The Afikomen: The Divided Self

The Afikomen, the Divided and the Hidden Self – an Introduction to the Jewish Soul

by

Howard Adelman

 

Last night I watched a panel on autism on Steve Paikin’s show, “Agenda”. The show was very instructive, as his shows generally are. One woman in particular who had a brother, who suffered from autism (Autism Spectrum Disorder – ASD) was particularly instructive since she went on to pioneer in creating a therapeutic app for finding a structured order within which autistic children can orient themselves. They cannot function in environments with chaos and sensory overload. If there ever was an environment with chaos and sensory overload, it is surely the average Jewish seder. Seder means order but a seder is often an exemplar of everything but.

A Passover seder is a festival in which people break bread together, identify with one another and with a common past to forge a better future. Autism is a condition in which interpersonal communion and empathy with another may be very difficult. Its symptoms include failure to make eye contact, resistance to being held or touched, a lack of a sense of proper distance when speaking to another, a failure to share experiences with one another, an inability to grasp symbols and figures of speech, an inability to read body language, an aversion to answering personal questions, a propensity to engage in conversation disconnected from what went before and often to burst into observations unrelated to the social context or what someone else had been saying, and, most of all, an inability or difficulty in connecting with what another person is feeling and, therefore, a propensity to naively trust another and, therefore, easily prone to be victimized by bullies. One way to think of a seder is as an antidote to the propensity to ASD that may be present in all of us, though not to the degree to be noticeable as in individuals diagnosed with ASD.

The Passover seder is modelled on a Greek symposium but the message and the substance of these two different symposia are very different, for, as I have described before, the Passover seder is about communion in the present by communing with and reliving the past. It has a very different purpose than its original intention in ancient Greek culture.

When Plato depicts the self, he offers a number of images, the most well known being the story of the cave followed immediately by its abstract version in terms of the geometrical figure of the divided line that is said to be analogous to the different parts of our cognitive selves, but it is a mistake to think, as we shall see, that the cognitive self constitutes the whole of the psyche.

Let me start with the Divided Line (DL) as depicted in The Republic (509d-510a). A line is divided into two uneven portions, the larger portion representing the comprehension of the intelligible world in terms of its contribution to truth and the smaller portion representing the comprehension of the visible world having a smaller contribution to truth. So if a line is 18” long and is divided, for example, in two uneven parts in a ratio of say 2:1, then the larger section of 12” would represent the comprehension of the intelligible (non-visible world) and 6” would represent the comprehension of the visible world.

Plato then divides both of the sections once again in terms of the same ratio, 2:1.  The intelligible world is then divided into two sections, one 8” and the other 4”. The longer section represents what pure reason can grasp, the pure forms or abstractions free entirely of any residue from the visible world, pure forms which can only be grasped by reason. Einstein’s equation linking energy (E) and matter (M) and where C is the speed of light in the formula E=MC² would be a close example. The shorter section of the upper intelligible realm is represented by understanding rather than reason, that part of intelligence which abstracts and generalizes from the visible world. It is the realm of creating categories or classes and propositions based on hypothetical thought. It lacks the degree of certainty and clarity of reason and the purely intelligible realm of mathematics.

The lower section is divided as well into two sections in the same 2:1 ratio, or 4” and 2” respectively. The larger section belonging to the visible world is about our everyday knowledge of objects in the visible world, the realm of sensibility. The smaller section is about our fantasies, our projections of the visible world on the movie screens of our imagination and deal with likenesses of the visible world that are phantasmagoria, images that come into being and dissolve like the mist. They are shadows which can be taken to be real by the naïve who have no detached perspective about what they are grasping. This is the level of knowledge inculcated by imagery or advertising as we now call it. It is NOT worthless as a degree of knowledge, but, for Plato, it occupies the lowest and least part of the cognitive self. It is the realm of knowledge gained from reading fiction or from watching movies that I write about so often.

