Category Archives: derrick jensen

review: derrick jensen’s ‘dreams’ and ‘a language older than words’

back in mid-july i wrote that i would soon have a review of derrick jensen’s latest book, dreams. however, somewhere along the way, i got a bit distracted by what is probably his best-known work, a language older than words. i first read language back in 2003, and i remembered that it had had something of an effect on my worldview. i remembered that he basically showed that the sexual and child abuse that he had suffered growing up was not dissimilar to the way our culture is treating the planet. however, with so many words and books and thoughts between then and now, i felt that, after completing dreams, it was time to go back to the work that first introduced me to his writing.

so i’m just going to say first off that i’m of the opinion that dreams is basically a rehashing of language. honestly, all of his books seem to be a rehashing of each other. however, this is definitely not a bad thing, at least in his case! what he writes is simply the truth: industrial civilization is incompatible with life on this planet and needs to be stopped. each of his books just focuses on different aspects of the destruction we are taking part in (whether we do so intentionally or knowingly, or not). a section of page 262 in language seems to me to be the point of what he’s trying to get across in all of the books he’s written over the years:

We need to learn from egalitarian religious and especially extant indigenous groups that the emphasis of our society must be on process: not on the creation of things and the accumulation of monetary or political power, but on the acknowledgement and maintenance of relationships, on both personal and grand scales.

that’s it, pure and simple. dreams focuses on the acknowledgment and maintenance of relationships between humans and what jensen calls ‘other sides’. part of the way the other sides attempt to communicate with us is through dreams while we sleep, but there are other ways, subtle and not-so-much, that other beings (for lack of a better word) try to get through to us humans. however, most of the time we write these things off as coincidence or flukes or as products of our imagination. or, we view these communications as being evil, because of some old testament verses that basically write off any extra-biblical communiques of this sort as being forbidden and of the devil. anyway, jensen’s main message in dreams is that these other sides are more than willing to help humanity bring down civilization (and that it’s going to happen regardless, whether or not humans choose to participate or just ‘let it happen’, as we so often do).

personally, what he wrote in dreams about this topic fully resonates with me. i’ve kept a dream journal off and on for a number of years, and can clearly see where some ‘other’ has been guiding me, giving me messages about what i should and shouldn’t be doing, or about my motivations, blatant and subconscious. and even outside of dreaming, from time to time i’ll get ‘a feeling’ about something, or do something that i initially find inexplicable, but eventually it makes sense why whatever event happened the way it did. for example, the morning of march 11, 2011, i woke up with a feeling of deep dread in my chest. the thought ‘something really bad is happening right now’ went through my head, and i lay there in bed, really scared. eventually i fell back asleep, but upon waking up later that morning, of course the first news i heard was of the massive earthquake and tsunami in japan. (actually, a local news station is the alarm on my clock radio, and what i woke up to was the announcement of a tsunami warning for hawaii.) the worst was (and still may be) yet to come, with the meltdown of the fukushima nuclear reactors. we still don’t know the full effects of this, effects likely made worse due to the attempted (and continued) suppression of information by japanese (and world) officials regarding this event. i’ve heard that every person in the northern hemisphere has been exposed to radiation from the fukushima event (sorry, can’t currently find a link to back this up, but will continue to look). who knows what long term effects this will have on our health? so, yeah, ‘something really bad’ happened that morning, and i was told about it by some mysterious other as it happened on the other side of the world.

dreams is an amazing book, and should be read by everyone, although admittedly if you’re not open to the idea of there being reality beyond what is seen with the human eye, you’re gonna think it’s all bullshit. however, while dreams should be read by everyone, i believe that a language older than words must be read by everyone. i think (and, as much as i understood what i was reading, i didn’t get this back in 2003) that this is the most important book i have ever read. and it’s not even for the abuse angle, which of course is important. i just think language has the ability to remind people of what’s important, of why we’re here, of what the point is. and what is the point, according to jensen (from page 150 of language)?

