‘On “Spirituality” and “Metaphysics”’ (Video Transcript & Expansion)

LOGOS II (SoundCloud / YouTube)


“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

—Aristotle

~

Here is my second video transcript and expansion (VT&E), this time on the use of the phrases “spirituality” and “metaphysics,” and regarding phraseology in talking about the “inner life” more generally. (THIS is the video, part two of the LOGOS series of videos that I am slowly (but surely) putting online.)

crowley

Aleister Crowley. (Source unknown.)

So, “once more unto the breech…”:

“So, today I kind of wanted to talk about… spirituality. You know: what does that mean? You know, what annoys me is that… I dunno… I guess I think of myself as [something of a] spiritual person. No—I definitely think of myself as a spiritual person, but, I don’t feel the need to define  what that means, exactly… because I feel like “spirituality” is kind of, in and of itself, a bit of a nebulous phrase. Kind of like the word “art,” for instance, you know? Like, if you talk about art to somebody they’re gonna know, like, what you’re talking about. [I mean] it’s art. They’d know what art is. But, when you really ask them to get into the nitty gritty and define it, it becomes… it becomes kind of vague, doesn’t it? And, so, I think spirituality, like art,  is similar in this way. I think because especially it’s something that’s kind of, not necessarily fundamental… but… well, perhaps fundamental to human experience—it’s hard to define. What annoys me is that you have people… [Well] you know, when you hear the word “spirituality” nowadays you might think of, you know, what a lot of people are touting as spirituality, which is kind of a—a “spirituality”—which is kind of a New Agey agglomeration of ideas… I guess that kind of were imported from eastern philosophies [maybe] mixed with paganism and whatever else someone’s focused on. It’s… usually “woo-woo.” You know that phrase? Michael Shermer uses it a lot: “woo-woo.” It’s bullshit… And I’m not necessarily saying that all of it’s bullshit. I don’t think we completely understand the nature of these things. But, a lot of people who say that they’re “spiritual” kind of dive head in—or, you know, head first—into a lot of BS, without really taking the time to really (sic) think about what that means, or what the word “spirituality” means, and what they’re really practicing and thinking about. Like… I’m not saying that I completely deny the possibility that maybe, you know, there’s such a thing or there’s something in the body that’s analogous to [say] chakras, but when you say you’re a spiritual person and therefore you believe in chakras or crystal healing or whatever… it’s (sic) not really [representative of] what spirituality is. I mean, if I were (sic) an artist, or if I said that I was an artist—rather—and I just said, “Well, I like Dalí, I like Picasso, I like Rembrandt—so that makes me an artist!” … that sounds… that doesn’t [really] make you an artist. That’s really doesn’t (sic)… really isn’t what it means to be an artist… if you like a particular thing, or you pursue a particular thing, even. Art, again, is kind of one of those nebulous phrases. And, in any case, I think that the word “spirituality” has just been co-opted by, I guess, the New Age community to mean something that it really doesn’t. And I think that’s problematic, because spirituality is such a beautiful thing. I mean, to me—I don’t really like to define it—but, it’s something, like I said, that, in a way, is fundamental to the human experience. It’s an experience of something greater. And you don’t really… need to go much beyond that, you know, [or] really say what that “greater” thing is. Sometimes there is an experience—I would almost say like a transcendental experience—of the wholeness of the world and one’s place in it, and I would say that that’s spiritual in some sense. But, of course, you have all these phrases that, you know, you get mixed in there: You say, “OK, that’s a mystical experience… it’s [a] transcendental experience, an ecstatic experience, a religious experience…” But, then again, ecstasy and religion and mysticism are not necessarily spirituality… Now, another phrase that gets co-opted like this is “metaphysics.” You know, you have people who say, you know, they’re into “metaphysics”—so [of course] that means they subscribe to Spirit Science, or whatever that page is. But, I mean, “metaphysics” is a much broader term that kind of refers to a discipline in philosophy. And, when I think of metaphysics—at least—I think of, you know, the work of various philosophers: You know, I think of Spinoza’s metaphysics, or Hegel’s metaphysics, or something of that nature. I don’t think of levitation from yogis and shit like that. Even though the word “metaphysics” literally means “beyond physics,” it’s not the same as—again, here’s another phrase—”supernatural,” [or] what’s supernatural. “Supernatural” is not necessarily “metaphysical.” There’s overlap among these phrases: “mysticism,” “religion,” “philosophy,” “metaphysics,” “spirituality,” “transcendental experience.” These words and phrases—there’s overlap—but, we should be careful not to say they mean something that they don’t, or, rather, that they mean something specific when they’re really meant to be more broad than the way we talk about them in normal discourse… Because, I was actually having, I guess, a kind of debate here on YouTube, on a video—I can’t remember what it was—but I was talking to, you know, one of these hardcore atheist types, who’s like, you know, “fuck religion,” and all that. But, you know, I was saying, you know, “even if you’re not religious, spirituality can be important to you.” And, certainly, I’ve met a lot of people who would say that: [that] they’re spiritual but not necessarily religious. But, this guy just kind of wanted to, you know, bust my balls over this and insist that spirituality doesn’t exist.  In the same way that he thought [that] religion was a lie, [that] religion was bullshit, he’s like, “spirituality is bullshit.” That’s like saying art is bullshit. I mean, what is there to be bullshit about it? It can’t be bullshit, because it’s just not… it’s not something that’s trying to be true or untrue, it’s just experiential, and in some ways it’s intuitive… isn’t it? I dunno. But, I think we should be careful when we conflate these phrases or say that,”this is this,” or, “this is that.” There is overlap. That doesn’t mean that one is the same thing as the other…”

~

SOME CLARIFICATIONS AND CORRECTIONS:

  • Spirit Science is the clickbait Facebook handle of The Spirit Science, a website to which no subscription is required in order to access its content.
  • My contention with chakras does not so much boil down to whether they exist or not (I think that, like many things of this nature, they work better as psychological tools, and really I doubt that there will ever be any real, tangible evidence for the existence of something very analogous to them within the body), but rather how they represent the credulity of those who delve into popular/trendy “spirituality.” (i.e. New Age eclecticism, gullibility, and ill-defined/wishy-washy/feel-good superstition loaded with “deep” buzzwords.) In short, I’m using them as an example here.
  • The analogy I made with art and artists is admittedly a bad one. I think that my point still stands, however.
  • Michael Shermer is the founder of The Skeptics Society, and editor-in-chief of its magazine, Skeptic. While I think that his use of the term “woo” (or “woo-woo”) is often sensible—and, for the purposes of the video/transcript, useful—he is a bit hard-line for my liking, standing in line with the more uncompromising “scientific/hard-evidence-based-everything” philosophy types. (I’m hesitant to throw this phrase around—as New Age folks themselves often abuse it—but “scientism” comes to mind.)

This video was done impromptu, so if I’m lacking good articulation in either the video or this transcription, I ask you to be forgiving.

~

Hierophant with occultic regalia. (Source unknown.)

Hierophant with occultic regalia. (Source unknown.)

I think of myself as a philosophically eclectic person. By that I mean that there are fundamental ideas that come from, say, existentialism, that I hold as sensible, while—at the same time—I also subscribe (to another degree) to something like (or parts of) pragmatism, and/or evidentialism, and/or Hegelianism, and/or Nietzschean affirmation, and so forth. There are concepts put forward by Schopenhauer, Kant, Hume, Marcus Aurelius, Plato, Zeno of Citium, Epicurus, Sartre, Aristotle, Wittgenstein, Camus, Kierkegaard, Diogenes, Lyotard, etc., etc., that I agree with. And I don’t find conflict between these numerous ideas—they are not mutually exclusive, and the philosophers in question are never completely (on all points possible) opposed—and neither do I find conflict in the ideas (those that I accept) that come from, say, religious philosophy, in particular. To name some sources: Aleister Crowley (Thelema, Western esotericism), Laozi (Taoism), Jesus (Christianity), Confucius (Confucianism, Chinese philosophy), Buddha (Buddhism), Nagarjuna (Mahayana Buddhism), Augustine (Christianity), Adi Shankara (Vedantic Hinduism), Dogen (Zen Buddhism, Japanese Buddhism), Tilopa (Vajrayana Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism), Hermes Trismegistus (Hermeticism, Western esotericism), yada yada.

I make a point of distinguishing those ideas which I accept, so as to show that someone can entertain an idea without taking it as an irrevocable fact. I take this dichotomy from Aristotle, particularly his saying, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” All day long I juggle with ideas: I test them out, try them on for size, and if they don’t “work” I leave them as they are. I may pick them up later. I may not. But the point here is that ideas are, generally speaking, provisional. That’s not to say there’s no “truth” to an idea one accepts, but that implicit in accepting an idea there is a usefulness to that acceptance. The idea becomes a tool. Thus, philosophies, religions, paradigms, worldviews—whatever—become tools for personal use; most readily, it often seems, to organize the contents of consciousness or patterns observed in the world or, in the case of spiritually-, existentially-, or mystically-directed paradigms, to foster the acquisition of a proposed “Absolute,” or “Ultimate,” etc.

So, in the realm of ideas, some may have more veracity than others, but, in any case, there is a usefulness there. People tend to get lost in ideas. I am no exception. But there’s also got to be the ability to “pull back from the brink,” as they say, and say to oneself, “wait a minute, does that really make sense? Is there any way in which that could be sensible? If so, how?” In the pursuit of that which is mysterious, skepticism is not only helpful, but essential. I should mention that, along these lines, I admire the motto of Aleister Crowley’s magickal order, the A∴A∴ (a Thelemic organization): “The method of science, the aim of religion.”

What a beautiful and challenging aim it is! And what an excellent method! (Though some have questioned the Thelemic tradition’s commitment to empirical scientific fact, as a religion (or magickal/occult system, or religious philosophy, etc. (Thelema is, in this way, like Buddhism, hard to pin down) its adherents often retain a kind of robust skepticism and pragmatic sensibility that I haven’t encountered among other groups. But this may merely be a personal, and superficial, impression, anyway, as people differ in their beliefs so much on an individual level.)

Anyway, I’m going off topic.

My point is ultimately this: “Spirituality” is a word both as meaningful and beautiful, and yet undefinable, as “art.” By using the phrase to signify something superficial, we devalue it. We are taking that broad, amorphous realm which embodies the sense of awe, reverence, beauty, wonder, and sacredness that human beings have for all the grandeur and minutia of the world, and bringing it down to the level of a commodity. When we begin to have “spiritual supply stores” selling candles and doo-dads, or when we deem talismans, crystals, and bottles of “fairy dust” to be spiritual, we damn something that is at the very core of the human experience.

Similarly, “metaphysics” represents perhaps the most wondrous and penetrative branch of human thought. Metaphysics is at the very core of philosophy (some would say epistemology, but that’s beside the point), and is the attempt by conscious beings to tap into the untold center of themselves and their world. It is a noble goal, and one that is bastardized by thoughtless associations with illogical balderdash. So, I propose we separate the words “spirituality” and “metaphysics” from “superstition,” “supernatural,” “paranormal,” and so forth. I say that serious “seekers” ought to understand both the overlap and the differences, the divide between genuine philosophy and the commercialization of watered down religious traditions, imported from far-away lands or semi-secretive orders at the behest of materialistic Westerners looking for some zest in life beyond the confines Netflix, Starbucks, iPhones, and People magazine. But this has all been said before, in one way or another, hasn’t it? And many times! In the end, bickering and bitching, saying and proclaiming get us nowhere.

