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Once Upon a Time:

Socially Conceiving & Intrapersonally Re-Weaving

by Maggie Gilbreath 12.11.18




Apocalypse is a theme forever explored through human culture. What sets human beings apart from other animals is the inclination to diagnose and prescribe ideologies to live by (Stevenson, 9). The underlying purpose of this is to establish a common set of standards for a society to abide by meanwhile mold a [culturally-contingent] congruent response to foundational perplexing questions of life: who are we? why are we here? Cultural responses to intimidating questions may seem to assuage our fear, but these bandages of solutions in fact drive our fear in the Western culture. At the root of our Western culture came a Judeo-Christian conception of Apocalypse. While the eschatological thinkings in works such as The Book of Revelations do serve the purpose to drive a society to contemplate its end and thus reassemble its moral compass, the assertions that reinforce our cultural framework are infused with patriarchal dualities and extremities. In the Apocalypse of Revelations, the sun becomes black and the heavens attack the earthlings. There are distinct levels established; the human sphere is held separate, physically and metaphorically below the Heavens, meanwhile the environmental symbols of our danger are stark and not gradual. The consequences to ensue the foundational Judeo-Christian worldview has been a two-thousand-year-plus string of culture and action that work to reassert its power over the frightful unknown (which has grown to include anything beyond our strict categories of thought). Under Western society’s organizing principles, there exists no spectrum, no continuity, no recognition of the constant flux of in-betweenness. What we need --as humans who are neither below or above-- in order to manage the ebb and flow of a world with dynamic wills, is grounding anchors to our environment and a collapse of our dualities. We must accept we do not steer the reins, we live within them.

Theorizing in general or about Apocalypse in particular may remove us from the
immediate realness of apocalyptic consequences. Becoming lost in speculation about fragmented disciplines removes us from our immediate surroundings. Further, a culture that upholds a conception of Apocalypse as a categorical facet of that culture’s worldview will see that notion of apocalypse perform the same prescribing limitations the worldview does but through an inverse function: the negative reinforcement of fear. What the culture fathoms of Apocalypse draws the parameters and forges false warning symbols of what that society should suspect or avoid happening and are inflicted by a separate entity; these parameters do not prescribe what to look for, harmonize or re-cultivate. Such conceptions sever the human connection between their own ideas and the confrontation of their lived reality, running the symbiosis between human and universal organism awry.

The ‘realm’ of thought becomes like a hiding shell, wherein we are distracted from the discontinuity between our inner intentions and the cumulative motivations of our society. The blinding arenas the Judeo-Christian ontological frameworks of duality have imposed onto our guiding principles of society is like the interjection of a boxed maze, with concrete walls, over a field of existence that already had settled grass paths to its garden. Those dominating Western society seek the nominal, intangible rewards of monetary assets, further dividing their motivations to reside above the environment. Coupled with the drive to conquest, the dominant Western will works to subjugate those regarded below into the elite’s divisive lines, entrapping the subjugated to navigate their way through a maze they cannot see above. The Universe may be continually communicating messages regarding our condition, forewarning us of disaster... but with our heads elongated so far above the grounds of our senses [-our body-] and these bodies buried so deep beneath our drive, we lose sight of how to read messages that ought to be intuitive.

