This short book asks the question, “What is it to unwork the ideology of self-possession in a society of colonial possessions?” The experiment is to learn from the Stoic kanōn, or rule of living by phūsis (nature), to make of one’s life a dispossession. The figure of imagination chosen to craft the dispossession is the wind. The book uses several genres – philosophical reflection, journaling, fiction, poetry, and theater. The following excerpt comes from the end of part I. Interruptions into the text include monologues by a strange person who has just quit his job at a bank.
I am finding a current. The wind rose and now roars in the limbs of the orchard in our mind. Some trees have even crashed, and their winter apples have rolled along the hardened ground into gullies, roots, and dips. The icy trees shine in the sun the next morning, crystal patterns on the eyes of those who pass, human or small mammal.
It is time to let the distortion and the fantasy become a source of realness. To say these things is not to possess truths. Only the truly foolish know where and when relationship. I must slip, crack my head, and be vulnerable to the fact that I am truly, am.
You see, the thing that will blow open the shutters and the doors of self-ownership is relationship. That is why it comes with the wind. Is the wind the void, or is it relationship –or is it the change that happens when self-ownership becomes dispossessed? The wind is equivocal within this space. It has many meanings, but around a scene of pressure. They swirl there and appear along with the movement of the pressure to finally release us from the oppression locked inside self-ownership and its world of owning people, lands, and other beings. The wind itself cannot be owned, not even in its meaning. But it has lent me itself to figure a different way into this life, and now I move along with it through my imagination, seeking the way of relationship that tears through the structures of the landowners, the slavers, and the factories, until there is a different way of being in this life beyond calculating, subjecting, and producing. The wind shorts the systems beneath the servers too, until there is another way to be human than to competitively invest in ways to out-profit your fellow person. The wind is a political-economic fantasy that figures relationship. In this, there is equality.
You might wonder how. All you need do is to think of the void. The void is unconditional. In it, that you feel, how you do, and what you feel are not denied. It is not a matter of doing something with them, of acting or of acting on them, but of their being real. Only in that starting point can there be a relationship. But with whom? With another, or with others, who relate. Yet they too must be able to relate. They, too, must be in a void, unconditionally. Otherwise, they cannot relate. And if they cannot relate, you will have no relationship either. It takes more than one to form a relationship. Unconditional void to unconditional void –ache to ache- there is –there must be- equality, or there will be no relationship, not truly.
Another way to put that is this: if you, accepting yourself in deep politeness and with the indifference of the cosmos seeing that and how you are, are to relate truly, then you must meet others with whom you relate. Relationships go both ways, shifting back and forth as on a current of air. They disrupt and reconfigure, and cannot be determined from one source. Well, then you need to be just as open to that one with whom you relate as you were to your own soul, possibly more. The risks of being conditional are high when you face the different mind of another person. You must be a void to them. There will be no possession.
I find that when wind goes through my mind, I am spacey. I am an air head. The words swirl about and are not precise. It is muddled thinking. Yet if I let myself sort out, the words falling about the place, I also begin to find something real that, to an extent, defies words, allowing me to work off of them and to rearrange them in creative ways.
There is an old distinction in Latin between a disagreement de dicto and a disagreement de re. The former is a confusion over words; it is semantic. The Latin means “about what is said.” The latter is a difference over facts; it is about reality. The Latin means “about the thing.” Wind, I find, often causes de dicto turbulence but leads to de re clarity.
The clarity I find with the wind is the clarity of the way the cosmos appears from the perspective of relating. In such a perspective, the same openness that is the cosmos around us opens up within us as the unconditional validity of how and what we sense. “Validity,” here, does not mean accuracy, because our feelings are so often confused. It means instead that without seeing that what we sense is a part of a relationship, we cannot relate truly or truthfully. Any relationship will have to work through distortions, but without it being open, it will not be, truly, a relationship.
The world appears differently from relationship. It is not something primarily to be manipulated. It is not something to be done. Nor it is something to get our heads around and figure out, at least primarily. It is not something that must in the first instance be believed, as if all we had to do at first is doubt where and that we are. In relationship, the world appears primarily as something to be sensed so that it can be touched, or better yet, reached. From this touch, we may then know and we may then do. But the primary thing is the intimacy that develops over time, confidently. It is about trust, not believing.
