I realize I must become a little harsher with this Chapter One experiment. So far I have only rid myself of From Russia With Love, which was taking up very little space anyway, and The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things. Allowing for the constant influx of things bought from charity shops and the dimensions of recent purchases (Consumer Behaviour: A European Perspective is particularly chunky) I have less space than I had on Saturday. this must change.
I bought The Book by Alan Watts at the Oxfam around the corner from the British Museum for £3.50. I purchased it because I was going through one of my periods of listening to philosophy lectures bought from Ebay and his series on the Tao of something was amongst the lectures by Rick Roderick and Charlton Heston.
“Perhaps the most famous of all of Alan Watts’s works, The Book delves into the cause and cure of the illusion that the self is a separate ego, housed in a bag of skin…”
The Book was written in 1966, which can be a warning when it comes to books on philosophy and the meaning of self. Over the course of chapter one I went from “oh, this will be easy to pass on to an acquaintance with a smelly friendship bracelet” to “intriguing, maybe this will change my life’s direction and help me understand the individual’s place in the universe” (I am exaggerating slightly).
The front cover declares that the book is about “the taboo against knowing who you are”. This is something that interests me, it belongs on the very long list of “notes in my notebook that have never made it to the point of stand up”. So much time spent shopping to put things around and on you, but so little time spent thinking “why do I believe what I believe and why did I just do that thing?”. Ah, the ancient quandary of an internal monologue on why there is something rather than nothing or about which felt hat will make my head look less frightening.
Watts begins by suggesting that we all need a ‘Pillow Book’, but rather than be a pillow book of sexual positions for newlyweds, it would be about how to comprehend your life and self. So far, it’s 50/50 on the stay or go from my shelf.
“Taboos lie within taboos, like skins of an onion”
There is much talk of taboos in Chapter one. Lately I have noticed that the layers of an onion provide popular analogies for many subjects to suggest their depth, particularly science and philosophy. I am not sure that onions have enough layers for either. Also, each further layer of the onion has beneath it a layer that looks very similar, but smaller, whereas the universe looks quite different when peeling back from Newtonian to Quantum physics. Will the perfect analogy ever be found?
The peeling of the onion may be a little more accurate with philosophy, especially existential philosophy, as the further you peel, the more you are likely to cry (this is also far from a perfect analogy as peeling onions doesn’t create as many tears as chopping them. Stupid bloody analogies).
The Book shows its age with a little secular nostalgia when Watts states “here religion is one’s own private business”. Perhaps this was true in the US of 1966, but certainly not in the Reagan era or beyond, and was almost true in the UK until recently (despite what the Pope might say).
I’m with him on “wonder is not a disease”, but slightly put off when he talks of space missions. “The great phallic projectile that blasts the sky”, I never like it when NASA is fused with Freudianism.
Watts then turns back to religion. “Religions are divisive and quarrelsome…they depend upon separating the ‘saved’ from the ‘damned’”. As a ghastly atheist, this will obviously appeal to my godless mind. And good books, not just the Good Book are given short shrift too – “to idolize scriptures is to eat paper currency”
The ultimate point of chapter one is “the most strongly enforced of all known taboos is the taboo against knowing who you are”. I am not sure it is the most strongly forced taboo, there are other things you might receive poop on your doormat for or return to your burning house. Maybe because I am so conditioned, I haven’t even noticed that taboo.
In a house with fewer books, The Book by Alan Watts would have survived. I could probably do with a little eastern thought influencing my western brain, it might stop me shouting at so many things and swearing inconsequentially. I must start to be harsh now, and I still haven’t read The World as Will and Idea, so The Book must leave.
Today’s DVD will receive shorter shrift. It is She Creature starring Rufus Sewell as an Irish circus barker who gets mixed up with a malevolent mermaid. I was a fan of the B movie and the odd horror for many years, but the time has come to stop using The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film as my bible. I loved that book when I was in my twenties, but time is running out. I’m halfway through now, so the bite of the mermaid must also go the way of The Book.
Update – Consumer Behaviour: A European Perspective has been reclassified and will now also be leaving the house.
Soon I will be starting to leave the DVDs and books in different places around the country. The rough location will be revealed on twitter/facebook about an hour before they are discarded.
Upcoming gigs – 23/9 MAC, Birmingham 25/9 Rondo, Bath 27/9 Stand, Glasgow