Wednesday, August 13, 2003
The Goth Thing, or Theory of Wonderment
Written June 18, 2003:
The Goth Thing
Yes, I admit it. I am reprehensible on both sides. I was a goth in high school, when it was somewhat trendy (note that I was in high school from 1994 - 1998; note however also that I never succumbed to the Marilyn Manson fandom thang -- I was somewhat "purer", being a fan of Dead Can Dance, Cocteau Twins, Bauhaus, and Sisters of Mercy); and I "outgrew" it when I hit college and a change of city. Thus, I am neither free of the gothic taint, nor do I have the merit of being consistent throughout. I confess.
What I further want to admit is that now, as I'm technically an adult (I have moved countries, I am in graduate school, I'm paying rent and utilities and debts and my friends are marrying and having kids and divorces and so forth), I want to go back to my gothic phase. Not so much that I want to paint my face white and my eyes black and run around in velvet, but I that I long to regain the sense of mystery, of mystique, of everyday glamour that I had during that time. I would come home, light a candle, sing, and write poetry. Now, I come home, open a beer, and watch T.V. This is not progress.
So what is acceptable, and what is merely escapism? The university I attend now, while in New York City, is fairly conservative. While I used to be an honest NeoPagan (which indeed calls for a separate essay), the philosophy I study leads me to a more agnostic position (cf. David Hume) and I feel like a poseur rather than a pagan wearing a pentacle.
I wear a large amount of black. I have black pants, black sweaters, black t-shirts, black tank-tops. My glasses are black plastic (yes, the trendy square kind). When I wear jewelry, it's silver. I feel comfortable with these things. And yet the black that I do wear feels more like grad student wear, rather than Mystical Being of the Night. I guess this is reasonable, given that I'm far from being a Mystical Being yadda yadda. But I see people on the street who fill me with further ambition... Maybe I should wear a bit more black eye-liner, and extend the edges slightly?
I used to write a lot of short stories and a lot of poetry. I cannot write either anymore; my imagination does not tend toward those things. They were a way of living a mystical existence -- I'm going to use that term, problematic as it is, to represent living somehow beyond the everyday. I'm not sure it's authentic, in the Heideggerian sense, but it's something beyond just "getting by".
Any suggestions for how to regain this sense of the mystical are welcome. It's not, I emphasize, that I've lost my sense of wonder -- I do philosophy all the time, and I wonder plenty about that. But philosophy can sometimes be less... less transcendental (not at all in the Kantian or Husserlian sense! just in a layman sense!) than I'd like. Maybe what I need is religion? spirituality? But I can't force myself to believe in things of which I'm skeptical. I just want a sense of extraordinariness to pervade the everyday.
Addition, August 13, 2003, 12.43 am:
Theory of Wonderment
After having reread two of my favourite books, Forests of the Heart by Charles de Lint and American Gods by Neil Gaiman, and having recently gone to a booksigning by Neil, before which I'd reread some of his Sandman graphic novels, I think I understand what I was getting at back in June. They both seem to have captured what I mean about a sense of extraordinariness in the everyday, a sense of gods, monsters, and assorted fey figures walking among us, hidden from us except for certain times, to people who are observant. One of the Sandman books, Brief Lives (the name taken from John Aubrey's book, which is worth reading for its anecdotes of the lives of people like Hobbes and Descartes), opens with the overview of those who have lived far longer than the "normal" human life span - those who remember woolly mammoths, the last ice age, the first Atlantis, that sort of thing. Clearly they're smart enough to stay away from scientific examination. Why not?
I don't seriously think that there are such 10,000 year olds, but why is it more likely that there is a personal god, than that there should be fairies and djinn and people who pass among us who are not the same as we are, in some deeply magical way? Why? Why not?
Listen. I'm willing to carefully examine claims, critically and with detailed argument, when they concern something the outcome of which will affect human life and well-being. I'm not anti-scientific. I try to avoid being flaky. I just think that it's possible that part of an honest agnosticism is also an admission that magic could be real, for the simple reason that it can't be proven either way to be real or not real, just the same way that agnosticism involves the admission that god may or may not exist. (That's why it's so much more fun to take the agnostic position than the atheist one. And that's why "Brights" are so dull.)
I don't want a surgeon to say that she's using magic to implant a heart, or scientists and politicians to think that the solution to the whole in the ozone layer is prayer to genies rather than implementation of Kyoto and stronger agreements and efforts. Really, it's a difference that is no difference. There is nothing, I think, empirically different about the observed world if I admit to the possibility of magic or magical beings. But my outlook, my reaction to a moonlit night, to a moment of stillness within me, to missing keys, to hope, to despair -- this changes.
jane 9:09 AM [+]