The fraying ligature of the landscape of the United States reveals an inner geography of alienation and anomie. Living on the island of Manhattan, I daily negotiate an urban layout of practical, but identity-decimating grids -- a cityscape of harsh, inhuman right angles ... a geography that renders street encounters abrupt, curt and intrusive.
After a time, one begins, by reflex, to buffer oneself against such intrusions, withdrawing inward ... becoming a self-enclosed, walking fortress, shielding oneself from the degradations of these impersonal affronts (that feel altogether personal) -- with I-Pods, Blackberries, and other vestments attendant to the muttered prayers of the self-absorbed.
While above the street -- corporate towers -- that are steel and concrete kingdoms of blind, willful ascension -- blot the skyline ... these structures flee upward, as if to escape the implications of life lived at street level and sharing in the consequences of decisions made within their sterile, insular sanctums of power and cupidity.
This is architecture as blind hubris: creations made by the hands of mortal men ... yet failing to have any connection to the ground, these buildings crowd out the real estate of the sacred. Moreover, their manic skyward thrust leaves them, and those imprisoned within, bereft of roots that reach down into the renewing loam of the earth, to where mortal vanity is delivered to dust and desperate hopes rot and transubstantiate into the compost that nourishes new life.
And blooms of renewal, I suspect, will not be found online as well. The electronic sheen of social media sites is no substitute for communal fabric. There is no animal musk nor angelic apprehensions to en-soul the flesh and tease wisdom out of obdurate will ... No matter how many restless shades want to friend you on FaceBook nor ghostly texts descend upon you in an unholy Pentecost of Tweets, online exchanges will continue to leave you restless, hollow, and yearning for the colors and cacophony of an authentic agora.
The adolescent purgatory of FaceBook -- with its castings into the Eternal Now of instant praise, acceptance, and rejection -- reflects, magnifies, and acerbates the perpetual adolescence of the contemporary culture of the United States, intensifying its shallow longings and displaced panics, its narcissistic rage and obsession with the superficial. It devours libido, by providing a pixilated facsimile of the primal dance of human endeavor, leaving one's heart churning in thwarted yearning, locked an evanescent embrace with electronic phantoms, as one, paradoxically, attempts to live out unfulfilled desires by means of hollow communion with the soul-negating source of his alienation.
One can never get enough of what one doesn't need. Ergo, the compulsions and panic of millions of hungry ghosts will hold an ongoing, hollow mass online, in a futile campaign to regain form, gain direction, and walk in meaning and beauty among the things of the world, but instead will remain imprisoned within the very system that condemned them to this fate.
And this is the place, we, as a culture, will remain, for a time. This electronic inferno will be our vale and mountaintop, our sanctuary and leviathan. We will stare baffled into its vastness, stupefied and lost within its proliferate array of depersonalizing distractions and seductions. The more we try to lose ourselves in it, by surrendering to its shimmering surface attractions, the more tightly we will become bound in the bondage of self.
Naturally, living in the grinding maw of such monsters of alienation will engulf one with ennui and angst. Moreover, the judgment of anyone claiming not to be afflicted should be regarded as suspect.
Possessed by this mode of being: we languish in a zoo of our own making where we gaze, without comprehension, at the confines of our enclosure, chew our paws, pace the cage, and are restless for mealtime. Like an animal in a cage, we are no longer what we were meant to be ... we have forgotten what it is to be alive. With the exception of superficial form, we begin to lose our affinity to what makes us recognizable as a human being and as an animal -- for we have become simply a sad thing that waits for lunch. And I defy any caged clock-watcher in a cubicle to defy that point.
Restless and agitated in our confinement, we sink further into anomie ... into the benumbing embrace of comfort zones (over-eating, anti-depressants, consumerism as emotional distraction, addiction to electronic media) where we chose safety over the truth of our being. In these cages of inauthenticity, our heart's longings and human needs are held in stasis by the perfunctory persona we cultivated for approval and acceptance; there, consigned to a barren region of mind where one is rewarded for docility and duplicity, one languishes, bereft of eros and pothos ... unconsciously self-convicted and sentenced for the crime of being a serial betrayer of one's essential self.
So much of the criteria of the modern condition has atomized us, stripped us, collectively, of ritual, purpose and meaning, and placed us in the midst of what T.S. Eliot expressed in prosody as a "heap of broken images."
What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock,
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.
--From: The Waste Land
There is danger, of course, in such places -- but there is also the possibility of renewal.
Personal and historical traumas leave a legacy of bewilderment. And being bewildered i.e., being in a psychic wilderness, lost, having wandered or been cast past the known horizon of experience ... is to be in position to engage the novel, be in the thrall of unfolding mystery, and wander in a soul-suffused landscape of the sublime.