Despite my love of writing, I will be the first to say that words will always ill-represent their ultimate, underlying reality, and direct experience—that mysterious conduit of all spirituality—remains in the silence. As that long dead mystic said, “Of all the Magical and Mystical Virtues, of all the Graces of the Soul, of all the Attainments of the Spirit, none has been so misunderstood, even when at all apprehended, as Silence.” It is astride our experiences that we build our knowledge, and we best do so with as much honesty and evidence as possible. One needn’t abandon reason in order to attain the heights of spiritual fulfillment, or be credulous to do the work of the mystics. Well, what is that work? I myself don’t really rightly know, but, in any case, why not approach our truest happiness and greatest potentials with an eye for the truth and a mind that entertains, without accepting?


» Check out the LOGOS! podcast on Soundcloud and the video series version on YouTube.

logos

‘Of Course We’re Doomed’ (Video Transcript and Expansion)

LOGOS I (SoundCloud / YouTube)


I’ve been itching to reboot my YouTube account for a while now. I used to do some sparse reviews and music video mashups and all that. I figured, I’ve still got it on there, and decided to start uploading again.

THIS is my most recent yammering. An impromptu monologue in line with « Forever and Ever (and Ever and Ever and…)—a Little Rant… », on the collision of value and virtue. Part of a new and ongoing series with the provisional name of LOGOS:

I’m not a bona fide philosopher. But I like to talk my ass off.

Gustave Doré: illustration of Lucifer falling from Heaven (1865), for Milton's Paradise Lost.

Gustave Doré: illustration of Lucifer falling from Heaven (1865), for Milton’s Paradise Lost.

The transcript:

“Of course we’re doomed. That’s a given. But, I think we often wonder how and when… I mean, you can’t honestly expect the human race to survive, say, the heat death of the universe; and, we know in all likelihood that it will be much earlier than that, that the species meets its demise. I mean, I think it was said [that] that would occur in something like 10 to the hundreth power (10100) years or something—some wildly ridiculous number like that… the heat death of the universe… the “degenerate era,” or whatever. But I guess the problem boils down to one of infinity and immortality… you know, this idea that we need to preserve something… Why? I mean, you see monuments and statues and all sorts of things erected all over the world all the time in honor of so and so or such and such; and you do have to wonder, you know… several billion years from now the Sun is going to engulf the Earth… and you have to wonder exactly what people are thinking. Like… this is being left for posterity? [I mean] it’s short-sighted. If you’re long-sighted you realize none of it lasts, and there’s no point in doing anything with a sense of I’m preserving something… [That] I’m preserving some kind of artifact, especially… that, you know, is really ultimately a product of my ego. And I think this is where we boil down to a lot of moral philosophy… that here and now, what can we do to alleviate the suffering of sentient creatures? I think that ultimately that’s what we care about, even if we don’t realize it. “We all want to be happy.” I think that’s what the Dalai Lama said, right? But… “what can we do to make ourselves and other people [truly] happy?” Not, “what can we do to gratify ourselves and make us feel like we’re somehow memetically (sic) immortal?” Because, we won’t be, and none of this—none of the grandiose structures… none of the art, the literature, the music, the philosophy—nothing that humans have ever done is going to be a lasting thing in the universe at large (sic). So, what do we do now? Here and now? I think that’s the real question.”

~

I think that if we take this view to its logical conclusion we realize the general importance of empathy and compassion. Now, there are moral relativists, and solipsists, and other types who think that morality, generally speaking, doesn’t have a set state, or that suffering is either non-existent (and thus a non-issue) or dulled for other minds. (If there even are other minds.)

Anyway, there are a lot of different ways of looking at morality. But I think that most of us can agree that, if there is such a thing as morality or virtue, it ties into our sense of empathy and the existence of suffering for both ourselves and others. Poor old Schopenhauer had this in mind when he, in his On the Basis of Morality, wrote:

“If an action has as its motive an egoistic aim… it cannot have any moral worth… the everyday phenomenon of compassion… the immediate participation, independent of all ulterior considerations, primarily in the suffering of another, and thus in the prevention or elimination of it… Only insofar as an action has sprung from compassion does it have moral value; and every action resulting from any other motives has none.”

Now, that being said, I will say that pity is something I think should more often than not be avoided. I mostly agree with Crowley’s assertion on this issue, as presented in his article “On Thelema” (c. 1926-1927):

“Pity implies two very grave errors…

The first error… is an implicit assumption that something is wrong with the Universe, and that moreover one is so insidiously obsessed by the Trance of Sorrow as to have completely failed in the task of solving the riddle of Sorrow, and gone through life with the groan of a hurt animal—”All is Sorrow.” The second error is still greater since it involves the complex of the Ego. To pity another person implies that you are superior to him, and you fail to recognize his absolute right to exist as he is.”

Crowley was, of course, speaking from the perspective of Thelema, a rather (I would argue) Nietzschean occult system which promotes the divine sovereignty of oneself and the primacy of joy over suffering (“Remember all ye that existence is pure joy; that all the sorrows are but as shadows; they pass & are done; but there is that which remains…”—Crowley, Liber Legis sub figura CCXX), putting it somewhat at odds with Schopenhauer and Buddhism (which I will mention further down). Schopenhauer and Buddha both seemed to have as their emphasis the nature and problem of suffering (“Unless suffering is the direct and immediate object of life, our existence must entirely fail of its aim. It is absurd to look upon the enormous amount of pain that abounds everywhere in the world, and originates in needs and necessities inseparable from life itself, as serving no purpose at all and the result of mere chance…”—Schopenhauer, Studies in Pessimism), whereas Nietzsche promoted—in his disagreement with Buddhism, Stoicism, and Christianity—amor fati, the love of one’s fate (despite pain), and Thelema seems to have a vaguely similar idea of things. (“I want to learn more and more to see as beautiful what is necessary in things; then I shall be one of those who make things beautiful. Amor fati: let that be my love henceforth! I do not want to wage war against what is ugly. I do not want to accuse; I do not even want to accuse those who accuse. Looking away shall be my only negation. And all in all and on the whole: some day I wish to be only a Yes-sayer.”—Nietzsche, The Gay Science.)

Frankly, I find all four—Gotama Buddha, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and Crowley—to be incredibly wise in their own ways, and it is difficult to “side” with any particular one in terms of ethics and value. We’re talking about some very profound thinkers and articulate writers and orators here.

Anyway, true compassion, to my mind, does not involve any kind of power exchange or other faulty dynamic. It must be a recognition that what is within oneself is also within another.

Despite Crowley’s admonishments of those who are “obsessed by the Trance of Sorrow,” the Buddhist view (particularly in line with the Mahayana) is one very close to my heart on this issue. As is noted by the Buddha of the Diamond Sutra, in speaking to his disciple Subhuti:

“…Subhuti, in the practice of compassion and charity a disciple should be detached. That is to say, he should practice compassion and charity without regard to appearances, without regard to form, without regard to sound, smell, taste, touch, or any quality of any kind. Subhuti, this is how the disciple should practice compassion and charity.”

In this context, compassion is something that must exist without regard to condition—the condition of ourselves, others, or the world at large. It must be self-existent and be provided to all beings.

But this brings me back to my original point: In a world so transient (as the Buddha, speaking of Buddhism, was so eager to point out), suffering and happiness must be our chief concerns. Looking to impermanent objects or projects for a lasting sense of meaning, security, or peace of mind is ultimately folly and is destined to fail. We are very much “doomed,” both as individuals and a species. We will not and cannot go on forever, and the idea that we persevere through objects/products/creations is a trick of the ego. Plus, considering the current state of our little planet’s climate and ecology, there’s a distinct possibility that we won’t be around much longer anyway. Given that, it is time to afford ourselves and other creatures a perfect measure of respect and love. I think that, despite any philosophical debate, we must come back to the fact of suffering and do something about it. What can we do otherwise?


» Check out the LOGOS! podcast on Soundcloud and the video series version on YouTube.

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Thirteen Weeks (Bullshit—Layman’s Review of Unfathomable Art)

I’m a shitty student. I’m not a stupid person, but I am a shitty student. Just some sick and lazy undergrad. I had a writing class this semester, the topic of which was “hybrid genres.” It was a good class, and an easy class, but I still managed to score a C- overall, mostly out of sheer laziness.

Anyway, we had to make a research portfolio, with a study of a primary artist, as well as other artists encountered during our course of research, due each week, for 15 weeks. I cheesed most of it. (And only did 13 of the 15.) Still, the final product came out to about 30 pages of double spaced text, and I thought, why not? I’ll put it online. (With a few additions.)

So here’s something both heady and stupid, a bit of half-BS about art and music, multimedia, inter-textual things, and all those aesthetic shenanigans.

If this comes across to you as some name-dropping bonanza, then you’re definitely on to something. It’s basically supposed to be.

WEEK 1:

[…]

WEEK 2:

In the past several weeks I’ve encountered a variety of artists, musicians, and poets who inform contemporary artistic milieu. For instance—just to name a few of many examples—Pavarotti’s opera, Magritte’s surrealist paintings, and the poetry of Neruda have had various impacts on the many art-forms that we see proliferating today. I’d like to write a little on them, as well as Ed Ruscha (my first of many, henceforth, “weekly artists”) before initiating a discussion on, and observation of, the work of Toulouse-Lautrec.

Surrealism, in this case represented by the work of René Magritte (1898-1967), was a key player in the development of postmodern art. Magritte’s works are masterful portrayal of a world that exists outside the normal bounds of nature: they are symbolic, haunting, challenging—often a subtle trick on the viewer’s state of consciousness—and, perhaps above all, full of wit.

Magritte said of his work: “My painting is (sic) visible images which conceal nothing… they evoke mystery and indeed when one sees one of my pictures, one asks oneself this simple question: ‘What does that mean?’ It does not mean anything, because mystery means nothing either, it is unknowable.”

I was lucky enough to see some Magritte’s paintings (as well as Dali’s) in the MoMA a few years ago.

the-lovers-2

Magritte: The Lovers II (1928). (From ReneMagritte.org.)

Neruda (1904-1973) took on a slew of different topics in his poetry. His work tackled subjects as diverse as politics and nature, nostalgia and food. I recently finished reading his compilation On the Blue Shore of Silence, a series of beautiful contemplations on the sea. His diversity and the exquisite nature of his expression never fail to captivate me. They also did not fail to inform a greater postmodern aesthetic.

Pablo Neruda in 1966.

Pablo Neruda in 1966. (From Wikimedia.)

