Approximate Ocean


You know the saying: there are two kinds of people in the world. Those who like to divide the world into two kinds of people, and everybody else.

Duality retains salience: a descriptive, generative power. Out of the tao beyond knowing, the mediating friction of yin and yang births the ten thousand things. Two sexes only; yet countless shades of masculinity and femininity, and so many fine-tuned grades of intersexuality. Yes, there are forms of asexual reproduction (cell fission, cloning) – which suffer the evolutionary limitation of repeating only the original.

If duality is the light, creative expression of pairing; the shadow of two is polarity. Polarity cuts out two thin slivers from the far opposite ends of a dualistic spectrum and insists, with supporting violence if necessary, that that is all there is, all that is permitted to be.  Polarity would gladly disappear duality into itself; look only for the fraying edges of any either / or proposition to judge how successful it is.

Here’s an old chestnut conundrum, couched upon an ancient metaphor: the mythical bed of Procrustes.

There are people who work tirelessly and without end in controlled conditions, to ensure that reality is made to fit the bed of whatever language and concepts they have to hand: sculpting it, stretching it, squeezing it, chopping it, by any means necessary.

There are people to whom reality is a shore, and the ocean that tugs away at its rim, and all that the ocean and the shore contain. The bed of Procrustes sits at an angle below the high tide line, legs buried in the sand. Sometimes the ocean chances to throw something like a piece of driftwood up that fits the bed exactly; sometimes the ocean covers the bed altogether and disappears it from sight. Eventually, the accumulating friction of salt water and sand and what they contain will wear the bed away, dismember it altogether.

And there is, I am certain, everybody else.

In my experience, a person rarely chooses or consciously admits to living by control or by the ocean. It’s more part of the unconscious grain of their character, the note they strike in the world, their tone. Sometimes I cherish a belief that I can tell a control person from an ocean person within five minutes of listening to her speak, or within one paragraph of reading his writing – but then I used to believe that I could tell a Braque from a Picasso, from the period when they were roped together like climbers.

Many professions implicitly make the demand that reality be made to fit the protocols they have established, in order to get the job done as they like to see it done. Sometimes you can observe in people a texture of adherence or bewilderment or rebellion towards this rule: the tucked-under zeal of compliance; the strain wrinkled across them by a reluctance that their profession has no names for.

By now you can count the lines and probably tell where I stand; but each half of a duality beckons respect for its necessity and worth. Without some agreement upon fixing into form, no life or prospects as we know them, just an unending swirling and eddying of tepid chemical soup. Without the constant of change, the dangers of fixation: the hardness and brittleness and savagery of dead bone weapons.

Change at the threshold where the tide turns hard and fast enough for everyone to realise that it will swamp the bed suddenly and for good is the most dangerous point of all, and why I side where I do is from fearing the destruction on every scale risked by those who will save the bed by any means necessary, because they cannot see to do otherwise. And I do think, for now, that it is a matter at last of ‘cannot see’ – of being sculpted beyond will or power to be otherwise; unless shattered, and even shattering risks leaving only disconnected pieces that resolve nothing.

Standing on that shore with the tide turning hard and fast enough, a longing observer might well think about becoming ocean again, yet hold back at the threshold of themselves: that defining 20-odd percent that does not consist of salt water. Hold back, to the extent that there is a purpose to having an observer, on a threshold. Not to dissolve back into ocean but able, in their grain, to approximate it.


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