Planning, Superimposition & Palimpsest
by Antonio Dias
How Double Binds Cease and Planning Disappears as We Expose Ourselves to Our Morphic Fields.
This title came to me yesterday. It’s quite a mouthful!
That time has now stretched out to over a week!
Vera’s comment on the last post,
“And then, the decisions are turned into a plan. Argh.”
is reflected in it, as are unformed hunches regarding this series of terms that stand in for concerns and issues of longstanding for me.
Palimpsest. I love the word! Not only its exotic and slightly renegade air, but that it so clearly describes the way in which perception and action unfold, through history and across a lifetime.
Superimposition. A double positive! At least an affirmation given with extreme prejudice. Not only imposed, but done grandly. Super.
Planning. An old bugaboo. It barely stands up to the other two.
Then the subtitle came to me. There’s something about double binds, those conditions I’ve so often found myself in personally and which seem to qualify so much of our existence as we careen towards collapse. “Damned if you do! and Damned if you don’t!” That’s how I’ve always thought of them. The choices they appear to present are to either crash back and forth probing for the extent and extremes of our traps, or to adopt a hushed paralysis in which we are afraid to do anything in the expectation that whatever we do will be wrong.
Of course, this is within an overall assumption that our actions are the results of plans and that we carry out those plans more or less well, depending on how driven, or motivated, or practical, or pragmatic, or efficient we are. Our failure reflects back on how poorly we were able to carry out a plan. No concern shed over how effective the entire notion of planning and all its baggage might be!
How would I turn this string of terms, planning, superimposition and palimpsest into a cohesive narrative? Maybe that’s too limiting. How would I tell a story about these three words and their order?
I wish I knew! I mean, there they are. They appeared that way quite vividly and they seem to provoke me to the effort of writing about them.
There’s no way but to jump in!
You could say the first two are together. They are near synonyms. The second, superimposition at least has something to say about planning. It says something like, “Planning is the beginning of a superimposition of our will upon a situation. We make plans so as to impose them. Superimpose means to put something on top. Superimposition is to superimpose somewhat as inflammable is to flammable. Its meaning is already in its base, impose – which also means to put down on from above. Super by itself meaning above, it’s pressing down from above, from outside with extra or supreme vigor. All this leads to presenting a particular cast to what one, me, the one writing this, would like to attach to the concept of planning; that it is willful. That it imposes and that this imposition is extreme and forceful.
The two words together, and alone, might be taken as describing the power of planning in favorable terms. Throw in palimpsest, and – at least it seems to me – we are open to a different interpretation. Palimpsest, exotic and signifying a form of what a devout planner might call confusion, even a tampering, a scribbling upon what might otherwise be a perfectly good plan; changes everything. It stands as a one word critique, full of intriguing promise!
Palimpsest. We think of this, when we give it a moment’s thought, as repeated tracings, in the way a cave painting or an ancient inscription shows signs of having been copied over, over time. This focuses on one narrow aspect of what occurs in such cases. Another is the erosion over time that leads to the need for the image or message to be retraced. Still, this is not all of it. What’s most significant about Palimpsest is a relationship. The way time, and a fresh look at the familiar, bring about an opportunity to build an image or a text that includes what is known from within a particular umwelt and what gets rubbed-off and is reinterpreted from a later, different partial perspective.
A palimpsest takes us out of the optimist/pessimist binary of Progress/Dissolution. It hints at a relationship towards what is that builds while also recognizing that every construction is conditional and provisory. The result is not to remain pitting progress against decay, but taking what each can give us and putting them into relationship with each other. The truth within the parts is held in relationship to the truth between the parts. What is said, what is eroded, what is lost, what is restated, and how; they all proceed over time and with shifts of contingency and attention….
We look to Art, in part, so as to arrest time. “No! Wait!” We cry out at Being and the endless flow. We, at our best, create a dynamic structure of rhymes and stand-ins and substitutions that hold moments, feelings, thoughts, and reactions in a way we can access again and pass on to others.
