Chimæras

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A time of strange hybrids.

Charles Eisenstein’s reflections from the end of 2012 carry a title different in one word only from that of this blog. They help recall me to this place, and why it still matters to abide here, pausing where it is difficult, opaque, not honest to go on.

Of a new ‘Story of the People’, one to replace the narrative of reason, progress and human supremacy that is unravelling all around us, Eisenstein writes:

We are not quite ready for such a story yet, because the old one, though in tatters, still has large swathes of its fabric intact. And even when these unravel, we still must traverse the space between stories, a kind of nakedness. In the turbulent times ahead our familiar ways of acting, thinking and being will no longer make sense. We won’t know what is happening, what it all means, and, sometimes, even what is real.  

Eisenstein’s reminder, or warning, that this is not a time in which we can run confidently ahead of ourselves, into bright new understandings and fully-fledged new stories, is strongly echoed by Sharon Blackie, in a wonderful, wide-ranging conversation with Jeppe Graugaard, also from the year’s turning:

But note this: we don’t change the meta-narrative by sitting around thinking up new stories. We do it by getting out there. By not only seeing in new ways, but living in new ways. By being the subjects for those stories. More than that – by being the stories. We ARE the stories. That’s how it’s always been. It’s part of the dualism that we’ve forgotten it, that we see the transformative myths and stories as something separate from us, that we can create – simply conjure up. It makes me want to weep. It isn’t like that at all. If we approach it in that way, we’re still in the old paradigm. We’re not understanding how stories work.

Which invites many questions, one of which may be: if we are the stories, what, then, are we?

In The Book of Imaginary Beings, Borges offers us the Chimæra as described by Homer, ‘the head of a lion, belly of a she-goat, and tail of a serpent’, and as described by Hesiod, with three heads: lion, goat and dragon-serpent. A famous bronze statue of the creature by Arezzo places the goat’s head in the middle of her back, and the lion and dragon heads at her two ends. ‘Her’: for as Borges notes, ‘all concede that the beast is female’.

Of all mythical beings, there is something exceptionally preposterous about the Chimæra. Borges calls her ‘too heterogeneous’; she resists the merging of her diverse parts into a coherent hybrid animal (in contrast, for instance, to the somehow more terrifyingly plausible Sphinx). The word chimæra in English usage now refers to exceptional flights of mental fabrication, those on the dizzy rim of folly that dissipate at the merest touch of solid fact and probability.

Since the Chimæra is a marker for how far unrestrained imagination can take us in the direct of ‘what if …’; and how difficult it is then to agree upon and cohere the disparate parts that the mind’s flight can bring together, there is something to be said for re-conjuring her, a talisman for this year 2013, in which we may or may not find ourselves.

Although I have to insist that the beast is still female, if that provokes in you too great a resistance you are free to embellish your Chimæra with male attributes, or others entirely.  It is fairly certain that from one side, the limbs are rotted green and black with gangrene, while from the other, healthy newborn skin shimmers with rainbow iridescence. The tail – and spine – remain a dragon serpent; the rest you may cobble together from the most outrageous body part combinations that you can dream up  – rhinoceros, hummingbird, ibex, narwhal, sloth – as long as somewhere you include one segment of the worm that bears the phoenix, and allow for animals both extinct and genetically modified. The heart is strong enough to break, repeatedly, without dying. The sex has been violated, repeatedly, in ways I cannot bear to describe. At least one eye is full of joy, at least one ear despairs (remembering that this Chimæra has as many eyes and ears as you care to give her).

The point about this Chimæra is that we imagine her, she is all of us, and that her impossibility is more real than a story. We change into her before we change out of her.

Wishing you all whatever is needed in your worlds for the forthcoming year.

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4 thoughts on “Chimæras

  1. Perhaps I haven’t understood. The first half, juxtaposed with the title and image of a chimaera, felt like it was going to set up the failed paradigm as a chimaera, something that collapses at a closer look. The second half seems to be asking us to invent new chimaeras.

    Corrigan’s reminder that change happens as mutation as well as more gradual adaptation is helpful. Surrounded by awful tipping points it is god to recognize there can be beneficial tipping points as well.

    Perhaps this is an acting out of the confusion of this moment? There are points of direction visible, being the stories, not expecting to be able to invent a new mythology out of whole cloth…. Then there is also the vertigo of this moment as we face elements that don’t seem to go together while we resist the old rules and push against their automatic assumptions that whatever does not comply with them must be misshapen, a monster.

    Maybe I do understand? This combination of ill-sorted elements is exactly where we are.

  2. Tony, I think you get it exactly. The particular part of Corrigan’s post that sparked me was where he reorients ‘us’ as necessarily at the heart of both ‘the problem’ and ‘the process of change’. It drew to my attention my habit of trapping / guilt-tripping myself by spatialising ‘problems’ and ‘change’ as separate or incommesurate entities: ‘you’re-either-part-of-the-problem-or-part-of-the-solution’ thinking. But it’s difficult, and possibly dishonest, to pretend that seeing oneself in both is easy to accept, without experiencing the vertigo of ill-sorted elements that you describe. Hence the chimaera. The photo, incidentally, is of a devil.

  3. Devils, grotesques, chimaeras… Oh my!

    We are “off to see the wizard!”

    That is a good point, about the trouble with “part of the problem, or part of solution…” thinking. This is part of the problem-solving trap we are forced into on every side. So much eagerness to rush after solutions when all that does is defend a failed position.

    Maybe it is easy to accept? Not so long as we don’t see it through. This is one of those “mutations.” When insight has illuminated – as opposed to the bullshit of persuasion – old poses drop away of their own accord.

    Maybe it’s more that in such a confusing time, it is difficult not to vacillate and lose track of what’s been won and become entangled all over again? This is maybe where the dishonesty comes in? To think we can just make the change and walk on without further trouble?

    This is where “Brave New Worlds” and dystopias both – interesting the way the irony in that title has been lost as so many run after fleshing out that particular dystopia as their own version of heaven-on-earth? – this is where they are closed to us now. It is dishonest and only breeds “copy-cats” to think writing predictions is a way forward. Rushing up breathless to claim, “I’ve got the answer!” is totally discredited now. Playing with the parts that don’t fit together and carrying our shame in the monsters that hold our attention… There is an honesty in that.

    Comes back to,
    “What do we do when we stop pretending?”

  4. Tony,

    Your insight, ‘Maybe it’s more that in such a confusing time, it is difficult not to vacillate and lose track of what’s been won and become entangled all over again?’ might indeed be part of this; it’s also been for me about perceiving the ground shifting, of having to rethink without necessarily (pace Eisenstein) being able to come to firm conclusions about what any such shift means, about trying to accept the co-existence of elements that don’t, according to one’s mental preconceptions, belong together. Still at the stage of trying, not accepting, and allowing that.

    Having written this, I’m now revisiting and heading into the trialogue, so I expect some of these thoughts will continue over there …

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