One of his most striking poems from that collection is, in my opinion, “The Sea”:

I need the sea because it teaches me.
I don’t know if I learn music or awareness,
if it’s a single wave or its vast existence,
or only its harsh voice or its shining
suggestion of fishes and ships.
The fact is that until I fall asleep,
in some magnetic way I move in
the university of the waves.
It’s not simply the shells crunched
as if some shivering planet
were giving signs of its gradual death;
no, I reconstruct the day out of a fragment,
the stalactite from the sliver of salt,
and the great god out of a spoonful.
What it taught me before, I keep. It’s air
ceaseless wind, water and sand.
It seems a small thing for a young man,
to have come here to live with his own fire;
nevertheless, the pulse that rose
and fell in its abyss,
the crackling of the blue cold,
the gradual wearing away of the star,
the soft unfolding of the wave
squandering snow with its foam,
the quiet power out there, sure
as a stone shrine in the depths,
replaced my world in which were growing
stubborn sorrow, gathering oblivion,
and my life changed suddenly:
as I became part of its pure movement.

Pavarotti’s (1935-2007) voice was as powerful and moving as Neruda’s poetry. I grew up listening to some of his aria: My grandfather would often put on a Pavarotti cassette when he would drive me to church on Sundays. In retrospect, listening to his opera is much different than watching a video of him singing. Due to the advent of the Internet, we can experience music differently: The result is a blending of media, and a very different reception of it. There is something so much more gratifying, for instance, in seeing Pavarotti take a first, long breath before unleashing Vesti la giubba on a crowd. Film, and its proliferation as streaming video, has undoubtedly changed the way we experience music… In any case, Pavarotti and the Three Tenors made opera more accessible to a wider audience.

pavarotti

Pavarotti singing (n.d.). (From La Repubblica.it.)

Ed Ruscha (b. 1937) is one of the most recognizable artists involved in the pop art movement, a style of visual art that, while its inception was in the 1950s, is quite alive and well today. Pop art is perhaps best known by the work of Andy Warhol, although there were, and are, many artists who could be considered “pop” in some sense or another. Ruscha’s work seems to mostly rely upon typography. I, as an uninformed viewer, would describe his use of words and scripts as self-referential, idiosyncratic, ironic, and clever. I would almost guess that there is a kind of subtle, continuous scrutiny of of advertising and commercialism woven through much of his work. This is, of course, just my initial impression. In any case, his conflation of writing and visual art makes for a happy medium, a style that easily fits between and takes on the best of these two types of media.

Ruscha: Pay Nothing Until April (2003). (From Tate.)

Far from the time of Ruscha, albeit just as (if not more) prolific, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901) made a lasting impression on the world of painting. His post-impressionist portrayals of 19th century France are iconic examples of the culture of the time, soulful depictions of lives and livelihoods, chatter among the high society and lonely, impoverished dreamers drunk over bottles of absinthe. Encyclopedia Britannica states that, “Despite his deformity and the effects of alcoholism and mental collapse later in life, Toulouse-Lautrec helped set the course of avant-garde art well beyond his early and tragic death at the age of 36.”

Henri_de_Toulouse-Lautrec_-_At_the_Moulin_Rouge_-_Google_Art_Project

Toulouse-Lautrec: At the Moulin Rouge (1892-1895). (From Wikimedia.)

WEEK 3:

This week, I encountered and made note of Gustav Mahler and Anselm Berrigan. I’ll also discuss Guillaume Apollinaire, and give a less cursory addition to what I’ve already written on Toulouse-Lautrec.

To begin with Mahler (1860-1911): A close friend had introduced me to his music not long ago. In particular the 4th movement of his 5th symphony—that is, the string-leaden Adagietto. (Which he is perhaps most well known for.) There are few pieces of music so poignant. Characteristic of this piece is a peculiar “climb” toward higher notes, an implication of an audible“peak,” and then a quick, somehow deceptive drawback and descent into the lower register, all the while tantalizing the listener with a unique pairing of musical voices. It was an interesting coincidence that, at the time I was listening to Adagietto, I was reading Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra, a book full of recurring metaphors about going “above” and “below,” noting the climbing of mountains and descents into valleys, the rising and falling of the sun, death and life, victory and defeat, self-overcoming and self-indulgence, etc. In any case, the dichotomizing nature of the piece makes it stand out.

Mahler (1907?). (From GustavMahler.com)

Mahler (1907?). (From GustavMahler.com)

I hadn’t heard of Anselm Berrigan (b. 1972) until several days ago, when I picked up the latest issue of the St. Mark’s Poetry Project newsletter. Flipping through the magazine, I found around the mid-section two of Berrigan’s poems. I was really very impressed by the duo “Pregrets” and “Regrets.” Here is a sample of the former:

brain will skip these stations in both directions, black
out blink on the mind, on-the-go transit info kiosks a
hit, you know Planned Service Chances didn’t do it
the Degas rehearsal dancers in their slasher flick masks
didn’t do it, the El Greco portrait of St. Jerome’s hung
too high over the fucking fireplace to do anything, no …

berrigan

Berrigan (n.d.). (From Poetry Foundation.)

The tonal aspects of this poem, as well as its stream-of-consciousness, narrative style are captivating. In this particular part of the poem alliteration and repetition are evident, and “carry” the reader through the writing. The wild, urban scenery of “Pregrets” is given a certain weight with the introduction of disgruntled and dream-like, associative observations.

Berrigan has taught writing in New York, as well as the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University—famous for its association with the Beat poets, perhaps most notably Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg.

Guillaume Apollinaire (1880-1918) is someone whom, before now, I’d never heard of. Reading a bit of his biography, I get a sense that his life was a little Byronesque: few poets seem to come off the battlefield, especially considering the horrors of the Great War. His poetry collection Alcools is listed by Le Monde in their “100 Books of the Century” list. One of his most famous poems, “Zone,” opens that work, and its translators include Samuel Beckett. (Beckett is a personal favorite.) While it’s too long to include the entire poem here, I’ll provide an excerpt:

You are weary at last of this ancient world

Shepherdess O Eiffel tower whose flock of bridges bleats at the morning

You have lived long enough with Greek and Roman antiquity

Here even automobiles look old
Only religion stays news religion
As simple as hangars at the airfield

Alone in Europe you Christianity are not antique
The one modern European is you Pope Pius X
And you whom windows watch what shame keeps you
From entering a church and confessing your sins this morning
Handbills catalogues advertisements that sing overhead
Furnish your morning’s poetry for prose there are newspapers
Dime detective novels packed with adventure
Biographies of great men a thousand and one titles

This morning I saw a fine street whose name slips my mind
New and bright the sun’s clarion
Where executives and workers sweet stenographers
Hurry every weekday dawn and dusk
Three times a morning sirens groan
A choleric bell barks at noon
Billboards posters and
Doorplates twitter like parakeets
There is charm to this Paris factory street
Between rue Aumont-Thiéville and the avenue des Ternes

Apollinaire.

Apollinaire (n.d.). (From Poetry Foundation.)

Martin Sorrell called this work “the great poem of early Modernism.” Indeed, while it was published in 1913, Apollinaire’s work, in a way, heralds the 20th century, and captures its spirit. The fast-paced, near-constant sense of technological and cultural innovation inundates us in this poem. Capitalism, and the culture of consumerism, screams at us through advertisements and titles, catalogues and handbills. These stand in stark contrast to the “Greek and Roman antiquity” mentioned during the beginning. Apollinaire’s style of writing very much reminds me of the concept of flânerie, the kind of urban narrative and poetics made popular by Baudelaire.

Back to Lautrec: This week, I was looking at more of his illustrations and lithographs, rather than proper paintings. It’s interesting to note just how much Lautrec’s work has characterized the Belle Epoque of France. He is remembered, quite properly, for his frequenting of the infamous French cabaret, the Moulin Rouge. His illustrations also remind us of the Orientalist Japonism (by which he was inspired, in part) popular during the late 19th century, as well as the Art Nouveau style. Finally, his work is also associated with the culture of absinthe, a long-banned and mysterious alcoholic beverage, known for its popularity in 19th-century France. Lautrec’s work symbolizes an entire culture, time period, and way of life.

divan japonais lithograph

Toulouse-Lautrec: Divan Japonais lithograph (1892-1893). (From the Metropolitan Museum of Art.)

WEEK 4:

This week I’m going to provide a few observations of the work of Jenny Holzer (b. 1950), as well as Alphonse Mucha (1860-1939).

Holzer makes a nice addition to the current roster of textual artists. My first impression of her work makes me recall Ruscha, in that it seems to be mostly constituted by text, though—importantly—text as it’s presented in a very particular manner. Her dark, noir-esque, monochrome photography seems to stand in contrast to the more exuberant, colorful tones of Ruscha’s artworks (and, when he did produce black and white photography, his lighter, sparcer scenery), and when her pieces are colored they employ different tones. This Whitney installation, for instance, is neon and vibrant, and exemplifies her use of LED lights:

(From Yatzer.)

Holzer: MONUMENT (2008). (From Yatzer.)

Pertinent is the fact that Holzer combines text with installation art. This element, and its more overt conceptuality (her work often presents feminist themes), is something lacking from Ruscha’s pop art repertoire. The way she uses color, shape, and light to bend and juxtapose text adds a refreshingly innovative dimension to intertextual artwork. She is also known for her use everyday objects and cityscapes, as well as projection:

words landmines

Holzer: WORDS, LAND MINES EXPLODING, LOVE AND HATE. (n.d.) (From Oh My Jenny Holzer.)

I came upon Alphonse Mucha by accident, in my study of Lautrec. Both men were important in the Art Nouveau movement, and both blended, and blurred the lines between, art and advertising, helping to create a bridge between the 19th century and 20th-century Modernism. Mucha placed a lot of emphasis on detail in his illustrations, and, in comparison to Lautrec, his works are noted by sharper, more natural lines and curves, vibrant colors, greater ornamentation, and less physical depth. Lautrec is earthy, spacious, and mysterious, whereas Mucha is bright, centered, and whimsical:

job cigs

Mucha: advertisement for Job cigarettes (1896). (From Everything Alphonse Mucha.)

WEEK 5:

This week I’m going to discuss the work of Hollis Frampton (1936-1984), the artist and sculptor Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010)—one of the first installation artists I came into contact with—as well as the Renaissance painter Hieronymus Bosch (c. 1450-1516).

To begin with Bourgeois: I encountered her work in Manhattan a number of years ago, when visiting the Guggenheim. At the entrance stood her famous Maman, a huge, metallic, spindly arachnid figure. This distorted, somewhat disturbing sculpture—like many of Bourgeois’ works—explores femininity, and, in particular, motherhood:

Bourgeois

Bourgeois: Maman (1999). (From Guggenheim Bilbao.)

Many of Bourgeois’ sculptures are minimalistic, twisted, distorted, metallic, and concrete. They often take on the likeness of bodies—more often female bodies—and feminine shapes, albeit stretched, amputated, contorted, cool-colored, and surreal. What kind of impression do we have of the feminine, I wonder, and what is Bourgeois trying to tell us about it? Is she celebrating our understanding of femininity, or lashing out against negative perceptions and connotations?

Furthermore, how do we relate to bodies more generally? At what point is the line between object and subject crossed?