The lived reality of Apocalypse, however, is the World’s instinctual approach to debunk its own previous formations. Natural disaster and chance-trauma may arise as the World’s attempt to shake the uniform body of our society, tear apart our supposed unifying principles, and then reinvigorate. Every aspect of human nature is, too, member to Mother Nature... but the growth of the human relationship between human-and-surrounding gone so askew leads to disastrous developments. Every action has an opposite reaction, and the complexity of malnourished human input will in some way drive equally detrimental responses from Mother Earth. Drastic shifts and epic winds are necessary to debunk the ways of a social-ecosystem that has warped itself lost in its own organizing principles. The goals of society become blurred, and mankind may fail to realize it is losing at the game man made for him very self; we are destroying our environment that bears the fruits of our existence to the point we cannot enjoy the planet we belong to. We do not notice; for we are not integrated within our environment. However, Mother Nature will forever prevail and outlive us all. And so, Mother Nature may conjure up her own spells that consequently inflict forms of New Awakening onto humankind, like a wave that creeps up to drown an inanimate, unsuspecting log. To a human, such a shift
may be a shock. Change is frightening, and when natural change —out of due necessity—performs a dramatic turn toward a Greater balance, it presents as catastrophe. Ultimately, the patterns of the World render every deeply grave mishap a sacrifice intent with purpose, in which tenuous priorities of humankind may not be considered.

The Mexica worldview, which circles around the organizing principle of ‘teotl’, is
exemplary of a way in which Apocalypse may be conceived of through society without compartmentalization. Teotl is everything-- from the subatomic particle, to the vision one sees, the entire body comprising the milky way, and beyond. Teotl is unifying and always the same, but takes on three primary patterns of movement that define motion shift on multiple scales. These three patterns are olin, malinali, and nepantla, and respectively they implement teotl’s renewal & continual degradation along the spectrum of extremities (e.g. being-and-non-being, light-and-dark), energy transfusions and the twists & whirls into various “states” of matter (e.g.
incense burning, song & dance), and the betweening, balancing energies of reciprocity that continually weave all forms together (Maffie, 481). Nepantla (the motion-pattern that weaves) functions to order & re-order the spatial-temporal pieces of the world, working to fuse the shifts of olin and malinali together into the greater scheme of the cosmos. A vital consideration in the force of nepantla is that its work joins inamic partners together; there is no true opposition where one force will ultimately end another. Rather, regeneration against utter Apocalypse is continuously enabled to breed new roads when oppositions come to meet at a crossroads.


Olin, malinali, and nepantla motion shifts together allow the space for the transformative to be embraced in the worldview. The creative-destructive and the destructive-creative are members of the general patterns of change and causation taking place in everyday events, and work toward continual regeneration (never some definitive end). Not holding the source of causation at a distance that constitutes separation (as in the Judeo-Christian conception of God) invites the perceiver to see we are between all forms, “events”, or happenings of causation. Thus, the surprises of unexpected catastrophe grow fewer between, for we are enabled to live more harmoniously. We as actors of cause are able to live within our agency; we never grow blind to the messy knot of consequences we weave that Mother Nature responds to in equal force of opposite reaction. We gain a grasp on our power and our role, without letting that grasp position us above other forces in our worldview.

In my website, I explore the theme of Apocalypse through two series. One is a visual
scape of Apocalypse entitled “Scenes of Apocalypse”. These are casual, solemn, more direct representations of reality that I relate to more typical social imagings of apocalypse & its aftermath. The second series, “Once Upon A Time” concerns my own Apocalyptic Imagination, and provides a more dynamic engagement to fathoming and re-directing the status & imagination of Apocalypse present in our time. I explore teotl, gestalt, nepantla, and the human embodiments that portray the essence of our current socio-environmental relationships. In this paper, I primarily focus on the latter series.

In our current state of society, the relationship between mind and body, body and earth, have each been severed into individualized pieces with imaginary borders. The bodies depicted in the first image presented (‘ ti death do us part ’) embrace failure and embody forfeit. Our heads have fallen to the ground, we have collapsed and succumbed to the corners of limitations our human nature has navigated itself into. The broken cohesion of our mind/body/socio- environmental relationships visually endures this collapse, as we see three distinct bodies inhabiting separate spheres: one white body in the foreground, another black body mid-ground, and finally the grainy grounds of environment enshrouding the background. The encapsulation the flowering trees provide communicates that we are somehow inevitably always bound by the more grounded forms of nature//environment. A streak of light runs vertically through the image and the front body, suggesting a magnetism that aligns the earth-sky with living organism.

