Simon Vigneault | Back

Author & Philosopher

Simon and I met almost ten years ago, and over the years we have each pursued different branches of life. Simon has been a lifelong student of Buddhism, and of philosophy in general. His studies have emphasized a continental philosophy/phenomenology, which has its roots in the teachings of Jewish German philosopher Edmund Husserl, and which includes the existentialism of Jean-Paul Sartre and the phenomenology of his friend Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Martin Heidegger, and more contemporary thinkers like Eugene Gendlin, Janet Donohoe, Dan Zahavi and Peter Wilberg. Following the publication of his new book, a creative correspondence between us developed, one that I thought was worth formatting into the published exchange you see below. Our dialogue begins with my remarks on the first two chapters of Simon's short book Gray World.


CWW: Hey there, thanks for the download of Gray World. I thoroughly enjoyed the paragraphs of the first chapter, and I thought the protagonist Vagabond embodied a familiar archetype, one that has been with humanity for a long time, and I mean that in a good way. His character has a certain arc to it that many can relate to, or hopefully could be inspired by.

Even in this one chapter, it was clear that your writing used philosophical devices to explore the possibility of viewing reality in interesting ways, reminding me of the perspectivism of Nietzsche (which is really a part of most spiritual traditions). However, you kept it simple enough that a synthesis between secular and spiritual lines of thought are intuitive and feasible.

Your writing offered a very process oriented vision of the world, to the point where people were not seen just as people, and colors seen not just as colors. There was also the contrast of a small hero in a vast, troubled world, which never gets old. Finally, the chapter introduces a sort of social crucifixion for the hero, which is another theme I find never gets old, particularly when it's written with a sense of ambiguity about who is at fault. He exudes a certain megalomania near the end of the chapter that I find coincides well with my theory of hero psychology. I believe power grows through narcissism, charming others, and then it reaches a breaking point, and that is where one starts to become a porcupine of sorts, which is an essential part of undergoing healing, even radical transformation.

Here is good Betrand Russel quote:

"The megalomaniac differs from the narcissist by the fact that he wishes to be powerful rather than charming, and seeks to be feared rather than loved. To this type belong many lunatics and most of the great men of history."

Simon: Great observations, fascinating. This exploration of Vagabond's darkness-cum-renewal is revisited in detail later as you'll see, woven into a dystopian macro political theme. The Shyfoil character has more folds that come out later. Love the Bertrand Russell quote.

CWW: I will add that where I found chapter 1 to be intriguing, I found chapter 2 gave a much greater sense of scale and depth. It was a bit like starting fresh. Almost like Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 are divided from each other. This adds power to future chapters, allowing for unity. No cathartic sense of unity or revelation without creating that first division. So it's well thought out, good foundation for the book.

Simon: I did put a lot of thought into that. Faider and his distant paramour's chapters are in their own way as crucial as Vagabond and Shyfoil's chapters, though throughout Vagabond is the overall main protagonist.

CWW: Faider brought a certain comedic life to the plot. He had a slacker manner about him that we can all relate to. As RD Laing would put it, "A Divided Self". The way Vagabond embraced a single minded megalomanic-inner-destruction to gain renewal showed courage. Faider confesses he cannot let go of the world, and is tangled up in the social trap. So I found the writing psychologically insightful, quite pleased with it.

Simon: Glad you picked up on that; those dynamics are present throughout.

CWW: We talked earlier about the ideal of a collaborative, creative community, where we are all in a process of editing the source code of consciousness, but working together toward a collective ideal.

Simon: Sounds great. I'd like you to consider this site my friend Jason Jones turned me onto: Dangerous Minds.

CWW: Looks good. The first article on the front is interesting. I don't know much about German film, but I've seen most of Werner Herzog's films, including "Gates of Heaven". He picks great subjects for film. I noticed an article on McKenna's time wave zero, will read that over.

Simon: I like his site on facebook (Dangerous Minds, mainly overseen by Richard Metzger) and often there are interesting tidbits like that one popping up. Smart guy.

Haven't explored Herzog myself, though I seen several of Wenders films.

Rudolf Steiner is well worth looking into - Rudolf Steiner Archive

CWW: Yes, I came across R. Steiner during my interests in soil-science (agronomy for those who like words) more than a few years back.

I'm quite impressed to see a bridge between Goethe and Steiner. I just read a part quickly and it confirmed exactly what went wrong with Germany. Locke, Hume, Kant, even Schopenhauer - they were far too attached to the empirical world, trying to make everything clear, bright and comprehensible, and the result was a decline in German value instincts, which gave room for Hitler to emerge.

The truth is always much more vague than anything science can induce. I should add - precise, clear, analytic thinking is great as a defense against literal mindedness, and hopefully that's the lesson to be learned.

Simon: Steiner is a first rate philosopher who saw through the impasse. Husserl is also very good, but his focus is different--Husserl is kind of like Jung, who set out to make his way acceptable, to create a mainstream link to deeper mysteries (but in doing so he had to camouflage it). Steiner is straight up--but his early material, that book and also 'the philosophy of freedom' book, are straight, carefully laid out philosophy.

Dan Zahavi is a good summarizer of Husserl's work.

CWW: Steiner perhaps turns a lot of people away due to his reputation for promoting spiritual entities, faeries, etc. For those who are seeing only the surface, it offends healthy scientific sensibilities, and also may lead the gullible astray, not unlike the way Timothy Leary's enthusiasm for LSD wrecked havoc only people who just weren't at that level.

Simon: Yes, few people realize that Steiner's foundation was in clear-headed philosophy, his first love. His nomenclature as far as spirituality is concerned was heavily flavoured by the popular theosophical movement. Anyway, it's up to the individual how to take him.

