The last blank page in my Nietzsche textbook, 12th of March 2016: Untitled.
‘Personhood’ is a synthetic concept; it does not exist within nature. As artificial and pervasive as the plastic water bottle,’ personhood’ is the repackaging of inherent freedoms into a universal cure-all for society’s sceptic; it guarantees the consumer a life of safety and reassurance, a cure for sickening, uninhibited, freedom. Personhood is a collective confirmation bias; it is fetishized as a unique meter of privilege and consciousness, one that envelops a person within the suffocating wraps of serpentine civilisation.
If I was to ask you what distinguishes a person from an animal, and you were in possession of the good will to entertain a discussion, we could spend hours talking about consciousness, emotion, morality, technology, sociology, and the developments that typify human nature. We could discuss how humankind is characterised by a unique combination of reason and self-awareness, we could question whether these are evolutionary attributes, or if they are designed in the image of a higher being. We could talk politics, the engines of capitalism, the manipulation and destruction of the environment, how we have strayed from the path of co-existence, how we’ve engineered a life of exploitation and inequity. We could talk art, culture, beauty, violence, all with the intent to arrive at some concrete definition of what distinguishes the person from the animal. And when we finish talking, when we’ve travelled the entire length of humanity and personhood, I will ask you a question,
“Do you think that being a person is better than being an animal?”
Is it healthy for us to be ascendant from the natural world? To be more evolved? Do you sometimes think, that if the first fish to waddle out of the ocean possessed some foresight, a skerrick of ever-coveted consciousness, it would think twice about growing legs? Or would it have stayed in the ocean?
* * * *
Final Journal Entry, 25th of May 2020: The last night. Suffocating.
The first four years in my new city, the last four years of my twenties, were invigorating. I was discovering a town of foreign faces and new opportunity; every business, every street corner, was bursting with potential, and I had the luxury of being its inhabitant. I know it sounds clichéd, but I think everyone feels this way; we are romantically entangled with the new and the vibrant because it distracts us from ourselves, and the mountain of old and unpleasant shit we have to slog through to become better people.
It’s easy to philosophise on these things retrospectively, from a position of accumulated distance; the pain and discontent seem temporary, but when you’re inside it, inside the churning, nauseating day-to-day, it seems infinite, and positively Sisyphean. But that’s part of our contemporary society, to protract the present with insubstantial and temporary solutions, retail therapy, binge consumption, “Cordial apologies about your unpleasant life. But here! Three free deliveries on Thai food in your suburb!” Anything to distract us from the immediacy, from the unhappiness they’ve engineered to sell more herbal face masks.
* * * *
I had to curtail this entry to a single page length. Disappointing. Perhaps this could be the first page of my wildly successfully and highly commercialised manifesto, the intimate poetic scripture that touched the soul of consumers across the globe. I held the Officeworks notebook at arm’s length and studied the final page, scrutinising the wall of text I had scrawled upon it. I didn’t keep this journal for the hyper-personalised-pseudo-profundity that it was littered with, I kept it because I bought it as a scrapbook for precious memories two years ago, when I was twenty-nine, and was nursing some pretty lofty aspirations.
I threw the journal onto the single bed, covering it with my hiking bag. It was the only sentimental relic I’d kept; the rest had been sent to family, burnt, or palmed off on gumtree. This was my new radical form of minimalism, as a means of psychological reordering; I had devised a cleanse so thorough that I could no longer prove my identity to the hostel receptionist, inadvertently wasting the pre-paid booking I had made just a fortnight ago.
This hostel’s atmosphere is unwelcoming, it harbours an animosity for the disenfranchised. It welcomes the foreign tourists full of life, the youths sniffing out experience, planning itineraries to the second, trying to squeeze lifetimes into days. The hearth embraces tired travellers, but cold spots surround world-weary interlopers, the building begrudges them comfort, it keeps us restless.
I sit upstairs, trying to keep warm while the wind lashes rain onto the window next to my bed. Katoomba is within the southern boundary of the Blue Mountains, a town of nearly eight-thousand people. It is depicted as a port of call for explorers, a fragment of civilisation amongst the wilderness; really, it’s just a Sydney satellite, a misplaced replica of suburbia. I can feel myself suffocating as my chest tightens with anxiety, my body is bracing for tomorrow morning. Tomorrow I am going to squirm my way out from this mass grave, ‘civilisation’, I’ll run deep into the bush, be my own person, free myself from the scrutiny of the misanthropes and the overseers. I will be totally isolated with no verbal companions; and when I’m alone and present, I will finally in a position to breathe, to think, to refine the tepid tincture of grief and disappointment that permeates my brain.
