Terebess Asia Online (tao)



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Back in Kingston Rigel's whole breakfast sermon was a karma dump. Lila's accusation just now was another one. That's what made it so sad. She'd received too much karmic garbage in her life and she couldn't handle it and that's what was making her crazy and now she's dumped some of it and that will probably make her less crazy, for a while at least, but that's not the moral solution.

If you take all this karmic garbage and make yourself feel better by passing it on to others that's normal. That's the way the world works. But if you manage to absorb it and not pass it on, that's the highest moral conduct of all. That really advances everything, not just you. The whole world. If you look at the lives of some of the great moral figures of history — Christ, Lincoln, Gandhi and others - you'll see that that's what they were really involved in, the cleansing of the world through the absorption of karmic garbage. They didn't pass it on. Their followers sometimes did, but they didn't.

On the other hand, Phaedrus supposed, when you're on the receiving end of some karma dump like that it sets you free. If he'd thrown Lila out when she was insane it would have bothered him afterward as something he shouldn't have done. But now, this way, with both Rigel and Lila rejecting him, there was no way he was going to feel guilty about her departure. The bond of obligation was broken. If Lila had been full of gratitude and attachment he would still be stuck with her. Now Rigel had that honor.

. . . Across the cabin, on the pilot berth, Phasdrus saw that her suitcase was gone. There was a nice empty hole there. That was good. That meant he could get the trays of slips back out and have room to get to work on them again. That was good too. He remembered that PROGRAM slip he wrote to wait until Lila gets off the boat. He could cross that one off now.

He wondered if he really did want to go back to all those slips. In their own way they were a lot of karmic garbage too. Strictly speaking, the creation of any metaphysics is an immoral act since it's a lower form of evolution, intellect, trying to devour a higher mystic one. The same thing that's wrong with philosophology when it tries to control and devour philosophy is wrong with metaphysics when it tries to devour the world intellectually. It attempts to capture the Dynamic within a static pattern. But it never does. You never get it right. So why try?

It's like trying to construct a perfect unassailable chess game. No matter how smart you are you're never going to play a game that is 'right' for all people at all times, everywhere. Answers to ten questions led to a hundred more and answers to those led to a thousand more. Not only would he never get it right; the longer he worked on it the wronger it would probably get.

. . . Then as he thought about this gloomily he saw something else in a shadow at the back of the berth:

It was the doll.


She'd left it behind.

That was sort of sad too. After all the fuss she'd made over it, now she just walks off and leaves it. It left a feeling of immorality too. What do you think of a small girl who goes off and leaves her doll alone and abandoned? Will she do that when she grows up?

He got up and looked at it.

It was just an ordinary machine-molded rubber doll — not a very expensive one. It had no moving eyes. Its brown hair was part of the machine-molding. He saw that one spot on the head was abraded where it had evidently rubbed against something in the river for a long time. But probably if it had been glued-on hair it would have all come off by now.

There was something really sad about it, sitting there all bare-naked and sexless. Something innocent. Something wronged. He didn't like to look at it. He didn't want to be involved with it.

. . . What the hell was he going to do with it?

. . . He didn't want to keep it on the boat.

He supposed he could just throw it overboard. It'd look like all the other trash on the beach. No one would know the difference. Probably that's where it was headed anyway before Lila fished it out of the river.

Beside it was a shirt that didn't look like one of his. It looked new and clean. He picked it up. There was a sharp pin in it which he pulled out and set on the chart table. It must really be new, he thought, if it's still got pins in it.

When he tried to put it on he couldn't get the buttons buttoned without exhaling. It was too small. It couldn't be one of his. Lila must have left it. What was Lila doing with a man's new shirt? Now he was beginning to remember she had wrapped the doll in something that looked like this. That's probably where it came from. But why should she have bought a shirt for the doll? She really was into some kind of fantasy world.

Well, if that's what she bought it for, to cover up this doll, that seemed like a perfect use for it right now. Maybe it would help overcome this wronged feeling the doll gave off.

He slipped the shirt over the doll's head. It came down way over the doll's feet like a nightshirt. That looked better. He buttoned the collar around its neck. Something about this doll was giving it all kinds of Quality the manufacturer had never built into it. Lila had overlaid a whole set of value patterns on top of it and those values were still clinging to it. It was almost like some religious idol.

He set it on the edge of the pilot berth, and went back and sat down and stared at it for a while. It looked better with the shirt on.

An idol, that's what this doll was. It was a genuine religious idol of an abandoned religion of one. It had all those formidable characteristics that idols always have. That's what spooked him. Once they've been ritualized and adored, these idols change in value. You can no more throw them away casually than you can throw an old church statue on the dump.

