Moriarty cultivates a uniquely rich philosophical sense of wonder throughout his oeuvre. In his first published work Dreamtime, he notes that “if you are not fit to walk in the Otherworld you are not philosophically fit to walk in this world.”  For Moriarty, “the Otherworld and this world are one world.” However, they involve very different ways of seeing this one world. The password to enter the Otherworld is :wonder and wonder and again wonder” (Moriarty 2009, 195).  Through this insight Moriarty comes to know that seeing is wonder and wonder is seeing.

Unfortunately, this mode of seeing in which seeing and wonder converge evades many of us.  Instead, our eyes have developed habituated and prejudicial ways of seeing things as objects to be analysed and manipulated for human benefit, thus obscuring their  innate sense of wonder.  Moriarty describes how his own way of seeing and thinking had acquired contracted European/Ulropean[1] habits of eye and mind.  Having  pinpointed the type of habits that infest his eyes and mind he sets himself the arduous task of usurping their dominance.  By challenging and overcoming these limiting perceptual and conceptual habits a profound sense of wonder shines through Moriarty’s writings. 

What is a habit?  What precisely are the stunted Ulropean habits that hold sway over Moriarty?  How does he overcome them to cultivate such a broad and fecund sense of wonder?

In Nostos, Moriarty turns to William James who famously compared a habit to a sheet of paper that has been folded (Moriarty 2001, 223).  For once a sheet of paper has been creased or folded, it has developed a tendency “to fall forever afterward into the same identical folds” (James 1910, 65).  On the back of James’s illustration of what a habit is, Moriarty wonders how folded into European ways of seeing his own mode of seeing is, and how folded into European ways of thinking his mind is. Wondering also if his sight and mind had become crumpled things, he poses two crucial questions: Could I uncrumple, could I unfold, sight in me? Could I uncrumple, could I unfold, mind in me?

Uncrumpling and unfolding the creases and folds of European ways of seeing and thinking is no easy undertaking. As Moriarty observes: “Once educated, a mind is no longer as transformatively available to alternative modes of thinking, intuition, and perception as it originally was.” James is no less sceptical about the possibility of transforming human habitual behaviour, since habit is “second nature, or rather, as the Duke of Wellington said, it is ‘ten times nature’.” He also notes how, “in most of us, by the age of thirty, the character has set like plaster, and will never soften again” (James 1950, 121).

What habits of eye and mind does Moriarty identify as being constrictive? How does he set about loosening their hold? Primarily, Moriarty takes issue with reductive economic, religious, philosophical and scientific modes of perception and discourse. In a broader sense, he combats the entire “sensory-intellectual tool-kit of Europeans” (Moriarty 2009, 248).  Rather than engaging in sustained philosophical argumentation, he mounts this audacious challenge mainly through myth, poetry and metaphor, and by way of philosophical, philomythical, shamanic, poetic, religious and mystical insights. This vast arsenal of counter-cultural insights which he draws upon are for the most part mediated through poetic prose.

For Moriarty, how we perceive things determines our behaviour towards them (Moriarty 2007, 114). He claims our Western perception of things is largely oppressive, and most acute when viewed from a utilitarian-economic perspective, that is to say, perceived solely in terms of their use and benefit for humanity. When a perspective of this nature holds sway, Moriarty asserts, our senses and faculties turn malignant; our ears become hammers and anvils, and our eyes become economic brain tumours. Consequently, when looking at a cow we see only milk and meat, when looking at a tree we see only timber, and when looking at ourselves we see only labour and manpower (Cf Moriarty 2007, 214 and Moriarty 2009, 206). Moriarty enlists Thomas Traherne, William Blake and Wallace Stevens, among other poetic visionaries, to establish a more enlivened, courteous mode of perception. Through Traherne he realizes corn is “orient and immortal wheat, which never should be reaped, nor was ever sown” (Traherne 2007, 152); with Blake he undergoes an exodus from perceptual captivity, whereby “… every sand becomes a Gem/ Reflected in the beams divine.” He comes to see:

The Atoms of Democritus
And Newton’s Particles of Light
Are sands upon the Red Sea shore,
Where Israel’s tents do shine so bright.  (Blake 1920, 108).