Far removed from the stillness of Bourgeois’ works are the experimental films of Hollis Frampton, which, while avant-garde in their own right, make us consider objects and scenery in a different way, often alluding to the nature of film itself. His short film Lemon (1969), for instance, depicts how lighting can dramatically change the way we perceive objects. Zorns Lemma (1970), a primary example of structural film, also uses objects and light—as well as sound and text—in this case to elucidate, quite appropriately, the piece’s own structure and mechanics. Reading reviews of the film by P. Adams Sitney and Bill Simon (two critics who examine Hollis’s work with great care), one quickly comes to understand how, what to the untrained eye might seem merely like a series of letters, scenes, monologues, etc., is in actuality a complex film leaden with intricate structures and concepts. In a sense, Frampton’s work is a kind of “meta-film,” or a feedback loop, in that it examines the very underpinnings of its own cinematic expression.

Alphabetic stills from Frampton's Zorns Lemma.

Alphabetic stills from Frampton’s Zorns Lemma (1970). (From the Cleveland Institute of Art.)

As a departure from the previously examined artists, I’d like to make mention of Hieronymous Bosch. I have long been drawn to his work out of a fascination with Renaissance and Medieval art. A Netherlandish painter, Bosch was known for his landscapes and triptychs in which, like many artists of that time, he explored religious themes. His unique and grotesque depictions of the Christian Hell perhaps stand out the most:

The_Garden_of_Earthly_Delights_by_Bosch-tree_man

Bosch: From The Garden of Earthly Delights triptych (1490-1510). (From In Defence of Marxism.)

WEEK 6:

On Barbara Kruger:

Having previously examine Jenny Holzer’s works, and now Barbara Kruger’s, I notice a certain similarity. Beyond the fact that they share an inter-textual medium, both of their bodies of work seem to be within the fold of conceptual art. Their artworks are both declarative and aesthetically interesting. See, for instance, Kruger’s following piece:

divinity

Kruger: Untitled (You Invest in the Divinity of the Masterpiece) (1982). (From MoMA.)

Kruger is, in a way, more provocative than Holzer, actively engaging and confronting her viewers. Kruger’s work also seems mostly confined to monochrome appropriations of other art or photography. This itself lends a certain cultural nuance to her art, and with the addition of text, her work then enters into a realm of revelation and upheaval. She tackles culture, art, consumerism, and gender, re-contextualizing familiar images with bold swathes of text. In any case, I really enjoy Kruger’s unabashed dismantling of archetypes and her ability to turn commonplace ideas on their heads. Kruger is bold and her work is a perfect exposition of hypocrisy and constraint as it exists in contemporary society:

Kruger: Untitled (Who’s the Fairest of Them All) (1989). (From The Atomic Irish Mommy.)

WEEK 7:

This week, I’d like to observe the work of Howard Finster, as well as Zdzisław Beksiński, and filmmaker David Lynch.

To begin with Finster (1916-2001):

Finster’s artwork verges on the visionary. Colorful portraits and scenery are arranged in whimsical ways, with deep curves and bevels filled with pastel-like tones, breathing life into his visuals. His art covers a wide range of subjects, from war and politics to religion and pop culture, and mixed into this is a kind of playfulness, embodied by Finster’s unique use of shape and tone. Lehigh University Art Galleries places Finster in the realm of “outsider art”—that is, art that may be considered trans-cultural, or beyond established artistic circles and styles. He is also considered something of a folk artist, and many of his works present a sort of “homemade” portraiture and iconography.

american-devils-are-friendly-1981

Finster: American Devils Are Friendly (1981). (From WikiArt.)

Finster’s story is itself something odd. A long-time travelling preacher, Finster became a painter later in life, after having a religious epiphany. The importance of faith is evident in his artworks, a number of which depict or reference Biblical stories. At times, he makes his religious overtones clearer through the introduction of text. His use of text, moreover, provides more content and context to his art. Compared to the in-your-face conceptuality and use of photography and installation seen in the works of Holzer and Kruger, Finster’s small lettering, religious overtones, and flattened imagery makes for a lighter, less confrontational—albeit still declarative—and less overwhelming style of visual art.

In the past year I became fascinated with the art of Zdzisław Beksiński (1929-2005), a Polish artist with a penchant for both the surreal and the macabre. Beksiński’s sketches, paintings, and computer graphics are positively nightmarish, often depicting fantastical hellscapes and devastated wastelands, and their strange, tormented residents. Bodies and architecture are broken down and re-imagined in forms that are truly disturbing and otherworldly.

beksinski1984

Beksiński: Untitled (1984). (From Wikimedia.)

Despite his penchant for the macabre, Beksinski said that some of his works were, in fact, meant to be humorous, although overall he declined to offer interpretations of many of his paintings.

untitled-158

Beksinski: Untitled (n.d.). (From WikiArt.)

David Lynch (b. 1946) is probably one of my favorite directors. I think he makes a nice follow-up to Beksinski, considering his predilection for visuals that are ominous and disturbing. His films are surreal, to say the least, and by his own admission, some of them follow a style he calls “dream logic.” Many of his movies appear strange in the sense that they are highly associative, non-linear, and often present some element of symbolism. Their atmosphere does indeed make them seem dreamlike, and nightmarish or creepy, in particular. Lynch’s films are often thrillers or mysteries of some kind, but an element of psychological horror is also pervasive.

eraserhead

Lynch: still from Eraserhead (1977). (Source unknown.)

Inland Empire (2006) is probably my favorite Lynch film thus far. While all of his movies involve some level of strangeness, the driving force behind Inland Empire is that it begins normally—with a basically coherent plot—and then quickly dives into a melange of bizarre scenes, scenarios, and symbols. The sudden movement from reality to fantasy is startling and captivating. Through this descent various scenes take on a terrifying, get-under-your-skin tone that is very much unique to Lynch. You can’t really compare his style of cinematography to anyone else’s. He is not merely “surreal,” but is a self-contained artist with a touch of otherworldly brilliance that is itself meted out in the mundane. From Mulholland Drive (2001) to Blue Velvet (1986) to Inland Empire, many of Lynch’s films take place in otherwise normal settings, but their dark, fantastical nature is realized in the atmosphere of his movies, in the nebulous plots and dialogues that seem to be ubiquitous to his work. In every light, for Lynch, there is a dark underbelly, in every pattern a ray of disarray.

It is fair to mention that, aside from film-making, Lynch is also a painter, musician, and advocate of transcendental meditation, and that his broad interests certainly factor into his movies, web series, and his television program, Twin Peaks (1990-1991). His use of music and musical performance is ubiquitous, and forms an important part of films like Eraserhead and Blue Velvet.

indland empire

Lynch: still from Inland Empire (2006). (From Complex.)

To quote Complex, “Disorientation is one of many byproducts you experience while watching a David Lynch film—reality becomes distorted, characters are oblique to the point where they no longer feel human, and the unsettling mood forever teeters are the brink of mind-warping horror.”

WEEK 8:

This week I’d like to shed some light on the works of Lynda Barry and Eugenia Loli.

Barry (b. 1956) is a well-known American cartoonist and author, known primarily for her comic strip Ernie Pook’s Comeek, as well has her book The Good Times Are Killing Me. Her style of illustration varies, with some of her works reminding me, to a certain degree, of Karen Romano Young’s intentionally childlike drawings. Other works are reminiscent of more mainstream comic strips and some graphic novels. (I am not well versed in graphic novels, though Art Spiegelman’s Maus comes to mind, as opposed to much more richly detailed books like, say, Alan Moore’s Watchmen.) Her work is creative and humorous, and she maintains a very playful, colorful tone, at times poking fun at herself. Barry’s The Good Times are Killing Me (1988), an illustrated novel about an interracial relationship, garnered her critical acclaim, and was later made into a play. In 2002 she published One! Hundred! Demons! (2002), a graphic novel she terms “Autobiofictionalography.” Barry’s work can be playful and whimsical, and at the same time present as serious and poignant, and she is well-established as both a writer and an illustrator. I really enjoy the fact that much of her work is done on lined paper. It makes her drawings very inviting and down-to-earth.

what it is

Barry: excerpt from What It Is (2008). (From Fuzzy Undertones.)

Eugenia Loli is a Greek-American filmmaker, collage artist, and illustrator. I first stumbled upon her online. She uses photos and vintage cutouts, as well as computer software, to produce psychedelic collages full of precision and detail. I’d almost call her “maximalistic.” I find myself wondering how she sources and repurposes different materials. There are times when she presents the viewer with such a wide variety of imagery that it’s almost overwhelming.

it ends with a bang

Loli: It Ends with a Bang! (n.d.) (From Eugenia’s Collages.)

Her art bombards the viewer with images that juxtapose the mundane with the cosmic, ordinary life with touches of dream, sex, and drugged imagination. Loli is a truly imaginative artist who makes no reservation on what to put in her work. There is, therefore, a huge element of surprise to be found in her collages, and I almost find myself playing Where’s Waldo as I pick apart her artwork detail by detail.

Inappropriate Business Offer

Loli: Inappropriate Business Offer (n.d.) (From Eugenia’s Collages.)

WEEK 9:

On Roz Chast (b. 1954), an American author, cartoonist, and staff cartoonist for The New Yorker:

I’ve always enjoyed Chast’s cartoons. Before I was old enough to read—that is, read anything beyond a small chapter book—I would pick up copies of The New Yorker and flip through the pages, skipping over the articles themselves in order to find her (ubiquitously humorous) comics. Her writing is witty and often pokes fun at modern life and domestic issues, with her monochrome characters meting out significant doses of sarcasm and observational comedy. Her style of drawing reminds me of Lynda Barry’s, but usually involves less text and more detailed backgrounds—often indoor environments.

Chast:

Chast: “Pre-Existing Conditions,” from The New Yorker (n.d.). (From the Conde Nast Collection.)

Chast’s color works seem mostly confined to her books, such as What I Hate from A to Z (2011) and her Steve Martin-coauthored The Alphabet from A to Y With Bonus Letter Z! (2007) Her wry sense of humor never fails to put a smile on my face.

WEEK 10:

This week I’d like to look at the work of Art Spiegelman, as well as Alex Grey, and H.R. Giger.

I have a fondness for Spiegelman. (b. 1948.) I first read his graphic novel Maus in my senior English class in high school. This was my first experience with graphic novels and/or comics (beyond, say, comic strips—if you consider those part of the same genre as full-fledged comic books), and portended my reading of books like Watchmen, the graphic novel version of Fahrenheit 451, Jodorowsky’s The Incal and Metabarons, the horror manga Uzumaki, and the comic Transmetropolitan.

Going based off of Maus, as it’s the only work of Spiegelman’s that I’m familiar with, I will first say that I was impressed by his merging of comics—a format that I was hitherto used to seeing only in the context of humor, or light fiction, and in a very superficial way—with a gravely serious topic like the Holocaust. I thought this was startling, at first. I certainly found it unconventional. But, as I made my way through the two volumes of Maus, I found myself becoming increasingly intrigued by the depth and personality of Spiegelman’s story, and the characters that call it home. The obstinate racism of Vladek Spiegelman (the narrator’s grandfather, who, in the novel, recites his experiences during the Holocaust) is surprising, and also aggravating, given his experiences in a Nazi concentration camp. But, all the more, the character’s stubbornness ultimately fleshes out his persona, and draws the reader inward, toward forming a more meaningful relationship with the events unfolding in the novel. Spiegelman is an almost masterful storyteller, and his book is both captivating and disturbing.

maus

Spiegelman: excerpt from Maus (serialized 1980-1991). (From Flickr.)

