How can a person suffer this much and still want to go on living? He’s dying in a hospital bed, and even as he talks to her his eyes keep fluttering up to the TV screen. “He still wants to look at the pictures.”
William Burroughs suggested we’re all addicted to images. It’s these, rather than life, we’re addicted to. Life is a means to an end, and you might not notice it go by, or find that you valued life at all for its own sake. It’s just the pictures. (Living life through our phones is just the latest popular manifestation of this ages-old condition.)
I’m going to die means No more pictures.
Is there a next life will it be image-based? Can you remember how long it took when you came into this world to adjust and make sense of the pictures? Life a confusing blur and you just cried all the time. In the next life the images will be so strange it doesn’t make sense to call them images. Some other kind of thing. Perhaps this is why people say after death there is nothing: it’s the same thing as nothing, if you can’t make sense of it.
“If you can’t draw a picture of it, well then where is it?“ No images, no nothing.
A heavy supposition that your next form of existence will be based on need. That you will need something or other to become addicted to. For us it’s images and you can’t imagine life without them. This is what need does: structures your life so you can’t imagine life without the thing you need.
As long as there is need there is Burroughs’s little phrase: “Wouldn’t you?” Wouldn’t you steal, in the junkie’s position? Wouldn’t you kill, living the desperate life of a pirate? It’s no good being moralistic about these things. You can’t judge someone whose need is greater, or just vastly different, from yours.
One could be critical of your complacency in the face of so much human suffering. You cast your vote and let it happen. But you might say: “Wouldn’t you?” Impossible to think of shaking the image habit – turn off the news, stop reading the papers, stop thinking.
Image-addiction: it’s not the images that are the problem. It’s the addiction. But image is an addictive substance. It’s true, you have to build an addiction. One shot won’t do it. The image has to be pushed until it’s everything. Who is pushing the image? There’s no conspiracy, no hidden agenda: we each of us push the image on each other. This stuff sells itself.
It’s just more obvious now, the way we do it. Sharing pictures on social media, it didn’t happen if I don’t share it. That’s you, in the picture. That’s you again. As many sides to your personality as there are photographs.
You have to be in the world. You have to experience and live it. It seems impossible, until you’re given an image to hold on to. This is you. Here I am. This is how you look to me. To us. To yourself. This is us. Add another image, and another. Is this the world then? Is this life?
Back in 1997, Burroughs wrote: it’s not an experience unless it’s shared. The worst thing you can be is alone. Linda Yablonsky says: when you walk away from others who need you, hide yourself away from their pain, refuse them help, your world shrinks and empties itself until you are the only thing left in it. And if it’s just you, then existence is pure darkness, because there’s no one to share it with and so nothing to see.
At customs she lies and says she is travelling alone, and does it a lot. In fact she can’t bear to imagine travelling alone. It makes no sense to sightsee without someone to point out the sights to, take a picture with. Life, in order to be life, must be a “scene” – musicians, artists, and writers check each other out from their restaurant tables. A scene: to see and be seen. More pictures, more scenes, more images.
Indifference to the images, once you realise that’s all they are. Indifference of the images: one image as good as another. Invest your energy in one image, rather than another. Nothing has value unless you give it value. Don’t look down.
A modern indifference to life: nothing can fill the holes that get wider, darker, and deeper. Nothing is substantial or real enough to fill anything.
Some of her friends say that what is needed is an alteration of consciousness, the only way to save ourselves. We’ll have to wait and see. Even the message of salvation here is a message of indifference: meditate, do nothing, wait and see, and change will come. If everything is image, then everything is the same. Anything can change into anything else. Wait and see. “You never know what will happen, but something always will. Something always happens.”
Somehow the dream is bigger than any something the world promises. Not this or that happening in the world, but a change in the world itself. A change in my relationship to it.
The dream is to feel “swallowed whole.” For the world to consume you entirely, so you become fully a part of it. A feeling of belonging.
What can you do if you just can’t be part of the world? For example, if you are a junkie, a mode of existence that is forbidden. Many others like this. Forbidden people. Nobodies.
Why do they go on then, these people, when they suffer so? Life a passing spectacle. Even if I can’t be in it, I can look at the pictures.