Battling the Balor and Cyclops in us, Moriarty turns to Stevens’s “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,” in which multiple ways of perceiving are brilliantly articulated, thereby expanding our vision of things. By extension, for Moriarty himself, vision is visionary: “I see things as mirabilia and so it is in turn that I so often experience myself as Miranda in nature and name” (Moriarty 2007, 374). The word mirabilia derives from Latin and means ‘wonders’, ‘marvels’ or ‘miracles’. Miranda is the name of Prospero’s daughter in Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and from mirandus, meaning ‘admirable’ or ‘wonderful’, Miranda can be semantically linked to the Spanish words mira, ‘sight’, and the verb, mirar, ‘to look at’. In Dreamtime, this broadened manner of seeing things clearly manifests itself :

Every bush is a burning bush,
Every river is a medicine river.
Every stone is an a-stone-ishment turned inwards on its own rose window wonders. (Moriarty 2009, 169)

Can pitting visionary against utilitarian-economic perception, undermine the dominance of the latter? If it is possible for visionary perception to succeed, it is sure to be a protracted battle, for the roots of this utilitarian-economic mode of perception run deep. Vestiges of these roots can perhaps be traced back to the opening passages of the Bible, in which God is accredited with giving man permission to hold dominion, “over the fish of the sea, over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.” Retaining a belief in such a God only serves to preserve a way of being in the world that was redundant from the outset.

Deeply aggrieved by and opposed to Genesis 1:26, 28, in which the mandate for human dominion over the Earth is said to be sponsored by God, Moriarty is also averse to biblical creation and creationism:

We sin against what is, be it universe or pluriverse, when we think of it as having come into existence as a consequence of conscious Divine Fiat.
Our sense of what is as the work of a God who consciously creates, consciously sustains and consciously brings to a foreordained conclusion – that sense of things is our sin against morning and evening the first day, against evening and morning the first night.
We believe in a God who consciously creates, consciously sustains, consciously choreographs towards a final tableau because of our dread of unconsciousness, our dread of wu-hsin, wu wei, mo wei, our dread of miraculousness (Moriarty 1997, 15).

For Moriarty, to think of the universe or pluriverse as something created or made, or as mere handiwork, is entirely offensive and inappropriate, given the stupendousness of what is: “It is defamation of the universe to say of it that it was made. Chairs are made, not furze bushes, not stars.” (Moriarty 2007, 316) Moriarty maintains that the notion of a created universe betrays an anthropocentric bias, a prejudice originating from humans being endowed with cerebro-manual dexterity and opposable thumbs, which enable humans to be tool users and make possible the art of craftsmanship. Physiologically conditioned, this way tends to promote an understanding of the universe as something created or crafted. If a dolphin could imagine how the universe came into existence, Moriarty supposes it would diverge radically from something created or made (Moriarty 2007, 316).

Dread of unconsciousness; wu-hsin, ‘no-mind’ or ‘no-thought’; wu wei, ‘non-action’; mo wei, ‘nothing does it’ or the ‘causeless’; and miraculousness, arises because these ideas threaten to undermine our deep-seated attachments to egocentric and anthropocentric perspectives. According to Moriarty, our biblical choreographing God is required as protection against these intrusive and disruptive notions, providing a ‘bulwark against miraculousness’. Furthermore, he declares: “In the yu-wei works and days which we ascribe to him, our biblical God is our sin against the Divine.” This diminished sense of God, as some type of demiurge or master craftsman, is something Moriarty seeks to ‘desuperimpose’ from the Divine Ungrund (Moriarty 1997, 15).

Maintaining the West is beset by a corrupted lust for explanation, Moriarty confronts reductive philosophical and scientific estimations. He strongly resists the ‘ghostly Platonic’ understanding of things, as mere imperfect representations or copies of immutable and perfect Forms, and Descartes’ grasp of things, as elaborated in Discourse on Method and Principles of Philosophy. In these particular texts, Descartes’ interpretation of corporeal matter is confined to quantitive descriptions of arithmetic and geometry, involving nothing more than “divisions, shapes and movements” (Descartes 1991, 77).  Additionally, he thinks of the material world as an indefinite series of variations in the shape, size and motions of the homogeneous matter he calls res extensa (extended matter or substance), a concept Moriarty vehemently rejects, for whom ‘matter’ is ‘mind in hibernation’.  Expanding on this he cites a passage from the Hermetica, in which Hermes instructs Tat on the nature of the cosmos, saying: “ho de sumpas kosmos houtos … pleroma est tes zoes,” translated to mean: “this whole cosmos … is a pleroma of aliveness” (Trismegistus 1993, 233). Disputing Descartes, Moriarty argues that the cosmos or universe is chiefly characterized by aliveness, adding: “since it is sometimes alive in the contrary ways that it is alive, we will always need to call upon myth as well as upon math when we attempt to talk about it” (Moriarty 1996, xvii-xviii). So strange and marvellous is the universe, according to Moriarty, that it justifies myth or the “folk-tale as much as it justifies science, it justifies the fairy-story as much as it justifies maths-physics” (Moriarty 2009, 250) .