Alex Grey (b. 1953) is a well-renowned visionary and psychedelic artist—a painter, sculptor, and illustrator. The visionary aspect of his work is different from that of, say, Howard Finster, in that—while his paintings do present mystical and transcendent themes—they are not filled with overtly Christian and Biblical imagery. Grey promotes a holistic, universalist view of world religions and “wisdom traditions” from various cultures, symbolizing humanity’s quest for enlightenment. (Though Grey himself claims to practice Vajrayana Buddhism.) Grey is also very honest about the psychedelic nature of many of his paintings, noting that he was inspired to produce some of them under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs, or actually produced them under the influence. His “Sacred Mirrors” series of paintings depict beings in transition from corporeal states of life to those of “higher planes,” and, otherwise, much of his art explores states of being that could be called “yogic” or “energetic,” in a New Age or esoteric sense. In contrast to the hodge podge, finely delineated objects of Loli’s collages, many of Grey’s paintings depict figures that are intimately connected on a metaphysical level, their physical structures transforming into brilliant light. The sheer amount of detail—particularly his use of transparency—that goes into his art is staggering.

Alex_Grey-Collective_Vision

Grey: Collective Vision (1995). (From AlexGrey.com)

H.R. Giger (1940-2014) is much more comparable to someone like Beksiński than Grey. His work, while just as otherworldly and detailed as Grey’s, is far darker. Still, Giger, like Grey, depicted bodies in an exquisite fashion, though his depiction of them is far more cool and mechanical than transcendent and vibrant. Whereas Grey’s use of religious imagery is largely predicated on Eastern traditions (with admitted references to Western ones), Giger presents us with jarring occult and disturbingly alien themes. Whereas Grey celebrates sexuality as force for cosmic union, Giger transforms it into a biomechanical carnality. Grey celebrates the light and life of the psychedelic counterculture, in all its abundant love and hallucinogenic revelry, whereas Giger is something of a shock jock, transgressive and nightmarish—though equally fantastical. As Giger noted, “A sick landscape marks men. And my landscapes are nothing more than the transplanting of human skin onto our surroundings.”

hr-giger-erotomechanics-vii1

Giger: Erotomechanics VII (n.d.) (From Count Orlok’s Blog.)

WEEK 11:

Peter Greenaway (b. 1942) is another one of those well-respected filmmakers who, up until this point, I knew nothing about. While I haven’t seen any of his full-fledged movies, I got a taste of his style from his 17-minute, 1977 short film Dear Phone. Like Frampton, Greenaway’s incorporation of text is essential. Unlike Frampton, however (in this case comparing Dear Phone to Zorns Lemma), narration seems more prominent. Zorns Lemma is, admittedly, a longer film, but it gets a lot of its aesthetic from long stretches of silence, whereas a definite story—albeit one that we are somewhat distanced from, as viewers—is the primum mobile for Greenaway’s short movie. There is a consistent element of contrast in Greenaway’s films. I noticed this more keenly in Vertical Features Remake (1978), which, in a very experimental fashion, comes out as something of an intentionally broken documentary, or at least a negligently incomplete one. A kind of meta-film, it documents the restoration or assemblage of footage taken by a fictional ornithologist. There’s an undertone of absurd humor to Greenaway, through his use of narration, which makes his films a little more accessible and level-headed than Frampton’s.

Poster for Greenaway's Vertical Features Remake (1978). (n.d.; artist unknown.) (From FilmAffinity.)

Poster for Greenaway’s Vertical Features Remake (1978). (n.d.; artist unknown.) (From FilmAffinity.)

My first serious encounter with poetry came from Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867), whom I’ve revisited recently. (I recently picked up his Artificial Paradises.) After reading his seminal collection The Flowers of Evil (sometime around 2008 or 2009), I was inspired to take on at least several more poets, working my way through Neruda, Williams, Rilke, Coleridge, and Poe; as well as more contemporary writers like Berrigan, Brenda Hillman, and Tate; the Zen poets Ikkyū Sōjun, Ryokan; and the collective Cold Mountain poets of China. Baudelaire is an important figure in modernism, and without him it seems difficult to fully appreciate the history and nature of poetry, from the Romantic period up until well into modern times.

Baudelaire, circa 1862. Portrait by Étienne Carjat. (From Wikimedia.)

Baudelaire, circa 1862. Portrait by Étienne Carjat. (From Wikimedia.)

I very much enjoy one particular poem from The Flowers of Evil, “The Spiritual Dawn”:

When the morning white and rosy breaks,
With the gnawing Ideal, upon the debauchee,
By the power of a strange decree,
Within the sotted beast an Angel wakes.

The mental Heaven’s inaccessible blue,
For wearied mortals that still dream and mourn,
Expands and sinks; towards the chasm drawn.
Thus, cherished goddess, Being pure and true

Upon the rests of foolish orgy-nights

Thine image, more sublime, more pink, more clear,

Before my staring eyes is ever there.

The sun has darkened all the candle lights;
And thus thy spectre like the immortal sun,
Is ever victorious thou resplendent one!

The beautiful image of a beloved goddess, confined to the clouds, reminds me of Dante’s vision of Heaven, and his quest to reunite with Beatrice, in Paradiso. Baudelaire often seems to posit lofty goals and great attainments that, for us mere mortals, always remain just out of reach. Thus his poetry is very much both a glorification and lamentation of human life.

WEEK 12:

I would like to present some information on Charlotte Salomon (1917-1943) this week.

Salomon was a Jewish-German artist from Berlin. Her art, much of it expressionist in its nature, mostly makes reference to Nazi Germany and her experiences during the Holocaust. (Salomon and her unborn baby were gassed in Auschwitz, and much of her family committed suicide during the upheaval.) One finds that in her watercolors, full of opaque tones contrasted by darker, hardened lines (which give the amorphous splotches of paint a more definite form), Salomon puts human suffering into perspective, giving the viewer a visceral sense of the atrocities committed during the Holocaust.

Salomon is perhaps best known for her cross-genre Leben? order Theater (German: “Life? or Theater?”), a series of gouaches, transparencies, and texts which collectively form a narrative that documents her life, love, and struggles within the backdrop of the Nazi German political and cultural landscape. Salomon intended for the series to combine various artistic approaches, and so the use of text is unconventional. Transparencies, often containing shaped text, are laid over the gouaches in such a way that the viewer can see their “interaction.” See, for instance, this overlay:

Charlotte_Salomon_-_JHM_4175TC

Salomon: excerpt from Leben? oder Theater? (n.d.). (From Wikimedia.)

In this clever scene, the phrase “Im Himmel…” is written upward, beginning an ascension, wherein it appears that a spirit, or spirits, leave for paradise. “… Ist oben” means “is above,” and, appropriately, the text is overlaid in the shape of a tree, against a window, above a figure in bed.

WEEK 13:

I’ve always been fascinated by optical illusions, and particularly impossible objects: the blivet, the impossible cube, the Penrose stairs, and (especially) the Penrose triangle. (As examples.) I was, for this reason, attracted to the works of M.C. Escher (1898-1972)—quite the master of optical illusions, and a highly imaginative and thoughtful artist.

Architecture and illusion often come together to create incredible scenes in Escher’s drawings, lithographs, and woodcuts. Otherwise, he was known for his fascination with symmetry, tessellations, and mathematics, generally. The physics of Escher’s “worlds” are distorted, and yet eerily orderly, giving the viewer a sense of disorientation. His impossible geometry makes one scrutinize his art for quite some time, trying to “figure out” the strange-shaped images that are so unique to his body of work.

Escher: Relativity

Escher: Relativity (1953). (From Wikimedia.)

Possibly my favorite filmmaker, Alejandro Jodorowsky’s movies are one of my biggest inspirations as a writer.

It is unfair to simply deem Jodorowsky a filmmaker, as he is also an author, comic book artist, playwright, actor, former mime, tarot expert, and performance artist. However, this broad set of skills and proclivities figures into Jodorowsky’s films almost more than any of his other works, so I’d like to examine one of those.

Poster for Jodorowsky's The Holy Mountain (1973). (n.d.; artist unknown.) (From Wikimedia.)

Poster for Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain (1973). (n.d.; artist unknown.) (From Wikimedia.)

Jodorowsky’s 1973 cult hit The Holy Mountain is filled with iconic scenes. Known for his avant-garde and provocative presentation of mystical and cultural symbols, The Holy Mountain teems with images that are both disturbing and beautiful, moving and terrifying. Jodorowsky is, like Lynch, a master of emotion, and pulls his viewers into a world that is—at least for The Holy Mountain—teeming with spiritual brilliance and sacred metaphors, colors and sound and light. I would almost argue that Jodorowsky’s films—while rightly quite beyond adequate description—could be compared to a bizarre merging of David Lynch’s movies with the artwork of Alex Grey. (Just to create an example using artists mentioned above.) In reality, Jodorowsky notes influence from Fellini, and performance art. He was an instrumental part of the reactionary performance art Panic Movement, influenced by Luis Buñuel’s Theater of Cruelty—a reaction to the mainstreaming of surrealism.

~

HONORABLE MENTIONS

(I wanted to write on these fine folks, but didn’t get around to it.)

  • Alfred Jarry
  • Austin Osman Spare
  • Cormac McCarthy
  • David Tibet
  • Genesis P-Orridge
  • Henry Miller
  • Jean Cocteau
  • Kazuo Ohno
  • PFFR (group)
  • Pierre Schaeffer
  • Rozz Williams
  • Samuel Beckett
  • Samuel Taylor Coleridge
  • Silk Road Ensemble (group)
  • Steven Stapleton (Nurse With Wound)
  • Terrence E. Holt

My Fucking Town

gazebo

I did some finagling with a photo found on Trulia. This is the iconic gazebo in the heart of downtown bumfuck, CT.

NOTE: This post is intended to be somewhat satirical. (“Quasi-satirical?”) However, some genuine frustration is expressed here, and, while my choice of words may be a bit abrasive to those whom the subject is a personal matter (i.e. Nutmeggers), please try to understand that this isn’t intended to offend or come off as “whiny,” so much as provide some perspective on being broke in a small town. As the post concludes (at the conclusion, naturally), New Milford isn’t an outright hell-hole, although for the sake of emphasis it may be treated that way. Yes, life could be much, much worse, and I’m not promoting ingratitude here.

(March 1, 2016)

I live in porcelain white Limbo. I’m shacked up with my folks, broke—no car, no nothin’. Connecticut. The cost of living is through the roof, the liquor stores close at 9 and diners stop serving liquor after 10. The bars sell up-charged, watered-down bunk. What am I saying? I don’t even got to bars. I can’t afford that. A Steely is my pride and joy… or a splash of shitty vodka, if I’m lucky. No. I barely ever make it to the package store.

I’m 23. I say to myself, “you should’ve been in grad school, or half way around the world by now. You should have a car, and an apartment. You should be dating, and doing shit. You should…” yada yada. So I sit at home and sleep and then I write about it.