And there is no trust. My society is a disaster. It is a not-star, a void of light, hope, direction, and wonder. The word “disaster” comes from the word for a star in Latin. The prefix, “dis,” means that the star has been erased. A disaster is a thing without a star. It is the anti-cosmic, for the cosmos is the void filled with stars. And since stars are our beacons when travelling on the sea or by land with no other navigation, since they are visual metaphors for hope and are causes of wonder, to live in a disaster is to lack these things, at least when we look out and up and night.
In my society, it is stupid to trust. This is what self-possession born of the possession of others brings. “Hear me,” we say, “trust is the great foolishness.” Where is trust when a twelve year old, Black boy can be shot by society’s protectors in less than two seconds of their seeing him standing around doing nothing in a park, a toy gun by his side? They say that he had the orange safety tip removed, but they could not see the toy gun; he was doing nothing threatening, and they did not stop to ask him to confirm that the gun was just a toy. They said nothing, my society’s protectors who protect the order of possession. They shot and killed him, without a second thought -or even a first- in less time than it takes to find and press a “like” on social media.
“What trust, stupid?” If you have the self-possessions –the wealth- you can think that you are safe –until you no longer have that wealth. Of course, if you come from the people who were possessed in slavery, or if you are of the lineages of those whose lands were possessed, your wealth will not fully protect you, not even conditionally. You may still be stopped by the protectors of the order of possession, frisked, and assaulted. You may still carry a history of violence inside you that makes it easy for you to feel depressed and worthless. You may still not know how you can exist in society, since the order of possession is fundamentally an order of dispossession –taking land and life from people and places.
All these things we carry in our bodies. Those most at risk carry it most. But everyone carries it somewhere. In a society where it is fundamentally acceptable to let people die if they do not have possessions, it is never actually safe. The unconditional source of the void is kept out of mind, because society is so conditional. The relations are entirely practical and –if you are strategic- theoretical. The relational has to be kept down.
The loss of the relational is in our bodies. It is in us as distrust. The cost of self-possession is the loss of the relational. The burden of self-possession is distrust.
When we walk down the street, we cannot trust each other.
If we are out driving, we have to be defensive.
In shopping, people push by you, reaching for things to possess.
Out in a diner, you can stare at your coffee or at your text message screen. Side to side is avoidance.
At school, the question is who will beat you on the test or on the playground?
Who would be so stupid as to trust?
In this space, the wind can only be thought of as a moment when the society of distrust falls down, clearing apart to let something else suddenly appear.
The thing that is so hard, that cries out like bad weather in the tossing trees, is the loss of unconditional safety next to the memory and bruised hope of a vulnerable and trusting meeting. How can you put the two together? They are so painful, because both are true. It is practically and obviously true that there is no sure safety in my society. It is relationally true that without vulnerability, there will be nothing worth living for, because I will not be able to relate to anything, thereby voiding its possible worth to me. It is painful to live in this split open reality. But the wind rushes through it.
You see, in airing things, I come to a position that makes hope more basic than distrust, and I have no evidence that it is actually so in my society. Indeed, I think that it isn’t so –maybe, that it can’t be. I only have the shape of us instead. If there is no relating, there is no point to possessing, because the possessions do not actually mean something to you truly. They are, strictly speaking, meaningless without your relation to them. But if there is no point to possession, there is no point to the struggle to possess, which is the source of distrust. So, relating must be for meaningful things to be. And if relating is, there must be hope –for meaning, intimacy, and trust.
What, anyway, is the point of possession? It is to ward off people from taking your things –and ultimately from taking yourself. The idea behind possession is self-protection.
What is the point of self-protection? It is to keep yourself free to have a life.
But why have a life? To enjoy it, to find it meaningful, to experience life.
So the point of possession is the same as that of relating with this one exception: self-possession leads to dispossession. It is contradictory. It trusts in distrust. So it loses trust.
And yet we are stuck on it?
The simpler way to be is to relate.
Like this. I have made something of the wind, I have related to it so that it is a relative.
