Imagination in a Soulless Age

An illustration by Dan Booth

From the picture window of our family’s eighth floor apartment, at the intersection of 23rd Street and Avenue C, we have a view of the inhuman currents of the East River and the dehumanizing, vehicular currents of the FDR expressway.

The tenor of the river is timeless while the FDR’s voice is mindlessly urgent… an addict on a dope run — evincing the urgency of an errand undertaken to relieve distress but trajectory hurtles towards annihilation.

the misnomer known as freeways,

wherein one is enslaved to speed

and forward motion

Like the misnomer known as freeways, wherein one is enslaved to speed and forward motion, the spirit of our age is manic. One reacts; there is no time to reflect. In contrast, the river speaks the language of the deathless heart of creation. The river sings of ensoulment. It does not seek; it is.

Because the spirit of the age is frantic, surface level, and going nowhere — and fast. The soul of the world harbors a quality of sadness. When it speaks, nowadays, it does so in a lament — a dirge for exquisite things lost. Unlike raging spirit, the soul carries the sadness of the veritable bones of the earth.

Take caution when you seek to commune with soul, because you have entered a realm that is not only timeless but one that lacks mercy regarding the self-important constructs we human beings hold, cherish, An illustration by Dan Boothand enshrine. As one queasy poet (T.S. Eliot) reported, appropriating The Book of Ecclesiastes, the soul will show you “fear in a handful of dust.” Another poet (Pablo Neruda) declared, “I know the earth and I am sad.”

Yesterday, our nine month old required a diaper change, and my wife and I, being on Lexington Avenue in Midtown at the time, slipped into Bloomingdales to use the changing station accommodations within. As we navigated our way through Edward Bernays’ consumer simulacrum, I was gripped and grappled by grief. A sense of alienation descended on me like the arrival of an Old Testament angel, one whose mission was to throw me to the ground and pin me in the dust of my vanity. I feared I might begin to weep outright.

The dark magicians of the consumer age have the heart-usurping hustle down. They have us in the thrall of misappropriated desires as the soul of the world weeps for the carnage attendant to our cupidity.

I held my tears in check. But, this morning, upon first glimpse of the FDR and the East River, I wept outright.

The reigning power structure

will attempt to deny, marginalize,

and demonize the soul’s message

The sicknesses of the soul are mirrored in the disorders of a culture and vice versa. In turn, tracing symptoms is a path to the soul. The symptoms are the soul’s means of attempting to be heard. But, all too often, whether it be the obtuse ego of an individual or the obtuse, egoistical guardians of the status quo will refuse to acknowledge the symptoms. The reigning power structure will attempt to deny, marginalize, and demonize the soul’s message… its plea for attention, its attempt to gain entry into the protected sanctums of power. Its entreaties are dismissed as merely the complains of misfits — or overreacted to as dangerously radical.

Often a collapse, a breakdown, a depression—some sort of unsolvable crisis is required before the soul’s message is heard.

The economy is chronically depressed. Isotopes of Fukushima are carried on currents of wind and wave. The oceans and seas are rising from humankind-created greenhouse gas Climate Change. The world’s oceans are being destroyed. The human element evinces the pathology displayed in psychoanalytic consulting rooms: The economic elite are psychopathic; Tea Party types exhibit paranoid displacement while liberals exhibit neurotic insularity.

A crisis is imminent

Pain and pathology are extant. A crisis is imminent. The sooner the process of listening to soul-borne dispatches begins the sooner the dissonance attendant to the culture’s cacophony of shattered minds and occluded hearts will begin to dissipate. If not, prepare yourself for a dark night of the soul that will seem endless in duration.

By what means do we as a people — who are all too often myopic, self-absorbed, manic in the pursuit of vain agendas, in the thrall of relentless necessity, alienated by the circumstances of a shallow era and buffeted by the machinations of a self-serving political and economic elite whose hubris embodies the criteria of classical tragedy — transform random events into soul-saturated meaning?

One might ask: How is such a thing even possible? Then add: It is sheer fantasy to even suggest that soul exists.An illustration by Dan Booth

Indeed, it is… for fantasy itself is one of the means by which soul reveals itself. Accordingly: Reveal the yearnings of your heart and be in dialog with your true nature.

To renounce fantasy is sheer fantasy, and a dismal variety of it at that, and one made all the more lamentable by the mindset of self-proclaimed pragmatist types who do not realize that compulsive reductionism is a form of fantasy.

We, as a culture, are in the waning years of the cultural fantasy of state capitalism. A clue to the hypertrophy riddling the system is the rise of fascistic elements within the state, for fascism is the vehicle by which capitalism destroys itself, by a form of societal murder/suicide. (The pandemic of mass shootings is the personal microcosm of the cultural macrocosm.)

If the heart, one’s wellspring of dreams, is regarded as a mere pump, then the mind languishes in a soul-desiccated wasteland. Under such dire circumstances, one is advised to dream oneself awake. And that does not translate into lapsing into unconsciousness. Withal, it suggests… reaching down and touching the bones of the earth and a steadfast communion with Anima Mundi i.e., literally, the soul of the world.

The earth is under siege; therefore, the act will be painful. As noted above, her oceans are being destroyed; her fauna and flora are being decimated. When we denude the seas of abundance, our dreams will mirror the cataclysm. How else would one explain the dearth of imagination that is so-called Reality Television and Celebrity Culture?

We must come back to fantasy to keep a grip on reality.

Illustrations by Dan Booth. Not to be reproduced without his express prior permission

Phil Rockstroh
About Phil Rockstroh 177 Articles
Phil Rockstroh is a poet, lyricist and philosopher bard living in New York City. Yet a bio amounts to dharma for dimwits: It defines a human being in the same manner and degree of veracity as a restaurant menu describes the various slabs of meat offered … commodified things that were once living beings.

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