Moriarty constests the compositional scientific estimation of things in Dreamtime: “Water isn’t H2O. It might be composed of H2O, but it isn’t only what it is composed of. Once it has come into existence it is no longer composed. It isn’t a compound,” and turns to the Buddha’s Flower Sermon in which he smilingly and silently held up a white flower (Moriarty 2009, 249).

By holding up a flower rather than delivering a speech, is the Buddha gently and peacefully destroying an addiction to ingrained, long-established habits of mind that are not even recognized as habits? Is the Buddha guiding onlookers to direct beholding rather than to a truth mediated by language and thought? Moriarty seems to suggest that the Buddha’s sermon is capable of dismantling the habitual pursuit of scientific and linguistic explanation: “Be true to your eyes, not to the desiderata of science or language. Zen Buddhists know it: there is a seeing that is the same thing as satori” (Moriarty 2009, 249).

Challenging the habits of eye and mind, Moriarty attempts to free things from economic, religious, philosophical and scientific reductionism, to liberate things from our oppressive perceptual and intellectual regimes:

Standing before pharaoh in Egypt, Moses said, “Let my people go.” And now addressing the pharaoh in ourselves, we say, Things, let things go.

Let us liberate the last of the things that need to be liberated – things themselves from our utilitarian biblical estimation of them, from our ghostly Platonic estimation of them, from our res extensa Cartesian estimation of them, from our compositional scientific estimation of them.

The Bastille Day of things, of eyes with which to see them, of minds with which to know them (Moriarty 2007, 214-215).

Not limited to something as narrowly conceived as human liberty, the Bastille Day Moriarty has in mind relates to all things.  This extensive sense of liberation opens up innumerable  pathways into the Otherworld that is this world.  The password to enter is wonder.


Blake, William.  1920.  Poems of William Blake, ed. William Butler Yeats.  Boni and Liveright: New York.

Descartes, René.  1991.  Principles of Philosophy, trans. Valentine Rodger Miller & Reese P. Miller.  Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers: Dordrecht.

James, William.  1950.  The Principles of Psychology, vol. 1.  Dover Publications: New York.

James, William.  1910.  Talks to Teachers on Psychology: and to Students on Some of Life’s Ideals.  Press of Geo. H. Ellis Co.:  London.

Moriarty, John.  2009.  Dreamtime.  The Lilliput Press: Dublin.

Moriarty, John.  2007.  What the Curlew Said: Nostos Continued.  The Lilliput Press: Dublin.

Moriarty, John.  2001. Nostos, An Autobiography.  The Lilliput Press: Dublin.

Moriarty, John.  1997. Turtle Was Gone a Long Time, Volume Two: Horsehead Nebula Neighing. The Lilliput Press: Dublin.

Traherne, Thomas.  2007.   Centuries of Meditation.  Cosimo:  New York.

Trismegistus, Hermes.  1993.  Hermetica: the ancient Greek and Latin writings which contain Religious or Philosophic teachings ascribed to Hermes Trismegistus, ed. & trans. Walter Scott.  Shambhala: Boston.

*This short written piece is an adapted version  of a section entitled ‘Challenging the Habits of Eye and Mind’ from the Introduction to A Moriarty Reader, Preparing for Early Spring, edited by Brendan O’ Donoghue. 2012. The Lilliput Press: Dublin.

[1] Moriarty coined the  term ‘Ulropean’ and it has a specific Blakean meaning.  Moriarty defines the term as follows: “The Fall, which the poet William Blake envisaged as a descent through four distinct states of mind: Eden, Beulah, Generation and Ulro. The latter is our condition.”  For Blake, Ulro signifies the land of the living dead, a ghostly realm in which false idols, delusions, and abstractions prevail, thereby obscuring the divine reality.