When this yearning to stop time is too strong and the ways of Art are taken as a means to this end, we are left with Kitsch. We enter the violence of sentimentality and whatever value might have been in the impulse to create is wrung out of what’s been made and torn from whoever interacts with it. Its making is locked into a quid pro quo. Its effects are manipulated and controlled. Violence is done to the truth.
Art that is open to Palimpsest includes its play to strip away intention and preconception and allows us to discover what is there that is beyond any means to any end. Such works, taken over a stretch of time as a whole fabric, bring another layer of Palimpsest. What carries and maintains across great spans of time, and past enormous disruptions, brings us to where we are dealing with vast stores of human wisdom.
And now to trace over this title a third time!
The remaining loose-end here is morphic fields. We all know what a double-bind is, but unless we’re familiar with Rupert Sheldrake and his place in what I’ve come to describe as my “Pantheon of Displaced Thinkers,” he’s probably an unfamiliar name. In the continuum from crackpots to dogmatists dealing with questions of science, he is lumped in with the former by the latter for their own convenience. He has approached questions institutions are uncomfortable with and pursued them with refreshing intelligence and out of a core of scientific method. I’m currently reading his Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home.
He has posited the existence of what he calls morphic fields as a way of describing, by analogy if nothing else, how various actions at a distance, and the persistence of forms, and the shapes of the ways things of all sorts evolve; stem from this field, akin to a magnetic field, and how it gives form to form’s manifestations. This ranges from the way a murmuration of starlings shifts and wields through the air, to the way the lenticular eye has evolved independently in biological evolution, to the way any sort of fractal forms permeates the universe, to the way emotions, habits, and forms of awareness seem to evolve within parallel tracks, and yes, to how dogs can know when their owners are coming home.
As I see it, this connects powerfully with much of what Bohm and Krishnamurti were up to. Bohm’s understanding of the holographic nature of reality can be seen as another way of describing what Sheldrake is referring to when he posits the existence of morphic fields. In either case, when dealing with sharpening our awareness of what is, we are dealing with forces acting on our attention that have tremendous powers of shaping where we go.
Krishnamurti’s conditioning transitions into the ways Sheldrake describes morphic fields as channeling awareness along certain paths and how creativity can alter those channels; but only with difficulty, and often in ways that occur to many people at the same time without their awareness of each other. This is something I feel all the time, as I find fragments of a zeitgeist – and yes, this does bring Jung into the mix! – flashing through me and through various people who’s work I follow – that without knowing how they affect countless others I am truly unaware of! I even find this in the pace of my writing. In this current, and many other instances in the past, when I’ve had a pause, entered a period of the eroding phase of Palimpsest, I’ve seen it affecting others as well.
It could even be said that what I sense as futility, a mindless scratching at engraving within old patterns, is a reaction to not only the reassertion of conditioning attempting to funnel me into what Feynman considered, “a responsible position;” but as a necessary retuning to allow my attention to discover faint signals from out of the morphic fields.
You might see why this has been a difficult essay to write! Not only does it expose me to more than the usual risk of precarity, but it is an example, in a holographic sense, of what it is purporting to describe!
I see a closing almost in sight! Let’s push on to the point!
If Planning and Superimposition are what they are. If Palimpsest is about what it has come to mean to me. And, if we exist in a morphic field out of which forms evolve, and find expression to populate the universe. Then, Double-Binds do cease to hold us and we can allow Planning to cease to concern us. We are only bound if we fail to see that our attention is better placed outside of its faulty parameters.
When we can look at the past, not as a series of marks to be obsessively retraced into ever deeper and more constraining grooves of conditioned action, then we can attune ourselves to be receptive to other forms. If we can maintain a light touch, understanding the process of a true Palimpsest as a way to build forms that contain the limits of our umwelt – at any given time – and show us the way to layer these meanings and trace out new patterns as they come to our searching attention, we are not bound by what has been, but are liberated to evolve what has been into a new expression of what has been that carries us out of the realm of planning and superimposition back, and forwards, into the world of Being.