Eugene Halliday ‘In the flesh’ (continued). 

 The first time I saw Eugene Halliday speak ‘in person’ was in Parkland’s ‘theater space’  at one of the regular monthly Sunday-night meetings of Ishval. I turned around in my seat just in time to see him coming through the entrance doorway, descend the flight of stairs – that went past the seated audience – onto the floor space immediately in front of the stage, then up onto the  raised stage itself, before finally sitting down.

During this ‘entrance’, Eugene Halliday was physically supported by David Mahlowe, whose help was obviously needed  here.

At that time, I knew nothing at all of the fact that Eugene Halliday suffered from a physical disability, or (obviously) of the  cause, or extent, of this disability.

But, from a number of individual accounts I have heard since, I would say that, at some time during his early teens, Eugene Halliday contracted, what I believe to have been, poliomyelitis,  which left him with extensive damage to the whole of the left side of his body. Such that, not only had he completely lost the use of his left arm and leg, but he had also sustained a speach impediment which, although it was barely noticeable in those recordings made of his talks in the 1960’s,  can be clearly heard in subsequent recordings made during the mid 1980’s, up until his death in 1987.

Eugene Halliday’s disability is central to my understanding of him as a human being. As I maintain that, as a consequence of this disability, it became a matter of necessity for him to establish, and subsequently maintain, a continuous, conscious, dialogue with his own body, in order to exercise the degree of control it had become necessary for him to employ, simply in order to function here. And as a direct consequence of this, he also acquired a unique, experiential, understanding of its inter-function, and complex interrelation with, both his ‘feeling’ and ‘thinking’. His subsequent ability to co-ordinate these functions to the extraordinary degree that he was able to so, is obvious – to me at least. So I won’t be wasting any of my time here by elaborating on it … Only to stress that it informs my opinion as to the legitimacy of any claim regarding the valorizing of any one person’s favorite physical pursuit as being something that Eugene Halliday specifically recommend we should all do  … I would recommend that instead, you follow his example, but caution that, “It aint what you do, it’s the way that you do it’.

This ‘first hand’ experience, that I believe Eugene Halliday went through, I see as informing much of his earlier writings; and it also explains to me his connection with the ‘Healing Ministry’ during the 1950’s, a period in his life when he also produced a number of significant ideas. it also explains to me his uncanny ability to empathize – that is, he was, as a result of working on his own internal states, able to ‘see others’, and so put himself in their place.

Why would all this have to be of such importance to me? Well … Because once I was able to focus on Eugene Halliday as a typical human being, it was very relatively easy for me to filter out all the mystical jumbo-jumbo that was (regretably), and still is, floating around ‘out there’ about the man. Instead I appreciated – where I was able – what a truly remarkable man he had ‘made himself to be’ despite his initial obvious initial, severe, disadvantages. …. Which served to give me some encouragement here, as it put me in the position where any claim by me that I was ‘having a hard time with all this’ made me sound like a spineless, whinging, wimp.

I’m going to leave this now…But here are (some of) my notes on one particular aspect of this subject – if you’re interested. Process: knowledge + understanding; describe + explain

“We tried to talk it over, but the words got in the way.”

(It’s all in the words … But then again, maybe it isn’t).

 I have mentioned, in a number of earlier posts, Eugene Halliday’s ‘suggestion’ from his Rules of Ishval, concerning the converting of one’s ‘passive’ language into an ‘active’ language.

This recommendation of Eugene Halliday’s constitutes, for me, the most important piece of advice that he gave, as it provided me with a methodology for arriving at some understanding, at least, of the concepts contained in his various writings and  talks.

Thus, the contemplation of my own language, and the subsequent attempts by me to activate as much of it as I have been able, has governed entirely (I now see) my degree of success (or failure) here.

According to Eugene’s recommendations in the original ‘Rules of Ishval’ it might appear that, by the judicious use of a dictionary, together with an etymological reference book, we can convert something he refers to as our ‘passive language’ into our ‘active language’. Please note, that he does not go into any specific details here as to what a ‘passive’ or ‘active’ language might consist in.

I could add here that this recommendation of his sounds simple enough, in fact, what could be easier? But the trouble is – that as it stands – it doesn’t work! …. Not for me anyway.

Having said that, I believe that almost anyone would still be better off as a result of trying out this exercise, even if they do not succeed in converting their ‘passive language’ into an ‘active’ one. And I would also add that, if you have tried out these particular rules as an exercise yourself, you will likely come to appreciate that there is indeed, a great deal more involved here.

Perhaps the most important aspect of these rules is the suggestion that this ‘active language’ is to be subsequently employed in the task of précis·ing major writings on the subjects of art; science; religion; etc etc. But I believe that, if you attempt to do so, this ‘definition-cum-etymological’ approach to language will soon land you in the following, paradoxical, situation.