A final note re the analogy of the Divided Line (DL). A caption over the door upon entry to Plato’s academy read that knowledge of mathematics geometry was a prerequisite for studying at the academy. Without going into the geometrical theorem, whenever a DL is divided into two unequal portions and the two parts are once again divided by the same ratio, then the two middle sections will always be of the same length. Therefore, in the above example, the section that is analogous to understanding and hypothetical reasoning and the section of the visible world dealing with the direct knowledge of objects, both have the same length, or, in other words, the same degree of clarity and approximation to truth. The benefit of understanding and hypothetical knowledge is its proximity to reason and knowledge of the pure Forms rather than the degree of truth it might possess. So one should not think that Plato was dismissive of empiricism.   

The narrative story of the cave is perhaps a better or richer or more memorable way to portray the different levels of knowledge. At the lowest level, people are tied to a log and watch reflections on the cave wall cast by a light behind those people that they do not see and they take those projections as reality. These are the shadows that captivate us, the ghosts of our imagination, the movies we watch and the novels that come into being in our imaginations. When the people on the log are freed up from their mesmerisation with illusory shadows, they are able to turn their heads and see the objects, the images of which are projected on the cave wall and they can then recognize they were watching phantasms. But the cave is the realm of the visible world. When they escape the cave and go out into the sunlight, they can see reflections of the pure forms of reason initially as a means of abstracting from the visible world in the bowels of the cave. The ideal is, of course, to see pure Forms without any connection with the visible world, to look directly at the Sun in all its glory for that is ultimately the source of all enlightenment.

Before we compare Plato to the sense of the psyche depicted by the three layers of matzah, another narrative by Plato needs to be introduced taken from his dialogue Phaedrus (246a-254e). Plato’s portrayal of the three parts of the soul in terms of an analogy to a chariot where the charioteer is the intelligible part of the soul and the two horses guided by intelligence are the spirited horse (rational desire or prudence?) which can detect the guidelines of the reins that is yoked to another horse, the appetitive part of the soul which has only the instinctive energy to drive ahead but no ability to follow the directions of intelligence. The two horses represent the the spirited part of the soul and the appetitive part of the soul respectively.

Appetite is instinctual and constitutes NO part of the realm of knowledge whether visible or intelligible or the capacity to acquire knowledge. It is about doing not thinking. On the other hand, the spirited part of the soul which is also about doing rather than thinking also does not represent any realm of knowledge but represent emotions or passions that can be linked to rational self-interest, whether those passions be greed or ambition, rage or shame. To link this metaphor up with the theory of the DL and the myth of the cave, the charioteer or intelligence represents all four aspects of the world of knowledge and the faculties associated with it. Neither emotions nor appetites belong to the intelligible part of the soul at all, which, according to the image of the DL and the narrative of the cave is itself divided into four parts.

Notice the following differences with the parts of the psyche as represented by the three layers of matzah. First, matzah, the bottom layer, is not equated with irrational and instinctual behaviour unable to listen. Rather, it is l’chaim, life, the instinct for survival worthy of celebration and joy. To eat, drink and celebrate the sensibilities is the foundation of all ethics rather than simply a realm needing strict controls and yoking to another part of the soul which can control its wild character. Further, unlike in Plato, the appetites when based in sex are a realm of knowledge in their own right, embodied and bodily knowledge as when Adam was said to know Eve after both had eaten from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

Second, in the three layers of matzah, the top layer is identified with passion and compassion, with empathy with an Other and not with abstract reason. In Plato, these passions can listen to and be guided by reason. They are not guided by identification and understanding the world as perceived by another human being. In Plato, humans experience the world in the same way and are governed by the same instinctual appetites but differ because of different admixtures of the passions and, most of all, by their inherited ability to use intelligence to govern the passions and thence govern the appetites. The passions are best when the listen to intelligence and ignore the temptations of the appetites. In contrast, in the Hebraic cosmos of the psyche, the passions are the source of creativity, or our imagination that reaching beyond the world we experience and can envision a new world, a world of hope, a world that belongs over the rainbow.