CWW: Judging by his interest in soil quality and farming communities (in contrast to his privledges in the academic world) I always had the impression he was quite conscious, but made the choice to directly express the deeper layers of reality, probably aware of the negative consequences. That's why teamwork is good. What Steiner chose to do, other people like Goethe or Lao Tzu refrained from. In the end, all is good.

Simon: Well said. I like the idea of creating a new permutation of 'mystery plays'. Multimedia mystery plays. You say it with panache, yet it's all part of the show, or is it?

CWW: I guess that's what Shamanism is... it's helping people overcome their attachments through a journey. Stories have stages, much like stairs have steps, or ladders have rungs. Not sure if that's what you mean, but what I mean is that most people need reality fed to them slowly, in bits, each bit clarifying and adding meaning to the previous bit.

A shaman is like a chef, introducing the meal in stages. His goal is nourishment and health.

Simon: I agree with that. And it might as well be beautiful, involve real care in the artistry of it. My view on it, is that if you do a very clear and focused job, the person has to say, even if they don't like it, 'this is a well done example of something I don't like'.

CWW: Yeah, it's a balance between technical excellence, and soul. Some of the most meaningful art to me has been very rough, technically speaking, but ideally, one is both technically talented and soulful. Favour the later, but make sure the former is not neglected.

I've met very unkind, even vicious people who focused only on technical dexterity and superficial aesethetics, even outright pledging that they denied value in didactic-ism and meaning.

The art and science communities contain a lot of anti-philosophical people. However, the best way to win that war is to be technically strong and soulful. That way they can say nothing other than "this is a well done example of what I don't like".

Simon: Exactly. Like really good blues.

John McLaughlin, his better stuff, comes to mind. He's more jazz fusion though, rather than blues. here's my favourite:

Jimi Hendrix blues song and performance, Villanova Junction.

Hendrix called his spiritual musical vision The Electric Church.

CWW: I'm curious to hear your views on Jimi Hendrix and the electric church.

I will research it a bit, but things have changed quite a bit since that time, with media becoming increasingly on-line. You're also aware that I make a distinction between Dionysian approach to life and Apollonian. Mainstream secularism is gradually being revealed as kind of a superficial indulgence.

Do you see a more stable resurgence of creative spirituality like we seen in the 60's?

Most of us have our reservations about how much rock and roll and enthusiasm can do for social health. The rock and roll industry is still there, bigger than it's ever been.

Simon: I believe there is a resurgence now, but there are many separate trends, and it's missing the grand enthusiasms of that time, the uniting themes--the guru game is highly and in many respects rightly distrusted; drugs have proved a bust, are no longer convincingly linked to spiritual adventuring; music rarely seems to deal with notions of mind expansion, at least in popular music, though that does seem to be changing. There is some really cool stuff out there, like Janelle Monae: This song and video of hers I find very powerful and freeing in its message.

I think new forms are needed, new modes of 'saying it', creatively displayed. Many are missing the language, which has become impoverished and set with all kinds of existential traps--blind psychiatric word cages implicitly enmeshed in naive, reductionist, 'scientific' materialism; marketing sophistry--everything's a 'brand' now; fame as packaged commodity; etc. So to some extent I see a need for creative philosophical craft to be used as a weapon against all of this shit, to expose it fiercely and very precisely, but elegantly; a philosophical weapon shaped into beautiful forms, to show how there are ways out of these mazes, based in how experience really functions.

CWW: Well put. You bring up a lot of elements that make culture possible. All of those factors (gurus, drugs, mind-expansion, language, science and philosophy) will still play a valuable role, but as you imply, the potency and precision of their use will be augmented. Essentially, with enough pressure and frustration put on the people, I think you'll see a repeat of passionate artists, but with the internet acting as a memory/calibration device. The standards will be higher, almost out of sheer enforcement. The difference between Dionysian and Apollonian may be a matter of discipline. At least that's how I see it. My attempt at participation will be limited to my own individual efforts, and those will intermingle with a lot of factors out of my control.

Simon: To some extent the science fiction book of mine you're reading is such a weapon in the sense I mean, a Trojan horse, in that it encrypts within itself philosophical seeds that seek to dissolve trends that promise ruin. I've come to think it's okay to find joy in that--in the pursuit of art that arcs toward cutting down what needs reaping. I say that in remembering you using that term in our last meeting--artistically understood 'reaping'--i.e. being the reaper in terms of your art, song writing, etc. As long at the spirit is tuned in to a wholesome source and we aren't degrading into hatred or intent to harm, I think being fierce and crafty as reaping artists is par for the course. I mean in the sense of exposing and deconstructing hypocrisy and cultural dead ends via art that nonetheless seeks to be beautiful, captivating, immersive, like Bob Dylan's song calling out and castigating "the masters of war". Does that make sense?

CWW: It does. Although some men are more destructive, we are all the reaper. Some do it in a more indirect way, others do it directly.

And then there are the reasons for why one would be destructive to other peoples values in the first place. That's for another discussion!

Best wishes on your endeavours in literature, philosophy and life. I look forward to speaking with you again.

"Love starts when we push aside our ego and make room for someone else."

"If we do not believe within ourselves this deeply rooted feeling that there is something higher than ourselves, we shall never find the strength to evolve into something higher."

- Rudolf Steiner

Simon Vigneault


The Spectral Revolution
Jason Reza Jorjani

Simon on Wordpress
The Infinite Living Room

Rudolf Steiner
Goethe's Theory of Knowledgee