* * * *
Katoomba’s asphalt clings to my feet, streetlights splay my shadow on the pavement, distorted and stretched out of proportion. I walk the towns length, the sun and I silently racing for the bush, seeing who can reach the canopy first.
Before I sink into the scrub, I dig a hole in the soft, loamy dirt with my hands. It doesn’t have to be deep for this treasure, just six inches, not feet. I rest the journal in the shallow hole, and gingerly place the soft earth atop it. She’d stayed with me as I carried her everywhere, wrote to her every day. She couldn’t follow me here; if I was committed to starting again, I had to do it completely, I couldn’t keep haunting her.
She could rest now, two years old.
I had only held her for eight months.
* * * *
I hike away from Katoomba; from dawn till noon I follow the muddy hiking tracks. Boot prints litter worn trails, winding ochre serpents drag me down through the steep valleys; each time I resurface I swallow clouds of Eucalyptus oil, the sensation of it coating my lungs is invigorating, liberating.
To dwell on the outskirts of the forest would be fundamentally counterintuitive; the roads on the periphery still carry commuters. Each day these drones slide into their steel carapace, they hurtle along unforgiving asphalt, towards the suffocating mundanity of the metropolis. Their faculty to question this daily practise has been neutered, silenced by the echo tunnel of their colleagues. We travel so we can work, we work so that we may earn, earning in the hope to find some infinitesimal respite in the embrace of universalised placebos, a myriad of cocktails manufactured for the terminally dissatisfied; high society and a glass of cabernet sauvignon, a plasma flat screen and a Netflix subscription, my Officeworks journal and a familial life. Arbeit macht frei.
I plot a course for total isolation, further into the unfettered wilderness; a place where I can rinse these sentiments from my skin like Sydney smog, a place with nil but the corporeal and the tangible.
I walk for six consecutive days, absorbed in the immediacy of the labour. When I arrive at my last days’ worth of freeze-dried, unpalatable, food, I begin my litmus test.
I hold my breath.
I can hear the bush breathing without me. Listening closely, I meet the forest’s residents. The kookaburra trills, cicadas vibrate, wind stirs the elastic branches of the eucalypts. There is not one man-made sound. No idling motor, no hum of power poles, not even my exhausted sigh can penetrate the organic substratum. This is where I’ll sleep tonight, tomorrow, as many nights as this land will permit me.
* * * *
Two weeks have passed. They haven’t passed fast, but I am lucky to have lived every second in presence, in my body amongst the earth.
First I foraged, searching for sustenance and water was my main priority. Quandongs, Davidson’s plums and bush potatoes were hard to come by, but when I could sniff them out, I was rewarded. I had brought some contaminants from the outside, in the form of vegetable seeds; spinach, radishes and kale, potatoes, beans and barley. I planted these early, with the intent to stockpile them later, unaware of how successful they may be, just hoping they would survive; I couldn’t tell what month it was anymore. I don’t intend to cultivate a farm, just provide some sustenance to maintain my body. I wouldn’t harm anything; it was not my place to do so.
I’m still adjusting to being fully present, that is, being fully contained within and aware of my corporeal form. Being out here is a form of forced meditation; there are no events, no paraphernalia to be distracted by, just the stark fundaments of existence. I do have a philosophy degree, but that only got me so far in the realm of entertainment. Philosophy is a human science, a precursor to the natural sciences, and as such is exhaustively tied to the domain of semantics and experience. These experiences and these semantics may be profound and enlightening but are essentially bound by the parameters of civilisation; I mean to say that they are not eternal truths, and often they aren’t even located within a natural human life. The truths of this great school of philosophy are synthesised from other foundational half-truths; like how economics is based on the pretence that inherent differences in value exist, or how the merit of artwork is conditional upon some arbitrary standards of aesthetic appreciation that are inherited by each generation. These two great pillars of society and culture are just some examples of the many built upon perpetual little pseudo-truths that allow us to rationalise the irrational; out here in the wild there is no philosophy, just small animals that eat plants that get eaten by slightly larger animals that eat meat.
It was a kind of bare life I was living, a simple solitude that heals my soul. The wild was more welcoming than any community of people.
I was thankful for it.
* * * *
It has been a year since I settled here; I try to talk to myself more frequently now. I often go days without using my voice, only releasing the occasional grunt when pulling up roots and vegetables. I’m starting to forget smaller details of my life in the city; phone numbers, addresses, HECS debt contributions. Was my bank account still active? Was there money being pulled out of it? I don’t care anymore; they can’t send me invoices out here.
