Muses Don’t Look Out Airplane Windows

I don’t usually rant. I think rants can be incredibly entertaining, but the longer they go on, the more they stray towards myopia – the more the original point gets lost in the ranter’s growing emotions and the sillier & less credible he or she becomes.

But, I have to share a recent account of disenchantment, a condition I feel largely borne of disembodiment, and disembodiment endemic of perhaps 99% of the modern world.

Disenchantment, disembodiment, re-enchantment, embodiment – all major themes I’ve been passionately exploring and plan on going into much more detail in future posts.

Anyways, it was a few weeks ago when a friend and I had finally boarded a delayed return flight late Sunday night to San Francisco, after an amazing weekend visiting friends in San Diego.

The day before we had just enjoyed an entire day of sun, nice weather, tasty local beer, and excellent music at day one of San Diego’s own spring music festival, CRSSD.

We didn’t attend day two on Sunday, but we were looking forward to seeing an aerial view of the three separate stages of the festival from our evening flight; each stage had really cool, distinct lighting and stage presence – our friends still at the festival requested us to capture the perspective as well.

Unfortunately, I had only managed to get a middle seat on the plane; the window seat to my left was occupied by a guy probably in his mid twenties, a big guy, 6’2”, fairly muscular but a bit chubby, maybe 220lbs, wearing a plaid long sleeve shirt, fully unbuttoned, exposing a plain shirt underneath – with tennis sneakers and a scruffy, short beard to top off the overall midwestern feel and lumberjack look.

I kept expecting him, at some point, to look out the window. It wasn’t takeoff, nor mid flight, but finally at landing, around when all the TV screens are shut off, did the big guy decide to look outside for a few seconds. I was dumbfounded.

It’s as if a Frankenstein rod was through his neck, forcing his head to remain stationary, eyes glued to the bright, ten inch TV screen in front of him.

Was Frankenstein more alive than big guy?1
Clearly season 9 episode 3 of whatever generic court- or law- related crime-scene CBS show broadcasting at that particular time was more marvelous than the evening view of San Diego from 20,000 feet in the air.

Only marginally more disembodied than his prior state.

I really wanted to see the view, to look down at the beautiful color show of the festival below where my friends were at, where I was just at the day before. If Quentin Tarantino and Christopher Nolan co-directed a movie staring Jim Carrey, Christian Bale, Daniel Day-Lewis, Halle Berry, and a realistic hologram of Audrey Hepburn, and if that movie were only to premiere once before being wiped off of the planet, and if that one premiere was on this return flight to San Francisco, even then I would miss the first few minutes so that I could take in the view. Or, if instead, it was the premiere of a music video to a favorite song of mine, and featured softcore scenes of Olivia Munn, Ronda Rousey, and Beyonce all together – I could still afford to crank my head away from that little ten inch screen in front of me.

I had to make up for that gory image.

Could I have asked big guy if I could look outside? Yep. But if I didn’t physically molest him in the process of leaning in and around him to get a look out the window, I’d surely have molested his personal space in the process – which would have been pretty uncomfortable for the both of us, and potentially have made the entire flight uncomfortable.

Of course, by the time we reached the Bay Area, and reached the point of descent where we were beneath the clouds, and the cityscapes were fully visible, season 9 episode 3 of the totally original (I’m sure) hospital CBS show had ended, and the big guy was at least halfway into season 11 episode 23 of that one popular show with the geeks whose apartment neighbor is a hot girl – The Big Bang Theory. I literally just googled “tv show with geeks and hot girl”. And, yes, that show, too, was well more captivating for him than taking in the beautiful night view of the Bay Area – quite a compliment to be paying to the show’s staff. That’s some gooood crack (NSFW) you guys are dealing to the masses.2

The Bay Bridge and San Francisco (taken from Treasure Island)

Why didn’t big guy have a desire to look out? Who knows. Maybe it’s the hundredth time big guy has made the same flight. I don’t think it was a fear of heights – otherwise he would’ve closed the window, or avoided the hypothetical career that causes him to fly a lot, or he wouldn’t have looked so calm and sedated in the first place. Maybe he has a debilitating spinal injury where he can’t turn his neck to the left – but this is very seriously unlikely after witnessing him exit the plane and leave for the baggage claim. Maybe, he just, deep down in the depths of his soul and innermost being, really, really fucking loves, critic-approved, popular, repetitive, formulaic, laugh-track-programmed basic cable shows. Maybe he was super depressed and desperate to escape himself…

… or, maybe, he’s become disenchanted with the natural world, with his mundane reality. As most people are. Maybe his full-bodied cast, his suit of character armor, in numbing himself from the wonders of perhaps the most incredible thing in the universe – his own body – has also sufficiently numbed him from any sense of magic or reverence for the Mystery. If he ever has children, I should hope there are certain things he learns from them, and certain things they don’t learn from him.

I believe that, as dancing, playing, laughing, and music are innately human expressions, or in other words, phylogenetically-acquired somatic functions of a healthy human organism, so is the desire for enchantment an inherently human quality. And on some level, religion, spirituality, mythology – even science – all fulfill this core drive of ours.

