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“For those unacquainted with the blues, it is not necessary to know much except all blues sound essentially the same. What counts is the individuality of the singer, the soul of the performer. Everyone plays the same three or four chords; the melodies are almost indistinguishable, so the captivating part is what the player brings to the form. In the presence of a rare and gifted player or singer, one can capture for a moment a special feeling. It may cause you to cry or laugh. Sometimes it can change your life. It is this essence that compels everyone who hears the blues to listen to more.” – Michael Nesmith, The Long Sandy Hair of Neftoon Zamora.

“There exists a unique language, halfway between a thought and a gesture.” – Antonin Artaud

In Platonic philosophy there exists a belief of the perfect form of things. Any manifestation of that object or person is only an imperfect instantiation of the perfect form. Working with this model in mind, we all have pre-programmed into our minds the concepts that exist of these objects. It is not the rabbit itself that is the ‘rabbitness’ and in truth there is no form needed to truly encompass the idea of rabbit. This is to say, the concept of rabbit and rabbitness is independent of the actual form of rabbit. This can be witnessed by taking a picture of a rabbit and slowly taking away each part of it. What is the defining point? The nose? The whiskers? One ear? The tail? Or is it in truth the fact that you have an image of rabbit that goes beyond all of these things?

Should that be so – and in truth it is – you have now in your mind the ‘Style’ of rabbit. It is this that we are trying to capture and this that this note is focused upon. The concept of style is abstract, but it is also vital to understand in what I will be discussing in future notes at this time. To grasp the concept of style is to grasp the elusive, mercurial language that Artaud sought to exemplify within his Theatre of Cruelty. To understand style is to understand that ephemeral “special feeling” that Nesmith wrote as being a driving factor in the widespread appeal that the blues has been known to have. To be able to recognize style is to recognize an ongoing theme within the music of the late, great, Townes Van Zandt. It its these things and more that I am focusing upon.

To reiterate – the function of style, as defined here, is to serve as the all encompassing meaning behind any object or thing. Style is what makes a rabbit recognizable despite the condition it may be in. Style is what allows you to recognize that someone has entered the room and who that someone is before they speak – irregardless of any other indicators. Style is that innate ability to recognize things that we each have within us. As an alchemical concept, it is nearly pure abstraction, but a basic enough form of abstraction that we each should be able to grasp it with ease.


Totemism (Part 1)

The word totem itself can be etymologically traced back to the Ojibwe word ‘ototem‘, the meaning of which can be roughly translated to “he is a relative of mine.”  Ototem, then is a good way to start with understanding the spiritual beliefs behind the practice of totemism in both its social and personal forms.

In ancient belief it was seen that the distinction between human and animal was one of recent invention – prior the forms had been fluid, subject to change and alteration.  In this manner, it was viewed only as logical that a Clan could trace its lineage back to the Lion or the Crow or any number of various creatures.  The Clan name would be that of the animal, and generally it was seem as simply a surname, a tool to assist in maintaining exogenous relations and keeping track of everyone in the day to day.  The distinction had meaning, and a meaning that was well-established even between the Clans – the meaning, however, was certainly not especially personal.

The personal importance of the totem generally came into being once a person hit puberty.  It was then that they would be sent on a journey to discover the animal that was their own.  Those who had visions, who saw or communed with their animal, were given the higher positions within the group whereas those who did not were not held in such high respect.  The creature the teens would come back seeing in many ways embodied characteristics that they themselves held or desired, whether subconsciously or consciously.  It has been postulated that due to growing up in an environment that immersed itself with stories of these animals, the children were then predisposed towards choosing what creature was closest to them either consciously or subconsciously.  Which leads to the question of what a totem is:

The psychological aspect of a totem is one that has already been lightly touched upon.  People who are prone to totemic beliefs are generally those who have grown up in an environment where they are likely to be exposed to stories about these animals.  The animals, then, take on the psychological role of what the person is seeking to find, either inside or outside themselves.  In relating to the animals, they are then leaving themselves open to the suggestion that the animal is part of the identity that they may hold for themselves.

Joseph Campbell has spoken of totems as being the embodiment of archetypes – something that is easy to see through the traits each animal is supposed to posses.  In the times when totemism arose it was vital to survival to understand the workings of nature itself.  How the predator could ambush the prey.. and what response the prey was likely to use in such a situation.  The invisibility of the fox was something to be witnessed by the animals relative scarcity in the Northern Plains whereas the playfulness of the fox was emphasized in Japan where the fox was fairly present, invisibility still in essence but downplayed heavily.

Another way that the archetypal nature of animal totems can be seen is through the totems that people often find themselves choosing.  Wolves, Bears, and other large prey animals abound and the relation that people hold to these animals can be viewed in part due to what they have come to represent.  In the mindset of the majority of people these animals are seen as the ones that primarily symbolize “the wildness of nature” and “strength” which is what people tend to expect to find within their totems now – as opposed to the personality characteristics which previously were embodied by the animals.