Using Passions As Beacons Leads to Instances of Backwards Causality
or How Not to Write a Pop Song and stay looking trendy
“You must always know what your song is about before commencing” this was the best advise I could get online when trying to work out how I write songs. never the less I remain convinced that there are certain persons who are able, almost without effort, to relax the muscles of the mind and slip from the shackles of habitual thought and let their ideas soar way beyond the seven feet of biosphere we habitually patrol. I suppose despite my fear of giving away the end I should consider the idea that backwards causality is simply a manifestation of the ability of the subconscious mind to function more rapidly and dynamically than the rational mind- thus giving the everyday brain the feeling that the future has risen up to meet it and cried “Bonjour Monsieur Courbet”. About three years ago I emerged from an artists’ workshop run by Grayson and Phillipa Perry, my catsuit still flecked with fragments of my old shell. A few days later as I sat grazing on an old Sunday supplement I came across J. G. Ballard’s advise to follow your passions as beacons. It still seems odd that these words found their way through the old trip wires laid by my inner cynic. But with them germinating between my synapses I soon began to notice that even a simple bus trip could become imbued with a feeling that I was on the brink of some uncanny discovery. On such days serendipitous events would punctuate the passing hours and the vaguest of notions would echo meaningfully through the most mundane tasks, somehow placing me within a living analogy of the quest for wonderment. I confided to a friend that I was once more enjoying the process of allowing ideas to reveal themselves to me, and blurted the slogan “Using passions as beacons leads to instances of backwards causality”. I then painted this onto the side of a viewing apparatus containing movies of my thoughts. These I had dictated onto my phone video camera as I left exhibitions in a heightened state of awareness. In the Undercover Surrealism show I felt a surge of euphoria at what I perceived as George Bataille’s extended grumble against the flow of Western art toward the entropy of compartmentalisation. Academia had trained me to rationalise my obsessions but I found that by adopting a more intuitive “primal” approach my ideas seemed to come to me from the future.
Creating an ambiguous aphorism is one thing but to expand upon it may well be akin to viewing an episode of Thunderbirds and pointing with dismay at the strings and real hands. If I try to write an essay about a poetic line, the essence could easily evaporate. In his book The Cosmic Serpent, Jeremy Narby quotes a shaman describing how twisted language “ brings me close but not too close – with normal words I would crash into things – with twisted ones I circle around them – I can see them clearly”. Our deference to the printed word has predisposed us to linear thinking but in the shaman’s pre-Guttenberg framework ideas/smells/sounds/feelings are free to come from any direction. So writing in a spiral around the subject (in this case backward causality) is probably the most direct way to proceed.
So is there a place for backwards causality in terms of accepted knowledge? Some very clever people have postulated that the Large Hadron Collider is saving us from ourselves by sending disruptive signals from the future. This seems far from the beaten track and I am more enlivened by the idea of my future-self influencing my actions today. I don’t need to see him to believe this. Perhaps I am burying my head in the silicon particles by not grappling with the physics further but in his sometimes gnomic utterances Einstein demonstrated that he was well aware of how science has a habit of pulling out teddies’ stuffing – that is to say unpicking and not re-stitching. Einstein was a shaman of science. The human, he says, “experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest – a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness”. In quantum mechanics we see that particles have an uncanny quality of being neither here nor there and certainty goes out the window. This is very close to how the creative process works. There is even a case for antimatter being particles arriving from the future and if particles can do this, why not thoughts and feelings? Working as an artist who often experiences discoveries in a dislocated fashion, I find it simple enough to imagine the effect preceding the cause, and this happens to be a straightforward definition of backwards causality. A this point in my chain of thought I stop to answer an instant message
Madelaine Hello solo
12:38pmMikey watcha I'm grappling with an article on backwards causality. Any ideas?
12:42pmMadelaine Can't you just string a load of your old lyrics together and add some conjunctive adverbs?
