Slums of Consciousness

The architecture of slums is found in their walls. They have long since over-run their purpose of merely separating spaces, whether in a pleasant, luxurious, or merely functional way. The slum is built of walls which glower and sweat inwards, exuding the despair they have been basted with over the years. The walls of slums represent final edges to reality, not just divisions across which one can travel.

As below, so above. Those places in the sea of possible consideration which have developed the hardest odors, the most hidden of dank corners and the most futile of lives are likewise known by their walls.

The heart which erects the cheaply made, thick and barren division which contains less joy than it does terror becomes a slum of consciousness. When the false decor peels from the walls revealing shoddy workmanship and impenetrable mildew, the slum begins to smell like every barrio from Rio to the South Bronx, from the outskirts of Rabat to the edges of East L.A. This is not rot for the nose but for the soul; and its is found often where it is least expected.

The contrast between the outside of a human, his social equipage and his trained use of language and gesture to keep the world at a distance, and his interior slums, are like the contrast between a "visit California!" poster and the cellars of Watts. Signals of the type sent by social machinery, however, do not fool the world-wise heart; when the substance behind them is moldy, with excrement in the halls, all the gloss in Beverly Hills does not keep in the stink; it permeates the air around one like a discreditable halo of compromise and ill-intent.

In fact one can find very modest lives, without any wealth to boast of, in which the interior design is elegant, honest, and un-pretentious, and one can find very elegant-looking lives within which the smell of pretense is everywhere like boiled cabbage in North Philly -- a smell you don't escape. The economy of these lives is not noble, full of exchange and good service, but barren and desperate. As in the slums of reality, a self-induced obsession with limit denies all opportunity and gravitates inexorably toward hard luck and obdurate failure. But the slums within do not nurture failure of the pocket; only that of the soul. The hard and foul fortune is not of monetary flow but of the pulse that speaks to the man or woman within as he lets go the world on the borders of sleep or in a moment of inadvertent meditation.

Man or woman or child, the design within -- like the architecture without -- can be pretentious, overblown, modest, sensible, or corroded. And as with slums in the world, the standards of life there are surprisingly acceptable to those who live them.

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