devoid of purpose of our own. To him, being caught in this trivialized culture is exactly the opposite of freedom. Though it seems as if we have limitless options, our paths are all predetermined because they function to support the ever expanding financial markets. We stand in a place where it is impossible to discern the truth because it is filtered through the media machine that is just as much in thrall with conformity and the bottom line as the corporations. Success is counted in dollars and pounds; happiness becomes an elusive, undefinable destination often only understood in monetary terms.

I know, I know, maddened lefty rhetoric from a guy who probably couldn’t hold a real job, right? He quotes Chomsky and asserts that Shakespeare is not actually a very good writer (he was just someone who eloquently dressed up themes that the elites have continued to approve of), so he must be an irrelevant wacko, right? I mean, we can all list our myriad liberties and successful instances of insightful, investigative reporting, right?

The problem is, what if he isn’t nuts? What if there is real truth in these ideas that our society demands we reject? I know I am susceptible to his message since I have been plagued with my own questions about what to do with my future (dreams of being a healer and a writer and a yoga instructor with the ocean not far from my door) and am constantly confronted with “but how are you going to pay the bills, kid?” and “don’t you worry about not having benefits?” And these comments come from those I love and respect, those who only want the best for me! But I am certainly not the only one to have woken up to realize that the layers of schooling and networking and financial obligations should not lead to a life sentence in a sensible job that leaves one feeling soulless – despite the health insurance and the fact that there are plenty worse places to be. Since the picture of society that Edwards creates seems accurate enough, clearly most people who wake up in such a crisis listen to those concerned friends and worried family members and continue to do the job and make the sacrifices because that is the only “realistic” way to go.

This unusual (bizarre?) perspective is difficult to express since I am far from comfortable with them myself and fear my readers who will shake their heads at another of my flights of fancy, another of my quaint hypocrisies (how easy would it be for me to forget this Sunday morning ramble and go shopping this afternoon and watch brainless television tonight?). The film Across the Universe at least can function to illustrate some of these ideas.

The movie, of course, is steeped in all of the idealism of the sixties, the nascent radicalism of (most of) a generation. Though it includes some cringe worthy musical theater style dance moves, it really was a beautiful kaleidoscope of an era. What really struck me was the contrast between the emergent, rebellious youth culture and the American war machine. In that case, movement and dance and song made the argument so much more compelling than tradition storytelling. Perhaps I am soaked in my own idealism of my parents’ college years, but it seemed as if a truly independent spirit still inspired the young people of that decade. Maybe it was because music was not yet a completely corrupt industry. Or maybe it was because the war affected so many people so much more intimately than the current conflicts that rage across the globe. Maybe it was just because the military industrial complex was just not as sophisticated as it is now. Back then, the unholy marriage of big business and the “defense” industry was not yet so powerful that it became invisible as it has now.

Of course, in the intervening years, what sounds have become more part of the general culture than the music of the Beatles? It is hard to believe sometimes that their music was once strange and revolutionary, rather than a set of familiar anthems of a now quaint time rife with free love and heavy drug use.

This is not a post that really goes anywhere in particular, except for halfway through a book that just might urge me to analyze some of my own perceptions of the world, but I think that is ok for now. At any rate, check out the movie – it offers an entertaining couple of hours that will make it so you’ll never look at the Statue of Liberty in the same way again. And I think I would recommend Edwards’s book too – I think…

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2 thoughts on “The Universe of Illusions

  1. Ruaidhrí March 3, 2008 / 11:21 am

    Get a job hippy! 🙂

    oh wait you have a job…I meant Keep Working….OK I’m not sure what I meant.

    Although I was thinking about some of the same things over this weekend. On the one hand, the not buying into the consumerist capitalist system seems nice. On the other, do I want to be living in a lice infested hut?

    I’ll take the middle road-I’ll keep on paying my mortgage but will download everything I can for free off the internet. Take that Capitalism! 🙂

    Haven’t seen across the universe but it is on my ever growing list of things to see/hear/read. Time is an ever decreasing resource I find.

    On an unrelated note, I just finished reading a comic called Y:The Last Man-all about how every male human and animal mysteriously die at the same time except for one unemployed english studies graduate and his pet capuchin monkey. And how women attempt to keep civilization working in the aftermath of the ‘gendercide’. I would reccomend if you feel the need to buy a comic(which I know you probably won’t but just in case you pass by it or have someone who can lend it to you). Actually in a way it is related to your post above, because it does involve the collapse of modern capitalist civilisation-which is not pretty and involves wifes of republican politicans with guns.

    Also am really liking The end of Mr. Y. Have started the other book but am not so sure about it yet~it’s a little bit heavy to be reading with 4 other books at the same time!Will get back to it when I’ve finished Y.

  2. gartenfische March 4, 2008 / 8:01 pm

    This is a beautiful post, and brings up many issues that I ponder, too. I do think our society is on the wrong track and I think it is worthwhile to try to counter that in our own lives. But how? Yes, we need the benefits and money. But we can opt out to the degree we’re comfortable with, at least. Live frugally and put our money where our mouth is. We can refuse to swallow the lies. And we can write about it, like you have (and my recent post at wyrdbyrd brings up similar issues).

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