But what does the wind think? When it is airing things, how is it feeling? What would it be for it to relate to us?
Of course, the wind is indifferent, physical, and without consciousness of any kind. When I relate to it, I personify it, projecting my anthropomorphic fantasies. No, the wind is the void of anything we call human, except the parts of us that are void-like.
The wind sees me as a density. It moves around me and moves me. It is going somewhere else. Would I like to follow? My wool hat already has. I was running with it, but now it is following with the wind, blown along the street. That damn hat. That damn wind!
But I am talking about myself again. The wind has moved past my hat and is onto the neighbor’s trees. They are also densities, but they are flexible. The wind has shaken them side to side as it went beyond them. The wind is always going somewhere else. It is at the next point, not this one. It is never where we are –it is where it wants to go.
Somewhere, blocks from here, the wind is done. The air is equal and calm. Like a bad mood, or a good one, the wind –it’s disappeared. Part of relationship is understanding that they are just gone, sometimes, the relatives.
And here I have brought us to a state, a strange state, where it is not clear what we are talking about anymore. We’ve left the ground. There’s nothing solid to know. The words are fluid and shifting, and they rush by as on an errant course. The mind feels dispossessed, recoils or rebels, the words are pointless and the book is useless. The claims are baseless, and the idea is nothing but a cloud. The de-pressuring of words has begun. They seek a level whose meaning is vague and shifting, shifting so minutely as to be almost unmoving.
The wind is the focusing agent. As it circles around the body, coming in to the clothes –or as it crashes and slides over the buildings, leaving a dull whistle –as the house is for a moment maybe not a home, and then it is a home because it protects you from the wind –as the leaves and limbs outside tell you the day is floating, keep you alive inside by the movement, there, in the trees, grasses and bush –as things roll along the sidewalk outside hurrying nowhere, but hurrying –the mind comes into focus out of its void. Its dull poetry is dispossession.
At the most inside point of vulnerability is a suffering that cannot be escaped. The loss of a child by a society’s callousness is the single evidence that the society is a moral disaster. Nothing will void the cruel vacuum. So we rush and hurry past it, or lead the dull ache of it seep through our bodies and be lost. It’s this way avoidance works. Avoidance is a daily distraction and a passable sorrow become our sense of reality.
The dark dreams are not figures, they are absences, absences so absent you forget that they are absorbing all light like black holes. You just live in a dimmer reality, the grey day bent toward night. The dark dreams come with the possessions, and they help us avoid the disaster we call “home.”
In this way, the dark dreams are the disasters. They float on our emptiness. Their wings are voids of light, slices through the visible. They are insane and make no sense. They are a child gunned down by the protectors in 1.8 seconds. The car slid across the playground in the snow, and the untrained policemen were scared, because the dark dreams were at work in their minds, evacuating sense into the possessions, which were themselves further sources of darkness, until the minds, souls, bodies, and feelings of the protectors were a single, seemingly continuous coil of fluid pain made normal. Crack, and the boy was shot in the gut. He was bleeding on the ground, and the dark dreams would not help him. He had a toy gun near his body, a ridiculous protection that boys use for self-possession. His sister came to him, and the dark angels pulled her off the boy’s dying body. They pushed her to the ground and hurt her. They possessed her too, the protectors.
Where was the wind? It was cold that day, slick snow on the grass, and there was little wind, even though the lake washed near on the shore just blocks away. Where was the wind?
The cosmic politeness of it cannot encircle the disaster. There is nothing right in it. Even in daylight, the greyness has gone to black. We walk on the sidewalks with our eyes slit almost shut, trying to stay awake in the winter. The society is a disaster.
Maybe when you opened this book, you hoped that I would be describing the wind and reveling in it through language and through thoughts. Maybe we had a misunderstanding. It began so clear, like a day of sunlight on the snow with a royal, blue heaven cast about the outlines of frozen trees. It was easy as a walk through familiar streets and across the small, neighborhood park. There was almost no motion in the air, and you could hear yourself breathing.
But then things slowly changed, and then they began to move quickly. The turbulence was not just in the air, it was in the reality. A vacuum ahead of everything was drawing reality out, breaking it into shards as things aired and flew. Pretty soon, there was nothing stable, and the fluid was ever uneasy.
