Each and every way that I position my regard provides a plurality of relations and samplings from a mass of pure sensation. Each perspective insinuates its own incendiary geometry. Expectation acquires a piquant lucidity. The light penetrates the basement window. A chisel gleams. A ban saw screams like a banshee. Sawdust accumulates on the floor. It smells of pine and oak. A nearby gravel road articulates the convulsions of impeccable clouds. A furious awakening flashes on the horizon. The weight of the sky thrills the bones and unpacks its provisions in a dialogue of thunder. The light is perforated with silver. If I choose to read the world like a book it puzzles me with snow. It dazzles me with pearls. It threads the mind with correlation.
The desk emphasizes its existence in a determination of wood. I sit down and open Ulysses to page 305: “A monkey puzzle rocket burst, spluttering in darting crackles. Zrads and zrads, zrads, zrads, zrads. And Cissy and Tommy and Jacky ran out to see and Edy after with the pushcar and then Gerty beyond the curve of the rocks. Will she? Watch! Watch! See! Looked round. She smelt an onion. Darling, I saw, your. I saw all. Lord!”
Even the rain dripping from the black rungs and curls of the wrought-iron patio furniture in front of Molena’s Taco Shop bear some relation to the rest of the universe. Rain collects in a river which powers the turbines of Grand Coulee Dam which feeds electricity to the arc welder welding the patio furniture. The shell on display in the window was made from proteins and minerals that were created when the planet formed and life first appeared out of a jelly-like glop of lipids and carbohydrates. The rain dripping from the patio furniture was once a wave in the ocean that made the shell that housed the snail that crawled ashore and died on a rock molded by the gusts and pounding surf of a windy shore.
Sit, Jessica. Look how the floor of heaven / Is thick inlaid with patens of bright gold. / There’s not the smallest orb which thou behold’st / But in his motion like an angel sings, / Still choiring to the young-eyed cherubins. / Such harmony is in immortal souls, / But whilst this muddy vesture of decay / Doth grossly close it in, we cannot hear it.
Declares Lorenzo in The Merchant of Venice. That harmony that is in immortal souls is consciousness of the unity of interrelation that is the juice and savor of pure experience. But this would be an experience without the adornment of words. Words are a filtering membrane through which experience percolates before it dances on the nerves.
The urge to arrive at a pure experience is a journey of bone and skin, muscle and blood. It comes down to the body. Toes, hands, hair, eyes, knees, everything in this envelope of flesh that connects my being in the world with that world as immediate as possible. Sensation is a product of nerves. It gets to the brain in electrical impulse where it’s translated into lettuce, a woman’s touch, a man’s voice, a slice of bread popping up in the toaster, the electric smell of the air in Kansas before a tornado droops from the clouds and begins spinning debris in a whirl of radical energy.
William James coined the phrase “radical empiricism” to describe his notion of pure experience:
I give the name of 'radical empiricism' to my Weltanschauung. Empiricism is known as the opposite of rationalism. Rationalism tends to emphasize universals and to make wholes prior to parts in the order of logic as well as in that of being. Empiricism, on the contrary, lays the explanatory stress upon the part, the element, the individual, and treats the whole as a collection and the universal as an abstraction. My description of things, accordingly, starts with the parts and makes of the whole a being of the second order. It is essentially a mosaic philosophy, a philosophy of plural facts, like that of Hume and his descendants, who refer these facts neither to Substances in which they inhere nor to an Absolute Mind that creates them as its objects. But it differs from the Humian type of empiricism in one particular which makes me add the epithet radical.
To be radical, an empiricism must neither admit into its constructions any element that is not directly experienced, nor exclude from them any element that is directly experienced. For such a philosophy, the relations that connect experiences must themselves be experienced relations, and any kind of relation experienced must be accounted as 'real' as any thing else in the system. Elements may indeed be redistributed, the original placing of things getting corrected, but a real place must be found for every kind of thing experienced, whether term or relation, in the final philosophic arrangement.
Now, ordinary empiricism, in spite of the fact that conjunctive and disjunctive relations present themselves as being fully co-ordinate parts of experience, has always shown a tendency to do away with the connections of things, and to insist most on the disjunctions. Berkeley's nominalism, Hume's statement that whatever things we distinguish are as 'loose and separate' as if they had 'no manner of connection.' James Mill's denial that similars have anything 'really' in common, the resolution of the causal tie into habitual sequence, John Mill's account of both physical things and selves as composed of discontinuous possibilities, and the general pulverization of all Experience by association and the mind-dust theory, are examples of what I mean.
- from A World of Pure Experience, 1904
The pulverization of experience occurs as soon as we begin to classify, label, identify, analyze and organize our experience according to a model that we cultivate over time to give meaning to our perceptions. What we lose in pure experience we gain in cognition. All the sensations that comprised that experience lose their acuity but it would be wrong to say they’re lost. The process is similar to the refinement of ore. A mass of unrecognizable dirt and rock becomes a dinner set or a bridge, a car or an Eiffel Tower, a surgical instrument or French horn. It’s a process of metamorphosis. Of transformation. A sequence of events that never culminate in a single definitive end but keep metamorphosing in a network of balances and instabilities, attractions and repulsions.
A simple example will serve: I have a cut on the inside of my right middle finger. I got it from playing with Toby, our cat. He likes to chase a piece of ribbon, particularly that type of narrow ribbon with the little grooves in it so that you can run it over a sharp edge to make it curl. I swing it over his head, run it over the floor, hide it behind my back as he attempts to catch it with his mouth or claw. He leaps, pivots, lunges. He loves to play with this thing. He got me on the inside of my middle finger with a claw. This isn’t unusual. My right hand is generally constellated with little cuts where he has bit me or nabbed me with a set of claws. They usually don’t hurt. I’m often surprised to find myself bleeding. But the one on the inside of my middle finger really hurts. It feels like a paper cut. Maybe it’s because the skin has greater sensitivity in this area. It also seems slower to heal. The pain has a purity that resists artful assassination by analysis. It persists in exquisite particularity. It resists the attentions of intellect. There’s no meaning to it, no lesson in it, no symbolism or parable. It just hurts.
Meanwhile I use my index finger to tap the surface of the tablet that brings up the rue du Fauborg-Montmartre, no 7, Paris, France, where it is said that Isidore Ducasse, the author of Les Chants du Maldoror, passed away at the age of twenty-four, November 24th, 1870. I get a street view: the buildings appear to date from the nineteenth century and may be the ones in existence when he lived there. There’s a restaurant at street level called La Rose de Tunis serving Pizza, Panini, Crêpes, and Grilades. Next to it, on the corner, is a shop called Minelli which features shoes and women’s accessories. How much has changed since Isidore Ducasse, a.k.a. Le comte de Lautréamont, lived there and labored at his strange, magnificent book?
I tap Pandora and get an instrumental song by Johann Johannsson titled, in Icelandic, “Ég Átti Erfiða Æsku,” which appears to mean something like “I struggled in my youth.” The music is simple, strings, bells, drum, a sad, wistful, languishing melody punctuated by the rhythms of bells and drums.