He wondered what they actually did with old abandoned church statues. Did they have a desanctification ceremony of some sort? He remembered he'd been going to have a funeral for this idol for Lila's benefit. Maybe he ought to give it one for his own benefit. Just to put it somewhere without turning it into trash.

Funny feelings. Anthropologists could do a lot with idols. Maybe they already had. He seemed to remember a book he'd always wanted to read called The Masks of God. You could discover a lot about a culture by what it said about its idols. The idols would be an objectification of the culture's innermost values, which were its reality.

This doll represented Lila's innermost values, the real Lila, and it said something about her that completely contradicted everything else. It indicated there were two contradictory patterns conflicting with some enormous force and what had happened was some kind of shift in these tectonic plates that had produced a kind of high Richter-scale earthquake. The one pattern, the one Rigel denounced, was going one way. This doll represented a pattern that was going another way, and so this idol allowed Lila to objectify the other pattern and ease the pressures that were causing the earthquake. And now she's abandoned it - evidence that she's going back to something worse. Maybe not.

Maybe to keep from going to something worse himself he should bury it with dignity, he thought, just for his own benefit.


He heard a klunk and realized it was the dinghy. The groceries were still down there. Everything had happened so fast he'd forgotten all about them.

He went up on deck, lowered himself into the dinghy and then lifted the grocery bags up onto the deck of the boat. Now, with Lila gone, he had enough food to get to Norfolk, at least. It would probably go bad before then.

He got back on deck and lowered the canvas bags one by one down into the cabin where he set them on the berth and then brought out their contents and put them into the icebox. Then he looked at the doll-idol.

He picked it up and tucked it under one arm like a child of his own and brought it up on deck, where he set it down carefully. Then he stepped down into the dinghy again and brought the doll down and placed it on the stern thwart ahead of him and rowed ashore. Good thing he had this shirt to wrap over this idol if he needed to. If someone came along he'd have a hard time explaining.

The trail passed by low shrubs with small thick leaves and tiny blue-gray berries. It was paved with small orange-tan stones and sand, and there were pieces of dry grass on it - hollow round reeds broken into six-inch pieces, about a quarter of an inch thick, laid in whirligig patterns. He wondered if the hurricane had done that. Ahead, on one side by some fading goldenrod was a Department of Interior survey marker.

Later on was a nicely-made painted sign asking people to keep out of the marsh to protect the wildlife. It was good that the main road to town didn't have access to this area. It made it much more isolated.

He heard a honking of geese overhead. He looked up and saw about thirty or forty geese flying in a V-formation, northwest, the wrong way . . . Crazy geese. This warm spell must have gotten to them.

Walking along with this idol Phaedrus felt as if the two of them were sharing this experience, as though he were back in childhood again and this were some imaginary companion. Little children talk to dolls and grown-up adults talk to idols. He supposed that a doll allows a child to pretend he's a parent while an idol allows a parent to pretend he's a child.

He reflected on this for a while and then his mind framed a question: 'What would you say,' he asked the idol, 'if we were in India now? What would you say to all this?'

He listened for a long time but there was no response. Then after a while into his thoughts came a voice that did not seem to be his own.

'All this is a happy ending.'

Happy ending? Phasdrus thought about it for a while.

'I wouldn't call it a happy ending,' he said, 'I'd call it an inconclusive ending.'

'No, this is a happy ending for everyone,' the other voice said.

'Why?'

'Because everybody gets what he wants,' the voice said.



'Lila gets her precious Richard Rigel, Rigel gets his precious self-righteousness, you get your precious Dynamic freedom, and I get to go swimming again.'

'Oh, you know what's going to happen?'

'Yes, of course,' the idol said.

'Then how can you say it's a happy ending when you know what's going to happen to Lila?'

'It's not a problem,' the idol's voice said.

'Not a problem? He's going to try to lock her up for life and that's not a problem?'

'Not for you.'

'Then why do I feel so bad about it?' Phaedrus asked.

'You're just waiting for your medal,' the idol answered. 'You think maybe they're going to turn around and come back and hand you a citation for merit.'

'But he's going to destroy her.'

'No,' the idol said. 'She isn't going to let him get anything on her.'

'I don't believe that.'

'She owns Rigel now,' the idol continued. 'He's had it. From here on he's putty in her hands.'

'No,' Phaedrus said. 'He's a lawyer. He isn't going to lose his head over her.'

'He doesn't have to. His head's already lost,' the idol said. 'She's going to use all those morals of his against him.'

'How?'


'She's going to become a repentant sinner. She may even join a church. She's just going to keep telling him what a wonderful moral person he is and how he saved her from your degenerate clutches, and what can he do? How can he deny it? There's no way he can fight that. That just keeps his moral ego blown tight as a balloon and as soon as it starts to sag he will have to come back to her for more.'