Thus, though the seder may be modelled on the outward form of a Greek symposium, its psychic premises are radically different. Further, so is its structure. For a seder follows a particular order to allow us to stage how we can re-enter and relive the past as the present and teach us the stages of redemption to prepare ourselves for the future. It requires entering a world of shadows, of ghosts from the past, of what Plato thinks are just images on the walls of a cave representing reflections of objects in the real world whereas in the Hebrew ceremony they are the true ghosts of the past which it is our job to bring back to life so that we too can be redeemed in the present. Further, whereas the object of the seder is to tell a story of an escape from slavery and towards freedom, Plato offers an apologia for slavery, for repression rather than expression, as it is necessary for reason and the Sun God to rule over the rest of the psyche and to bring harmony to  our internal (and external) conflicts. In contrast, conflict, the asking of questions, is at the heart of the seder, NOT with pre-formed answers as in Plato’s dialogues, and often imitated in many seders, but as a true exploration of questions and queries from a variety of different minds with their own preferences and ways of looking at the world. The aim is not to harmonize thought but to appreciate different perspectives and approaches as we re-enact the Past in the Present.

Thus, for example, the contrarian child should not be envisioned as one who arbitrarily questions authority but one who critically examines the pretensions of reason to have discovered and explicated absolute truth.  The contrary child is the dissident and the critic. At the Hebrew seder, one lives in a radically different world than that of the Greeks, whether we are talking of Plato or Aristotle. First, the appetites are appreciated, particularly the driving force of sex. Second, recapitulation as history is denigrated by Aristotle because it belongs to the realm of the particular rather than the realm of the universal, but in re-enacting the Past as the Present, the universality in the particular is recognized and re-experienced. History becomes the most important part of our repertoire of knowledge and is not banished from the cognitive realm along with poetry and the arts.    

Where does the middle matzah come in, the realm of reason and intelligence that mediates between the passions above rooted most basically in compassion and identification with an Other, and the appetites below which are an independent source of knowledge, knowledge rooted in one body coming to know another body through intercourse? Why is it divided and what is the larger half, the Afikomen, that is hidden and children are sent to find and redeem it? The smaller half is the easier to grasp for it is our practical intelligence that enters into everyday life and mediates between our imagination and creativity rooted in our passions and our instinct for survival and reproduction, for the continuity of ourselves and our DNA and our community. That intelligible self does combine abstract reasoning or pure theory and the sciences based on induction and hypothetical knowledge of the empirical world. That practical reason also involves everyday knowledge acquired through interaction ith the physical world of objects and people as well as the faculty of the imagination that can take those experiences and imagine another world, including the past world when we too were slaves in Egypt and bring that past into the present.

All this practical and scientific knowledge is the smaller half of our intelligence. The Afikomenen is the larger half. It is the part that absents itself from the seder and plays little part in telling the story or enabling the re-enactment but it has at least four characteristics. It is hidden. It is found by innocent children. Third, the children who search for it and the one who fins it are especially rewarded with a prize – usually a coin. Fourth,everyone at the seder table eats a piece of it at the end of the meal. The Afikomen is not just a heuristic device to entertain children while the interminable tale of Moses leading the Israelites to freedom is told in however an abbreviated form. It does symbolize innocence, the Passover lamb, that which is sacrificed so that we can consummate togetherness.

Sephardim have an especially close appreciation of the Afikomen because they regard it as having magic qualities. The ruined and empty synagogue in Košice, Slovakia in which Simon Schama began his documentary segment “Over the Rainbow” in telling the story of the Jewish people, the Jewish temple that was destroyed in Jerusalem by the Romans and the reason why we no longer sacrifice and eat the Passover lamb, these are all parts of our ghostly past with which the Afikomen is in touch, with that which is hidden and supposedly lost but which we must reclaim. We cannot tell the story of the escape from slavery into freedom without bringing those ghosts back into the present. Unlike progressive views of history, the present is only brought fully to life by reclaiming the past as part of the present.

And that takes magic. That takes, historians. That takes innocence to leave behind the present realism and imagine a past. Our passions may be geared to our hopes for the future. But our hopes for the future must be rooted in a resurrected past. Then why is the larger piece of the broken middle matzah have a Greek name, for “Afikomen” is a Greek word?  And the word has the same meaning as God who pronounces I shall be who I shall be. The Afikomen is associated with the ultimate coming, the coming of the messiah, the hope that drives all hope, the hope for the coming of a world of justice and mercy. And only innocent children can truly believe is this as a world to come. Any ordinary adult has become too jaded to accept this possibility in the light of all they experience. But it is precisely this possibility, this a priori proposition that lies embedded in all our hopes to pursue our dreams over the rainbow. This is why children are and must be at the centre at a Passover seder. For although the seder is a device to teach them, in the end it is they who must teach us the importance of the restoration of innocence.