But, as some foods satiate hunger more than others, so too is there a continuum of (re)enchantment. Paralleling modernity’s appetite for salt, sugar, fat, is modernity’s appetite for shallow, superficial, unwholesome (re)enchantments (i.e. ‘disenchanted enchantments’), such as:

dreams of alterity inspired by tourism, particularly in its self-consciously alternative modes; the mundane daydreams of advertizing and consumption; cinematic escapism; science fiction and fantasy… the virtual attractions available on the internet… capitalism: witness the National Lottery, and television shows such as Who Wants to be a Millionaire?… the organized production and consumption of ‘culture’ of all kinds… includ[ing] everything from the entertainment industries to galleries, museums and exhibitions, to community arts, to night classes, to Disneyland… the Olympic Games, World Fairs, the United Kingdom’s Millennium Dome project, and so on.3

Also politics being a major source of “disenchanted enchantment”:

Apropos sleight of hand, if not actually magic, and in its own way no less related to desire—why else does it seem to be so intertwined with sex?—politics, in particular, continues, as it probably always has, to generate secular enchantments in the shape of futures (if not utopias), ideologies, rituals, symbols, myths, dark fantasies, heroic figures, and demonic enemies… legitimate domination is often, perhaps even always, underwritten by at least a modicum of enchantment, charisma is utterly enchanted, and power has always cast its own spell.
In politics there is the ritual, symbolism and theatre of nation, the show-business glitz of party conferences and conventions, and the staged drama of international summitry. (3)

Undoubtedly, we see in the Trump political arena the pinnacle of a disenchanted enchantment.

Now, I’m not questioning whether modern (re)enchantments are ultimately good or bad; I think it depends on the person asking the question.

What on earth is this guy doing?!4
What’s more important is, as Socrates is famously known for saying, “For those in positions of privilege, if you don’t consciously question your deeds and examine the fuck out of your life, then you might as well die.” Or did the great lover of wisdom actually say:

The unexamined life is not worth living.Socrates

Is anything in your life enchanting? Are your enchantments nourishing your organism? Have you forgone periodic hearty, fibrous meals in favor of addictive, continual hits of sugar? Why? How did you acquire your habits? What “bread and circus” disenchanted enchantments do we have today? Who profits from them? Who profits from your actions? From your inaction? No need to pass judgements, just acknowledge.

Why was it alarming to me that big guy didn’t care to look out the window once? When I see a mind existing in particular state of consciousness that is detached from Nature, I see a mind in a particular shape, a shape whose mould is more likely to be a part of the problem than the solution; I see a shape more likely to disregard planetary ecology; a shape whose peg lends itself to fitting into the buckets of littering, denying climate change, supporting Team Dakota Access over Team Standing Rock, etc. I am reminded of a specific passage in Emerson’s Nature:

Nature is made to conspire with spirit to emancipate us. Certain mechanical changes, a small alteration in our local position apprises us of a dualism. We are strangely affected by seeing the shore from a moving ship, from a balloon, or through the tints of an unusual sky. The least change in our point of view, gives the whole world a pictorial air. A man who seldom rides, needs only to get into a coach and traverse his own town, to turn the street into a puppet show. The men, the women,—talking, running, bartering, fighting,—the earnest mechanic, the lounger, the beggar, the boys, the dogs, are unrealized at once, or, at least, wholly detached from all relation to the observer, and seen as apparent, not substantial beings. What new thoughts are suggested by seeing a face of country quite familiar, in the rapid movement of the railroad car! Nay, the most wonted objects, (make a very slight change in the point of vision,) please us most… Turn the eyes upside down, by looking at the landscape through your legs, and how agreeable is the picture, though you have seen it any time these twenty years!
In these cases, by mechanical means, is suggested the difference between the observer and the spectacle,—between man and nature. Hence arises a pleasure mixed with awe; I may say, a low degree of the sublime is felt from the fact, probably, that man is hereby apprised, that, whilst the world is a spectacle, something in himself is stable.

And what, in himself, is stable? The SOUL. Keep in mind, Nature was published in 1836, six years after the first common-carrier public railroad opened in the U.S.

Eric Ravilious, Train Landscape, Wiltshire (1939)

Modernity has no shortage of mechanical means of generating new perspectives – cinematography, rollercoasters, ATVs, bungee jumping, PLANES, parachuting, skateboarding, etc. – and now, with AR/VR goggles, an infinite number of means, all which offer this “low degree of the sublime.” The highest degree of the sublime, as I see it, is embodying the Tao; this, in part, implies having a ‘wildcard’ consciousness which produces a ceaseless generation of new perspectives, all while holding fast to an Axis that sees the unifying thread connecting all perspectives.5 While the 19th century may have been lacking in technology, Emerson relates how, in a higher manner, poets communicate the same pleasure:

By a few strokes, he delineates, as on air, the mountain, the camp, the city, the hero, the maiden, not different from what we know them, but only lifted from the ground and afloat before the eye. He unfixes the land and the sea, makes them revolve around the axis of his primary thought, and disposes them anew… the poet make[s] free with the most imposing forms and phenomena of the world… to assert the predominance of the soul.