Whew, this was some idol, Phaedrus thought. Sarcastic, cynical. Almost vicious. Was that what he himself was really like underneath? Maybe it was. A theatrical ham idol. A matinee idol. No wonder somebody threw it into the river.

'You're the winner, you know,' the idol said, ' . . . by default.'

'How so?'

'You did one moral thing on this whole trip, which saved you.'

'What was that?'

'You told Rigel that Lila had Quality.'

'You mean in Kingston?'

'Yes, and the only reason you did that was because he caught you by surprise and you couldn't think of your usual intellectual answer, but you turned him around. He wouldn't have come here if it hadn't been for that. Before then he had no respect for her and a lot for you. After that he had no respect for you, but some for her. So you gave something to her, and that's what saved you. If it hadn't been for that one moral act you'd be headed down the coast tomorrow with a lifetime of Lila ahead of you.'

Phaedrus didn't like it. Judgments of this sort from a branch of his own personality were very confusing — and somewhat ominous. He didn't want to hear any more of them.

'Well, idol,' he said, 'you may be right and you may be wrong but we are coming to the end of the road here.'

They had arrived at what looked like the ruins of an old fortress. It looked somewhat the way old ruins in India looked, except those were many centuries old. It looked sort of like a castle but it was concrete and broken in places with thick rusted reinforcing rods emerging from the breaks in the concrete. Part of it looked like the wall of a small amphitheater. Apparently it was the parapet of an old fort. In one area were remains of an overhead trolley system that might have been for hauling military shells. Huge rings were in a wall apparently to take the recoil of a large cannon that was now gone. There was a beautiful leafless tree growing out of the middle of the parapet like an enormous umbrella. It was only about ten feet tall but was much wider than that.

As he walked to the northwest he could see more clearly how the remains of the old concrete structure had broken into fragments, tilted to one side and fallen into the water.

There were square holes in the concrete you could fall through. It looked as though the cracks in the concrete under his feet were ready to break any time. Apparently the breaking up and erosion were being caused by settling and probably by the action of the sea. But he guessed that the real destroyer was not the sea but that great ravager of most military installations, lack of appropriations.

It was sort of wonderful to see this old fort, built to assert man's domination over the earth, slowly sinking into the Atlantic Ocean. It certainly looked like an auspicious place for the interment of this idol.

He found a gate that led below the concrete to a dark chamber where he could hear water down below gurgling loudly. He entered a door with vertical spiked iron posts and I-beams. It was dark inside like a grotto. The only illumination came from below.

He turned to the right by a pockmarked wall and

descended five steps leading down to a small drop-off. He descended the stairs, testing the concrete carefully with his foot, went left, went forward, and then right again, into a dark tunnel. There he saw that the light came through a smashed portion of the concrete under which swept the water of the Atlantic.

There was enough light to show a dark high-water mark of the tide against the wall. He set the idol against the wall in a sitting position facing the entrance to the sea and arranged the shirt around it carefully. Within a few hours the tide should come and lift it out of here.

His mind said to the idol, 'Well, little friend, you've had quite a busy existence.'

He stepped back, did a small bow with his hands clasped together in the manner he had once learned in India, and then, feeling that things were right at last, turned and left.

Back to daylight and good old sanity. A few crickets were chirping. He heard a roar in the sky and looked up and saw a Concorde airplane slowly circling to the south then rising and speeding.

Good old technology. All this twentieth-century sanity wasn't as interesting as the old days of his incarceration but he was getting a lot more accomplished, at a social level at least. Other cultures may talk to idols and animal spirits and fissures in rocks and ghosts of the past but it wasn't for him. He had other things to do.

He had a feeling of freshness as he walked back to the boat. What a fantastic day this was. How many people are ever lucky enough to clean the slate like this? They're all stuck with their endless problems.

He stood on a mound of sand beside some juniper bushes and said 'Ahhhh!' He threw out his arms. Free! No idols, no Lila, no Rigel, no New York, no more America even. Just free!

He looked up in the sky and whirled. Ahhh, that felt good! He hadn't whirled like that for years. Since he was four. He whirled again. The sky, the ocean, the hook, the bay, spun round and round him. He felt like a Whirling Dervish.

He walked back to the boat in a kind of relaxed, nothing-to-do way, thinking of nothing whatsoever. Then he remembered when he had been walking down a dirt road like this one near Lame Deer, Montana, on the Northern Cheyenne reservation. It was with Dusenberry and John Wooden Leg, the tribe's chief, and a woman named LaVerne Madigan from the Association of American Indians.

So long ago. So many things had happened. He would have to get back to the Indians someday. That was where he had started from and that was where he had to get back to.

