Painting by Darwin Leon
From Tracey Flagler, a Living Novel
By David Arthur Walters
Between Matter and Spirit
“I want to be part of the pulse of life, not a weird and ashamed outrider,” Tracey Flagler had scribbled in her confessional journal some time before she left South Beach for good. “I want to be proud of being here, knowing that I can be connected to the source and deliberately choose and control my focus just like I am doing right now with this pen and paper. I am proud of people with HUGE physical success, like Madonna, and that would make me proud of myself. I want others to be proud of my success as I teach them how to focus and get exactly what they want. I wish so much that I had physical proof of my power to create success. Why? So I could relax. Why would I relax? Because I had succeeded.”
If only I had known about my neighbor’s dire emotional strait before I had found her dead from an overdose in her apartment, I would have invited her over and channeled George Berkeley for her edification. Then she would have known that one does not have to die to get rid of physical obstructions, for physical objects do not really exist, therefore she could have remained alive and succeeded without such stuff once she was convinced that the goods she wanted were within her. She could have been a successful failure in material terms. Indeed, she could have been all-powerful and instantly successful without a thing to show for it. But alas, the foolish commonsense notion, that matter exists, and that plenty of matter or the money to buy it must be had to prove one’s worth in this great nation of ours, persisted in her mind, despite her transcendental inclination towards what she called the source, the source in which she supposed she would completely relax and enjoy in particular the absolute joy she craved so much that she would rather die without it.
Yes, Tracey thought she would have to cop a lot of stuff to make a buy; but deep down within she knew better. She knew that all the stuff in the world would not buy her the fix she really wanted, and in the end she chose the fatal alternative and left her world behind. While rummaging through her apartment after she passed, I found a dog-eared and heavily underlined copy of the transcript of Oprah Winfrey’s September 16, 2003 conversation with one of her idols, Madonna, wherein Madonna presented her new, post-cabala side. That the old, material-girl side persisted on the other side of the coin was evident in her apparent belief that stuff really exists:
“MADONNA. Basically, the idea is that I have all of these things that money can buy, but I realized that those aren’t the things that make you happy, that make you feel fulfilled, and – and that nothing in the material world will ever make us happy.”
The material girl noticed something was missing – her fans may be glad that she realized it after she got rich, instead of before: She was not in charge of her life. She was defined by her circumstances; she did not know what her place in it all was. In fine she was a successful shipwreck. And now she is finally getting her island together. The birth of her daughter gave her cause to wonder what she would teach her, and it dawned on her that she did not know what to say for sure. She found the popular version of cabala and she learned that people are personally responsible for everything that happens to them, whether for good or ill. There exists, Madonna informed Oprah, “an all-giving, all-loving force. You can –you could call it God…. When we disconnect from this force, we – that’s when we have chaos…that’s when we invite pain and suffering into our lives.”
Armed with this finding, Madonna decided to write stories that would teach children to identify with their good side and to consider their bad side as an opponent to be defeated. She would fain teach them “about the laws of cause and effect” and thus inspire them to do good deeds, to give them cause to share, with good effect.
Oprah tentatively approved. She thought the new Madonna seemed to be a gentler, kinder sort of person, and blessed her books on the air, augmenting the fact that whatever Madonna does will sell well.
What was the secret of Madonna’s physical success? I asked myself. Well, for one thing, she had a strong will, she was persistent, she never stopped dancing, even after she ripped her innards apart and was sewn back together.
I had no idea who Madonna was when I first saw her taking class at Joy of Movement on Broadway and Lafayette: “Don’t you know that song, Borderline?” a dancer responded after I asked, “Who’s that girl?”
Madonna let it all hang out, and I liked that. The only tool a dancer needs to do her thing is her body. Of course dance sells sex. What’s wrong with that? Aren’t we all sex buds? Isn’t sex the reason for our existence? That must be why sex feels so good. Shall we not unite one day in a gigantic eternal orgasm? Many of our parents said sex was bad, that we should not do it, that we should not touch our thingies. Naturally boys wanted to be bad and girls wanted to be naughty.
Madonna was your average girl, of average height and build, nothing really spectacular, and she had an average voice, but she put on a damn good show with what she had. She gave you the impression that the average girl could make it if she had the gumption. “This may be crap but our job as dancers is to make it smell good,” dance master Luigi liked to say. And Madonna made it smell great. I sympathized with her when the cheap shots found in the dumpster were used to deny her uppity housing at the Dakota: How absurd! Who would want to live where Rosemary’s baby was born, anyway? And what hypocrisy! Major dope dealers shared an apartment there.