Why again call this most central part of the seder service by a Greek name? My answer is simple. Because we Jews owe so much to the rest of humanity, but, in this context, especially the Greeks who gave us the form of the symposia. We may have transformed its meaning. We may have transformed the very nature of the conception of order from a pre-fixed organized world in terms of a perfect ideal into a hope for the future linked to a lost and destroyed past, but we owe the Greeks the form that makes this possibility come alive. In Christianity, the Afikomen became the wafer eaten to partake in the body of Christ whom they believe to have been the messiah and the sacrificial lamb. It has been transformed into the sacramental bread, the “host”, the unleavened bread which is the Eucharist. In Judaism, it remains a broken off piece of matzah hidden and left for children to find so that we can, at the end of the seder, all partake in that broken off past so that we can hope for “next year in Jerusalem”.

What do we owe the Egyptians who play a much more obvious part of the story? Were they just tyrants and oppressors, the evil ones always present in the world? Remember that it was an Egyptian princess who saved Moses. Tomorrow I will explore Moses as a divided self to try to bring back what the Hebrews inherited from their Egyptian overseers and that is an integral part of the Passover narrative.

Image and Reality

IMAGE AS REALITY

by

Howard Adelman

 

Images and Words

Images recorded on tape have destroyed the career of Rob Ford. Others contend that the words he utters have done that job. Though the Toronto Star assiduously tried to get a copy of the notorious crack cocaine video, the same newspaper wrote an editorial yesterday depicting Rob Ford as a boastful serial liar. Rob Ford claimed that he, HE, had transformedToronto into an economic powerhouse, presuming that it was anything but before he took office. The audience of businessmen understandably laughed. Rob Ford claimed, “in a break from the past,” that he had succeeded in building a subway. Setting aside the fact that the Scarborough subway has not yet been built, or whether or not it is something to boast about, the reality is that the Spadina subway is moving slowly north to York University and beyond. Mel Lastman, for good or ill, built the Sheppard line. So why does anyone listen to a mayor who differentiates himself from his predecessors because he built a subway when he really differentiated himself from them by his inability to distinguish truth from outright lies.

This mayor who cavorts with drug users in his office and can barely follow an agenda or an economic analysis, claims to have run Toronto like a business. If the business was a mad circus, perhaps; he always showed only that he was excellent at getting potholes filled when constituents phoned to complain. Rob Ford says he was elected with the largest mandate in history. He did get a substantial plurality (47%), but Lastman won 80% support in his last run and even Miller got 57%. On the basis of these sheer fictions, Rob Ford claimed to be “by far the best mayor the city has ever had”.

This is the thinking and rhetoric of a psychopath, someone so detached from reality and wedded to his own self-created imagery that he cannot tell the difference between his beliefs and reality. I wrote in the past on Lance Armstrong and suggested that, though a very accomplished athlete, his psychopathological exercise in self-creation raced ahead of that ability until he became a prisoner of his own lies. Being a prisoner of your own lies is what this blog is about.

I have written about commentators on the Iran nuclear deal who distort and invent and contort the clear provisions of the agreement. The deal does not mean opposition is unwarranted. It does mean and require – in my world – that one be accurate in representing it. There is an epidemic of pundits and politicians who seem to believe the only thing that is important is the fictions they create and communicate and clearly seem to believe in phantoms and mirages, in dreams and illusions in the wish to blind us to the truth and isolate us in our imaginary worlds. I have just been introduced to another phenomenon, far worse, but related, and it horrifies me.

Internet Suicide

After downing pills and vodka, a student at GuelphUniversity evidently immolated himself in his dorm room, or tried to, while recording the event for the internet and while his electronic community on his chatroom site egged him on.  Not one of the 200 viewers over the forty minutes thought to call the police or fire department. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2516641/4chan-user-sets-live-streamed-suicide-attempt-200-people-watch.html Evidently this incident was far from a first. There have been a series of such events. Two weeks ago a thirteen year old succeeded. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1088173/Teenager-commits-suicide-live-online-1-500-people-watch-video-stream.html

Why do people watch? Why would they encourage such an act? I went online to see for myself. I actually watched in absolute horror one of those videos where a young man hung himself in his own bedroom and you literally watched him wriggle and his face turn blue. I had never seen anything like it before.