It’s wise to remain silent here, but you begin to realise how dulled your senses have really become. Millions of years of evolution spent designing an absurdly perceptive network of bones, fluid and hair cells; all so that we could wear headphones while we go to sleep, abusing our cochleae into early disfunction. After twelve months in the bush, your ears become vital. In the city you listen for trucks and trains and cars, they’re your apex predator; you should be thankful for this, glad that these vehicles are so loud and easy to spot. Come summer, the Blue Mountains are riddled with snakes; unlike being hit by a car, you will not hear a snake warn you of its presence, you will not be attended to by concerned strangers, and you will not receive a free ambulance ride. If you are bitten by the wrong snake here, you are fucked. You won’t get the luxury of painkillers or a six-month-texta-covered cast. You are fucked. You die. So, it’s only natural that you would get really good at staying quiet, listening. At least that’s what I learnt, and I haven’t been bit yet.
It’s taken twelve months, but I am finally beginning to feel the grasp of civilisation slipping from my mind. When I think of myself, I no longer identify as some brave escapee, I can’t even remember what I was running from; I’m not stoic in the face of adversity, I’m just subsisting.
I’d like to think that I am just another creature in the bush, but I know that there is still much work to be done before I can become properly attuned to the land. I still harbour an ingrained Western rationalism; the times I appreciate the most are those void of contemplation, the blissful seconds of the day in which I am nothing but a constituent of the earth. Later, when my cerebellum is dulled with exhaustion, as I embrace sleep to my weary body, my mind will cascade into spasms of fervent activity; as if I have eluded humanity for a day, sentience will lurch back into my exhausted mind. This makes me feel dirty, tainted by awareness. Two parts of my mind are in combat; the simple pleasures of survival and existence are raped by their antipode, consciousness. I want rid of it, the curse of cognizance; all it proffers to me now is resent, contempt for an unsophisticated life. I thought hermitage would temper dissatisfaction, I did not realise it would agitate my psyche like this.
I’m beginning to get frequent tension headaches. I sip water continuously, it does little.
* * * *
I haven’t heard another voice in sixteen months.
I think I’m beginning to make progress towards the sublimation of ego. I feel I’m losing grip on my prior self, becoming something new, metamorphizing.
My crops withered, it was no loss, I had stopped eating them months ago. Cultivation actualised a greater offence than I had first anticipated; it was discordant with my habitat, invasive to the biota that dwell beneath the soil. Planting potatoes was consistency, creating complacency, they contravened all that I was trying to achieve. I tear them up, staring at the unearthed white roots. I feel sick; blood wells up against my temples, bile rises in my throat. How could I have done this? I’m feel shame for that person, that disgusting parasite that invaded this land more than a year ago. I scratch the dry, stained flesh beneath my jaw; a shred of skin, bearing pale blood, resides beneath my fingernail.
My body is deteriorating.
I need protein, iron.
* * * *
The wallaby’s neck writhes under my grip. A dull groan, followed by a sharp crack, and its body hangs limp in my hand.
I feel nothing while killing it, apart from the heat its small body exudes.
Fur, skin, and eucalypt leaves litter the ground between my feet. Pulling lengths of gamey flesh from the marsupial, body already cold and petrified by the bitter wind, I place the meat into my mouth and chew vigorously.
I can remember when I thought ill of killing, believing I could rise above instinct, become greater than my carnivorous ancestors. I was for a time, but this was destructive for my being; I fought impulse with civilised alternatives, those more detrimental to the land, as if my peace of mind was of greater concern.
None of this sentiment comes to mind as I defile the wallaby. I am hungry, the beast was weak; if it were strong, it wouldn’t have been killed as easily.
My headache eases as I eat, the motion of my jaw massages the tension from behind my ears. When my stomach is full, and my head is clear, I pause in relief.
* * * *
The cold water of the creek separates the congealed blood from my skin. First, I clean my hands, picking fibres of fur from beneath my fingernails, then I scour the filth from my forearms. I lift water to my face, loosening the haem and dirt from my skin as I scrub. I drink from the water’s surface. As I lift my head from the creek, I see my reflection.
There are two brown eyes, two brown eyebrows, a nose, a pair of discoloured lips and a set of discoloured teeth. It is a face, it is composed to the form that I imagine typical of a human face, but it is not my face. I simply don’t recognise it.
I try to draw a face from my memory, but none present themselves; no partners, no parents, no distinct features come flooding forth from my subconscious.
How long have I been here? I try to remember some distinct memory, something significant; nothing comes. I try to recall my age; again, nothing.
Why did I come out here?
I can’t tell.
The ants have gotten to the wallaby’s carcass.