12:43pmMikeyI think that is what i am doing but I will need to google conjuctive adverbs to know for sure
12:43pmMadelaineAlso, hence, whilst ...
12:45pmMikey # contrarily # conversely # finally # further # furthermore
12:46pmMadelaine There you go!
12:46pmMikey you are onto something! did you know they are defined as words that show cause and effect. this is the nub of bkwds causality which postulates that an effect can precede a cause.
12:46pmMadelaine Oh goodness!
It is here that I remember that Madeleine is synonymous with Prousts’ idea of involuntary memory.
I would like now to address the shift in my perception of passions. Suffering from a moderate hearing loss, I have had a lifetime of hearing tests and after the artists’ workshop my new attitude to “passions” felt very similar to the sudden realisation that there was a whole rage of sounds I had never even thought of listening for and yet there they were tinkling in the upper reaches of my sonic spectrum. Another way of looking at it is to imagine a pebble thrown into a pond (the pond-i-verse) in the future and this sending ripples through time. By the time it gets to the present it may only be gentle but now I am aware that these tiny waves were valid indicators of where to head next. The point I should like to make here is that backwards causality is a close relative of memory but is in no way nostalgic for the present. Struggling to define a nagging feeling can turn into the real life equivalent of looking backwards down the tunnel from which you (Orpheus) have just rescued Eurydice. With this in mind I have recently made a decision to stop trying to constantly tidy my mind as I go along. Lists are meant to help but the trouble with lists is they evolve all the time and I can see them trailing behind me like a frothy wake. Order is ordure I say – this is a bit like Adolf Loos at his bluntest saying “ornament is excrement” but truer. Dostoyevsky’s Raskalinov found himself in a similar quandary regarding keeping thoughts in their place, so perhaps I should go down to the station and confess to a crime I will commit in the future. Raskalinov’s foil in Crime and Punishment, Razumikhin, delivers an inspiring polemic advocating the right to spout nonsense in order to reach the truth – and he pleads “talk nonsense to me, by all means, but do it with your own brain, and I shall love you for it”. Ironically enough, his name is derived from Razum or Reason. Dostoyevsky shall be my alibi in this crime against scientific reason then.
My contribution to an event called “Return of the Repressed” was a performance involving the invocation of William Blake’s print of Nebuchadnezzar. Through this act I hoped to highlight how intuition is repressed by the consensus powers of reason and has come to be seen as bestial and dangerous or even just plain irrelevant – to be kept at bay or risk falling into the jaws of madness (and end up eating grass like the mad king Nebuchadnezzar). This allying of art and madness in the public consciousness is easy to understand as mad artists provide better copy than contented ones. The art world seems uncomfortable with the euphoric joy accompanying bona fide creative acts. Control, reason and ego form a triune of masculine achievement, i.e. The Tower of Babel and The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living. Despite this credo of willpower, various artists do use strategies to remove the ego from the creative equation without recourse to admonitions of intuitive methodologies or contact with external entities. Kippenberger’s “Heavy Guy” was intended to make a mockery of the artist as original genius. Baldessari pioneered such ironic-detached-randomness to demonstrate that Greenberg’s ideas of an innate aesthetic sensibility were overbearing and bogus. However, the artists that Greenberg championed also used randomness – presenting themselves as conductors for the creative energies of the universe. Even the most cerebral of artists, the man who said you paint with our head not your hand, Michelangelo, believed a statue was hidden in the marble, awaiting release. Last century I wrote a song called Parallel Universe postulating that in such a place “they live our lives out exactly in reverse” because it rhymed.
