Monday, September 9, 2019

Unspeakable Desires, Part 2: Pre-Sand Egypt, reconsidered

Cloisters at L'Abbaye Fontevraud

Notes from Aug. 17/18, part 2

So we come to the question of why Jack Kerouac and Hadewijch both use this peculiar term, unspeakable desire, which seems on the surface to indicate something profane, but is quite definitely meant to be understood as sacred by both of them, despite the vast separation between the two in both time and practice.

I’ve spent many years explaining the relationship of our organic sensation to our Being. This faculty, which requires many years of diligent cultivation, can’t in the end be separated from our sexuality or the food we eat, whether it be physical or metaphysical.  In all of these cases, the impressions we take in are sensory, organic, not verbal.  Words do not compose them, and words cannot reach them. We live, in other words, in a fundamentally rooted condition of sensation that, although we are generally unaware of it, begins by forming everything we experience in life without any words.

 Our words—all of them— are attached to this sensation only after it arises. We learn this attachment from when we are tiny, even when we are in the womb;  an infant hears words and begins to learn what they mean even before birth. Make no mistake: the child hears the exact sounds the parent makes, and begins to learn the syntax, the elocution, the rhythm of sentences before it ever knows that a chair is a chair and a spoon is a spoon. They are vibrations, exactly like the vibration that bees use to communicate in the darkness. In this, we are much like them—at least before birth.

These words that begin as impressions in the womb are real events of informational sensation—sensation that forms understanding inwardly— to an unborn infant; and it’s only later that they become connected to the objects they represent. That representation only becomes “words” and “verbal” after birth, when associations are applied. This paradigm still holds true as adults; the context, however, is greatly changed, and the outer objects associated with these vibrations, as well as our attitudes towards them, have assumed primacy over the wordless vibrations themselves.

The sensation has become devalued.

 Unspeakable desire relates to this “pre-word universe,” akin to Gurdjieff’s map of pre-sand Egypt.  While one correct analogy is that this particular Gurdjieffian expression refers to his enneagram, a second layer of meaning attaches to the “nation of Egypt”—the ordinary world— before the words are applied to it, burying it.  

Egypt before the sand covered it was a nation of the most extraordinary colors, buildings, wildlife, civilization; an unimaginable flood of impressions which are invisible today. In the same way, our association of words draws a thick blanket of sand over our actual sensory experience of the world. Words make our desire "known." 

Our unspeakable desires arise within the wordless world of sensation; and their sacred nature emerges because of their relationship to our humanity. One might contend that without words, we have no culture or civilization and we aren’t humans; but the words are built on a foundation of sensation, both inner and outer, spiritual and natural, without which there are no words. It’s what comes before the words that moves us.

 Unspeakable desires, then, are those wishes of our will that lead us towards  a new relationship with our inner sensation; an honest one, a basic one, a natural one, and one that is furthermore devoted to honor, compassion, love, and God, not the wickedness that I generally construct my nature and my environment from. There’s a better choice, a better possibility, in front of me; and it’s my willfulness that takes me away from it. That willfulness arises, I might suggest, from my speakable desires: the desires attached to the things I can say to myself:

I want this,
Give me that, 
I am better than you.

 These are “my” desires: the ones I can express. My unspeakable desires carry me back into a different piece of territory, one that strips away the nonsense of personality and the lies of the ego, the accreted cultural material which has buried me in layer after layer of selfishness.  They’re not so far away; after all, my true humanity is in me still, buried in the exact location that Gurdjieff called the subconscious: and Gurdjieff also had a name for that true humanity, which he called conscience

 Yet that, as well, is one of those damned words; and where does that leave me? I can’t rely on conscience as the concept they taught me in school, or a philosophical principle. I need to rely on my instinct to lead me into conscience, and that instinct has to be tactile and intimate, not conceptual and intellectually inflected. 

I need to learn how to sense an unspeakable desire for conscience. Only that wish for sensation of conscience, that wish to organically understand the nature of my organism and my being, can lead me to what is unspeakable: the fundament of my sensation itself, the intelligence that senses, rather than the one that names.

Wishing the best for you on this day,


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

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