Set in the same scene as the first, bodies of the second image accept grief and remorse for their actions. Accepting the emotional realm as well as the physical consequences of an unbalanced psychical realm is essential for movement toward change for the “better”*. Without acceptance, we continue dis-aligned. Without alignment, we ultimately cannot continue; dis-alignment calls for drastic motion shift through the grounds of our teotl. Acceptance in its broadest scope -the elimination of all resistance- is the methodology of decolonizing the mind-body toward reconciliation. Without acceptance, the overwhelming forms of resistance against one another will continue exacerbation until, ultimately, it is Mother Nature’s overpowering resistance that repents (toward) or (against) us all.

*improvement, or the status of ‘better-ness’, is equal to our degree of alignment. We in the Western world fear the unknown and we fear what is different. We create walls to define who we think are those outside of us, and incite further divisions among the interior circle we originally sought to define as “safe”. Our external world is a reflection, an extension of the interior realm. Sometimes we look at the world outside of us and recognize an aspect as broken.

At bottom, we ourselves are disconnected from source. and do not see our own collective action as cumulatively broken. Breaking the world into pieces and parts itself is an act of disconnecting, enabled by the Western tendency toward dualism. Regarding people, customs, and culture as “other” breaks up the very web that constitutes the interior of the acting society. The act of separating what we see as “outside” is made in attempt to sort equal Being into hierarchy. This self-imposes a hierarchy to the interior.

These images portray the instability of the fragmentation of our human world. In the first image, the body is reaching toward an outside world that is only composed of their reflection. The reflection is broken, and the balance we see is trepid, metaphorically speaking for the dooming balance of duality between perceiver//subject and external world//environment the Western world has assigned for itself.

In the second image, we see the perception of fragmentation in reflection. There is a
commentary on “perceiver” made through the inclusion of both the underside of the face ( eyes ) and the reflection. It is almost as though the viewer of the image is offered the perspective of the reflector, but not quite. Instead we get to see the reflector as both object, subject, and in-between. We see a face in part eager to meet itself. The expression of eagerness necessitates that there must be some layer of dis-familiarity. A person seeing the world in a new way, or possibly engaging in the essential act of reflecting on reality for the first time. At the same time, the eyes
seem surprised that the world they see is there-- in this way the image represents a precarious balancing act; and utter knowing that this world ought to not be standing at the stage we’re in.

Our world is broken, and on the delicate brink of dilapidation.
The posturing of the second image is replicated in the third, but the perspective is entirely changed. This third image echoes again the precarious precision required of the balancing act. This time, a single rose is balanced, representing the environment and her elegance. A rose stands above head, suggesting the eradication of the head-over-body conquest model. The body is postured, and the eyes are in focus so to dedicate every bit of the human force to honor the balance of the human The body is unrobed and blue, symbolizing the openness to vulnerability and the freeing from societal conditionings.

A person with a mirror is the actor to blur perceptual reality. To me, the Object of the photograph subjects the camera to the Object’s rules of existence. I consider this relationship to stand for greater happenings in the world: Our World may be held collectively by an Object unknown to us that inflicts on us --as Subject-- actions, ways, patterns of our lives. It is interesting to re-work this framework into the consideration that the sum total of our outward-looking experience, i.e. the sum total of the physical realm, equates to that acting Object. If we are acting into the physical realm, into our experience, isn’t it us too acting into the greater Object that reflects back to us? In this way, we can see a continual role of our perception in nepantla- we are continuously working between two seemingly opposing forces. There is truly no duality between Object and Subject, but an intersecting realm of ontological nepantla. Knowing this space of nepantla means knowing and cultivating the right kind of change.