What if the point of life has nothing to do with the creation of an ever-expanding region of control? What if the point is not to keep at bay all those people, beings, objects, and emotions that we so needlessly fear? What if the point instead is to let go of that control? What if the point of life, the primary reason for existence, is to lie naked with your lover in a shady grove of trees? What if the point is to taste each other’s sweat and feel the delicate pressure of finger on chest, thigh on thigh, lip on cheek? What if the point is to stop, then, in your slow movements together, and listen to birdsong, to watch dragonflies hover, to look at your lover’s face, then up at the undersides of leaves moving into your movement, to bring trees, wind, grass, dragonflies into your family and in so doing abandon any attempt to control them? What if the point all along has been to get along, to relate, and experience things on their own terms? What if the point is to feel joy when joyous, love when loving, anger when angry, thoughtful when full of thought? What if the point from the beginning has been to simply be?(emphasis mine)

read both books, and other books by jensen as well. i just started walking on water: reading, writing, and revolution, his views on the educational system in this country, and plan to reread the culture of make-believe after that (plus i’m also in the middle of reading his work with aric mcbay and lierre keith, deep green resistance). however, if you are only going to read one book of his, hands down it should be a language older than words. if nothing else, it will remind you of what you deep down already know. it’s dark reading at times, but who says beauty always has to be about sweetness and light?

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dying and living and sleeping and waking

i feel as if my soul is dying a slow painful death and taking my body down with it. or vice versa. either way, i’m dying a slow painful death, or at least it feels that way monday through friday, from approximately 8am to 430pm.

i remember about a year ago, i was so happy to have gotten this position with my current employer. this current position started out paying more than what i earned at the last library i worked at, plus i thought it would build on the foundation i had created at the other job.  and truthfully, in some ways it has. i have learned a lot at this job, especially in areas of web development, and the intricacies of interlibrary loan and copyright law. this knowledge is something i may be able to take with me wherever i go next. (and i am going, somewhere, but that will be the subject of another post.)

and yet, today my work consisted of comparing a printed out list with the contents of a database. basically, this is bullshit work, as far as i’m concerned. much of the work i do in this position is bullshit work. i spend most of my days moving bytes of ‘info’ from one computer to another, in an ‘industry’ i’m feeling less and less respect for with each day that goes by.

there is so much real work to be done in the world, and i’m feeling as though my soul and mind are wasting away. just today i finished reading derrick jensen’s dreams, which is an amazing, amazing book,  and has made one hell of an impression on my psyche. one thing this book has inadvertently done is made glaringly obvious to me all the ways in which my job, and current way of life, are 1. bullshit,  2. pointless, and 3. evil. yes, evil. the building i work in is located next to, and affiliated with, a vivisection lab. plus, there’s this whole morality, or lack of, in the medical-pharmaceutical industry, a morality that revolves around little more than making money. it seems the purpose of the medical-pharmaceutical industry is not to get people healthy, but to keep them sick yet somewhat functional, and dependent on the industry. sadly, the work i do in an academic medical library supports this paradigm.

meanwhile, this country is literally on the verge of financial collapse, and this planet is on the verge of a far worse collapse. if it isn’t too late, i want to do something about the latter, at least in my little corner of the world, but am not doing a damn thing, other than going to and from my little cubicle every day like a good little serf. other than the plants in my cubicle, the closest i am to nature most work days is the contact made with all the paper i waste (although we do recycle – what good little stewards of the planet we are), paper that used to be in a forest somewhere. as of now, i’m still contributing to the problem (if you could call the planet dying simply a ‘problem’), and i want to do something different from that. i want something where i’m giving back instead of calling myself environmentally conscious while working a job that is in conflict with my soul, just so i don’t have to worry so much about keeping a roof over my head and sallie mae off my back. dreams has touched off an awakening in me where i want to work towards what is important and real. and these are all things i’ve thought about before, but jensen’s book about intangibles has shown me what is real and necessary and urgent. i won’t go into all that now because i do plan to write a fitting review of dreams sometime in the next couple of weeks. for now,  i’ll just say that this book is something of a catalyst for me and the upcoming changes i’m planning to make in my life. yes, i’ve known all along that collapse is imminent, and even if it isn’t ‘imminent’, it is going to happen probably in my lifetime (which i guess would make it somewhat imminent), and sooner would be better than later. it’s helped me to realize that maybe now is the time for me to extricate myself from this system, which i am in the slow process of doing. (also, more thoughts on this extrication in future posts.)