After doing the required ‘definition/etymology’ background research for any particular word of our choice, you soon find that you have created another, far more complex problem regarding the definitions and etymologies of those words that have gone into making up this definition…. That is, how are you now going to proceed with those words that are contained in this (required) definition that are also ( still) components of your ‘passive’ language?”

In trying to figure a way out of this problem, I thought it might be a good idea to adopt some form of ‘reductionist’ or ‘minimalist’ approach here. Such that I should not first attempt to ‘activate’ words that might have merely captured my attention – such as, ‘form’; ‘antelope’; ‘function’; ‘fornicate’; ‘lawnmower’; ‘truth’; ‘truss’; ‘sawdust; ‘beauty’; ‘marmite’, for instance – but instead, I should seek out words that – for the sake of quickly describing them here – are  ‘sort of’ simpler, or ‘more basic’ – almost ‘proto-words’, if you like …. The serious problem I now had though – and had for a considerable length of time afterwards – was that of coming up with (even) one of these ‘proto-words’..

From the late 1970’s, until the late 1980’s then, I was aware that this was a huge barrier for me here. But I ‘kept at it’ because I didn’t see how I could really get any further until I’d cleared this up.

My feeling here was that there was something about all this that I still wasn’t ‘getting’ … although I suspected that what it was that I wasn’t ‘getting’ was right there under my nose; and that somehow I already knew all that I needed to know here to move forward. But that this information was in some other ‘area’, and I just couldn’t ‘see it’ from the point of view of my attempt at activating my own language skills. But this belief that I would find it, served to keep me searching for ways out of this dilemma, and this problem was always hovering there at the edge of my consciousness.

I suppose I could put a positive slant on this ‘little hiccup of mine’ and claim that perhaps I was simply learning to acquire ‘patience’  …. But it would be more correct, probably, to come right out with it, and admit that, in the main, I was just stumbling about …

Anyway, I did eventually get that break-through …but I have to admit that it did seem to come my way quite by chance…

Sometime during the late 80’s-early ‘90’s when I was working in Vienna – a city I was reasonably familiar with – my wife, Jean, and I took the opportunity to visit an exhibition that featured the work of the German Artist, Joseph Beuys.

One of the exhibits on display, was what Beuys referred to as, an ‘Audio Sculptutial’. This work was recorded by him in 1968, and consisted of almost sixty-five minutes of him speaking the words, “Ja, Ja, ja, Ne, Ne, Ne.” ..

The setting for this ‘Audio Sculptutial’ work, was a small, empty, room, in the corner of which was a medium-sized commercial audio-tape player (rather like a Ghetto Blaster).

Jean and I stood in the open doorway of the room and listened to the recording.

[NOTE: Regarding these two words ‘Yes’ and ‘No’. To save you the trouble of looking up their dictionary definition, and also their etymological roots, I have reproduced  this information here. It is taken from the ‘Oxford English Dictionary’  and ‘Origins’ by Eric Partridge .

YES . Definition: A word used to express an affirmative reply to a question, statement, command, etc. Etymology: Yea archaic for yes, comes, through ME ye or ya. Etc..

NO. Definition: word used to express a negative reply to a question, request, etc., or to introduce a correction of an erroneous opinion or assumption on the part of another person. Etymology: ME derives from OE .]

Not to labour the point, there doesn’t seem to be that much to either the definitions, or the etymologies, of  these ‘two little words’. …

Anyway … To get on with the tale …

As I listened to this ‘Audio Sculptutial’ of Beuys’, it hit me that what I was hearing was an example of that proto ‘active language’ that I had been searching for. Something was happening to me as I listened to the recording, that was a direct consequence of attending to Beuys’ voice …. I was being manipulated by his use of the words ‘Ja’ and ‘Ne’… But I was simultaneously immediately aware also, that the information contained in the actual words themselves – devoid of their mode of utterance that is – was next to nothing.

The central idea regarding ‘active language’ that I was to initially ‘work’ on for a considerable time afterwards, revolved around the experience that hearing ‘active’ language invoked in me…. I suddenly realized that there was a component in language that could be completely divorced from any particular semantic content, and (very much later) it also dawned on me that this component was contained only in the spoken form..

To illuminate this idea with an obvious example here – It is possible to be emotionally affected by listening to someone speak in a foreign language, even if you have no idea what the words themselves signify … Obviously you could get the ‘meaning’ completely wrong, but that is not the point I’m making here  – which is that you can be ‘passive’ (even in this instance) in your ‘reception’ anyway. …. That is, you can be manipulated emotionally.

