And what spot does X mark? X is you and I, the coming together of diagonals—an intersection and ideal symbol for the very search for meaning.
X can mean the unknown variable or the buried loot at the center of a treasure map; X is both a placeholder and a destination—a deliberate holding pattern, or, perhaps, a refusal to land on familiar terms.
In our cultural consciousness, we have Generation X, The X-Files, and Malcom X. Let your eyes shift back & forth between these correspondences. Contemplate their polarities—if strange patterns emerge, what you are now experiencing is what Umberto Eco calls “hermetic semiosis” or drift—albeit when left unchecked.
Eco doesn’t think this a good thing. Because X can also mean “10” & 10 is the root of “decimation” and so that buried treasure of pirate doubloons at the end of that dotted line? It may be read as both reward & ruin, unless, of course, a tithe (⅒) is made——do you catch my drift?
What Eco is sounding is a gentle alarm: do not get too carried away chasing the rabbit of meaning down the bore of interpretation. Eco is an astute reader of hermeticism and understands the adrenaline rush of endless gematria, tumurah, & notarikon, and all the other arte combinatoria that render texts endlessly open—that explode texts into spiraling chains of interpretation connecting alphabets to astronomies and back again. He wants to push back against the supposedly absolute sovereignty of the reader. Because a sovereign reader knows no limits and finds patterns that may ultimately ensnare or destroy them, as demonstrated in Eco’s fiction.
But there’s a way out of this rabbit hole: story. What X may or may not mean is a story one tells as part of even larger stories. The limit of hermetic drift is the edge of a story that has beginning, middle, and end.
At the end of Eco’s The Name of the Rose, we are to realize the futility of finding inherent meaning in events, and in doing so, we learn the meaning of one event in particular: the end of Eco’s story.
This sense-making is why seasoned esoteric practitioners of various stripes will refer to their methods & vocabularies as tools—instruments to employ & not be employed by, which, as we all know, is easier said than done. We can say the same about any manner of spooky thing we may be up to, like gaming the algorithm, or feeding the twitter machine. On social media, even the most seasoned practitioners may sometimes fall victim to their own craft.
In the last two days, I’ve been rewatching The Matrix trilogy—the third for the first time—hyping myself up for Resurrections on 12/22/21. It’s been illuminating. For one, I still agree with fifteen-year-old me: Matrix 2 was bad. It was so bloated with tiresome fight scenes that I remember more of the story of my friends and I arguing about it in a cramped car leaving the cinema than I do most of the major plot points of the film itself. It’s like my brain had turned off at some point in that darkened theatre and the story stopped mattering. That’s bad cinema but a great illustration of the film’s central point, as I see it today: perception is a trip.
The world appears as meaningless and/or meaningful chains of cause & effect because waking life is for most of us a series of bullet-time sequences. We are too immersed in the flow of events to keep track of the story’s arc. Sometimes, like Morpheus, this means that we never stop to question the story we’ve committed to—to ask “why” as that seemingly random French weirdo in the movie puts it. Other times, we decide that there’s no story to keep track of at all.
But seasoned practitioners know that tools require story to be of true use. A spindle spins, a candle melts, a corkscrew brings out the new wine. A spindle can also prick, just as a candle can also go out in the wind. The difference is subtle; the tipping point is at the sense we’re making.
I could tell you that 6 posts ago I uploaded my 666th square to this Instagram grid and that Rowan Williams spoke about novels in a 666-seat theatre in 2016 and we could play all sorts of games of correspondence pattern-matching this caption with that seemingly random image ad infinitum, but none of it would make any actual sense if we don’t know what we’re about.
These selves, these tools, these relationships—they can skip from scene to scene until the very last reel unspools to a disappointed hush, or they can build and add up to a life worth living. The difference is subtle.
I started this year wanting to read all I could about ecosocialism because that felt like a good foundation, but I kept finding myself bumping up against snakes and ladders of theologies and spiritualities, even in the pages of books about Marx and ecology, where I least expected them. But of course I did; there’s no escaping that grand old story. And so tangent after tangent, I’ve found myself coming back full circle: what is the foundation for constructing a meaning of life?
Arthur Versluis argues that magic—or what he calls “divine affinity”—makes no sense outside of traditional cosmology because, without that context, magic leads to the Ego “usurping the place of the Divine.” I’d argue that it does make sense, just a very different kind. The question then becomes: are we sure what story we’re in?
Rejoice! because that question is exactly what Christmas is about.