Elaborating a Comment on ‘Notes on a Pre and Post Ontological Structure.’

Original Post Here: ‘Notes on a Pre and Post Ontological Structure.’


Perhaps the upcoming reunion with Castaneda holds out a hand “a man learns to see, he realizes that he can no longer think about the things he looks at, and if he cannot think about what he looks at everything becomes unimportant.” (A Separate Reality, ch. 5.)


Don Juan’s complaint is that Carlos will not stop thinking and because he will not stop thinking he never gives himself a chance to see properly.[1] Another way to put it would be: he could not silence his inner voice to allow a connection with his inner eye. This does work, but no-one can explain why because explanation requires the inner voice and the inner voice renders one blind and therefore with nothing in mind to explain. Eye and voice are literally poles apart.[2] [3]

One can visualize the dialectic of reasoning in Carlos’s condition because, according to western philosophical standards of logic and rhetoric, it is conventionally ‘rationalistic’. It relies on the inner voice; it cannot operate without it (for long). Even the irrational thought that crosses one’s mind partakes of the rationality it is initially set against, being ‘set against’ still entails a setting in the language that the inner voice engages, which is a language that cannot escape its own rules except to enlarge, edit and ultimately reinforce them. In fact, irrational thoughts are always crossing one’s mind; the rational and the irrational partake of each other within the space of the language, a push and pull that sometimes dies down and sometime resolves into a clear thought, one stable enough to be externalized. Hence around one pole, the pole of the voice, there is a dialectic that allows for narrative, decision, configuration, i.e. deliberative outcome. In thought sense and nonsense are equal in their requirement for a language of reasoning, its use and its abuse merge. Nonsense does not remain without sense for long because its very formation predetermines a trajectory toward sense. In such thought sense making is the force.

To leave behind all that thought, in the aforementioned sense, entails and permits is an extraordinarily difficult ask for Carlos. It goes against his inclinations, his training, his sense of identity, and his very reason for returning to Mexico and talking to don Juan again. And yet, this what he must do if he is to move forward. Except it is not really forward, or indeed backward, motion that is required. In effect forward and backward motion, and the expectation of progress and the fear of failure that it warrants, belong to the system of thought that is to be abandoned.

  Rather a ‘letting go’ is required which amounts to a radically altered orientation, another inclination entirely. If you will, a colourful metaphor is in order: the voice pole is ‘solar’ and, because of its elliptical formation, the thought system that revolves around it cannot help but normalize zodiacal experience. Whereas the eye pole floats free and that is its mystery; it has no satellites (no linguistic structures).

The deviant body may pass through the normal plane, catch the attention of the conventional body, causing a ripple of concern, which is the case in Carlos’s early encounter with don Juan. What happens later is forever a matter of speculation, but my best guess is that the voice pole and the eye pole become a binary system and the elliptic is tipped through ninety degrees to become ‘pole-oriented’.


Artist’s concept of a view of a double star system and surrounding pole-oriented planetary disk. Image via University of Warwick/Mark Garlick.[4]


I think it likely that don Juan is a fiction or at least has fictionalized himself for the apprentice’s benefit—how else could the deviant body reach in in the first place?

In spherical terms the cautionary point of don Juan’s teachings is that the modern rational way of being is dangerously precarious because of its over-reliance on acoustic deliberation and verification, what cannot be internally sounded and listened to is ignored or worse becomes inexistent. In this planar universe of being only zodiacal experience is valued and the illusion that everything succumbs to ‘calculation’ in the end is maintained through a constant sounding and echoing around the voice pole. Consequently only normalized bodies in predictable orbits are acknowledged in reality and labelled ‘understandings’.

Don Juan alerts his apprentice to a ‘separate reality’, a larger mystery, one that is non-rational, i.e. one that is beyond the rational-irrational dialectic of thought and which one can learn to see if only one will draw towards the eye pole and activate the optical aspect of the sphere. However, don Juan is also playing a game. He knows full well that Carlos’s compulsive and naturalized ‘thinking’ exemplifies a functioning condition of being, even if he thinks it, knows it, to be dangerously precarious. The voice pole can and does operate as a unitary centre and its functioning underpins all realisms, idealisms, pragmatisms … rationalizations in general, which glue the world together for human collectives. Don Juan also knows full well that the eye pole cannot operate to the same end, and does not need to. That is not the point. The point is that its operation corrects an imbalance in being. It does this by generating the stable condition of being that seeing exemplifies. By opening a direct line of sight back to the origin of being everything one can and has conceived of is reduced to unimportance. More importantly one avoids the abyss and annihilation.


[1]     In A Separate Reality, Castaneda recounts “further conversations with don Juan” which happened in 1968-9 three years after his original encounters of 1960-5.

[2]     I insert a rather Sloterdijkian ‘biune’ ‘spherical’ image here.

[3]     In MacFarlane’s pithy summary of Duchamp’s contribution linking art and philosophy he said: “Art requires our left brains and our right brains to talk to each other, and so give meaning to experiences which lie beyond the grasp of reason.” It is shorthand, of course, but in essence makes the same point. The artist has to see (even if briefly and inadequately) in creating art. (Philosophy Now, June/July 2015, p.10.)

[4]     Double star system flips planet-forming disk into pole position <https://warwick.ac.uk/newsandevents/pressreleases/double_star_system&gt;

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