Planning, Superimposition & Palimpsest

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!

The 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 a 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, 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, conditions I’ve so often found myself in personally. They seem to qualify so much of our existence as we careen towards collapse. “Damned if we do! and Damned if we don’t!” How I’ve always thought of them. They appear to present choices. Either we crash around, probing for the extent and extremes of our traps. Or, we adopt a hushed paralysis. Afraid to do anything in the expectation that whatever we do must be wrong.

This all takes place within an overall assumption that our actions are the results of plans. That we carry out 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 our plan with no concern shed over how effective the entire notion of planning and all its baggage might be!

How to turn this string of terms: planning, superimposition and palimpsest into a cohesive narrative? Maybe narrative is too limiting….

How to tell a story about these three words? Why they’re in this order?

I wish I knew! I mean, there they are. They appeared this way quite vividly. They provoked me to take the effort of writing about them.

There’s no way but to jump in!

You could say the first two, palimpsest and superimposition are together. They are near synonyms. Superimposition has something to say about planning. 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 from above. Super by itself meaning above. Pressing down from above, from outside with extra or supreme vigor. All this leads to presenting a particular cast to what I would attach to the concept of planning;

It is willful.

It imposes.

Imposition is extreme and forceful.

Super-imposition 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 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 in place, 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. 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, 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 a play to strip away intention and preconception and allows us to discover what is there 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 along 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, these 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 this affect 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.

We 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 backwards, and forwards, into the world of Being.

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14 thoughts on “Planning, Superimposition & Palimpsest

  1. That’s it… life demands ongoing palimpsest, as all is flow and all shifts, ongoingly. I have been saying ‘ongoingly’ a lot these days, and feeling its awkwardness, and reflecting on how the language we use is so noun/thing bound that speaking of fluid processes is a real struggle.

    “faint signals from morphic fields” — when people focus on plans, they are not listening for those faint signals… they are so focused on how to get to this or that milestone. And that’s a real problem, because those faint signals… well, they are essential guides on the journey…………………

    • Vera,

      Thank you!

      This was a hard post to write. Part of it is the moment’s pause that seems to be “in the air.” Part of it the necessity of waiting for the challenge of the title to play itself out. I had no idea where it was going. It was also difficult because it’s easy to begin to doubt that the result of such a process can be understood, even understandable. And then bringing Sheldrake into the mix….

      That you responded, and the way you responded, is a tremendous boost!

  2. :-)
    Been thinking… you’ve been walking the path with Krishnamurti and Bohm, and I with Christopher Alexander and some obscure folks I run into as I explore… yet we seem to be walking along much the same terrain.

  3. Planners love a blank page – but it’s an abstraction (like a Terra Nullius or a Year Zero) that seems to inspire (or require?) a great deal of violence.

    I think about all of the times a builder has suggested to a homeowner that it’s easier to knock a house down than repair it (another layer on the palimpset) – in part because the scratches on paper drawn in an office are simpler for a site that has been bulldozed flat.

    One of the pleasures of reading Alexander’s ‘Timeless Way of Building’ is his suggestion that an abstracted, distant design approach not only flattens our experience as ‘makers’, but produces a flatter, abstracted world.

    • The trap seems to work by combining urgency with efficiency. The result is impoverishing. This results in a desire to chase after “innovation.”

      Real creativity comes from a fine-grained engagement with the constraints that have attached themselves to a place over long spans of time.

      So good to hear from you again Jack!

      • ‘Engagement’ is such a critical issue, isn’t it? It’s almost the pivot on the lever between being/becoming, craft/technique. Ego/flow, Planning and ‘hunting’, abstract/real. Paper lines vs finding the keel in the tree.

        So many religious experiences; so much literature (think of Cassady flicking the hammer in ‘On the Road’, nanoseconds away from ‘real time’) so much art & music is about the moments we jerk awake, with less mediating between ourselves and the world – if only for a short time.

        Engagement with place is complicated territory in a country like Australia, where there is evidence of over 40,000 years of human layering. This is exciting, challenging stuff, and I am enjoying your posts a great deal.

      • Urgency and efficiency! That’s it. The Transitioners argue that because of the urgency (and scale) of the problem, we must be really efficient with our small resources. Ergo, we need a plan!

        (Banging head on something, over and over)

      • These are the ways in which all this philosophizing and meditating on our predicament is needed. Intentions are so easily derailed by our unexamined assumptions that spit us right back into the frame of reference that got us here.

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