Returning to why big guy didn’t look out the window, whatever the reason, if he actually did look out, I never would have written this post, or become more motivated to make up for the lost enchantment in the world – so I have to thank him for the inspiration.

Echoing the Taoist philosophy of the Taiji, in which the forces of Yin and Yang are not opposite, but complementary, existing in one another, and balancing each other to form a whole, I will end with the closing remarks of the author of the research article I quoted above, who answers “What does the Millennium suggest about disenchantment and enchantment?”:

First, it indicates that, if disenchantment, historically, has been a stimulus to (re)enchantment, then perhaps—and this is no more than one might expect—the reverse is also true. Enchantment and re-enchantment may, necessarily, generate disenchantment. Second, it emphasizes that enchantment, reenchantment and disenchantment are anything but total in their impact or scope. Finally, it highlights the centrality to these processes of space and—particularly—time. If one of the defining aspects of disenchantment was the rationalization of space and time into straight lines, enchantment and re-enchantment represent its subversion. The Millennium has been every and nowhere: an anniversary, the end of time, a new beginning, and chronological indeterminacy, all rolled into one. In a telling commentary on the nature of affluent capitalist modernity, if this is the way that this particular world ends, it is with a private bang and a public whimper. (3)

As Rappin 4-Tay would say, “Yeah, and last but definitely not least yeah… the San Francisco mothafuckin’ bay, yeah” (the pictorial air I captured on a separate flight)
  2. 👌👀👌👀👌👀👌👀👌👀 good shit go౦ԁ sHit👌 thats ✔ some good👌👌shit right👌👌there👌👌👌 right✔there ✔✔if i do ƽaү so my self 💯 i say so 💯 thats what im talking about right there right there (chorus: ʳᶦᵍʰᵗ ᵗʰᵉʳᵉ) mMMMMᎷМ💯 👌👌 👌НO0ОଠOOOOOОଠଠOoooᵒᵒᵒᵒᵒᵒᵒᵒᵒ👌 👌👌 👌 💯 👌 👀 👀 👀 👌👌Good shit
  3. Disenchantment, Enchantment and Re-Enchantment: Max Weber at the Millennium, Jenkins, Richard. Mind and Matter, Volume 10, Number 2, 2012, pp. 149-168(20). See online PDF.
  4. Saul Leiter, Kutztown (1948)
  5. this is a topic for its own post, in due time. If curious, check out Hackett Publishing’s awesome piece Zhuangzi as Philosopher

3 Comments Muses Don’t Look Out Airplane Windows

  1. Dom May 28, 2017 at 2:29 am

    First read your latest post on walking then clicked on this article. I recently got in a disagreement with my aunt. She scoffed at me for preferring a window seat to an aisle seat, arguing the aisle seat is more conventient for going to the bathroom etc. She even said, “I don’t understand why people want to look out the window”. I did get slightly offended, but did not have the energy to argue with her (1. I’m not an efficient debater, 2. Growing up Asian I get scared of arguing with my elders). Your post is very interesting and I sympathize with you. Two years ago I was in Korea and I was utterly shocked at how the people behaved out on the streets, subways, restaurants, anywhere. Every spare second (sitting, standing, walking) was spent with their eyes glued to their cellphones playing video games or whatever it was they were doing. I only saw one person reading in the subway. If conversations were taking place it was through text message or social media. I would love to read a post about your thoughts on our society’s addiction to screens, communication through social media, etc. I get disheartened when people lose sight of the beauty around them and choose to play on their phones, or when they see beauty but to them it doesn’t count unless they’ve taken a photo of it and posted it on social media.

    1. Alex May 29, 2017 at 9:00 pm

      Ah yes, some people prefer to be fully disconnected from time, space, and experience. Whether they switch into this mode only when boarding a plane, or also throughout daily life (albeit perhaps to a more subtler degree), I don’t know, but I tend to believe the latter. They prefer being a parcel to a traveler. Excellent though! More window seats for us 🙂

      Re: screens, social media, photography – I share your feelings on the matter. After my last trip to Asia, I became so passionate about the topic that I began reading Susan Sontag’s On Photography – a meditation on the subject, written in the 70s yet still relevant – but she lost me when she started comparing the camera to a phallus and picture taking as predatory, even though she had a number of other good arguments. You’ve inspired me to pick it up again, and I will write something about it – I noticed the trend even more so after my latest trip in Europe.

      But in short, I don’t blame them. The numbers are stacked against us: thousands of engineers design these apps to be as addictive as slot machines. We need to influence the billion dollar companies behind them to ethically design these apps so they stop hijacking our minds; Tristan Harris ( is trying to lead such a movement. Of course, we cannot rely solely on app developers to re-prioritize values in their design (e.g. choosing to maximize “time well spent” over “time spent”); we also need to make sure our own internal values, priorities, and actions are aligned! If someone chooses to live through their screen, and not “through the world,” who am I to say that’s wrong? The real question though is how much was their “choice” really of their own volition vs. falling victim to a master manipulator pressing all the right rhetorical buttons on the human psyche (or societal conditioning/group think)…

      Thanks for sharing 🙂

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