A sparrow sits atop a pile of human waste. I see the sparrow as embodiment of the Conquest Model, meanwhile partaking in the traditionally wise role of sparrow to forebear the future. The imagery in this triptych depicts intersections of human existence+artifact with environmental nature. These two “categories”are not observed to blend. More narrowly, the series depicts waste. Waste envelops the film of these photographs. The film rolls were stored in my mini-fridge that had a spill; the spill rotted away at the film’s emulsion for months before ever being processed. This process of human waste and negligence done onto these film rolls’ universe, is representative of a gestalt process for what happens to our planet earth when put in the hands of human civilization’s care. We see destruction and inconsistency in unpredictable fashions-- random blobs where wastes attack. Waste is an attribute of broken cycles. For waste to exist requires the lack of direction, purpose, or meaning in action. Waste is devoid of implementation into ‘other’ organizing principles of a society--waste necessarily is a broken category never recycled back into meaning. However, once waste is detached into “waste”, the processes of waste are the natural procession of Mother Nature & chaos. In this way waste, becomes like an epitome of the Western conception of Apocalypse.

The above photographs depict environments abstracted from their context of ‘natural’ environment in its physical sense, but enveloped anew in the unwinding of nature (chaotic waste). In image (a) we see purely concrete, fence and other constructions of humankind presented in confusing form. The abstraction is meant to signify loss of direction. In image b) we see a patch of land part of human settlement, but that is in fact neglected within that settlement. The oscillating-patterned stains of liquid that permeated both the actual concrete object represented, and the film itself, reminds me of the ongoing presence of olin, malinali, and nepantla. In image c) we witness the most abstraction through dualism. We see the outline of a bush, and that bush’s shadow projected onto a mysterious form. The stains of waste here seem to force an intersection between the abstracted dualites. To me, the largest implication through this series is that there is no true distinction between abstraction and representation; this is just another false duality that nepantla weaves together and visually marks the proof of through these
images themselves.


All in all, the frameworks of Western thought still exist within the confines of Universal truth. Some of the Western worldview may be created in fiction, and laws we find to be ultimate may in fact be arbitrary. Our vision of Apocalypse reflects and reinforces the brokenness of many of these un-truths. We are removed, object-to-object, internal-to-external, individual-to-society, and work according to a logic prescribed by fictional stories that provide to our perceptions a false underlying account of cause. In the sum of these accepted fictions, we are working to support fractured, unbalanced values that will lead our society nowhere but at the eventual mercy of Mother Nature. But since truth permeates all, a close look into any aspect of the Western culture may reveal subtleties of the divine, and the ongoing weave
between the micro and macro cosmos. Reimagining our Apocalypse is matter of reworking our worldview. If we each on an individual scope, take it to ourselves to notice both the hopeful and dejecting queues of Mother Nature in our daily lives, we are working to infuse our overarching fictions with truth. We must re-align Western culture from within so that reciprocal forces need not come into play to repent human life out of existence. We must feed what we can to Truth, even when it seems to serve no social value. We must remind ourselves that social messages may be re-directing us to no avail, but that we can always find orienting re-direction through the sequence of connections between our body, surroundings, and macro-environment.




Works Cited

Keating, AnaLouise. "From Borderlands and New Mestizas to Nepantlas and Nepantleras:
Anzaldúan Theories for Social Change," Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of
Self-Knowledge: Vol. 4: Iss. 3, Article 3. (2006)
Available at:

Maffie, James. “Chapter 8: Weaving the Cosmos.” Aztec Philosophy, University Press of
Colorado, 2013, pp. 479–490.

Scarlato, Alessio . “On Apocalypse, Witches and Desiccated Trees: A Reading of Andrej
Tarkovskij’s The Sacrifice.” Shapes of Apocalypse: Arts and Philosophy in Slavic Thought,
edited by Andrea OPPO, Academic Studies Press, Brighton, MA, 2013, pp. 244–264. JSTOR, .

Stevenson, Leslie Forster. “ Twelve Theories of Human Nature.” New York :Oxford University
Press, 2013. Print.

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