are you happy with the work you do (whether it’s paid or unpaid)? are you contributing to the demise of this planet or to the demise of civilization? (those ideas are opposites, believe it or not.) whom do you serve, Life or Death?

more f*ckery

(yeah, as far as nablopomo goes, i’m out. i hope i’m not making excuses here, but i sit in front of a computer every day for at least 7+ hours. i don’t want to come home and turn on a computer and be forced to write in the evenings after staring at a screen all day.)

continuing in the spirit of my last post on the word ‘fuck’, i’m going to repost something i wrote back in 2006 on my now defunct blog ‘books music food’ formerly hosted by bloglines. it’s mostly something of a treatise on the use and misuse of the f-word, and how it loses its meaning if it’s continually used (and i guess i’m at the risk of doing something similar here…).

fucking for dummies

I have a friend who has read my blog and made the comment that I am ‘brave’ because I used the ‘f word’ in a public forum where it could be read by anyone.  I’ve thought a lot about his comment (incidentally he made several other comments about my blogging that were quite complementary) and realized that I disagreed with him (on this one comment only).  Saying the word ‘fuck’, or many of its variations, in public is no sign of bravery; indeed the brave thing is to be able to converse with another person without using it.  In my travels throughout a typical day, whether it’s on the city bus, in the grocery store, being around loved ones, or complete strangers, it’s a rare occasion where I can go without hearing the words fuck, fucked, fucking, motherfucker, or a poor excuse for an euphemism, such as freakin’, flippin’, frickin’ (these usually uttered by an adolescent whose parent is somewhere nearby).  Thankfully I’m in a workplace where some sort of professionalism prevails, but otherwise I feel like my poor little virgin ears (sarcasm) are assailed most places I go.

Trust me, I’m not a prude and I can throw about the f-word with the best of them.  In a heated moment (and define heated however you wish), I can and will introduce the word into a given situation as warranted.  A good percentage of the music I listen to and the fiction I read (and the nonfiction for that matter) has a noticeable presence of the word.  However, I truly believe there is a time and place for everything, and that includes profanity.  It seems to me that a definite downside about excessive use of this word is that it loses meaning when heard and used all the time.  I know people who literally will use the word ‘fucking’ at least one time per sentence.  (I’ve heard sentences like, ‘I fuckin’ hope it don’t fuckin’ rain again to-fuckin’-day.)  So how is one to know if you are truly upset about something or need to make a significant point if you are constantly fucking up your sentences with this word?

Also, excessive use of the word shows me that you really don’t have anything worthwhile to say, so you’re just filling up spaces between your meaningless words.  Instead you are making yourself look low-class and just plain trashy, with a minimal education and vocabulary, even if you have an advanced degree.

I do understand the need and place for the word; all I ask is that people only say it when they really mean it.  And if you take issue with anything that’s been said on this topic, please, go fuck yourself.  (Just kidding…)

On a related note, I have another friend who is currently living in Ireland.  She recently told me of a milder version of the word fuck, ‘feck’, that people use in pretty much the same way as fuck, except the meaning is not so intense.  So I’ve been amusing myself and others (getting on other’s nerves is probably more like it) by using it in conversation on occasion.

In completely unrelated stuff, here is what I’m currently reading: Collected Fictions by Jorge Borges, The Middle Mind: Why Americans Can’t Think for Themselves by Curtis White, and still working on The Devil Never Sleeps by Codrescu.  I’m also trying to listen to a 3 cd lecture by writer, activist, and anarchist Derrick Jensen entitled The Other Side of Darkness, where Jensen discusses injustice and what humans are doing to the planet and each other.  The only problem is that these days I don’t have time to listen, but I guess I need to find it somewhere, because he’s incredible.  I would recommend to anyone a couple of books of his, The Culture of Make-Believe (on how Americans are in denial about racism) and A Language Older Than Words (about his experiences with child abuse and how those experiences really are a metaphor for what western civilization is doing to the planet).  He doesn’t really give answers in these books, both of which are rather lengthy, but that’s one problem with Americans; we always seem to look to other people to solve our problems, instead of looking at what we can do to begin to fix things.  (But now I’m digressing…)  On the other hand, according to Jensen, he thinks it’s too late and we’re fucked no matter what we do.  Whether you agree with that or not, I think Jensen gives a much needed dose of reality and would be well worth an investment of time.