The Machine Will Never Triumph, part six
There is nothing to look at any more,
everything has been seen to death.1
As was discussed in the chapter on media, we have already experienced the full range of human experiences vicariously through the intermediary of electronic devices. When we feel we have seen all, we really have seen nothing. The only way to truly experience something is to experience it first hand, without intermediaries, through the senses of the body, including the sensation of touch. Only by coming into touch with something can we truly know it.
When we no longer experience things in the old ways, but experience only their limited aspects available through electronic media, we perceive them differently, think of them differently, and act toward them differently. For the ancients, groves of trees were sacred, and rivers were sacred. One only built a bridge with the permission of a God, and when one did, the result was something that conformed to the river, rather than the river conforming to the bridge. Heidegger writes of how modern tourists play into the objectification and debasement of sacred rivers and such:
[A] hydroelectric plant is not built into the Rhine River as was the old wooden bridge that joined bank with bank for hundreds of years. Rather the river is dammed up into the power plant. What the river is now, namely, a water power supplier, derives from out of the essence of the power station. In order that we may even remotely consider the monstrousness that reigns here, let us ponder for a moment[…] But, it will be replied, the Rhine is still a river in the landscape, is it not? Perhaps. But how? In no other way than as an object on call for inspection by a tour group ordered there by the vacation industry.2
What we build should not be built according to cost or efficiency, but according to the principles of beauty and harmony. Nothing should be constructed unless it conforms to the earth and reminds one of the Gods; all else is dust.
When we do travel, we see more and more ugliness. Even in the countryside, there are advertisements, litter, and ugly buildings. Frithjof Schuon writes:
[A]dvertisement posters are spread about like some filthy and insolent gangrene devouring the countryside; they are to be found not merely in towns but also in the tiniest hamlets and even on isolated ruins, and this is equivalent to the destruction, or partial destruction, of both country and fatherland. We write thus, not in the name of the picturesque, which does not interest us in the slightest, but in defense of the soul of a people. Such desperate triviality is like the trademark of the machine, which seeks to devour our souls, and is thus shown up as “the fruit of sin.”3
The Machine that Schuon speaks of will be described in detail in a later chapter, but suffice it to say that it is a symbolic term that refers to the underlying principle behind the technological system, which is pure evil and could also be termed the Dajjal or Antichrist. Can we escape the Machine through travel? Never! The Machine is first and foremost killed in one’s very soul. We must cultivate our souls, and must be patient, living in spiritual communities, and doing what we can to foil the Machine, but knowing that it will ultimately disappear, since evil can never triumph in the end. Lawrence writes:
Couldn’t one go right away, to the far ends of the earth, and be free from it all?
One could not. The far ends of the world are not five minutes from Charing Cross, nowadays. While the wireless is active, there are no far ends of the earth. Kings of Dahomey and Lamas of Thibet listen in to London and New York.
Patience! Patience! The world is a vast and ghastly intricacy of mechanism, and one has to be very wary, not to get mangled by it.4
While we are patiently cultivating our souls, we still must experience things, for that is part of the soul’s cultivation. If we feel bored when we travel, that is because television and the Internet have made us feel we have been there, done that. Rather than travelling, we can stay put, put down roots, and learn to commune with the spirit of a place. As Lawrence writes, the vertical knowledge of a place (its heights and depths) is much more profound than the purely horizontal knowledge one attains superficially.
Superficially, the world has become small and known. Poor little globe of earth, the tourist trots around you as easily as they trot round the Bois or round Central Park. There is no mystery left, we’ve been there, we’ve seen it, we know all about it. We’ve done the globe, and the globe is done.
This is quite true, superficially. On the superficies, horizontally, we’ve been everywhere, and done everything, we know all about it. Yet the more we know, superficially, the less we penetrate, vertically. It’s all very well skimming across the surface of the ocean, and saying you know all about the sea. There still remain the terrifying under-deeps, of which we have utterly no experience.
The same is true of land travel. We skim along, we get there, we see it all, we’ve done it all. And, as a rule, we never once go through the curious film which railroads, ships, motor-cars and hotels stretch over the surface of the whole earth. Pekin is just the same as New York, with a few different things to look at; rather more Chinese about, etc. Poor creatures that we are, we crave for experience, yet we are like flies that crawl on the pure and transparent mucous-paper in which the world, like a bon-bon, is wrapped so carefully that we can never get at it, though we see it there all the time as we move about it, apparently in contact, yet actually as far removed as if it were the moon.