I fully appreciate, by the way, that this is rather obvious. But, for me, so were many of the profound things that Eugene Halliday spoke of….  The trouble is that, even if they are ‘obvious’ ,  these ‘obvious’ ideas still have to be present in your consciousness before you can claim that they are ‘obvious’ … And as you can only ‘work’ with these ‘obvious’ contents of consciousness when you focus on them, they have to be there at the ‘opportune moment’. …

Which is why being ‘reactive’ never works here. Saying, “I already know that!” or “That’s obvious!” only serves to ‘switch the light off’, with the result that there is now no possibility of going further here at this time, and also that this idea has now already been in some real way ‘minimized’ as unimportant, or rather trivial, with the probable outcome that it will never be worked upon …

‘It’s all in the timing’ you might say.

Of course, I was later to shift my ‘working’ perspective here, as I contemplated this event in my life over the coming … well, decade or so actually … and I will elaborate on this later in the next post. But before continuing …. why don’t you have a listen to the recording yourself?

The important thing to focus on here is to be continuously aware of how your interior state is changing during the course of listening to the playback of this recording.

Those of you who can  sit for hours attending to your breathing, will obviously find this exercise ‘a walk in the park’. Here’s the link to this recording anyway:     Ja Ja Ja, Ne Ne Ne.

I have not been able to find any word(s) that have helped me to understand Eugene Halliday’s concept of an ‘active/passive’ language  that are more ‘basic’ to the whole field of ‘language’ than ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ ..

Some input from me here. …It wasn’t that my mind wasn’t ‘wandering’ when I listened to this recording – because it did! What was far more interesting to me here was that, although there was no obvious way I could connect these two words ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ to the thoughts that would arise as I listened to them, I realized that the emotive tone used by Beuys here was directly responsible for their appearance …… Deep, eh?

But, over and above anything else here, the most important aspect of this experience, by far, was that I found it relatively easy to reflect on this whole process as it was happening to me in ‘the here and now’, in such a way that the Ram Das phrase ‘Be Here Now’ took on a completely different – and more importantly – clear, experiential, element, which served to authenticate this whole process for me.

I could clearly perceive the part played by the artist in his use of active language; his control of my passive involvement as a consequence of my listening (of my ‘attending’, if you prefer); and the fact that unbidden thoughts were appearing (I was not ‘thinking’ about anything while I was listening).

The way in which his tone of voice  affected my positive and negative states was also reasonably easy to qualify and evaluate.

I believed that, where it concerned active and passive forms of language, I was, at last, onto something here, . The problem now, was to formulate, or systematize, this experience of mine into some mode of praxis, so that I could take all this further.

I was really excited by this discovery of mine … I believed it had (finally) opened a door for me, and that I could now develop an experiential position with respect to both the ‘affect’ and ‘effect’ of my vocabulary, and thus with the development of that ‘active’ language … At last! …..

…..And they all lived happily ever after…

Well now ….The above account of mine is the nice, tidy, lovey, censored, chummy-chummy, version of my interaction with this ‘revelation’ that I had in Vienna, over the following couple of decades – and so in one sense, at least, I could claim that it is ‘true’…. And anyway, the above account does, I hope, make that experience of mine somewhat easier to grasp.

But, actually, what did actually happen afterwards was nowhere near as tidy as that. Because, of course, in reality – come the next day … in downtown Vienna -. I had all but forgotten about my momentous revelation of the previous day. … And had gotten right back to having fun, playing’ the blues … and being in my more usual frame of mind at that time – which resembled a kind of  ‘selective amnesia’ ….

Such was my propensity for self-delusion though, that I believed I was now really, truly ‘on the way’ here … although I had in fact – so to speak – only just managed to open the door  … and had then. almost immediately, managed to trip up on the front step  …(Is it just me, or is that metaphor slightly better than my other efforts),..

So, where it concerned my discovery of the previous day, it was still, for the overwhelming majority of the time afterwards, simply ‘business as usual’ …In fact, for all the good that this ‘revelatory experience’ did me at the time, I might just as well have woken up the next day with no memory of anything … suffering from a hangover … in  Ancient Egypt!…

But at least now, I was finally ‘in the right area’… …And on reflection, unlike those ‘switched on’ episodes of a second or two that I had occasionally experienced after listening to one to Eugene Halliday’s talks ‘in person’ back in the early 1980’s. … ‘Down the line’ here in the early 1990’s, I was now experiencing ‘being awake’ for …Oh, I don’t know … maybe ten seconds at a time …. (Perhaps a little less, if  I were to be strictly honest with myself, though) …

So these ‘awake’ periods were, although marginally more frequent, still few and far between … But I was completely under the delusion that they were lasting much longer than they actually were, and that I was having for more of them than I actually was ….which, you can understand, complicated things ..

… Oh! What a angled web …. etc ….

I will carry on with this ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ thing in the next post …

Gripping stuff, hey? …

To be continued ……..  

Bob Hardy

August, 2012

 

   
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