It’s got a cool sound in Latin: tabula rasa, the writing tablet scraped clean. They used to theorize that the newborn human was a tabula rasa. The sensory world begins making marks on that blank slate and it matures accordingly. The Hindus, I was told by American devotees of an Indian guru named Baba Hari Dass, a man who had not spoken for decades, call some of these impressions on the tabula rasa samskaras. These were like fingerprints in clay, as I was made to understand it. Samskaras are dispositions, characteristics and themes left over from past lives, as I recall.
Somebody came up with the clever “wherever you go, there you are.” There are some clever bastards out there, really. Writing in the darkness of night, intent on the words you are putting down, you will find no time to imagine the blank looks. I speak only for myself, of course.
I get angry. At things like brutality, the random fuckings we are all subjected to, fuckings out of the blue, with absolutely no pleasure for ourself, no possibility of pleasure. We are done this way, at random, for the pleasure of people who, like pedophile priests, say “fuck mutuality, fuck decency, I see my fellow humans as base coin with which to gratify my passions. My passions!” These things are uttered by people who imagine themselves winners, and they do what they do to the rest of us losers feeling wholly justified. Because they can, you understand.
My grandmother flew into rages, the grandmother I never met. Her older brother was known to be a rough customer, a man with a formidable temper. Her nephew was a tough guy with a bad temper too. You did what they said or you paid the price. What was the price? How about I fucking whip you in the face, you like that price, asshole?
My father, a man whose poignant tenderness to animals was always in evidence, often flew into rages. His mother, I learned very late in his life, whipped him in the face from the time he could stand. Basic unfairness scalded him all throughout his life and he would cry out. There was nothing I could do for him, when I was a tabula rasa. Nothing but stare at him accusingly, with my big, black eyes. He would look over from his pillow, with his glasses off and his 20/400 vision, and I would be staring at him through the bars of my crib. A blank slate, staring without mercy at his own father.
How insane is this arrangement? It is hard to put it into words. It is also good to try to put it into words, speaking only for myself, of course. I heard that David Foster Wallace believed a good book made you feel less alone, less lonely. There is a certain pain, familiar to most people, of feeling isolated, apart, removed from the community. This pain is big business, a huge driver of our highly competitive economy.
The anodyne business itself, huge, vast mountains of money. People die behind that stuff every day, take enough of it and you will no longer need any pain killer. The entertainment business, which lets us forget, while moved by an artfully told tale, that we are essentially, blank slates or slates scribbled with a hundred layers of glyphs, here in the darkness by ourselves, destined each of us to our own end. A good book connects us with another mind, helps us forget all that. The same can be said of music that stirs us, transports us, or visual art that evokes feelings that leave us in some kind of awe.
You will meet a few people in your life who are familiar, become more familiar. They put their fingerprints on you in the right way. You learn things you need to know from such people. They are rare, and precious. Not everyone has the luck to meet them, and if they do meet them, not every two of us have the ability to hit it off. Not every two notes make good music. Where there is noise only, there is no soothing of the savage beast .
I’m thinking about this blank slate because of the empty page, the white screen. Some people look at that expanse and say “shit…” I always have a certain excitement when I see that empty canvas. It can become literally anything you can imagine, speaking only for myself, of course.
 OK, fine, “savage breast”.
The phrase was coined by William Congreve, in The Mourning Bride, 1697: Musick has Charms to sooth a savage Breast, To soften Rocks, or bend a knotted Oak.