When logic and proportion
Have fallen sloppy dead
And the White Knight is talking backwards
And the Red Queen’s “off with her head!”
Remember what the dormouse said:
“Feed your head. Feed your head. Feed your head”
~ Grace Slick & Jefferson Airplane, “White Rabbit”
In late 2021, an anthem of sixties psychedelic rock became the theme song of the latest entry in the Matrix franchise, whose Neo and Trinity are middle-aged now, fifty-something, just like me. Their story’s at least as old as Plato: what’s real, and what’s just shadows, flitting across the cave walls? Take the red pill, they urge us, and turn around to see.
The message spoke to me especially because I’d spent the last few years in a state of epistemic crisis. In the fall of 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned the world that exceeding 1.5 degrees of temperature rise above pre-industrial levels—as we were then, and are still, on track to do—could end civilization as we know it, or even human life on Earth. Since then, like many of my friends, I’ve devoted my professional activity to trying to do something about it, while living with the reality that as far as logic and reason can tell, progress is agonizingly and insufficiently slow. Carrying on without panicking requires accessing the less rational, less goal-oriented parts of ourselves: through spiritual practices; through love and friendship (which Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg has called the only thing that matters, apart from the climate); and through art, culture, and interdisciplinary intellectual exploration enjoyed for its own sake. As we’re faced with political and practical blockages of so many kinds, we need to think more, think differently, and think together—in all these senses, to feed our heads.
That’s the purpose of my new organization, Tandeta. It takes its name from a Polish word the great 20th century writer Bruno Schulz used to mean treasures found in trash, hidden gems that look like nothing at first glance, but turn out to be sublime. Tandeta is the great flea-market find, the brilliant DIY Halloween costume, the antiques stuffed behind the insulation in your grandmother’s attic, and the leftovers you somehow whip up into a meal that hits the spot. Tandeta’s about judging thought and creativity on its own terms, regardless of its packaging or pedigree. It aims to entertain and educate with simply-produced, high-quality content in a number of genres, and this journal is its first periodical.
The Tandeta journal’s eclectic purview was inspired by the feuilleton of nineteenth-century France, which joined reviews and cultural criticism with serialized fiction and news to give readers an overall sense of what—in the journal’s view, at least—is culturally and intellectually happening. For our inaugural issue in January 2022, I chose the theme of epiphany, both to mark my own realization that instead of submitting work to other publications, I could start my own—why did I never think of it before?—and because for January, epiphany is an ancient theme.
Long before it became the day an American president tried to stoke an insurrection (bringing us a terrifying epiphany of our democracy’s fragility), January 6 marked the Feast of the Epiphany, the day the three kings known as the Magi traveled to pay homage to the infant Jesus. I love the way T.S. Eliot imagined their experience in his poem “The Journey of the Magi.” Being in on the world-altering news that God’s son had arrived “was (you may say) satisfactory.” Then, however, they had to return to “our places, these Kingdoms/But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation/With an alien people clutching their gods.” Epiphanies are often like that: realizations or insights that create at once beginnings and endings, and bring both solace and challenge. Eliot’s contemporary James Joyce adapted the term to a secular context, creating many literary instances of sudden vision, of heightened perception, that change a person’s understanding of the world. All these meanings, I believe, are circulating within and among the articles you are about to read.
I am grateful to my friends who have written for this issue and especially to Greta Ode, whose editorial work has made it all cohere. It is my hope that the juxtaposition of articles exploring many different aspects and kinds of epiphanies may in some small measure, help readers to experience their own.