It’s not all bad though. Really. And precisely because this is porcelain white quasi-suburban bullshit-land. I mean, those basic amenities are our blessings, right? I’ve got a roof over my head, food in my belly, and a laptop from which I can communicate to you everything from Paganini to the heat death of the universe. I live in the country with the most disposable income of any developed nation, with the highest GDP per capita. I live in a nation that enjoys all these fruits in a way that it totally unsustainable, and which will eventually crash and burn under the weight of its pollution, over-consumption, and unsustainability, should dramatic actions not be taken. But we have to enjoy the moment, as they say. I’m sort of a curmudgeon, but I try to, anyway.

Let me complain a little:

I live in New Milford. I’ve lived here since 2001, when I moved from Austin, Texas. This town is basically a series of Dunkin’ Donuts and strip malls that opened up along U.S. routes 7 and 202, snaking along the Housatonic. There are auto bodies and a few car dealerships, industrial parks and convenience stores, condo complexes and old white churches with weather vanes or crosses on top.

Roger Sherman once lived here. I’m sure he thought it sucked, too. Anyway, his house is now town hall. There were a few movies filmed here, including that old Adam Sandler bit, Mr. Deeds. Indigenous Weantinock used to live here. I’m sure they enjoyed fishing in the Housatonic long before it became the river Styx. I’m sure they enjoyed the deciduous woodlands long before they were all chopped to shit and replaced with Walmart, Kohl’s, Verizon, and every other boring big box mart.

The demographic makeup of this town seems to mostly consist of pasty white soccer moms. They like to barrel down Rt. 7 in their minivans. Their kids have iPads and think they’re either living in Compton or an underground vampire lair. As you make your way toward Gaylordsville, a little “borough” of the town, you will notice a sharp increase in the number of rednecks, as well as old Methodists. (Throw in a few Catholics, Baptists, and one or two Jews for good measure.) A lot of these people wear plaid button-downs, tucked into their plain jeans. They peruse antique shops and thrift stores and the million fast food places that line the pot-holed streets.

There are no sidewalks to speak of. (Unless you’re downtown, of course.) If, like me, you don’t have a car, this is a living nightmare. I have to play Frogger—crossing four lanes of death—every time I want to buy cigarettes or a soda. If I walk along the back roads I have to make sure to balance myself along a two inch dividing line, a thin margin separating me from sixteen-wheeled hell freighters and farting Chevies.

Did I mention the rednecks? Despite being this far north of Dixie, you see a lot of pickup trucks, some of which are even audaciously adorned with the Confederate flag. The people who command these vehicles are known for tossing empty tins of Copenhagen and cans of Busch Light out their windows. This is part of the reason why we have a thick layer of trash built up along the roads. (I also see—in my many aimless walking excursions—empty bottles of Crown Royal and Sutter Home and little nippers. The other day I found a socket wrench, a saw, and a pair of pants. But I’m meandering, anyway.) They also seem to be the ones most likely to blurt out “faggot!” or some other obscenity, or blare their car horns, as they pass you down the highway when, say, you’re walking home from one of a thousand diners.

The diners, though… I always end up at diners. Not sure how. I just find myself in places like Three Brothers, Windmill, Johana’s, Theo’s—all these fuckin’ diners. And if it’s not in this town it’s in every one of its satellite settlements. Especially Danbury, which is a separate beast altogether.

Don’t get me wrong… I love diners. (Especially when they serve endless coffee for $1.25.) I just get bad déjà vu. Veggie burgers, home fries, spanikopita, challah, little metal pitchers filled with milk, the waitresses that call you “sweetie…” I dunno.

We have five (FIVE!) Dunkin’ Donuts in this town. If that doesn’t portend the apocalypse, I don’t know what does.

We’ve got a million copies of the same bank, always seemingly within spitting distance of each other. There are tattoo parlors and fast food places and stores that sell upholstery and furniture and clothes and a bunch of other boring stuff. It’s really just too much, the monotony of running up and down the same bullshit stretch of road, seeing the same pizzerias, the same bridges, the same empty and overgrown lots, the same nasty creeks… sprinkled with trash.

Downtown—the green and its surrounding “historic village”—is the main attraction, and draws in the majority of the tourists. (Though why you’d want to explore Limbo rather than, say, New York City (maybe an hour-ish away) or New Haven, is beyond me.) We have a stupid green and white gazebo that acts as a kind of symbol for the town. (It’s on our town flag—equally as pitiful.) I remember sitting in there a number of times, once looking over a graffito which read something like “I FUCKED HER HERE!”

Bank Street—so named for the large bank building on its corner—is prime real estate here. Every several months a business seems to close down on Bank Street, presumably unable to keep up with the cost. Some have staid for years: Archway News and Tobacco, the Bank Street Coffee House, a novelty/gag shop, the iconic Bank Street Theater ($5 for movies on Tuesdays) and a health food/organic grocer. But these are the minority. Most businesses on or around Bank Street close up as soon as they open. We’ve had a comic book shop (the owner was flaky?), a music shop, bars (too expensive, and the drunks were loud), furniture stores, clothing boutiques, and a Tex-Mex restaurant (wasn’t that great, anyway) go south.

I used to work at one of the Dunkin’ Donuts around here. It was one of those you see built into the corner of a gas station. Working with four other people on shift, confined to a hundred square foot space, is basically a nightmare. Especially for minimum wage.

Despite shitty customers (and let’s be honest—customer service is basically always taxing), there was some comic relief. Among the throngs of homeless nut jobs who wander the town green, one guy, who calls himself Ed (though he used to say his name was Matt…) would come in and talk to me about the most absurd shit, all while I pumped crappy coffee full of caramel syrup. He didn’t care. He’d lean his big arm on the sticky counter and just start yapping. One time he brought in a plastic bag full of maple seeds. He showed them to me and said, “hey, you see these apple seeds?” I told him they were maple seeds, a statement which he just outright denied, and then he told me something along the lines of, “man, I’m Johnny Appleseed. I’m going to plant these things all over the country.”

“Fair enough,” I told him.

He also once expressed to me that he owned a gold mine, one which so happened to be behind the very Dunkin’ Donuts that I worked at. Or so he said, at least. Funny. I never saw a gold mine. Just a parking lot, a creek, and some crumpled newspapers.

There are a few other nutty homeless people who travel to and fro, from Danbury to New Milford and vice versa. The HART bus (local public transit) is their drunk tank, as it is mine. (Sans drunk… for now, at least.) You see ’em hobbling around the streets, smoking, and just talking. Thankfully they don’t really beg much around here. They just file in and out of the tobacco shop.

When I volunteered at the local soup kitchen I’d encounter some of these characters. One was named Paul. A decent guy. Rumor was that he was a Harvard graduate. Used to ride a bike and smoke a little cherry wood pipe. He died of a heart condition not long ago.

Another was Dougie, or “Banjo Man,” who used to walk around drunk in the middle of the night, singing wildly and strumming his banjo. Once, he came into the soup kitchen asking for extra bagged lunches. (We gave out bagged lunches for later consumption, but the policy was to limit them to one per person per day.) He demanded more lunches in order to feed his “three-headed dogs,” which he supposedly lived with behind the local supermarket. There are, in fact, some bums who camp out there (or who at least used to), but I have my doubts about mutant canines.

Teenagers have nothing much to do here, seeing as this town is basically an open-air coffin anyway. Well, they have a skate park. And a baseball field. And a rowing team and parking lots to stand around it. And we’ve got the Maxx—the name itself makes me cringe—the “teen center” which miserably fails in its job of keeping kids out of trouble. If there were any drug deals going on while I was still in high school, it was always in the parking lot of the Maxx. Strangely enough, there always seemed to be a security guard walking around, though I guess he just didn’t give a shit, or didn’t notice.

There are these obnoxious bikers that fart their way up and down the road, often stopping at one of the trillion Dunkin’ Donuts to hang out in the parking lot for hours on end. Seems that’s what a lot of people do here: stand in parking lots. Unless you’re rich, in which case you probably have a house on Candlewood Lake, and your own pontoon boat, and can take lavish excursions to who-the-fuck-knows. Maybe Tahiti or Barbados or London or Mongolia…

We’ve got gas stations. And a few tattoo parlors. And a frozen yogurt bar. And a library. And golf courses/country clubs. We’ve got little hiking trails and ponds and the lake and some streams. We’ve got people kicking the dirt and picking at their food, drinking coffee and playing pool. We’ve got a few farms for pumpkin-picking and corn mazes, during the fall, of course. They’ve got cows. And the cows have got sheep. And the sheep have chickens. And the chickens have the earth.

Rolling hills. It’s all the rolling hills of Litchfield fuckin’ County. The “green wave” of the local high school. The mascot of which looks like a cracked-out version of Gumby… And we’ve got our fair share of parks and trails: Clatter Valley, Lover’s Leap, Dyke’s Point, the Still River Trail, and so forth. We’ve also got a tiny cave, called Tory’s Cave, which I’ve passed by, but have never been inside of. I hear that a British soldier once hid out there, during the Revolution. I also hear it’s a tight squeeze.

Beneath and along the bridges are graffiti etched out of the rust and painted over the steel. Beneath the big, red bridge on Lover’s Leap are some curious symbols suggesting the sigil of Lucifer, or the inverted pentagram, or just edgy-as-fuck teenagers getting stoned in the woods.

We’ve got mowed lawns and divided highways, back roads and abandoned lots (did I already mention that?), a psychic and a bunch of old, Victorian (-ish?) buildings converted into law offices and insurance agencies. We have a basketball court, a tennis court, gyms, a few marinas for the lake-side yuppies, and a factory or so… I don’t know whether they ever shut down the old Nestlé plant. All I know is that one day it just stopped smelling. I mean, for some reason, when it rained, the whole town would start stinking like urine and beef bouillon. I recall it less than fondly—having to stand there in the foggy morning, waiting on the school bus, wanting to puke.

We have little bits of swampland, criss-crossed with roads and bridges. Some of those bridges and passes are dilapidated, some drenched in spray paint, some overgrown with Japanese knotweed or goldenrod or wild mustard.

All in all, I guess it’s not such a bad town. If you’re rich enough, you can leave whenever you want. For myself, travelling three towns away is a serious ordeal. But that is also a product of my own laziness, so I suppose I shouldn’t complain.

Ah well. C’est la vie.

Taking a Hint From the Georgia Guidestones

The U.S. state of Georgia has something of a personal Stonehenge. And, while I’ve never been to Georgia—and, really, I’ve never been inclined to go—I think I can assume that these stones are a bit… heterodox… for their place below the Mason–Dixie line.

When I think of large tablets being erected in some southern state, I imagine a marble copy of the 10 Commandments making an awkward addition to a courthouse or State Capitol. But the Georgia Guidestones, nestled in the earth in the state’s Elbert County, are anything but religious strictures. They are, rather, suggestions and “guidelines” on how humanity can conduct its affairs on this planet, rather than please a celestial being beyond the Earth. Having derided the Guidestones as artifacts of the “New World Order,” tinfoil-hatted conspiracy theorists have desecrated them a number of times now. But the message of the Guidestones still stands strong. It reads:

  1. Maintain humanity under 500,000,000 in perpetual balance with nature.
  2. Guide reproduction wisely — improving fitness and diversity.
  3. Unite humanity with a living new language.
  4. Rule passion — faith — tradition — and all things with tempered reason.
  5. Protect people and nations with fair laws and just courts.
  6. Let all nations rule internally resolving external disputes in a world court.
  7. Avoid petty laws and useless officials.
  8. Balance personal rights with social duties.
  9. Prize truth — beauty — love — seeking harmony with the infinite.
  10. Be not a cancer on the earth — Leave room for nature — Leave room for nature.
The Georgia Guidestones. (Source unknown.)

