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Sad Circles: An Inquiry


Broken Soul - music

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Short story
Herman the Brooder by R.S Preuss.

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Finding is losing something else, Richard Brautigan writes, noting the irony of even that discovery.

One of the most mundane visualizations or model our minds seem to be able to “shape” of the concept of “endless” is a circle.

The “line” that continues forever is sometimes envisioned but that is a bit more vague; it is easy to envision a line that ends -- is it possible to similarly consider a circle that ends?

The circle, though, also implies confinement; being outside also implies an end, an extinction, a vacuum. Or does it?

We see people creating (or simply reproducing) to “attain” immortality or somehow reach, touch or see “infinity,” to be “one” with the infinte. Even posing a philosophical question can seem to be a kind of “begging” for a way into eternity -- at least to see it, taste it, touch it somehow -- a way “in” which may itself be a different kind of trap.

What of the circle that is broken? If one accepts the concept of “soul,” is it still viable if one also challenges the concept of “infinite,” asserting there may be something other than “eternity” awaiting?

The general concept of soul is imbedded with the word eternity and also implies that which is at the heart of a human thing or an artistic creation of a living being -- that which is essential -- oddly enough, not necessarily inseparable in terms of usage ALL the time.

The idea that a soul can be “broken” can be taken two ways ... detached as in “broken off” or separated (this can be seen in a very conventional way, as in, ascension of the spirit after death).

There is also the more challenging concept that a soul can itself can be broken ... which implies a great many things also but seems to be explored far less diligently.

This seems at first glance to be nihilism ... accepting the common notion of death as an overall termination (a vacuum) ... which I believe to be the most common immediate assessment of a human being to another’s death, at least in contemporary western society. The idea that something else may be going on with the “soul” after death can make contemporaries almost dizzy as the mind tries to embrace the concept of eternal “life” ... although I’m quite certain there are some firm believers out there.

Compare the term “broken” soul to “broken marriage” or “broken vow” implying (in a more literal sense where no children have resulted) an “end” to that which God had not intended or permitted, as some religions have it, to end. That marriage is a falsehood ... that married life a life -- well, “lie” is three quarters of the word “life“... at least on paper in the English language.

I heard a woman use the term “broken souled” to describe the residents of an isolated town. They worked for poverty wages in factories kept afloat with liberal government tax abatement policies.

These plants tended to produce odds and ends: Not the care, but a “fan clutch” -- a part of the cooling system of the car. Not the equipment, but rather the composite containers the equipment might be shipped in. An odd vacuum cleaner not generally used by professionals that once had been sold door to door at prices that implied ignorance of the general market and now obscure as people no longer buy things from door-to-door salespeople. A synthetic rubber plant competing with plants in Mexico.

The people -- beaten down as they seemed to be -- expressed little interest in anything beyond their personal concerns -- not in ideas.

The woman said they expressed little or no interesting in anything beyond their immediate concerns, including local gossip ... not in ideas or world events, but perhaps in certain kinds of technological developments, if they pertained to autos, snowmobiles, or other types of vehicle or perhaps guns, kitchen gadgets or television sets ... something they could hope to own themselves.

She said these people never seriously imagined leaving that place, though winters are long and severe, commodities costly, money scarce and people -- well let us say it is a small, isolated town. Or, she said, others had already left and returned as “failures,” heads between the knees, so to speak.

This seems a bit cruel, a denuding of human dignity. It might even represent a completely erroneus and judgmental assessment, a “blindness” to the beauty of life even under harsh circumstances ... our intention was to describe her use of the term, though, not to evaluate her observations.

She observed that this place, this town and its environs, represented a kind of a trap. Escape was made difficult due to -- what? Fear? Poverty? Legholds that only tightened with the passing of time ... in another kind of endless circle.

In New Testament terms, the soul generally goes in one direction or another -- but is is almost always described as going on forever, isn’t it? Similar ideas, of course, exist in Greek mythology.

Does that leave room for the concept of a “broken” soul?

We think of the Bible’s description of the continuous suffering endured on Earth by the saintly. If a sufferer loses sight (faith), the suffering continues although the light goes out: As with those Biblical personages who might have been the victims of “wrongs” or repeated wrongs who repeat the cycle of sin, whether by action or even inaction (losing sight of God itself is “sin” -- are self-pity and complacency on the extended list of deadly sins?).

That “soul” then remains in the circle. Though the heart (as in love) or the “spirit” (better, “will”) may be broken, the “soul” in the Biblical sense remains intact (and tormented), though it may have reversed course.

Perhaps an endless reversal of directions (toward Heaven and Hell) summarizes a kind of eternity implied but never quite spelled out in the Bible?

So it appears we are using no conventional idiom when speaking of a “broken soul.” (Something like it may appear in the “exploded” or almost postmodern “Bible” that is The Journal of Albion Moonlight(is that signed copy of Memoirs of a Shy Pornographer still for sale on the Internet?)

Not western conventions, anyway. There is a larger world and “nothing new under the sun,” however. What we casually describe as conventions are often more accurately described as western conventions -- when a western philosopher “breaks through” the new idea sometimes resembles something very old and eastern or,at least, foreign.

Perhaps it is so with “broken soul” which, ironically enough, could describe a kind of liberation -- away from the various “circles" INCLUDING even the concept of eternity -- into the now that is the “only” moment as described in the film, Waking Life.

Does all this imply that a soul must be “broken” before one can truly be in the moment?

I think it may. At least it seems to suggest that a life without love -- that is to say, without the degree of commitment necessary to risk losing eternity -- may not even be whole enough to contain a soul that is subject to breakage and thus may never actually be “in the moment.”

As Pam Farrell reminded me, Kenneth Patchen wrote that high philosophy (as opposed to the “folk wisdom” style he seems to use to express philosophical ideas, with common parlance, colloquialisms and all) should be “left to the smart guys.”

As for that, I’m fond of the image of Jeck Beck smashing a guitar into a malfunctioning amplifier in the film Blow Up -- punctuating the “philosophical inquiry” that the film suggests.

(Think of the words to the Yardbirds hit song “Over Under Sideways Down”:

When I was young people spoke of immortality

All the things they said were wrong are what I long to be)

Perhaps, too, the more delicate gesture -- Ray Davies flicking a guitar pick into the air and catching it - with a wink, as one “Saturday Night Live” viewer/rock critic noted.

You might (as I often do) agree with Patchen ... but I’d like to know your thoughts.

R.S. Preuss