As a matter of fact, our great-grandfathers, who never went anywhere, in actuality had more experience of the world than we have, who have seen everything. When they listened to a lecture with lantern-slides, they really held their breath before the unknown, as they sat in the village school-room. We, bowling along in a rickshaw in Ceylon, say to ourselves: It’s very much what you’d expect: we really know it all.
We are mistaken. The know-it-all state of mind is just the result of being outside the mucous-paper wrapping of civilization. Underneath is everything we don’t know and are afraid of knowing.5
We must free our mind from the chains that bind us. Lawrence holds a mirror up to us by describing the prototypical modern man:
I could feel so well the machine that had him in its grip. He slaved for a year, mechanically, in London, riding in the Tube, working in the office. Then for a fortnight he was let free. So he rushed to Switzerland, with a tour planned out, and with just enough money to see him through, and to buy presents at Interlaken: bits of the edelweiss pottery: I could see him going home with them.
So he arrived, and with amazing, pathetic courage set forth on foot in a strange land, to face strange landlords, with no language but English at his command, and his purse definitely limited. Yet he wanted to go among the mountains, to cross a glacier. So he had walked on and on, like one possessed, ever forward. His name might have been Excelsior, indeed.
But then, when he reached his Furka, only to walk along the ridge and to descend on the same side! My God, it was killing to the soul. And here he was, down again from the mountains, beginning his journey home again: steamer and train and steamer and train and Tube, till he was back in the machine.
It hadn’t let him go, and he knew it. Hence his cruel self-torture of fatigue, his cruel exercise of courage. He who hung his head in his milk in torment when I asked him a question in German, what courage had he not needed to take this his very first trip out of England, alone, on foot!
His eyes were dark and deep with unfathomable courage. Yet he was going back in the morning. He was going back. All he had courage for was to go back. He would go back, though he died by inches. Why not? It was killing him, it was like living loaded with irons. But he had the courage to submit, to die that way, since it was the way allotted to him.
The way he sank on the table in exhaustion, drinking his milk, his will, nevertheless, so perfect and unblemished, triumphant, though his body was broken and in anguish, was almost too much to bear. My heart was wrung for my countryman, wrung till it bled.
I could not bear to understand my countryman, a man who worked for his living, as I had worked, as nearly all my countrymen work. He would not give in. On his holiday he would walk, to fulfil his purpose, walk on; no matter how cruel the effort were, he would not rest, he would not relinquish his purpose nor abate his will, not by one jot or tittle. His body must pay whatever his will demanded, though it were torture.
It all seemed to me so foolish. I was almost in tears. He went to bed. I walked by the dark lake, and talked to the girl in the inn. She was a pleasant girl: it was a pleasant inn, a homely place. One could be happy there.6
We need to escape the Machine, put down roots, and come together with others in a spirit of tenderness. Lawrence had a name for the communities that would be devoted to this, namely Rananim, which will be described in detail in a later chapter.
Travel is over.
I have travelled, and looked at the world, and loved it.
Now I don’t want to look at the world any more,
there seems nothing there.
In not-looking, and in not-seeing
comes a new strength
and undeniable new gods share their life with us, when we cease to see.7
There comes a time for exploration, for travel, for worldly experience, and then there comes a time to give all of that up, and—as the Sufis say—die before you die. When we stop seeking, but find our inner core of stillness within our hearts, Gods, strange Gods will come and fructify us.
Joy often happens in the most strange and unexpected ways. We cannot experience anything because we plan everything. Life is not about planning, but about doing. Lawrence writes:
Which is the weakness of the modern tragedy, where transgression against the social code worked our irrevocable fate. Like Clym, the map appears to us more real than the land. Short sighted almost to blindness, we [pore] over the chart, map out journeys and confirm them: and we cannot see life itself giving us the lie the whole time.8
If one does decide to travel today, it can be a learning experience, but it can also cause disillusionment and a dark night of the soul. What can be more disappointing than to travel a long distance, visit a once great church, but find it in the midst of the hustle and bustle of a city, crusted over with decades of pollution, and filled with mindless tourists.
But no, my rage is black, black, black. Why, heaven knows. But I think it was because Sorgono had seemed so fascinating to me, when I imagined it beforehand. Oh so fascinating! If I had expected nothing I should not have been so hit. Blessed is he that expecteth nothing, for he shall not be disappointed.9
We must never expect anything, but we still must expend the effort. Humans are fickle creatures, but any effort spent pleasing an animal, or one of the Gods will be well rewarded. If we do travel, we must make sure we have peace in our souls beforehand. Lawrence below describes some of the disappointments of travel:
There is something very dead about this country. I remember I picked apples from the grass by the roadside, and some were very sweet. But for the rest, there was mile after mile of dead, uninspired country—uninspired, so neutral and ordinary that it was almost destructive.
