I have just finished reading the declaration of yet another among us who survived the ‘trial-by-fire’ that acculturation to western civilization represents to the heretical anarchist each of us is born to be. In his book, "The Recovery of Ecstasy: Notebooks from Siberia", Sandy Krolick identifies the feral self, which, finding only disciplines designed to either mold or bury it, fades quietly into the background of every newborn.
My friend Peter and I refer to this revelation as emergence from the closed-minded authority of adulthood, all too easily assumed to be the final stage of life, where most civilized elderly stew in the juices of their irretrievable, inevitably premature conclusions, peppered daily by contradiction.
A heart condition that denied him full participation in normal cultural activities growing up provided the tilt to his perspective on life that left him feeling estranged from the norm to which society is geared. His experiences, while completely different than mine, are so similar in their influence on his awakening that I have come to realize why society seems to be composed of vacuous, beautiful, obedient people and the ‘wannabes’ who make them rich and famous. Only a sense of ‘cultural insufficiency or difference’ challenges one’s self-worth strongly enough for introspection to reach the level of grasping one’s own innate value, and a sense of truth that needs no consensus. As Sandy writes, “And if culture is principally oppressive could not this very estrangement hold the seeds of liberation.”
Partaking in the daily life of his wife’s family in the city of Barnaul, on the Siberian Steppe at the foot of the Ural-Altai Mountains, Sandy was taken by the terse stoicism of people on the streets and in the shops, in contrast to their extremely emotional gregariousness displayed at home with family and friends. He identified this dichotomy as he witnessed the in-laws’ lifestyle change when they spent the better half of the year at their dacha in the country and reverted gladly to subsistence gardening without the least care for the urban world.
To explain the transformation in their attitudes he used a term I was unfamiliar with, which I find perfect for his and my concept of the eternal present, kairos, as opposed to the infinitely strung-out timeline from the unknowable future to the forgotten past, relegating the present as a mere stepping stone in a much grander strategy called chronos. The present is the only event occurring, while we dress it in the plans and memories that also blind us from fully, directly witnessing life as it is -- so filtered through plots and remembering. His Siberian friends weren’t so much into rigid plans because “life gets in the way.” They see real risk as reliance on the fleeting convenience of the establishment, compared to any vagaries of a life in symbiosis with nature. He could never have experienced this attitude if he'd remained in the United States where our much shorter history is of antagonism to nature and the indigenous populations living closer even to nature than his Siberian friends.
He definitely identifies the depths to which acculturation can saturate one’s life, realizing that we can “no sooner turn away from this modern civilized sanctuary and return to unbridled nature than we could forget how to speak our native tongue.”
Part of the imbalance he finds is our focus on vision to the neglect of our other senses. When he allowed sound to play a larger part in his perceptions he noticed, as I have, how “conversations around me seemed cluttered with idle chatter, packed with trite clichés and disingenuous remarks.”
I find one small bone to pick with his exposition, however. In order to more successfully turn away from this acculturation he says; “I no longer allowed myself to be guided by the principle deception of civilized life … refused to look constantly, anxiously forward … ignored the schedules created around me and for me … forbade the strictly logical processes of rationality from directing and mediating the visceral immediacy of my life — of what I needed to do now — and my experience of just being.” I find that before ‘just being’ can occur one must also quit quitting — can one just be while engaged in the doing of forbidding? To his claim that by “Abandoning this primeval condition we lost our primary gift of freedom — the foundational power of just being-there, outside the chains of time and the terror of history,” I say, that being requires no power, not even to resist power.
We are in total agreement when, in conclusion, he writes:
I highly recommend this book to anyone who stands in that lonely place—having perceived the illusion by which man has flourished for centuries.
“In our current state of forgetfulness and slavery we remain ‘strangers to ourselves,’ having become artful products of an epochal cultural construction. But we are also strangers to our culture because we come to society from richer, pre-civilized beginnings, each person bearing within him or herself a certain surplus of being, a feral core, which does not fit comfortably within any domesticated pattern and cannot easily be assimilated into the typical civilized milieu.”
If this post seems inordinately articulate I must plead innocence; an interested reader took the time to show me some less stream-of-thought mode of communication in turn for which I hereby credit him, SK, with ghost writing it.