Close Reading of Amitav Ghosh’s ‘Gun Island’ (2019)

           My close reading, examines the chapter ‘High Water’ from Amitav Ghosh’s Gun Island (2019). In this chapter, Deen and Cinta are in Venice. They visit the gentrified Punta della Dogana (Customs House Point), which Cinta remembers was a ‘dilapidated old place’[1] when she was a child. It has become ‘like every other building in the city…an art gallery.’[2] Cinta’s memory emphasizes not only an economic pattern built on culture, but furthermore, that the memory of Venice is emphasized through various aesthetic forms.

          Inside the gallery, Cinta and Deen encounter an interactive artwork, positioned ‘at the far end of the gallery’[3], galvanizing Cinta’s memory, and in addition, establishing her cultural affiliation with her hometown Venice. The artwork is titled ‘Il mostro di Punta della Dogana – The Monster of Customs House Point.’[4] The monster, Cinta explains is a centuries long legend, with sightings being reported up until the 1930s. Cinta believes it to be a giant squid, and the composition of the artwork references this, with its ‘long tentacle-like forms.’[5]

          I will read the events and meaning of the chapter in alignment with Timothy Morton’s ideas, namely ‘interobjectivity,’ and its inclusion in the function and meaning of the ‘hyperobject.’ In addition, I want to connect this with Ghosh’s own thoughts on the role of nonhumans in Gun Island and by extension, the current ecological and political problems caused by climate breakdown, which Ghosh expounds on in The Great Derangement (2016). To do this, I will include Donna J. Haraway’s ideas on ‘Terrapolis’ and the ‘Chthulucene’, which I will show are synonymous with Morton’s ideas, as they attempt to realize ecological awareness and the role of nonhumans. Morton, Haraway & Ghosh, share political, ecological and ontological concerns, and their ideas inform and collaborate fluidly with each other.

          The conversation between Deen and Cinta, and the legend expressed throughout, are intersubjective moments of Venice’s history. However, the denouement of the chapter, urges us to expand the scope to what Timothy Morton calls ‘interobjectivity.’ Morton explains that ‘form is memory’, therefore, ‘there is no difference between causality and aesthetic appearance.’[6] It is easy to connect the causal and aesthetic in this chapter: the ‘aesthetic’ is the legend itself, causally influenced by Venice’s history. The resulting artworks and galleries, are aesthetic results of the form of memory. The interobjective telling of history is literary in form, which spills into an object, an artwork representing and referencing the legendary monster.

          Connecting Morton’s ‘hyperobject’ offers depth: ‘Hyperobjects provide great examples of interobjectivity—namely, the way in which nothing is ever experienced directly, but only as mediated through other entities in some shared sensual space.’ The hyperobject, put very simply ‘refer[s] to things that are massively distributed in time and space relative to humans.’[7] Venice itself is an interobjective assemblage, a hyperobject. We cannot see Venice in its entirety, because that entirety is inaccessible. This does not make Venice any less a thing because it is an inaccessible entirety, or entity. In the same way, we do not encounter the actual il mostro, nor the reports of people throughout history, through the artwork in the gallery; nor do we actually relive Cinta’s childhood because she can remember the dilapidated customs house. This does not make them any less real as what they are. They are summaries, aestheticized, very much objects in their own right that encounter other objects to construct history, which is the hyperobject. Histories are an assemblage of anecdote, legend, report, construction, destruction, material, thinking, acting, and encountering. Or what Morton calls ‘footprints of hyperobjects’:

    These footprints are signs of causality, and of here is both subjective and objective genitive. Causality and the aesthetic, the realm of signs and significance and sensation, are one and the same. Hyperobjects are so big that they compel us toward this counterintuitive view. Interobjectivity eliminates the difference between cause and sign.[8] 

Aligning the ‘subjective and objective genitive’ can be accomplished because interobjectivity, includes nonhumans in its impressions, in its footsteps of causality and aesthetics. Moreover, intersubjectivity—interactions between conscious beings—is not disentangled from interobjectivity. The difference is, that in an interobjective ecology, nonhumans and humans interact, as well as, importantly, nonhumans and nonsentient beings. Interactions aren’t reserved for humans with humans. This is suggestive throughout Ghosh’s Gun Island.