One gets this feeling always in Switzerland, except high up: this feeling of average, of utter soulless ordinariness, something intolerable. Mile after mile, to Zurich, it was just the same. It was just the same in the tram-car going into Zurich; it was just the same in the town, in the shops, in the restaurant. All was the utmost level of ordinariness and well-being, but so ordinary that it was like a blight. All the picturesqueness of the town is nothing, it is like a most ordinary, average, usual person in an old costume. The place was soul-killing.
So after two hours’ rest, eating in a restaurant, wandering by the quay and through the market, and sitting on a seat by the lake, I found a steamer that would take me away. That is how I always feel in Switzerland: the only possible living sensation is the sensation of relief in going away, always going away. The horrible average ordinariness of it all, something utterly without flower or soul or transcendence, the horrible vigorous ordinariness, is too much.10
The greatest part of travel is the getting in touch with others, and the land, but that is a process that takes time. A few weeks and some museum trips will do nothing but delude us as to the proper nature of the spirit of a place. Lawrence again:
The garden of the Florence museum is vastly instructive, if you want object-lessons about the Etruscans. But who wants object-lessons about vanished races? What one wants is a contact. The Etruscans are not a theory or a thesis. If they are anything, they are an experience.
And the experience is always spoilt. Museums, museums, museums, object-lessons rigged out to illustrate the unsound theories of archaeologists, crazy attempts to coordinate and get into a fixed order that which has no fixed order and will not be coordinated! It is sickening! Why must all experience be systematized? Why must even the vanished Etruscans be reduced to a system? They never will be. You break all the eggs, and produce an omelette which is neither etruscan nor Roman not Italic nor Hittite, nor anything else, but just a systematised mess. Why can’t incompatible things be left incompatible? If you make an omelette out of a hen’s egg, a plover’s, and an ostrich’s, you won’t have a grand amalgam or unification of hen and plover and ostrich into something we may call “oviparity.” You’ll have that formless object, an omelette.
So it is here. If you try to make a grand amalgam of Cerveteri and Tarquinia, Vulci, Vetulonia, Volterra, Chiusi, Veio, then you won’t get the essential Etruscan as a result, but a cooked-up mess which has no life-meaning at all. A museum is not a first-hand contact: it is an illustrated lecture. And what one wants is the actual vital touch. I don’t want to be “instructed”; nor do many other people.11
Heidegger, Martin. The Question Concerning Technology. Translated by William Lovitt. New York: Harper Perennial, 2013.
Lawrence, D. H. Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Edited by Michael Squires. London: Penguin Books, 2009.
———. Mornings in Mexico and Other Essays. Edited by Virginia Crosswhite Hyde. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014.
———. “Sea and Sardinia.” In D. H. Lawrence and Italy, 137–326. London: Penguin Books, 2007.
———. Sketches of Etruscan Places and Other Italian Essays. Edited by Simonetta De Filippis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
———. Study of Thomas Hardy and Other Essays. Edited by Bruce Steele. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
———. The Poems. Edited by Christopher Pollnitz. Vol. 1. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013.
———. “Twilight in Italy.” In D. H. Lawrence and Italy, 2–136. London: Penguin Books, 2007.
Schuon, Frithjof. Language of the Self. Bloomington: World Wisdom, 1999.
D. H. Lawrence, The Poems, ed. Christopher Pollnitz, vol. 1 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 569.
Martin Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology, trans. William Lovitt (New York: Harper Perennial, 2013), 16.
Frithjof Schuon, Language of the Self (Bloomington: World Wisdom, 1999), 82.
D. H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, ed. Michael Squires (London: Penguin Books, 2009), 281.
D. H. Lawrence, Mornings in Mexico and Other Essays, ed. Virginia Crosswhite Hyde (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 175.
D. H. Lawrence, “Twilight in Italy,” in D. H. Lawrence and Italy (London: Penguin Books, 2007), 121–22.
Lawrence, The Poems, 1:571.
D. H. Lawrence, Study of Thomas Hardy and Other Essays, ed. Bruce Steele (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 30.
D. H. Lawrence, “Sea and Sardinia,” in D. H. Lawrence and Italy (London: Penguin Books, 2007), 230.
Lawrence, “Twilight in Italy,” 105–6.
D. H. Lawrence, Sketches of Etruscan Places and Other Italian Essays, ed. Simonetta De Filippis (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 170–71.