Saturday, August 3, 2013

ANTHONY FLACCO is the guest this week . Mr Flacco's essay on' History the Agreed Upon Lie' will be posted on Sunday August 4th 2013

A Romance of the Mind


Anthony Flacco



What does the life of the premier genius of the 20th Century

tell us about ourselves?

The answer goes to the angels and the demons

in each of us.

In this photo you see Nikola Tesla at the age of thirty-six. He is wealthy and famous, and in the prime of his life. Do you also see an isolated man caged behind those eyes, aching with loneliness? If we are to blame for the demons we carry, then he is the sole cause of his extreme isolation.
At that moment in time he is riding a wave of international fame for beating Thomas Alva Edison at creating the electrical power that will dominate the century. He works with such mysterious forces that some suspect him of supernatural acts.
In person, he is renowned for his gentlemanly manners, impeccable taste, and ability to speak several languages. His American English is better than most Americans. He is adept at mixing with high society when he needs to attend conferences or secure funding, though he otherwise avoids all social contact. Women swoon to no avail. Men try in vain to befriend him. He never becomes personally close with any of the people he employs to build his creations.
Tesla describes himself as “a monk of science,” on the surface it appears true. Yet he is filled with passions so intense that they overflow any religious definition of a monk. They drive his inspirations even as they imprison him.
Not all of that passion is sublimated into his work. Tesla has a muse no one can see.
And in spite of being mocked for attempting to tell others about her, he holds her as his primary relationship through many years. His loneliness is real, but only she can fill it, only her. Nevertheless, when he describes her to John J. O’Neill of Collier’s Magazine, the editor refuses to print it out of “respect” for Tesla’s reputation.
During this time, the fountainhead of his inspirations may be invisible to others, but the resulting inventions change the world in profound ways. Unless you are reading this right now under natural light or by battery power, you are using his inventions to see these words and for anything else you plug into the wall or operate via wireless signal. Tesla represents the gold standard among eccentric inventive geniuses.
However, in his old age, it was only his small pension from his native country that saved him from being unable to pay the monthly light bill on the power system he invented, designed, engineered, and installed under Niagara Falls. His muse remained with him during those years, but most everyone else abandoned him. He died broke and virtually forgotten in 1943 Manhattan.
How could this be?
     Foremost, he was repeatedly cheated in business because he took others at their word and refused to be suspicious of his business partners. He persisted in this attitude because his sense of personal honor was at the heart of his need to justify his choices of avoiding his father’s church, leaving his Serbian home and family, and coming to America. His self-selected role as a “monk” was an appeasement to his father, whose angry image resided in his mind long after the older man’s demise.
     The demon of memory encouraged Tesla to over-compensate with his excessive faith in others. Time and time again, he allowed himself to be cheated out of countless millions by refusing to protect his interests, as if others would honor those interests for him. The angel of his tender trust in fellow human creatures was beaten back by the demon of his father’s condemning memory, requiring him to make extraordinary gestures to placate it and prove his “faithfulness,” then reap the terrible consequences of his misplaced faith.
     Thus one of the smartest mortals to walk the earth was felled by the same personal disaster that can strike any one of us. It makes no difference where we fall on the I.Q. scale. As with an actual scale, the issue is balance. He confused his demon with an angel, focusing on what he dearly hoped would happen while ignoring what sheer common sense should have told him. He took magical thinking to realms most of us couldn’t reach with a bucket of magic mushrooms and a personal guru.
We can allow the moon to inspire us without believing that it speaks.
Hope-based delusion keeps us at the roulette table in a thousand ways. Everybody has private visions of their heart’s fondest desire. We live either frustrated or contented to the extent that we find ways to pursue such things. And as Tesla taught us, the object of our pursuit isn’t what matters, rather it’s the balance of those forces driving us. We all run from demons of memory, striving to avoid repeating them. But if that fear makes us embrace false reassurance, denial becomes our undoing – just as it was for Tesla.

It’s a fundamental struggle. We have the better angels of our nature to show for the sake of feeling proud of ourselves. But we’re never far from the private demons we carry in cruel memories of things we want very much to avoid. The demons do their work when we flee them so hard that we stop looking ahead to watch for tricks and traps. We think we flee the demons while we leap into their arms.

Tesla dodged his demons by living an excessively honorable life compared to the social mores of his day, as if his show of faith proved the demon’s condemnation wrong. He pursued that angelic image so hard that he was blind to cautionary cues a much slower person would never miss. We, too, can hear encouragements or threats in idle conversations, guaranteeing that we read things wrong and dream of success while choosing disaster.

But when we immerse ourselves in a great story about an amazing individual such as Nikola Tesla, who fought every day to balance his need to achieve greatness with the need to accurately read the world’s signals, we sharpen our own skills at the same thing. A muse exists for each of us in the form of that abiding dream that quickens our heartbeat and sends us far out of our way to get closer to it. We serve that muse best when we dare to read our strengths and weaknesses in terms of what we’ve seen about them in our past, to predict how we should handle them in the future, leaving the magical thinking to the magicians.

The ability to make that distinction would have radically altered Tesla’s life. We’ll never know how much more creative output he might have brought to the world if he hadn’t tried to poison his demon with delusions of goodness.

When we chose wrong, meaning when we believe in ourselves too little or too much, we can take comfort in our own versions of a creative muse, in a force that inspires. That inspiration serves as a reminder, a compass check. So too in dealing with the world. The never-ending dance moves back and forth across the floor, toward and away from our goals, from our dreams. Demons of memory chase us in one direction while our inspired selves spin away in the other.

Tesla’s personal story takes place behind his eyes. Its power is delivered by what we learn about ourselves while we follow his journey from within his mind, observing his constant struggle to balance the scale within himself, and so learning more about our own. It’s a conversation of blades between what we fear, what we know, and what we wish. Its power captures and holds us while years flow by, while mortal partners come and go. It’s an endless courtship. A romance of the mind.  

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