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Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

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Wednesday, January 17, 2007


Austin is moping under that hideous counterfeit of winter that goes by the name of a winter storm warning – or is it watch? What this means is that there is ice on the branches of the tree outside my window, which obviously took the tree by surprise – and that the streets have icy patches, and the sidewalks do too – and that we can all stay inside and listen to news about traffic accidents on the highways, and those of us who have stocked up on either hot chocolate or cider or marijuana can enjoy the forced hibernation like in a Christmas card. Those of us who, like LI, suffer from vicious ricocheting coughs, the butt end of a chest cold that doesn’t seem to know how to leave the party my body threw for it (get your coats, guys! my, the time!), have to settle for shivering and cabin fever and Kagome purple roots and fruits juice.

This is no condition to ponder the Vedas.

However, as we said in our post before last, or some fucking post, how am I supposed to keep up, we were going to write about Calasso’s Ka. The idea I’ve been kicking around is that the form of giantism in the Indian sacred books is of a different type entirely than that associated simply with wonder. It is a giantism that is both discontinuous and in unlimited, systematic expansion, like certain of the dreams described by De Quincey in the Pains of Opium section of the Memoirs of an Opium Eater. An amazing section that contains, among other things, a description of the close connection between psychosis and racism (it is in this section that De Quincey claims that the very idea of having to live among the Chinese gives him an almost bodily disgust).

But being a sickly critter, I think I’m going to content myself with comparing the creation story in Ka with the creation story in the Samapatha Brahmana, as translated by Mueller.

Here is the story of the first man – Prajapati - via the latter:

Verily, in the beginning this universe was water, nothing but a sea of water. The waters desired, “How can we be reproduced?’ They toiled and performed fervid devotions, when they were becoming heated, a golden egg was produced. The year, indeed, was not then in existence: this golden egg floated about for as long as the space of a year.

In a year’s time a man, this Pragapati, was produced thereform: and hence a woman, a cow or a mare brings forth within the space of a year; for Pragapati was born in a year. He broke open this golden egg. There was then, indeed, no restingplace: only this golden egg, bearing him, floated about for as long as the space of a year.

At the end of a year he tried to speak. He said bhuh: this (word) became this earth. buhuvah: this became this air - svah: this became yonder sky.”

There are many complications here – Pragapati, who turns into Brahma, is also described as the composite of seven men that the gods put together, and the egg here might be Pragapati’s own egg with the waters, that he inseminated – complications that hint at the maddening impossibility, for the mere amateur, to make sense of the Indian myths. The way events are enchained in the Indian sacred books gives one a certain double vision because there are all of these logical hallucinations, these moments of self-contradiction from which the stories branch off. But I could not help but think as Pragapati speaks in that blubber of Handke’s Kasper Hauser – and, indeed, the figure of the stutterer in Deleuze’s Logic of Sense. Just as the stutterer breaks through the floor of speech, gets into the basement, Pragapati’s stuttering sounds become words that become things because the words have no speech within which to be words. To be a word means to be a word in a language. To be a syllable in a word means to be a syllable in a word in a language.

In the Upanishads, it says:

LET a man meditate on the syllable Om, called the udgîtha; for the udgîtha (a portion of the Sâma-veda) is sung, beginning with Om.
The full account, however, of Om is this:--
2. The essence of all beings is the earth, the essence of the earth is water, the essence of water the plants, the essence of plants man, the essence of man speech, the essence of speech the Rig-veda, the essence of the Rig-veda the Sâma-veda 1, the essence of the Sâma-veda the udgîtha (which is Om).
3. That udgîtha (Om) is the best of all essences, the highest, deserving the highest place 2, the eighth.
4. What then is the Rik? What is the Sâman? What is the udgîtha? 'This is the question.
5. The Rik indeed is speech, Sâman is breath, the udgîtha is the syllable Om. Now speech and breath, or Rik and Sâman, form one couple.
6. And that couple is joined together in the syllable Om. When two people come together, they fulfil each other's desire.
7. Thus he who knowing this, meditates on the syllable (Om), the udgîtha, becomes indeed a fulfiller of desires.
8. That syllable is a syllable of permission, for whenever we permit anything, we say Om, yes. Now permission is gratification. He who knowing this meditates on the syllable (Om), the udgîtha, becomes indeed a gratifier of desires.
9. By that syllable does the threefold knowledge (the sacrifice, more particularly the Soma-sacrifice, as founded on the three Vedas) proceed. When the Adhvaryu priest gives an order, he says Om. When the Hotri priest recites, he says Om. When the Udgâtri priest sings, he says Om,
--all for the glory of that syllable. The threefold knowledge (the sacrifice) proceeds by the greatness of that syllable (the vital breaths), and by its essence (the oblations) 1.
10. Now therefore it would seem to follow, that both he who knows this (the true meaning of the syllable Om), and he who does not, perform the same sacrifice. But this is not so, for knowledge and ignorance are different. The sacrifice which a man performs with knowledge, faith, and the Upanishad is more powerful. This is the full account of the syllable Om.”

To my addled mind, a strange path opens up here: it is a path I've been treading for a while. It is Red Riding Hood's path of needles, if you will, or the path of the wiccan Marx - the path that you move forward on will, it turns out, be different from the same path you return on. To go forward is the path of creation, and it seems pretty much what we are used to – in the beginning is the word, and the word becomes earth, and earth is the place for the speaker of the word – etc. But going backward, the word is no word at all, having no language within which to be a word, and the syllable, then, becomes no syllable at all, since it aims at no sense. This is the essence of the gigantism that so frightens De Quincey in the Opium Eater.

As the Upanishad passage says, the syllable is the place of desire and gratification – which gets us back to Prajipati. In Ka, after Prajipati has created the earth and produced the first gods, this happens:

Prajapati sensed that he had a companion, a second being, dvitya, within him. It was a woman, Vac, Word. He let her out. He looked at her. Vac “rose like a continuous stream of water.” She was a column of liquid, without beginning or end. Prajipati united with her. He split her into three parts. Three sounds came out of his throat in his amorous thrust: a, ka, ho. A was the earth, ka the space between, ho the sky. With these three syllables the discontinuous stormed into existence.

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