The explanations for the person who commits the act and the observers who watch and encourage vary. Evidently, students record such acts because they have both shock value and have the potential to go viral giving the person who commits the act a type of immortality. Further, in breaking social taboos in such an outrageous way, they become insiders with a select few, those few who subscribe and watch electronically tied to one another. The suggestion is that those who watch treat the performance as no different than all the other shootings and killings they watch on TV and movies. There is a diminished sense that what is occurring is actually happening. The sense of unreality is linked with the rejection of any sense of responsibility reinforced by the way watching a screen turns one into a spectator and not a participant. The horror is then escalated when, following the act and the widespread viewing, “trolls” call the person who attempted suicide a “retard”, not for trying, but for failing to accomplish the task at hand. The devastated family has to endure a plethora of vile abuse in the aftermath.

Is there any connection between these actions and the political performance of liars? Certainly in the most extreme cases, they share a common characteristic of self-destruction. But is there something more that can throw light on the phenomenon?

Plato’s Cave

One of my philosophy professors when I was a student at the University of Toronto was David Gallop, an expert on the Greek thinkers. His lectures on Plato’s Republic elaborated on the latter’s allegory of the Cave, in particular, the relationship between imagery and reality. In the perfect Republic, imagery and the imagination have no role in the perfect state, but, paradoxically, Plato makes that point with many very creative images, of which the Cave allegory is a prime example. This allegory, and the illustration of the divided line that follows in the Republic, more specifically, the bottom two sections of the divided line and what happens within the cave before anyone escapes into the sunlight, bears an eerie resemblance to these situations, particularly since they deal with the relationship between images, fantasy and fabulism versus realism. I will ignore the realms of science and pure mathematics, of understanding and reason. My concern is the imagination and common sense.

What is the relationship between the shadows and images we watch on our TV, movie and computer screens to the solid world of “real” chairs and table, acts and dogs? This question is impelled by politicians seemingly wedded to hyperbole and outright lies, whether commenting on the Iran -P5+1 nuclear agreement or acting out like Rob Ford. Philosophers have dealt with the relationship of imagery and reality – Plato is a prime example. So does the Tanach. After all, in the Garden of Eden, Adam is a scientist charged with naming objects found in the natural world. But he knows nothing about his own body or his passions. He does not even know he is alone and, in his sleep, has come to imagine that woman has been created simply as an extension of himself. He does not even know his own body. He imagines his penis is a separate being, an erect snake that has independent agency and talks. So he takes no responsibility for his (or its) actions.

Plato in the allegory of the cave envisioned people tied to a log and unable to turn their heads in any direction. They are in the bowels of a cave watching shadows projected on the wall; they take those shadows to be reality. They cannot turn their heads to look around. They are totally absorbed with the shadows they observe on the cave wall. In the unevenly divided line illustration of four sections where the upper and lower sections of the line are divided in the same unequal proportions as the whole line, using an unequal division of 2:1, the upper section of the line is an 8, the next section a 4 and, in the lower section, the upper section is a 4 and the lower section is a 2. Plato insists that each different segment signifies a different measure  or degree of clarity and obscurity. Thus, the bottom section, dealing with images and fantasies on the cave wall and identified with the world of imagination, contains the least clarity. Above it, what we now call common sense, can have double that value. This corresponds to the experience in the cave when individuals are freed from their bonds and fixed positions and are able to look around at others in the cave. Thus, the visible realm of knowledge (distinguished from the intelligible segments in the two upper segments of the line) is made up of common sense and the imagination. In the latter, we are mesmerized by the products of the imagination, by the shadow dancing across the cave wall. In the Jowett translation, it is: .

a line divided into two unequal sections and cut each section again in the same ratio—the section, that is, of the visible and that of the intelligible order—and then as an expression of the ratio of their comparative clearness and obscurity you will have, as one of the sections of the visible world, images. By images I mean, first, shadows, and then reflections in water and on surfaces of dense, smooth, and bright texture, and everything of that kind…As the second section assume that of which this is a likeness or an image, that is, the animals about us and all plants and the whole class of objects made by man.