We came to a boy in a time and a place, a shard of the disaster of that time and place around the bright silhouette of the boy. The boy’s loss was the vacuum, and the society’s reality was sucked out in shards into the void.
How can any of us relate when these things are normal?
To describe the wind is to avoid it. My spiritual exercise is to inscribe it. The wind is an unruly inscription. What the Stoics called the kanōn is nothing but a mark that slices the normal order of self-possession. This cutting is not violent, but is the void of force contained by the order of possession, a momentary suspension of the violence. In the unconditional, there will be no violence. The wind rises in the moments when violence subsides and even its possibility seems unthinkable.
The wind stirs as suffering unfurls. We must sense suffering and move in it become people again and not possessions. The mark of the disaster we call society is an ache we have forgotten in our head, chest, and limbs. The ache is always there, but we have avoided it, but then the wind has turned us to it for a moment, and we have a momentary chance again to, hopefully, relate.
There can be no trust when there is suffering hidden in the structure of the society. The wind has to shake the structure apart, break it down. It must teeter and fall, for it is covering over the thing we need in order to relate. It is avoiding the suffering of folks.
Now you might think that life is suffering. This is more of the avoidance that makes self-possession seem normal. Life has pain in it, but suffering is something else. Suffering is the denial of relationship.
The wind appears where relationship has been denied, and it rushes to re-open relationship. This is the process of airing things.
Suffering is the core power of the void, because the wind must rush to it.
Here I am at 4:59 A.M. on December 21st, 2017. I am sitting in a chair that was left with this house by the previous inhabitants. The paint and wallpaper have begun to peel and patch off of the walls in this study. Antlers –the nickname of my partner- and I have begun to scrape them down. The walls are beautiful as they slowly reveal their history. Some day we will paint them again.
It is 5:03 A.M. and the light on the upright piano my mom gave us is soft and yellow, reflecting against the wall, the wood apron, and the dark veneer of the piano itself. I have a headache caused by either the wine we had last night –we have wine at dinner most days now due to Antlers’s heart- or by the dryness of the Winter air inside this place. For even with a humidifier, the heating drains the place of moisture. I am getting over a cold, too, and perhaps my sinuses are partly still stuffed up.
It’s 5:06 A.M., and I am thinking of Tamir Rice. He was shot down twelve miles from here in November 2014. That was just three years ago, and the meaning of that single act cannot get through to the city of Cleveland. If it did, so many people would have to see that their daily life is predicated off of ignoring the bodies piling up in the poor and formerly red-lined parts of the city where racism made and makes its mark. People would have to come to terms with their callousness. It would fuck them up, oddly, to see how fucked up their life of possessions is.
5:10 A.M., and I am doubting this book, because it is so choppy. No matter what I do to smooth it out and make it plain, it draws back into itself and becomes a swirling jumble of vaguely associated sense. My anger plays out in it as discomfort with a fixed system. I want the words to be fluid, even if they become opaque. I want the motion of their non-sense to find a deeper sense in my mind, for I know that the void of the cosmos is in us. It is our secret. It is the impossibility of possession.
5:13. 5:14. I cannot begin, no, I begin, but it is inadequate, to say what I think of this society. There are no words to express this emotion, it is such a storm. To be in this society, I have to keep the storm on the other side of barriers, as if behind an industrial plate of glass on some spaceship designed for solar winds and atmospheric entries.
The storm would take apart the structure of my society. It would level it. In this fantasy, as the winds subsided and the rubble of my world appeared in the light, people would appear alongside it, more happy and whole than they have been in any time of my memory. They would be equals and would begin to relate. The vulnerability would be overwhelming, because it would be unforced, because it would be so open that there would be no need to focus on it. Instead, we could focus on things we want to do. We could be curious. This impossible fantasy is a joke. I am trying to make that joke.
Jeremy Bendik-Keymer runs the Beamer-Schneider Program in Ethics, Morals, and Civics at Case Western Reserve University. His previous books include Solar Calendar, and Other Ways of Marking Time (2017).
Both images taken and edited by the author.