The Georgia Guidestones. (Source unknown.)

I can pretty much agree with all of this. But the most important guidelines, I would say—especially considering humanity’s current predicament on a fragile planet of finite resources—have to be 1, 2, 9, and 10. Let’s look at the current state of world affairs, and dissect the importance of the first and last two guidelines:

1. “Maintain humanity under 500,000,000 in perpetual balance with nature.

Current population levels, clocking in at about 7.2 billion (as of 2015), are wildly unsustainable. We have committed ourselves to serious overshoot. With this many people on the planet, and the population expected to rise to between 9-11 billion by the end of the century (if our species can even make it that far without wiping itself out, and much of the Earth’s biodiversity with it!), we are barreling toward catastrophe. Couple this with climate change, environmental degradation, resource depletion, and pollution, and it becomes clear that we are leaving ourselves, and our decedents (if they even manage to survive), a hell on earth. I don’t think that 500,000,000 needs to be a strict number which we should follow, but in general we should aspire to have a much lower number of humans living on the planet. This would free up a huge amount of resources for both humans and other lifeforms to reap and share. When we look at the dramatic loss of fresh water, as well as mineral depletion and the fast-approaching “peak everything,” it becomes clear that this is a better course of action. The loss of half the world’s wildlife should serve as a wake-up call.

2. “Guide reproduction wisely — improving fitness and diversity.

I will say that I’m not to keen on the “fitness and diversity” bit. (It sort of smacks of eugenics.) But, in any case, we most certainly should guide our reproduction wisely. To begin with, isn’t it morally questionable to bring a child into a world whose future looks as grim as ours? Secondly, if we do bring children into this world, why are we bringing so many of them into nations where poverty, war, instability, and food and water scarcity run rampant? The explosive population growth of developing countries shows that many parents are not considering their children’s futures, nor the future of the planet. It doesn’t take much brain power to realize that, on a planet quickly entering the opposite of an ice age, and one of finite resources, having a bunch of kids is not only bad for oneself and one’s country, but for society, the world’s ecosystems, and the future as a whole. People should consider where and when they have children, and how many they are going to have. Granted, many pregnancies are unwanted, and a lack of access to birth control thus imperils many societies. Sadly, for cultural and religious reasons, many countries still ban contraception. My contention is that they only do so to the detriment of their own national stability.

9. “Prize truth — beauty — love — seeking harmony with the infinite.

Before you pass this off as some cliché hippie platitude, I would suggest that you take into account the fine points of this statement. The operative phrases in this passage—”truth,” “beauty,” “love,” “harmony,” and “infinite”—are some of the most important aspects of the human experience, and well represent the goals and aspirations of many people the world over! The personal and spiritual achievement of self-actualization (though implicitly indescribable), could be very well expressed using these phrases. And what does this world need more, if not a change of heart—a collective heart that embraces opportunity, infinity, harmony, and love—that leads to prosperity for all living beings? As comedian Russell Brand has stated, “The fusion of spirituality and activism feels like it is emerging for the first time since the Sixties.” I hope he’s right.

10. “Be not a cancer on the earth — Leave room for nature — Leave room for nature.

We seem to be doing a terrible job on this last one. All of the aforementioned issues add up to this: humans are currently a disease to the biosphere. In our current predicament it seems that humanity, and the biodiversity of the planet, will be destroyed by selfishness, greed, and ignorance. (Buddha was on to something!) Perhaps we would like to save ourselves, our children, and future generations from the calamity of climate change and ecological destruction? We must dramatically change course if we want that better future, and, as of right now, it has been decided that extra yachts are more important.

We can change our practices and policies in order to live more harmoniously with the Earth’s ecosystems, thus ensuring not only the survival of many plant and animals species, but also our own.

 

Pope Francis and Inconsistent Climate Concerns

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The baldachin over the tomb of St. Peter in St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome. (Source unknown.)

“I’m not a scientist.” That’s a phrase which, nowadays, seems to echo through the halls of the Capitol in Washington. Despite the overwhelming consensus on the existence of climate change, and its severity, many American politicians seem content to ignore the horror that awaits.

Well I’m not a scientist, either, but I find it easy to understand and accept the science on climate change. I’d rather it (anthropogenic warming) didn’t exist, but we can’t go on just ignoring the facts, anyway. Many of the environmental crises that face the world in the 21st century can be understood through a basic review of the—I would argue—highly flawed and discordant societal systems of which we are all a part. It takes no more than a little cursory research, some empathy, and intuition to get the fact that the world is going to hell in an ecologically-devastated hand basket.

Well, it’s not all shit. (Not just yet, at least.) Despite a kind of virulent denialism on part of many political and business leaders, a few important religious figures have stepped up in response to this growing, impending disaster. Pope Francis is perhaps the most championed person in this category. He has gained some considerable attention on the issue, especially due to the announcement of a forthcoming papal encyclical which would urge Catholics to combat the crisis.

Anyone who has been following Francis’ undertakings would be right to call him something of a progressive, at least relative to most of his predecessors. But on the issue of climate I think that Francis is a bit inconsistent. In fact, he fails to really challenge one of the major contributors to climate change (and other environmental catastrophes): overpopulation.

The connection between overpopulation, and thus over-consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, is clear. (It’s no small wonder that larger carbon sources can be connected to more densely-populated areas.) And yet the Pope has no effective way of addressing this issue. In his recent visit to the Philippines, he merely suggested that Catholics not breed “like rabbits.” His view of contraception is still in line with his predecessors, and this is impacting the world in a truly negative way. The Canadian Guelph Mercury reports that the Church’s insistence on abstinence from birth control is contributing to the impoverishment of many people in Uganda, for instance. This is a direct contradiction of the Church’s stance on charity, and its efforts to alleviate poverty around the world. I myself was raised a Catholic, and I was often told of the virtues of giving to the poor. However, it’s simple logic that, the more people there are, the less there is to go around. That isn’t to say that the allocation of resources isn’t itself a problem, but that overpopulation greatly magnifies a persistent issue of wrongful consumption.

In any case, the Catholic Church needs to reform its views on contraception and overpopulation if it wants to be consistent, considering both its stated climate concerns, and its concern for the world’s poor.

“Pax et bonum!” proclaimed St. Francis. Let’s take his words to their logical conclusion. Let the Catholic Church move in a direction that is consistent with its views on climate change.

Raising Awareness of Famine in the Thar Desert

dead cow

Dead cattle in the Thar desert. (Source unknown.)

It’s incredible to me, the degree to which the Western media nitpicks its news and reportage. The world could be beset with biblical-scale floods of diarrhea and nacho cheese, and most of our news organizations would still be yammering on about Kim Kardashian’s ass. Indeed, Arctic clathrate meltdown could easily decimate civilization as we know it, but you won’t hear about that when a crack-smoking Toronto mayor is in the headlines, and the meaningful stuff is otherwise lost in a sea of celebrity divorces.

That being said, I feel that it’s necessary for some of us to, at least once in a while, utilize the Internet for personal reporting and the spread of more important news.

Something I’ve been following for the past few weeks is the ongoing drought and subsequent famine in the Tharpakar region of Pakistan. As it stands, 294 people have died (as of January 2, 2015). SAMAA TV reports that, “… children have died in Mithi, Chhachhro, Islamkot, Nangarparkar and other areas of the district, where death has become a routine, unfortunately… The number of dying children is increasing especially after the onset of winter, as they are affected rapidly by chest infections, like pneumonia.”

Thankfully, one non-profit, the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) in Canada is taking donations to help relief efforts. You can donate to help the people of the Thar desert HERE.

While I know  that I have maybe only a handful of readers, if ANY of you, or ANYONE, comes across this post, PLEASE share the above link and spread the news about this ongoing disaster.

Now, I don’t want to politicize such a disaster, but I will put in my two cents about potential causes. I will end this article by letting you know that much of the change in the monsoon season that many people in Pakistan depend on is correlated with global warming and climate change. (This is also reported here.) The IPCC has stated that, as the planet warms, dry areas will undoubtedly become drier, and agriculture will thus be affected. If we want to prevent future disasters like this, we need to drastically step up our efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and scrub carbon from the atmosphere.

With that in mind, let’s make 2015 a year of much-needed progress. Here’s wishing the people of the Thar much love and quick relief, and wishing you all a happy, and fruitful, new year…

We’ll All Learn to Love the Cold

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(From Alpha Coders.)

This past year, it became clear to me that the vast majority of the world’s leaders are either suicidal, insane, or both. And not only that! When they go, they want to take you and me with them!

In the face of the current climate crisis very little is being done. It seems that presidents, prime ministers, kings, and chancellors would much rather take short-term economic ease over the long-term survival of the human species. This really is insanity—self-destructive, masochistic, damning insanity—considering that the IPCC’s warming limit (2°C) for dangerous climate change is perhaps only two to a few decades away. (And, according to at least one report by the IPCC, even if we stopped all greenhouse gas emissions today, we would still be “locked in” to a global temperature rise of 1.45°C above the pre-industrial average. (And considering that at the current 0.85 degrees (mean surface temperature above the pre-industrial) we’re already witnessing hugely detrimental effects to agriculture and the environment, a 0.6 degree increase will undoubtedly bring much more chaos.)

Granted, the view that what’s helpful to the environment always comes at the expense of the economy is decidedly wrong. (It seems that way to me, at least. Not to mention a growing number of politicians and corporations…) And it must be! Because we aren’t going to convince billions of people to revert to hunter-gatherer survival, or communal simplicity, when the alternative is a fucking flat screen and a smartphone and a dollar for a McDouble.

This is where anarcho-primitivists (who want or promote said reversion—effectively modern Luddites) and ultra-environmentalists (notably Derrick Jensen—although, to be fair, his critique of civilization is also bound up with notions of anthropocentrism and other, extraneous philosophical stuff) think the world should head (or should’ve stayed) if we want (or wanted) any kind of sustainable, and meaningful, future. They should, however, be aware that they are up against over a billion Chinese and Indian nationals eager to live the kind of unsustainable lifestyle enjoyed by most Westerners at this time. They should be aware that stopping this is next to impossible, and that the best that can be done is to adapt and mitigate NOW, to the best of our abilities.

This whole conundrum, of course, is alarming. And I agree with many of those concerned that modern civilization, especially with its hyper-capitalist bent, is clearly unsustainable. But what can and should be done, instead of a reversion, is an attempt at education, reformation, adaptation, and—as I say—mitigation. “Think globally, act locally,” the mantra goes. Yet the world is in dire need of a global answer to a global problem such as climate change, a problem which is both propelled by the unsustainable scramble for finite resources, and at once also accentuates the current and future lack. (Food and water scarcity seems unavoidable with current projections (including 9 billion+ people on the planet) unless something drastic is done.) The United Nations and the slew of experts behind the IPCC seem to have little effect on the policies of individual nations, and most of these countries are unwilling to do what it takes to save humanity from the inexcusable drove of suffering and death that climate change is sure to bring, should they not act.