He remembered it had been spring then, which is a wonderful time in Montana, and the breeze blowing down from the pine trees carried a fresh smell of melting snow and thawing earth, and they were all walking down the road, four abreast, when one of those raggedy non-descript dogs that call Indian reservations home came onto the road and walked pleasantly in front of them.

They followed the dog silently for a while.

Then LaVerne asked John, 'What kind of dog is that?'

John thought about it and said, 'That's a good dog.'

LaVerne looked curiously at him for a moment and then looked down at the road. Then the corners of her eyes crinkled and as they walked on Phaedrus noticed she was sort of smiling and chuckling to herself.

Later, when John had left, she asked Dusenberry, 'What did he mean when he said, "That's a good dog?" Was that just "Indian talk"?'

Dusenberry thought for a while and said he supposed it was. Phaedrus didn't have any answer either, but for some reason he had been as amused and puzzled as LaVerne was.

A few months later she was killed in an airplane crash, and a few years after that Dusenberry was gone too and Phaedrus' own hospitalization and recovery had clouded over all memory of that time and he'd forgotten all about it, but now suddenly, out of nowhere, here it was again.

For some time now he'd been thinking that if he were looking for proof that 'substance' is a cultural heritage from Ancient Greece rather than an absolute reality, he should simply look at non-Greek-derived cultures. If the 'reality' of substance was missing from those cultures that would prove he was right.

Now the image of the raggedy Indian dog was back, and he realized what it meant.

LaVerne had been asking the question within an Aristotelian framework. She wanted to know what genetic, substantive pigeonhole of canine classification this object walking before them could be placed in. But John Wooden Leg never understood the question. That's what made it so funny. He wasn't joking when he said, 'That's a good dog.' He probably thought she was worried the dog might bite her. The whole idea of a dog as a member of a hierarchical structure of intellectual categories known generically as 'objects' was outside his traditional cultural viewpoint.

What was significant, Phaedrus realized, was that John had distinguished the dog according to its Quality, rather than according to its substance. That indicated he considered Quality more important.

Now Phaedrus remembered when he had gone to the reservation after Dusenberry's death and told them he was a friend of Dusenberry's they had answered 'Oh, yes, Dusenberry. He was a good man.' They always put their emphasis on the good, just as John had with the dog. A white person would have said he was a good man or balanced the emphasis between the two words. The Indians didn't see man as an object to whom the adjective 'good' may or may not be applied. When the Indians used it they meant that good is the whole center of experience and that Dusenberry, in his nature, was an embodiment or incarnation of this center of life.

Maybe when Phaedrus got this metaphysics all put together people would see that the value-centered reality it described wasn't just a wild thesis off into some new direction but was a connecting link to a part of themselves which had always been suppressed by cultural norms and which needed opening up. He hoped so.

The experience of William James Sidis had shown that you can't just tell people about Indians and expect them to listen. They already know about Indians. Their cup of tea is full. The cultural immune system will keep them from hearing anything else. Phaedrus hoped this Quality metaphysics was something that would get past the immune system and show that American Indian mysticism is not something alien from American culture. It's a deep submerged hidden root of it.

Americans don't have to go to the Orient to learn what this mysticism stuff is about. It's been right here in America all along. In the Orient they dress it up with rituals and incense and pagodas and chants and, of course, huge organizational enterprises that bring in the equivalent of millions of dollars every year. American Indians haven't done this. Their way is not to be organized at all. They don't charge anything, they don't make a big fuss, and that's what makes people underrate them.

Phaedrus remembered saying to Dusenberry just after that peyote meeting was over, The Hindu understanding is just a low-grade imitation of this! This is how it must have really been before all the clap-trap got started.'

And he remembered that Franz Boas had said that in a primitive culture people speak only about actual experiences. They don't discuss what is virtue, good, evil, beauty; the demands of their daily life, like those of our uneducated classes, don't extend beyond the virtues shown on definite occasions by definite people, good or evil deeds of their fellow tribesman, and the beauty of a particular man, woman or object. They don't talk about abstract ideas. But Boas said, 'The Dakota Indian considers goodness to be a noun rather than an adjective.'



That was true, Phaedrus thought, and that was very objective. But it was like an explorer noticing that there's a huge vein of pure yellow metal emerging from the side of a cliff, jotting the fact down in his diary, and then never expanding on the subject because he's only interested in facts and doesn't want to get into evaluations or interpretations.

Good is a noun. That was it. That was what Phaedrus had been looking for. That was the homer, over the fence, that ended the ball game. Good as a noun rather than an adjective is all the Metaphysics of Quality is about. Of course, the ultimate Quality isn't a noun or an adjective or anything else definable, but if you had to reduce the whole Metaphysics of Quality to a single sentence, that would be it.
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