“By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.”
“- Colonel Kane: Maybe we’re just fish out of water.
– Col. Richard Fell: What was that?
– Colonel Kane: I just think about sickness, cancer in children, earthquakes, war, painful death. Death, just death. If these things are just part of our natural environment why do we think of them as evil? Why do they horrify us so? Unless we were meant for someplace else.”
—-The Ninth Configuration
I had a very busy and stressful week at work and it kept going until late Friday. It left me enervated and exhausted. There are things that I need to do and things that I want to do but I wasn’t up for anything. To unwind and decompress I decided to sit my lazy ass down in the living room and watch a random movie or two from the Criterion Channel.
For no particular reason I picked a film from 1980 (though it felt very sixties-ish) the directorial debut by the author of the Exorcist, William Peter Blatty – The Ninth Configuration, starring Stacy Keach and a pile of character actors from the time.
My reading group is plowing through The Brothers Karamazov (and I am really enjoying it). As I’m sure you know, one of the themes of TBK is the question of the existence of God and, if he doesn’t exist, what is the basis for morality, if there is one. Very heavy stuff. It turns out that is the theme of The Ninth Configuration also – musings on God and Morality and Sin and Redemption. It’s the same themes, but instead of 19th century Czarist Russia the story is set in a castle in the Pacific Northwest that has been converted into an asylum for soldiers left insane by their experiences in the Vietnam War. Plus one patient – an astronaut that went raving crazy with fear on the verge of his flight to the moon.
It is a movie of its time – it doesn’t age all that well – but it is an interesting work of genius. It starts out silly and clunky – I was on the verge of giving up – but around the halfway point it veers off into new territory. There are revelations and surprises and a really crackerjack bar fight.
When it was over I made the mistake of clicking around the Criterion Channel menus and ended up watching a second film – the 1922 silent version of Nosferatu. I have, of course, seen the imagery from the movie – but had never sat through the film itself. It was fun to see the original vampire film. Count Orlof (Dracula, really, the names were changed due to the fact they never obtained rights to Bram Stoker’s story) is what a vampire would really be like – terrifying, yet strangely sad and pitiful. Vampires have become cool and sexy – that doesn’t make much sense to me. The undead should be shabby and wretched, like in Nosferatu, even if they are terrible and incredibly dangerous.
So it too, if dated, was fun to watch.
“Everybody acts out a myth, but very few people know what their myth is. And you should know what your myth is because it might be a tragedy and maybe you dont want it to be.”
Almost every important thought – definitely every decision I make – takes the form of a conversation. I’ve been paying attention – this is really true. But if it is a conversation, which person is me?
And if I can figure that out – who is the other guy?
“That’s all the motorcycle is, a system of concepts worked out in steel. There’s no part in it, no shape in it, that is not out of someone’s mind […] I’ve noticed that people who have never worked with steel have trouble seeing this—that the motorcycle is primarily a mental phenomenon. They associate metal with given shapes—pipes, rods, girders, tools, parts—all of them fixed and inviolable., and think of it as primarily physical. But a person who does machining or foundry work or forger work or welding sees “steel” as having no shape at all. Steel can be any shape you want if you are skilled enough, and any shape but the one you want if you are not. Shapes, like this tappet, are what you arrive at, what you give to the steel. Steel has no more shape than this old pile of dirt on the engine here. These shapes are all of someone’s mind. That’s important to see. The steel? Hell, even the steel is out of someone’s mind. There’s no steel in nature. Anyone from the Bronze Age could have told you that. All nature has is a potential for steel. There’s nothing else there.”
― Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values
Life consists of making the decision of what you are going to do in the next split second. Nothing else exists other than the process of making that decision and executing it. Everything else is an illusion.
What if I make the wrong choice? What if I choose something that limits my future choices? What if I paint myself into a corner?
I didn’t say it was easy. I didn’t say it was a good thing. All I said is that that is all there is.
I thought that life was pain! I thought that life was suffering!
It is. Pain is choice. It is. Choice is suffering.
But if choice is all there is… and I can choose whatever I want – then I am totally free.
Choice is freedom. Total choice is total freedom. Freedom is all there is.
So I am totally free.
Yes – but if life is pain and suffering and choice is also freedom – then life is freedom.
But freedom is pain and suffering.
Freedom is suffering?
I get it.
Yes, you do.