It seems, then, that more than ever the future is in the hands of individuals. If we cannot rely on our governments to do anything useful, then it is up to us to make a change that is both local and global in its scope.

If we don’t do anything—and, actually, terrifyingly enough, even if we do something—we ought to learn to love the cold. Because it will get much, much hotter, and much more dangerous. People will be much thirstier and hungrier and the seas will rise and the world will burn. All the more so, I’m just saying, if nothing is done. We ought to take what we can get, you know? Even if we can’t completely stop climate change in its tracks, it’s just sensible to do what we are able to in order to make the future as bright as possible, under the conditions we’ve already brought upon ourselves. (And the rest of the planet’s biosphere.)

My fear is that even the most minimal efforts to combat this won’t really materialize. (Yes, the current pledges by world governments and business leaders amount to less than zero, as far as I’m concerned.) And why, then? Because no one gives a shit. In a lackadaisical epoch of Call of Duty and Oreos, very few muster the courage, resolve, and willpower to tackle the future. And if there is a future to tackle, it certainly is the one just ahead of us.

In summation: Let’s not crash head-on into oblivion, but ease ourselves into the world we want to have, and that we want future generations to have.

Mystical Aesthetics—Post Script

As an addendum to « Mystical Aesthetics », I wanted to publish some additional material that I had forgotten to elaborate on in that article. I mentioned, at least, art forms and styles of media through which the aesthetic engenders the mystical, and I’d like to add to that dance, modern and contemporary visual art, and some philosophical observations…

~

I touched on dance with the inclusion of the Mevlevi sema, exemplified by the dervishes of Turkey. The essence of Sufi achievement, the experience of the Absolute, was extracted from the trappings of Islam by the Universal Sufi movement, which is (as the name, in a way, implies) universalist in its philosophy, pertaining to no particular religion—rather embracing the mystical-spiritual heart of all great religious experience.

sema

The Mevlevi sema. (From UNESCO.)

Dance also undoubtedly affected another, much more distinct spiritual system, one which some of the aforementioned Sufis (notably Idries Shah, an important modern mystic) claimed had borrowed some of its concepts from their tradition. (Some have also claimed an Orthodox Christian, Hermetic, and/or Kabbalistic influence.) This practice is called the Fourth Way. The system (which I am reluctant to deem a religion or philosophy, as it doesn’t neatly fit into either of those camps), ironically also called “the System”, as well as “the Work”, was developed by the Greek-Armenian, Russian-born mystic George Ivanovich Gurdjieff (also known as G.I. Gurdjieff). Gurdjieff was interested in the methods whereby humans could achieve their greatest potential, and saw the aim of his methods as waking individuals from a state of “waking sleep” into a higher, more fully-realized mode of consciousness that embraced the complete nature of being and self-awareness. Gurdjieff noted his school of thought was a kind of “esoteric Christianity,” and introduced the idea of “self-remembering.” The Fourth Way was further developed by Gurdjieff’s student, the esotericist P.D. Ouspensky, who wrote much on the subject and popularized it.

The Fourth Way is represented by the enneagram, developed (in this context) by Ouspensky, and symbolizes and systematizes the method[s] Gurdjieff and Ouspensky had elaborated. The points of the Fourth Way enneagram correspond to certain numbers, archetypes, or properties of life and nature.

Gurdjieff’s legacy of sacred dance—perhaps more appropriately deemed choreography, or “movements”, as he called them—and the co-composed music they were later set to, figures into the Fourth Way as a method of self-realization.

I’ve yet to experience one of these performances for myself, although, in any case, I’ve been raring to attend one of the “movements” since learning of Gurdjieff’s philosophy. (Granted, public performances of this kind seem very difficult to locate.) I first encountered the concepts of the Fourth Way through Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain, undoubtedly one of the outright weirdest movies of all time. (And one that I highly recommend!) That movie also spurred my reading of the incomplete novel Mount Analogue, by Rene Daumal. (Also highly recommended.)

gurdjieff-enneagram-dance

Dancers perform Gurdjieff’s “movements” in front of an enneagram. (From The Ritman Library: Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica.)

Returning to the visual arts, and not in a particularly religious sense, we find that the quiet reflection involved in appreciating a painting, for instance, can be meditative and, perhaps, ineffable.

The surrealists have always struck a chord with me: they could take us to other worlds, and imbue the mind with strange modes of understanding. Magritte has long been one of my favorites. I vaguely remember seeing his The Palace of Curtains, III in the MoMA, several years back, not far from Dali’s The Persistence of Memory and  a Van Gogh painting. (Starry Night?)

Anyway, I like his The Son of Man (French: Le fils de l’homme) very much in particular. This piece is haunting, mysterious, and (like many of his paintings) plays subtle tricks on the mind, and causes us to reevaluate our own consciousnesses and the way they relate to familiar objects and symbols:

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The Son of Man (Le fils de l’homme) by Magritte. (1964.)

Schopenhauer, whose aesthetics (here as in the philosophical discipline or study) were elaborate and sophisticated (Cf. The World as Will and Representation), divided aesthetic appreciation into different types based on their effects on human consciousness and humans’ relationship to an overarching Will. (This is a topic I won’t elaborate on here.) He noted that a state of tranquility and will-lessness (maybe a sort of quiet, ineffable absorption or contemplation, free from immediate cravings and striving) followed from the appreciation of “the beautiful”, for instance.

A definite mystical aesthetic comes out in the work of psychedelic and visionary artists. This is sensible: Few phenomena (other than religion and spirituality) are as closely associated with mystical experiences (and religion and spirituality, for that matter…) than hallucinogenic drugs. Now, while I don’t personally partake in yagé or peyote or any other mind-bending entheogens, I am vastly intrigued by their potential, not only as tools for the promotion of psychological and spiritual well-being, but also as catalysts for artistic inspiration. (Cf. McKenna’s The Invisible Landscape, etc.) In this way they are invaluable aids for some who wish to plumb and probe the greatest depths of the mind in order to retrieve powerful creativity.

One visionary artist, who deserves nothing less than a standing ovation for the absolutely meticulous detail and sublimeness of his work, is Alex Grey. He’s maybe best known for his collaborations with the band Tool, for whom he has produced album artwork and some stunning visuals for their music videos.

While Alex Grey and other psychedelic and visionary artists are not as highly regarded among the bohemian circles as many of their high-brow contemporaries, they have carved out a unique niche in the world of painting, collage, illustration, and so forth.

Alex_Grey-Ecstacy

Ecstasy by Alex Grey.

… Pablo Amaringo, a Peruvian native who incorporates shamanistic and other indigenous elements into his works, is also well known in this regard:

Ayari Huarmi by Pablo Amaringo

Ayari Huarmi by Pablo Amaringo.

… Similarly psychedelic, and yet also very different by impression and method, are the collages of Eugenia Loli:

Three Minutes to Nirvana

Three Minutes to Nirvana (“Minute One”) by Eugenia Loli.

Forever and Ever (and Ever and Ever and…)—A Little Rant on the Arbitrariness of All

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(Source unknown.)

“Profound boredom, drifting here and there in the abysses of our existence like a muffling fog, removes all things and men and oneself along with it into a remarkable indifference. This boredom reveals being as a whole.”

—Heidegger

~

A little rant:

What’s the point of being famous if humanity won’t last forever? Who will remember you? What’s the point in trying to do anything with the hope of it being remembered? I mean, look at gravestones. Ever see the Arlington National Cemetery in Washington? Headstones as far as the horizon. A lot of people put a lot of effort into getting those countless blocks in the ground. And yet, when the sun expands into a red giant, every grave on the earth, whether ostentatious or cheap, will be destroyed, along with every other monument and fragment of human civilization. Supposing we create a database that holds all the information about planet Earth and human history, and install it into a generational ship and carry that information to the stars and beyond? What, then, is stopping this monolithic supercomputer from being spaghettified in a black hole or dissolved in the event of the universe’s eventual heat death? I suppose if we have figured out inter-dimensional travel by that point, we can just tunnel into parallel universes for the rest of eternity, escaping the imminent death of each one. Maybe we’ll even find a world where entropy doesn’t exist. Then we can just kick back and enjoy the rest of forever. (And ever and ever and…)

But, anyway, this seems incredibly unlikely. So why do people care about being remembered, or becoming famous? The universe is 13.7ish billion years old. It will continue to exist for billions of years. And yet, even knowing this, so many of continue to squabble over pieces of dirt and pennies on the dollar, neither of which will be here in a million years. Plate tectonics and rising sea levels, globalization and cultural degredation, the modification of language and the unfathomable future we are all beset with… Entrust oneself to change!

So where, exactly, is the human race going, in the end? Will we just continue to exist for existence’s sake, on and on until we go nuts or blow our brains out? (Will there even be brains then?) What happens when we run out of new things to do and try? Will we off ourselves out of pure boredom once every song is written, every painting painted, every book published, every poem heard… every experience experienced?

Science fiction always provides a thought-provoking, albeit outlandish, backdrop: Perhaps the answer is to put humans, or their evolutionary descendants, into flotation tanks of some sort. Then, we can keep them on (what’s assumed to become) eternal life support, and pump them full of feel-good drugs, so all they ever experience is pure bliss. E.g. A strange panacea that, say, mixes the effects of MDMA and heroin, and never causes tolerance. Addiction wouldn’t have to be worried about, since these individuals wouldn’t have to function in society. You’d just have to find space for them in a broom closet or warehouse is all. They could just be butt ass naked floating in these tanks…

Or how about something akin to The Matrix? Rather than Tom Anderson’s dead-end office job, have the denizens of this cybernetic universe live in an eternal play-land, a Cartesian dreamworld-utopia, full of the greatest delights imaginable. How would that be?

I realize that there are many philosophers who have tackled the overarching problems of purposelessness and dissatisfaction in some way or another: Buddha boiled it down to suffering, whereas on the more existential, Western side we find Heidegger, Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Sartre, and so forth. It is largely an individual issue. As such, I’ve never really seen it put into the context of humanity’s long-term existence, eventual fate, and function in the universe. So, anyway, I broached the topic.

I’ve also seen the obvious mystical leanings. I like them… I do. The idea of it all being about “knowing thyself” or simply the experience of pure being, or non-being, or whatever way you formulate soteriology, etc. For religionists this may be Nirvana, or Heaven, or Jannah, or gnosis, etc. And, as I’ve implied, the existentialists tackled this issue, but only on an individual level, really. (“What is MY purpose in this world…?”) My question is, what is all of humanity eventually going towards, and what happens when we ultimately run out of things to do? Do we erase our memories (with whatever lightspeed gadgets we’re assumed to have at this theoretical point in the future, or just some kind of hyper-barbiturate, yada yada) and then just start over, ad infinitum? How is it that we avoid nihilism, or even a concomitant antinatalism, as a collective? Does this differ from the way that we give meaning to individual lives?

I know this may come off as a little silly or outlandish. Granted, I wrote this pretty quickly, so pardon a lack of articulation or elaboration. In any case, I think it’s really a pertinent question of how we value the world.

(SEE THIS ALSO.)