Knowledge at the highest level is noêsis, at the next highest is understanding or dianoia making up the two intelligible sections of the line that you experience when you are outside the cave. The next segment down is belief or pistis where your knowledge is obtained, not my rational proof, but from experience and the opinion of others and empirically looking around. It is, therefore, only called belief. The last and lowest segment of the line is the observation of images, eikasia, the realm of the imagination where what is known is only projected shadows of reality as two-dimensional images.

Pay attention to the claim, not that the lowest section of the line possesses the least clarity when it comes to knowledge, but that it is a realm of knowledge. Further, without that realm, the upper sections of the line make no sense – we need to climb up to the higher realms through images. Further, as is clear in the tale of the Garden of Eden, the lowest section of the line is a realm of knowledge, the realm of knowledge where Adam came to know Eve. If we waited for common sense to get its ducks in a row, we would not be here. There would be no sex.

Part of the imagery of being tied to the log and watching images on a cave wall means that we are obsessed and possessed when we are totally within the realm of imagery, possession and obsession that leads to bodily knowledge that cannot be conveyed at the higher levels. It is the realm where blue is the warmest colour. It is the realm where we become possessed and do not take responsibility for our own actions. It is the realm where we are not in possession of clear and self-evident truths but see only through a cloud darkly, where we do not know what we do and where we do not take responsibility for our actions for we see ourselves imprisoned in the world of images. Hence the dangers two passionate lovers pose for one another for they live in the realm of conjectures able only to draw inferences from small and inadequate signs. As Plato wrote;

Behold! human beings living in an underground den, which has a mouth open towards the light and reaching all along the den; here they have been from their childhood, and have their legs and necks chained so that they cannot move, and can only see before them, being prevented by the chains from turning round their heads. Above and behind them a fire is blazing at a distance, and between the fire and the prisoners there is a raised way; and you will see, if you look, a low wall built along the way, like the screen which marionette players have in front of them, over which they show the puppets. They see only their own shadows, or the shadows of one another, which the fire throws on the opposite wall of the cave?  The truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images. Fancy that the shadows which he formerly saw are truer than the objects which are now shown to him?

Suicide in an Imaginary World

Why then is projecting your own suicide through a videotape onto the worldwide web seen as the ultimate expression of being caught up in this world of fleeting images and immediate bodily experience? ALL juveniles dream of being at their own funerals. Here they achieve this degree of agency, they are the producers and directors of the imagery that is the precondition for there being a funeral in the first place. It is the closest feeling to omnipotence and being at one with the gods,  While totally enraptured by one’s own state, one does not and cannot empathize with others. So why do we attend movies to experience the pain of others? Because it is not what we experience. We experience a simulation of pain and know we are in a movie theatre. That is why we are able to watch. I challenge you to watch those videos of young kids killing themselves on the internet and not feel corrupted and polluted rather than gaining cathartic relief.

The characteristics of being caught up in the self-destructive world of being totally obsessed and possessed by images is that we lose any ability to correct ourselves. We lose the ability to take responsibility for our own actions. We lose the ability, most of all, to distinguish the world of images from reality, for the world of images has become our reality. It is more real and more powerful and more convincing than anything we experience in the world of cats and dogs, tables and chairs, in the world where we get to look another in the eye.

Plato turns to Glaucon and says: “When our eyes are no longer turned upon objects upon whose colors the light of day falls but that of the dim luminaries of night, their edge is blunted and they appear almost blind, as if pure vision does not dwell in them.” Those young kids live in their own caves but now linked by the internet with other young people living in their caves. And they challenge one another to see who can best live on the edge.  

There is no longer a dichotomy of the hidden and the revealed, the suggestion that there are other surfaces to be seen from another perspective, for there is absolutely no sense of perspective. It is a 1-dimesnional world in which the observer envisions himself on the same plane as that which is watched. Thus, there is no occlusion and no binocular disparity. Part of this is achieved because head motion or motion parallax is reduced to zero. There is, however, convergence, for the eyes can and do focus and are absorbed by the spectacle witnessed. and the eyes accommodate to the shadowy light and the grey images but always in the sense that what is seen is not seen with clarity but in fog and what is in front of us is a dance of light and shadows.

