There’s a dream I had about Dr. Who that has stuck with me. It took place in the future, with the 7th Doctor and Ace. The world was divided between the haves and have-nots, with the haves living in an arcology that was sealed off every night from the degrading cityscape around it.
At the center of the dream were these street children sheltering in a large theater-like structure; the megafauna that roamed the streets made it unsafe to be outdoors at night. On the outside of the structure were signs along the porch to indicate what was going on inside. Inside, there was this elaborate ritual with candles, prayers, offerings, orchestrated around chalk drawings on the floor that fell somewhere between firmas and particle trace diagrams, complete with mathematical formulas purporting to describe the diagrams.
When they first walk in, Ace looks to the Doctor, clearly bothered by how untraditional the diagrams are. He holds up a hand of caution, “Now, Ace, you know what they say. The future is a foreign country, they do things differently there.”
I try to keep that in mind when I am looking at history, too. We live in the future of the past, and will be the past for our future. The forms that we have now will undergo change and transformation much as the forms we presently have underwent change and transformation.
This is why I try to come at things like the history of geomancy with an eye to dispersion and variation. That helps to keep me clear on the fact that variation is a condition of temporal existence, that it may be one of the points of temporal existence. Rather than view fragmentation as a failure from which we must save ourselves, I try to view it as a productive feature of our world which it is our task to explore.
Deleuze and Guattari are fond of a pun Bruno Bettelheim reported from his autistic children: Connecticut, Connect-I-Cut. They take it up as a symbol for a mode of thought that connects through cutting, connects by means of differentiation. Though separated, elements that are differentiated retain a filiation that allows them to communicate and enrich each other.
(Brief aside: let me just say that Bettelheim’s work with autistic children gives me the heebie-jeebies. It is unnerving how poorly suited to helping those children he was. The pun is charming, but I’ll confess to being uncomfortable with its ties to Bettelheim.)
The point is not preserve an unyielding unity, but to live some fragment of the unity into increasing specificity. That specificity can remain in, or be brought back into, communication with what it is differentiated from. A serious historical examination of a specificity’s context should be able to illuminate it without reducing it back to a common source.
Looking at geomancy as a practice that took many shapes in its migration, perhaps even splitting off from a common root shared with the I Ching, is an effort to get at the living aspect of the practice, that which (I hope) will continue to differentiate and live into the future.
The movement into the openness of history even as my connection to it remains personal and local, with reservoirs of traditions as anchor points in the network of communication.