There are dumb dancers but not all dancers are dumb. Some dancers become doctors of medicine and philosophy and the like, but bookish professional dancers are few and far between. Still, a good dancer has sufficient animal intelligence to survive and move ahead of the pack, and Madonna obviously had plenty of that. But now she wants the permanent wisdom that has somehow been occluded by the dynamic material world. She gave birth to a daughter and named her Binah, and she wants to do the right thing now, to do her duty for the sake of her child. She noticed something was missing. What could that missing something be?
Perhaps she lost her ethical self while winning the world, I speculated. I closed my right eye, rolled my left eyeball upwards towards my third eye, took a deep breath, and whispered as I exhaled: “O, my Spirits, I call upon thee. Pray tell, what was Madonna missing?” I felt my left brain going into a light trance as my alter ego became the medium for a spiritual conference: the spirits of Immanuel and Baruch showed up:
IMMANUEL: She was missing her Dear Self. Out of my own love for humanity, a love which is by definition ethical, I am willing to admit that Madonna’s care for her child is for the sake of her child and performed out of love for her child and a natural sense of maternal duty. But her love for another self, like anyone’s love for other selves besides their own, is essentially selfish. Anyone who loves another should know that she in effect loves herself.
BARUCH: Only the intellectual love of GodNature will liberate her from her bondage to limited selves. Once she understands her circumstances and accepts the necessity of her predicaments, her comprehension of GodNature will be assured and the cabala lore rendered moot. This is, after all, the only world possible, and as such it is the best of all possible worlds.
IMMANUEL: My friend, you are a godless Gottfried.
BARUCH: I beg your pardon?
IMMANUEL: All right, then, which is better: to be raped a hundred times by African pirates, to have one buttock cut off, to run the gauntlet in the Bulgar army, to be excommunicated for monstrous deeds and abominable heresies, to be whipped and hanged in an auto-de-fé, to be dissected, to be slowly smothered by glass dust, to be Sisyphus in Hades heaving his stone forever, to be a galley slave to eternity, or to sit around on your thumbs doing nothing and be bored to death?
BARUCH: Whatever happens to us, it is best to be reasonable and to accept it stoically instead of chasing after rainbows in hopes of finding pots of gold at every end. Our happiness and well-being are not in enslavement to the passions, nor in the pursuit of transitory goods that we believe will make us happy, or in related superstitions, but rather in the harmonious intellectual calisthenics of a perfectly consistent, systematic philosophy.
IMMANUEL: Nothing is perfect.
BARUCH: Only if nothing exists is it perfect. God is confessedly perfect, and therefore Nature must be perfect as well: careful reasoning informs us that Nature and God cannot be conceived as distinct things because then each would be limited by the other; God would have then contradicted himself with Nature, hence God would be imperfect. Wherefore God and Nature are one, as GodNature, and the infinite attributes we perceive are merely the innumerable modes of the perfect Nature of Supreme Being. In fine, the best we can do in the best of all possible worlds is to cultivate our intellectual garden.
IMMANUEL: Cultivating an orchard would be more fruitful, practically speaking. We have natural restraints beyond which our understanding, trained by nature, may not obtain. Metaphysics is impossible because the unknown is inconceivable. The ideal world is an illusion, and to dwell on it, no matter how logically, contradicts reality. The perceived world must exist in its own right; otherwise, we would be unsure of our own existence. Madonna would do well to cultivate her daughter and leave the metaphysical nonsense to the cabalists, or to historians who teach the history of the absurd.
BARUCH: The absurd may lead to her blessed enlightenment. One eventually learns that waiting for Godot or praying to God is to no avail. GodNature is surd or deaf to our pleas, for the world on the whole is already perfect, and when we realize the joke is on us, and laugh out loud, we are freed. I too believe Madonna should attend to her daughter Binah, but in both senses of the name.
IMMANUEL: What does binah mean, again? I know we have spoken on this subject before, about the ten sefirot, and about the belief of certain cabalists that it is our duty to recreate God.
BARUCH: Binah means between, the power to distinguish between ideas. Binah is the third of ten sefirot, the womb of understanding, associated of course with the power of understanding.