Believing solely in the image is belief in a phantom, in a magic world not of causes and effects, of agency and acts. As Northrop Frye wrote in The Educated Imagination, “The world of literature is a world where there is no reality except that of the human imagination.” How much truer that is of the world of movies and even much more so the world of UTube and the internet. Instead of being absorbed into that other world, the dreams and illusions insinuate themselves into the psyche mesmerized by the images. In the real world, eternal life is impossible. The imaginary world creates exactly such a possibility. The world of advertising had conditioned us to believe in the miraculous possibility of images, for products ARE their images. What higher magic than to be frozen for eternity on the internet, a poor fellow’s cyronics. 

Further, you have become the artist of your own being. “The genuine artist, Harris is saying, finds reality in a point of identity between subject and object, a point at which the created world and the world that is really there become the same thing.” (Northrop Frye, 211) As Frye writes, “Like all forms of fiction, these simulations depict, not the world as it is, but a vision of the world transformed by the imagination.”

Photographs and Action Videotapes

Why aren’t we happy with photographs of ourselves? It is not the same. Photographs are but frozen reminders, flimsy means of stimulating memory, not re-enacting life, and, most of all, not re-enacting the decision to end the life of the body so that desire can finally win its battle with the will to survive. Photographs capture and preserve experience. They do not reproduce it. Photography is the terminus for a possessive individualist and part of the modern age, not the age of post-modernity. Photographs package and preserve; the dancing  shadows on the cave wall mesmerize and seduce.

I can analyze this world but I cannot really understand it. I belong to print culture, to a world that is lineal and causal, where a correspondence theory of truth presides. It is a world that celebrates interpretation and not exhibition. It is a world of objects and subjects and not the merger of the two. In the world of objects and subjects engaged in describing and interpreting, a third world of meaning is created. The world of the shadows on the cave wall has no meaning, no third dimension and no second dimension.

On the other hand, there was a propensity in the modern world – as there was in the ancient – to ban the imaginary and the realm of interpretation. In the golden age of modernity in the twentieth century, when the printed word became king, and before advertising, television, movies and the realm of imagery usurped the throne, the objectivity of the world was expected to be accompanied by an objectivity to meaning. However, as Nietzsche and Kierkegaard already recognized in the nineteenth century, the infinite passionate interest in one’s eternal happiness was thrown overboard as superfluous. The great quest of desire had to be bracketed, limited, boundaried and even, for extremists and fundamentalists, discarded.

In the realm of the electronic, all that is solid vanishes into the cloud. Even the visual based on the eye loses its crown through the new visual universe for there, instead of isolating and privileging sight, all the senses become involved. Your whole body, not just your eyes, watch Blue Is The Warmest Colour.  Even more profoundly, the basic dichotomies of our structured understanding of the world are subverted. Those children committing suicide on the internet belong to a very different world in which images, signs and codes have no meaning in my world but ARE meaning in the world of the chatgroup that he joined. Unlike Plato’s depiction, the images on the wall are not representations of reality that mirror and reflect that reality. They become the reality, a super-reality that permeates the world in which we live. The relationship between image and reality is inverted.

So the suicide does not have meaning. It cannot be interpreted. And the hi-jinx of men – they are mostly men – become the new order of celebrity culture. Rather than a wall which miirrors and displays the dancing shadows, we have instead a Black Hole that aborbs and swallows up energy and gives nothing back. The content – any content – is dissolved by the very media itself. There is nothing there to interpret – the final revenge of this post-modern world on my world. The suicidal child offers an entry point to the entropy of the universe, its dissolution rather than its ordering where the spectacle of an exploding star just before a new black hole is created becomes the entertainment for the day. Instead of aspiring to reach daylight and see the sun, we have the vision of a cold and lifeless universe turned in and imploded on itself. The individual person becomes just a terminal in a process of self-destruction. and the last we see before Alice enters into this Black Hole is not the delightful stories of absurdity and inverted logic with which she returns but an explosive display of fireworks that seduce and fascinate, an ecstasy of obscenity, a simulacra to beat all simulacra where all is visibility and transparency before dying forever.