Perhaps the greatest example of a man who followed idea after idea as he fled the hounds of reason is Carl Gustav Jung. He always managed to retain a clarity of vision and pointed out that “causality is one of our greatest dogmas”. He lamented that there was little room for synchronicities or “arbitrary so-called supernatural forces” in civilised society. I was delighted to see that even this old sage of personal growth saw modern physics as a mirror to the archaic view of invisible guiding forces making a nod to “the hidden secret of the atom wherein… curious things come to pass”. Newton defined the visible cosmos with governing laws that allow us to predict the movement of objects with absolute certainty. Blake’s despair at such mono-vision manifested in the image of a shining Newton surrounded by darkness, stooped over, making measurements with a compass. Surely Blake would have felt strengthened in his resolve through confirmation of the growing ambiguity witnessed within the subatomic universe he intuitively sensed in all his work: “To see a world in a grain of sand, And a heaven in a wild flower, Hold infinity in the palm of your hand, And eternity in an hour”. For me, Blake is the patron saint of backwards causality, bursting with ideas and passions that combine to create an overarching thought cosmos beyond the two-dimensional notion of before and after. For Blake, we are not just humans that have the occasional spiritual experience but etheric entities struggling with our materiality and longing for “the real and eternal World of which this Vegetable Universe is but a faint shadow”. Back to Einstein the rationalist’s godhead who stated that in his view “the most important function of art and science” is to “awaken this feeling [cosmic religiosity] and keep it alive in those who are receptive to it. This “feeling” has less than nothing to do with dogma and anthropomorphic patriarchal figureheads and everything to do with the indivisibility of everything.
Backwards causality should not be mistaken for time-travel or retrieval of lost memories. To put things in terms of popular culture, synchronicity and backwards causality are two sides of the same double B-side. Writing about this delicate issue has brought me perilously close to personally unravelling. Yesterday an uncanny episode occurred as I stood in a field waiting for my 9-year-old son to play football. Such occurrences feel to me like glistening globules wherein meaning has somehow coagulated into an event. Whilst I was pondering backwards causality and memory, a primary coloured larger-than-life figure stepped out of my past into the mellow autumnal sunlight and boomed, “don’t avoid eye contact”. There was a flash of recognition that had the dream-like quality of being instantaneous and also in slow motion. I last met Robert over 20 years ago at art college where we had courted the same girl. Was this not a holographic message from my younger self demanding to know if I really was as comfortable in my new skin as I thought? We stood watching our sons skid around the pitch discussing school fees and other sensible subjects. On going our separate ways, I felt gladdened by a sense that we had managed to connect on a level beyond the game of assessing who had been the most successful since leaving college due to a mutual respect for the other’s idiosyncrasies. However, later in the evening I returned home from a gathering of friends feeling drained after more grown-up talk of lack of competitive edge in education rather than the real issue of targets choking the ability of schools to light the fire of wonder in pupils. Seeking solace in the television, I was frozen to the spot by a montage cut of the Large Hadron Collider on the news. I went to bed convinced that in an ironic instance of anti-backwards causality my rational self had finally caught up to talk some sense into me. “You are chasing your own tail!” it said.
Accusations of woolly thinking come out every time rationalist man feels the icy chill of his unconscious breathing down his neck, I tell myself, and when I’m feeling low, at junctures such as this, I like to read how Marshall McLuhan believed that “The Exploding Plastic Inevitable” of the electronic era would return us once more to the multidimensional olfactory environment of archaic man. In such a place I believe our future selves could save us from catastrophe through sending us euphoric emanations but instead it sometimes feels that, like Andy Warhol, we have chosen the flat façade of Florentine perspective. What I mean is that on a whim Warhol championed a truly horizonless band of creatives only to return to the comfort of the picture plane. Tribal man has lost the battle but a treaty is taking shape. I recently ran a pair of song writing workshops for a group of artists called Critical Practice and was amazed and delighted by the gusto with which this group of serious analytical thinkers threw themselves into the dislocated antics I had devised. I have since heard tell of the left and right brain being linked through the act of singing. So when this dialogue is combined with the expectancy of rhyme there is at least one powerful method for persuading our rational mind that Backwards Causality was his idea all along. Indeed in one of my sillier moments in the nineties I penned the lyrics, “sometimes I like to think that there might be a parallel universe – and if there is I know they live our lives out exactly in reverse”. Oh and Hello Goodbye was number one on the day I was born.