IMMANUEL: Aha, the analytic. And then Madonna may help others pick up the sparkling shards and put Humpty Dumpty back together again so the cannon may be set upon the wall to defend us from self-contradiction. Once this task has been completed by all, paradise shall be fully restored. However that may be, it is better to presume that God exists transcendentally and to do the 613 mitzvahs rather than sit on our thumbs and exercise our imaginations.
BARUCH: We do nothing on our own. Madonna along with the rest of us shall proceed as determined.
IMMANUEL: She shall do what is willed, whether that will be her own or not. At least I give individual liberty the benefit of the doubt, my friend. Unfortunately for the humanity I love so well, every one does what they will and no one really obeys the stern command of duty to do the right thing no matter what. The thing that Madonna feels is missing is her Dear Self, and the reason she misses it is because she, like everyone else, is basically selfish, but she has been preoccupied with performing for other people, the fans she loves, and that has distracted her from the real object of her love, her Dear Self. We shall find that her love for her fans is for her own sake, if we analyze it carefully enough and synthesize the results. Unfortunately, there is no such thing as virtue anywhere in the world, for every performance is motivated by what one wants for her Dear Self, whether she knows it or not. When actions are performed for one’s own reasons or causes, it makes no difference whether they are benevolently directed towards other selves or greedily directed towards one’s dearest self: in either case the actions are not, by definition, ethical, hence are not virtuous.
BARUCH: Immanuel, you are too cynical!
IMMANUEL: No, I’m realistic, a cool observer of the truth of the matter at hand.
BARUCH: So cool that your colleague Friedrich believes you are a deformed idea-crippler, not to mention a cold-hearted bastard.
IMMANUEL: Maybe he is your colleague. Did he call me a bastard? Then he is a selfish bastard, as far as I’m concerned, and his popularity proves my point. No matter what he thinks, duty is done only by those who act according to the rational authority of an impersonal moral imperative rather than pursuant to some private inclination of their own, including the barbaric lust of for power. Friedrich is irrational: he knows nothing of true virtue and thinks virtue lies in the will to power.
BARUCH: How can virtue be true and not exist? I think you have contradicted yourself. And what happened to saying of others what you would have them say of you? I would think you would appreciate the fact that he, like you, looked around and found no virtue in the world. Only his imaginary superman was capable of virtue.
IMMANUEL: Not Christian virtue, which requires a personal and humiliating crucifixion so the impersonal law can be fulfilled. God’s law makes no exceptions for persons.
BARUCH: But God’s love is in every person. The universal scheme is God’s love expressed.
IMMANUEL: Spoken like a true pantheist. Of course a pantheist is nothing but an atheist. At least the youth corrupted by Friedrich loved a charismatic superman in lieu of God, while your narcissistic youth love only themselves, thinking God is within each person of the plurality.
BARUCH: You mistake me as far as things go. I do not love things as if the deity were in them.
IMMANUEL: But do you love the thing-in-itself?
IMMANUEL: You know, the underlying thing, the unknown thing-in-itself, the Thingie.
BARUCH: Do I love the unknown? How would I know? I do know that daily life was so hollow and futile for me that I decided to discover whether or not the good life existed. By that I mean a life of continuous and supreme joy to all eternity. I found neither good nor evil in the things that I was anxious over. Along the way I discovered that self-esteem is the highest thing we can hope for.
IMMANUEL: There it is again – the Dear Self. And what is self-esteem?
BARUCH: Self-esteem is the joy of knowing one’s power.
IMMANUEL: Good grief. Neither good nor evil without, but omnipotence within is the thing.
“Gentlemen,” I interjected, “excuse me for interrupting, but may I say something? Harry Frankfurt, my professor of philosophy at Princeton, professed that there should be nothing shameful or unfortunate about our self-love, for we are told by an author of the greatest authority that we should love our neighbors as we love ourselves, therefore self-love is not an enemy of virtue at all, but is rather its prerequisite. The ardent manner in which we love ourselves is the best model for loving others, so let us love them as enthusiastically as we love ourselves. By self-love Professor Frankfurt did not mean self-indulgence, for to serve the best interest of another might require self-restrain: merely indulging him might not be in his best interest. Is not this the way to go?”
My question put an end to the séance; the spirits fled, leaving me alone with my own thoughts. If only Tracey had not gone off to find her soul, if only she had fully understood that the material girl had become a spiritual girl because she had a soul in the first place, I thought, she would be with us today.