* * * *
Journal Entry, 16th of July 2018: Post-Natal/Post-Mortem/Posterity.
Nostalgia is a hypnotic state of emotional recollection. The word nostalgia is derived from Greek: nostos, to return home, and algos, pain. Any sentient creature possesses this faculty for nostalgia, it is a natural repercussion of a structured long-term memory. The hippocampus encourages retention by lacing memory with intoxicating nips of sentiment; as we recall these moments, we are jarred by that same burst of emotion, submerged into a flood of nostalgia.
In the twenty-first century nostalgia is a commodity, it compels the consumer to pay per shot of reminiscence. Antique cars, mother’s perfume, your childhood brand of washing powder, all innocuous and utilitarian, each marketed as heirlooms of your lifetime. These products are the only way to time-travel, buy back those lost seconds; meanwhile, in an office across town, a fat cat laughs in the new suit he exchanged for your memories.
Despite this capitalist adulteration, nostalgia runs deep. A Bachelor of Economics couldn’t stop us from feeling homesick. Rationality cannot overcome our nature, it can’t force us to evolve, its reason just reaffirms our evolutionary weakness; that our humanity is an obstruction to true, ascendant, knowledge.
Why would we want this? Why should being human make us feel inferior? Why should we even have to choose between ‘eternal knowledge’ and a flawed existence?
* * * *
I had to get the ants off the corpse, or I wouldn’t be able to eat it later. They were all swarming towards the wallaby’s pouch, writhing through its bloody fur. I hadn’t checked the pouch when I’d killed it. I reached my hand inside the cold wallaby. There was something inside.
The infant’s body was limp in my arms, despite being born only hours ago. Its skin was pale and drained, its eyes unopened. It didn’t draw breath; its tiny lungs had never even started inhaling. This baby’s life had been extinguished before it had a chance at this long, shit life. In a way, it was lucky, it had never experienced unhappiness or discomfort; it had been warm, then cold, and then it had died in its mother’s embrace. The nurse took it away to where the other dead people go.
A cough rises in my throat, my head bursting with pressure. I splutter onto my filthy hands; blood from my mouth, saltwater from my eyes. I can’t look away from the baby’s pale hands. I see Edie’s hands, my child’s, her fingers curled, blue skin and white knuckles. There is blood dribbling from my nose. The pressure in my head feels like it is about to rupture the walls of my skull. I need water.
I submerge my head beneath the creek’s surface, but the images don’t rinse away. I feel it all again, it’s agony. Three years of mourning drops like an atlas stone on my spine. I can’t breathe. I pull my head from the creek, retching and panting. My temples are screaming. I sneeze mucus and blood into the running water.
I’m having an aneurysm.
* * * *
Journal Entry, 23rd of May 2020: Three days before freedom.
Friedrich Nietzsche’s prophet, Zarathustra, disappeared into the mountains to evade the bondage of civilisation. Sickened by society’s self-capitulation, he fled as to free himself; but returned to share his discoveries with those still bound.
Zarathustra wished to save us from nihilism, our acquiescence to illusory truths. He spoke of the Übermensch, the overman, our evolutionary superior; he who is present in body and earth, he who opposes the Western tradition of subordination, opposing a society of slaves safe in their promise of another world.
The Übermensch is autonomous, unrivalled in his self-sufficiency, he is man’s evolutionary zenith. Like a child at play, the Übermensch is free from the constraints of the herd; his life is governed by the maximisation of his power, the pursuit of that which gives him meaning. This meaning he fashions for himself, he does not draw it from the catalogue of custom, he is servile to none but his will to power.
* * * *
Journal Entry, 24th of May 2020: Exodus.
It is not our body that separates us from nature, it is our mind, our belief in inborn supremacy, that adulterates the immediacy of our existence. Man supposes himself greater than the beast by the evolution of his sentience; believing that his autonomy, his will, is what separates him from the beast’s uncivilized mind. Man does not recognise that he is inferior, he does not recognise he has surrendered his will to a herd of automata. He serves, he waits to be served upon, he is content in his domestication.
We have strayed too far from nature. We may believe it is our dominion, a world of resource at our disposal; this attitude has reinforced our incompatibility. Our mind has grown fragile, it can only subsist amid echoes of reassurance and succour.
We cannot start anew once corrupted.
* * * *
“But the worst enemy you can meet will always be yourself; you lie in wait for yourself in caverns and forests. Lonely one, you are going the way to yourself! And your way goes past yourself, and past your seven devils! You will be a heretic to yourself and witch and soothsayer and fool and doubter and unholy one and villain. You must be ready to burn yourself in your own flame: how could you become new, if you had not first become ashes?”
– Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche