January 16, 2006

Symbols and Real Things

Just past halfway through the month of January, I have caught myself in the act of division. January--a month whose name comes from the two-faced, backward and onward-looking god Janus--has entered upon the world bearing such strange gifts. There is the mystery of my visit to Viet Nam--the fact that it is beginning to recede from the lucidity of the present to an ambiguous, longed-for memory of the past. Like a dream, the two weeks I spent there passed by like a single frame of a film whose length is undetermined. Being back here in Japan in the chill of a more conventional winter climate, I have reached out to words in order to not lose what I feel is gradually moving away.

In truth, I have only one face. That face is my life, my orientation to the world (however disoriented it may be), a vector which cannot be isolated or stopped like a movie frame and analyzed to such intricate, piously scientific depths that it no longer seems to be one anymore. There are no mythological figures of which I spoke of that can claim hold on my being. Moving along, I carry with me everything that I have brought and leave only my footprints behind. There is a figure of me now, different every day, carrying these images through time with the hope of sharing them with other people. Though I admit an irresistable nostalgia, I resist the temptation to let that nostalgia fester into an aimless and blinded search for that which has been changed long ago or recently. I feel that no one should be what Kenneth Burke called "a hippopotamus feeding in the miasmal swamps of time." In Burke's book, Permanence and Change, written in the early years of the Great Depression, the "True Church" incurs this stark analogy. I think now of the difference between "progess" and "progression"--between the orientation or our movement in time to a single fixed ideal and the orientation of our movement in time to the reorientation of our orientations.

Is it more appropriate to say that morality is letting oneself be open to constant revision or to judging the world and oneself (often there tends to be an unconscious generosity here) to one's fixed understanding of what "being moral" is? I did not mean to let this reflection end up in the realm of morals, or a debate of permancence vs. change, which I realize is problematic and inconclusive.

Today I have a runny nose. There is one class today at the end of the day. I think about what the class will be on and have decided to make a "New Year's Resolutions" theme class. Most likely the students will be unenthusiastic about anything in which they have to express whatever they are thinking at the time. There is a balance somewhere between this reversion towards expressing onself and what I have groomed in myself as a reliance on expression (to the point of being handicapped in often subjective, abstract, and rhetorically flat language).

I think about my life--where it has been and where it will be--and sit here blowing my nose every minute or so.


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