MUSE EFFECT #4: And in the End

Time’s knife slides from the sheath,
as a fish from where it swims.
Being closer and closer is the desire
of the body. Don’t wish for union!
There’s a closeness beyond that.
Why would God want a second God?
Fall in love in such a way that it frees you
from any connecting.
-Rumi, tr. Coleman Barks

Perhaps it’s best to start off attempting to answer the question of what a Muse is. Previously, I have described a Muse as an internal psychic entity, and archetype – My Better Half – that gets ‘painted onto’ an external person. I might add to this the idea that this external person triggers, or awakens, this inner entity. The inner entity rings like a bell sounding in sympathetic vibration to an external person. Third, if this sympathetic vibration is really true, then it’s also reciprocal. That trinity of conditions is what I mean by MUSE, in MUSE EFFECT.

That established, it must be said that, sometimes, two out of three ain’t bad.

This resonance is not in itself the EFFECT. The EFFECT is perhaps best described as self-awareness. The resonance is a kind of sonar, a sound wave that reflects back and in so doing reveals the shape of the psyche. The EFFECT of the MUSE is to reveal who you are, at least at that point.

Rumi, again, as translated by Barks under the title Why Wine is Forbidden:

When the Prophet’s ray of intelligence struck the dim-witted man he was with, the man got very happy, and talkative.
Soon, he began unmannerly raving. This is the problem with a selflessness that comes quickly, as with wine.
If the wine drinker
has a deep gentleness in him, he will show that,
when drunk.
But if he has hidden anger and arrogance,
those appear,
and since most people do,
wine is forbidden to everyone.

This is why we can’t have nice things.


It struck me this morning that “the Prophet’s ray of intelligence” is akin to the Ghost in Hamlet, and both are akin to what the Greeks called both gnosis and love. I’ll return to love and gnosis later on, but for the moment, let’s stick with Hamlet, and consider Horatio’s warning that he should not follow the Ghost to the private encounter it seeks:

HORATIO
What if it tempt you toward the flood, my lord,
Or to the dreadful summit of the cliff
That beetles o’er his base into the sea,
And there assume some other horrible form,
Which might deprive your sovereignty of reason
And draw you into madness?
think of it:
The very place puts toys of desperation,
Without more motive, into every brain
That looks so many fathoms to the sea
And hears it roar beneath.

And, indeed, this meeting with the Ghost does drive Hamlet into madness, though not literally in the way Horatio fears. The antic disposition Hamlet assumes later in the play to conceal his intention to revenge his father’s murder is only partly false. As his soliloquies reveal, he is even in his most private moments driven mad by a puzzling failure to act on what he knows.

Just as Horatio fears – but not in the way he fears – the encounter with the Ghost “puts toys of desperation” – i.e. suicidal ideation – into Hamlet’s brain. Granted, these toys are already present, as his first soliloquy (I.ii) reveals. The message delivered by the Ghost confirms and magnifies these toys, in the way Rumi warns that wine will:

If the wine drinker
has a deep gentleness in him, he will show that,
when drunk.
But if he has hidden anger and arrogance,
those appear

In fact, a discussion of the dangerous effects of alcohol immediately precedes the Ghost’s appearance:

HAMLET
The king doth wake to-night and takes his rouse,
Keeps wassail, and the swaggering up-spring reels;
And, as he drains his draughts of Rhenish down,
The kettle-drum and trumpet thus bray out
The triumph of his pledge.

HORATIO
Is it a custom?

HAMLET
Ay, marry, is’t:
But to my mind, though I am native here
And to the manner born, it is a custom
More honour’d in the breach than the observance.
This heavy-headed revel east and west
Makes us traduced and tax’d of other nations:
They clepe us drunkards, and with swinish phrase
Soil our addition; and indeed it takes
From our achievements, though perform’d at height,
The pith and marrow of our attribute.
So, oft it chances in particular men,
That for some vicious mole of nature in them,
As, in their birth–wherein they are not guilty,
Since nature cannot choose his origin–
By the o’ergrowth of some complexion,
Oft breaking down the pales and forts of reason,
Or by some habit that too much o’er-leavens
The form of plausive manners, that these men,
Carrying, I say, the stamp of one defect,
Being nature’s livery, or fortune’s star,–
Their virtues else–be they as pure as grace,
As infinite as man may undergo–
Shall in the general censure take corruption
From that particular fault: the dram of eale
Doth all the noble substance of a doubt
To his own scandal.

And when Hamlet first encounters his dear friend he declares:

We’ll teach you to drink deep ere you depart.

This drinking deep is what I’ve called the MUSE EFFECT, and that involves stimulation of interior archetype by an external circumstance. What’s more, the archetype transcends the stimulus, so that, again

If the wine drinker
has a deep gentleness in him, he will show that,
when drunk.
But if he has hidden anger and arrogance,
those appear

So it is that in response to the encounter with the Ghost that Hamlet manifests what we might call the unintegrated, untamed, contents of his unconscious, which he describes to Ophelia – in an infamously vicious scene – like so:

I am myself indifferent honest;
but yet I could accuse me of such things that it
were better my mother had not borne me: I am very
proud, revengeful, ambitious, with more offences at
my beck than I have thoughts to put them in,
imagination to give them shape, or time to act them
in. What should such fellows as I do crawling
between earth and heaven? We are arrant knaves,
all; believe none of us.

So, too, when my last Muse suggested we eat mushrooms and listen to Beatles albums I feared that the cumulative effect would prompt me to reveal a great deal more than I wanted to. What I didn’t know was that I had already eaten the cap, by drinking the wine of her company. It was already too late. The truth would come out. It didn’t hurt, as the figure goes, that we were also both literally drunk.

That truth being many things, the least flattering of which being the feeling we share that it’s actually too late for me to bloom. And there, really, is where we hit the wall. Looking within the magic mirror of intoxication, pierced by Cupid’s poison-tipped arrow, is unavoidably to see whatever it is we hold most secretly within.

In Vino Veritas.


Speaking of which, I went to something called The People’s Open Mic at a club in PDX last night. The host has a ritual, he says, of opening the evening – after giving his name and his pronouns – by asking “Are we people?”, to which everyone is supposed to respond – with every ounce of their being – WE ARE PEOPLE!!! As you might imagine, the response from the crowd was somewhere between anemic and shrill. I don’t think I was alone in secretly wondering what exactly a person was.

And here we get to one of the deep ironies of what, for simplicity’s sake, I’ll call the Modern Left, which is caught between a relentless deconstruction of every category and a fierce political imperative to assert the dignity of the resulting inchoate “people.” It’s an irony that might only be overcome by sheer force of moralized emotional will. The thinking seems to be: if we all just yell loud enough, passionately enough, it will go away.

It’s like a game where the board is both assumed and reviled. It’s a ponzi scheme, which depends on a bunch of marks who are stable enough to finance the rise of the players. Except, the longer it goes on – people being people – no one wants to be the straight ally standing on the side. Everybody wants to be a star, and the recipe for stardom within this context is to find and identify with those marginalized parts of your own psyche.

Those parts of the psyche that Rumi described as being dangerous and unworthy of inflation become within this monomaniacal embrace of freedom marks of distinction. You be you.


So, anyway, my latest Muse was keen on informing me how common my desires are. Of course I’m well aware that everybody loves chocolate, except I am in the long established – and thoroughly problematic – habit of granting myself an exemption, just like all of the maniacs described above. I hold on to the idea that my desires are different because my aim – the intention these desires fuel – is true.

Sometimes I wish that I could stop you from talking
When I hear the silly things that you say.
I wish somebody would just put out the big light
Cause I can’t stand to see you this way

This was the weak voice that croaked out, I’ll show you, in Episode #2. This same vanity comes out of A. Hamilton, in a contrary form, in a letter written in 1795 to his friend Robert Troupe:

Because there must be some public fools who sacrifice private to public interest at the certainty of ingratitude and obloquy—because my vanity whispers I ought to be one of those fools and ought to keep myself in a situation the best calculated to render service

But just the other night, in speaking somewhat obliquely about relationship, I explained that I felt a desire for a woman – and to be honest, in that moment I meant her in particular, even if I would only put it abstractly – because the pleasure of her company would serve to help me through the pain that I suffer. I get depressed.

To which she replied, That’s what everyone wants.

It was common, in other words, in the way Gertrude uses the term in the following:

QUEEN GERTRUDE
Good Hamlet, cast thy nighted colour off,
And let thine eye look like a friend on Denmark.
Do not for ever with thy vailed lids
Seek for thy noble father in the dust:
Thou know’st ’tis common; all that lives must die,
Passing through nature to eternity.

And my response, as ever, was to take this idea of being common as a sort of insult to my inherent nobility, in the manner of Hamlet:

HAMLET
Ay, madam, it is common.

In the play, Gertrude is – or at least plays – unaware of the distinction between her use of the word and her son’s. She replies:

QUEEN GERTRUDE
If it be,
Why seems it so particular with thee?

And in response, Hamlet spells out his uniqueness, but not in terms of social inheritance. He doesn’t say, “I am a prince, the heir to the throne, and for me to be common is for me to betray myself.” Instead, he claims that his depression itself as the source of his genuine nobility:

HAMLET
Seems, madam! nay it is; I know not ‘seems.’
’Tis not alone my inky cloak, good mother,
Nor customary suits of solemn black,
Nor windy suspiration of forced breath,
No, nor the fruitful river in the eye,
Nor the dejected ‘havior of the visage,
Together with all forms, moods, shapes of grief,
That can denote me truly: these indeed seem,
For they are actions that a man might play:
But I have that within which passeth show;
These but the trappings and the suits of woe.

His aim, in other words, is true. Or so he thinks. What’s more, to return to the topic of wine discussed at length above, this genuine grief that Hamlet asserts here is later confirmed by the Ghost, who informs the prince that

The serpent that did sting thy father’s life
Now wears his crown.

In response to this news, Hamlet replies

O, my prophetic soul!

This inner knowing is what I’ve been calling the archetype – and it is a very particular archetype, related to love, gnosis, and revolution.

Within the context of MUSE EFFECT as a post-apocalyptic fictional narrative, it is stimulation of this archetype, on a mass scale, that brings about the collapse of civilization, and leaves our protagonist searching the Wasteland for the last VCR.

Closer to home, it is the conceit connecting my depression and my special purpose. Which, she’s right, is common. To put it a bit too broadly, everyone wants to find the cause of their suffering in some offense against their authentic identity. We want to see a usurper outside of us barring the way of our rightful succession. Less common is to realize the insanity this experience generally brings.

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