          What else is a city, or a person’s life, other than the interconnection of things? Ghosh understands this markedly, especially as we know that he is familiar with the hyperobject, telling us so in The Great Derangement: ‘We have entered, as Timothy Morton says, the age of hyperobjects, which are defined in part by their stickiness.’[9] This ‘stickiness’ is synonymous with Morton’s ‘viscosity’: ‘Hyperobjects are here, right here in my social and experiential space.’[10] This propinquity of hyperobjects is the reason they cannot be seen in their entirety, as Morton explains, ‘there is nothing to “get back to,” since the problem is not that things are truly distant, but that they are in our face—they are our faces.’[11] If we replace ‘face’ with ‘city’ we connect this propinquity to the habitation of people in the hyperobject ‘city’. Furthermore, human encounters with nonhumans, causally collaborate to produce aesthetic legends inside a hyperobject, spilling though the mesh-like structure of the hyperobject into ecological and political consideration. Things come out the woodwork literally and figuratively, in doing so, they reveal the ecological breakdown taking place. This is how Gun Island functions as a warning.

          I want to return to Il mostro. The ‘tentacle-like form’ is redolent of Donna J. Haraway’s ‘tentacular ones’ entangled with fiction, essential if we want to ‘tell the story of the Chthulucene.’[12] The Chthulucene is Haraway’s replacement term for the Anthropocene. Anthropocene doesn’t seem to be reactionary enough to the necessary presence of nonhumans and how, neither humans nor nonhumans, as Haraway emphatically explains, ‘nothing is connected to everything; everything is connected to something.’[13] ‘The chthonic ones’, live in the Chthulucene, chosen for its Greek etymology, meaning ‘of, in, or, under the earth and seas.’[14] These are the il mostro of Gun Island, which live in the memory of the people and city, devour the wooden infrastructure of Venice, as well as the inside of trees in the mountains of Oregon.[15]  

          Haraway’s Chthulucene is realized within a fictional space, called Terrapolis. Etymologically, she combines terra, or earth, with polis, the city. Terrapolis encourages an intimate space to exist between humans and nonhumans, between earth and city. The opportunity to distance each other, through habitation in radically different ecologies, is dissembled and reassembled as an inevitable, shared ecology. Gun Island could be read as an example of the aesthetic space, the poiesis of Terrapolis. The novel is a poietic world, designed to express multi-species interconnection, as is Terrapolis. Haraway explains:

    Terrapolis is a fictional integral equation, a speculative fabulation. Terrapolis is n-dimensional niche space for multi-species becoming-with. Terrapolis is open, worldly, indeterminate, and polytemporal. Terrapolis is a chimera of materials, languages, histories.[16] 

By ‘speculative fabulation’ I take Haraway to mean a fiction that confounds expectations by fusing the everyday and familiar, with the fantastical, mythic and nightmarish. Ghosh’s Gun Island is a speculative fabulation.  

          Ghosh constructs a novel, where legends emerge into something observable by the characters. Cinta and Deen, after the gallery, go in search of the monster out at the Fondamente Nove, where her uncle Ruggiero would go to catch squid and cuttlefish. Fondamente Nove, the narrator explains, ‘remains to this day one of the least frequented parts of the city.’[17] This peripheral space, is ideal for the emergence of creatures. The artwork Il mostro di Punta della Dogana, was also located in a peripheral space. The monster, the tentacular one they search for, mutates, into the chthonic ones. Cinta tells Deen, ‘I will show you a different kind of monster, much more dangerous.’[18] Cinta asks Deen to shine his cellphone’s flashlight on the piling, which functions similarly to Cinta’s uncle’s lantern, which he ‘hung over the water…so the creatures would come floating up to the light, needing only to be scooped up with a net.’[19] The darkness of the pier is a permeable boundary of dramatic tension, between expectation and the emergence into the light of a destructive ‘dangerous’ or ‘chthonic’ creature, which can only be captured with the use of a tool, the flashlight. Ghosh articulates the monster’s emergence as follows:

    Turning my own flashlight beam on the piling I saw that the surface of the indentation was pitted with holes, like the inside of a book that has been attacked by termites. Then suddenly Irealized that there was something alive inside the piling, not just one but many; they were wriggling, moving.[20]

The metaphor at work here, of the book attacked by termites, expands the event, through the agency of the aesthetic. The book is devoured, perhaps even the one we are reading, as are the pilings, and Venice.  Nonhumans in aggregation and collaboration with each other, are unleashed on the world of the reader.  For this to work, the city must be a thing, a hyperobject, ‘becoming-with’ (in Haraway’s phrasing) other objects, to form ecologies: ‘Ontologically heterogeneous partners become who and what they are in relational material-semiotic worlding. Natures, cultures, subjects, and objects do not preexist their intertwined worldings.’[21] There is no alterity of things, but instead, recognition of multispecies agency to affect ‘worldings’, synonymous with ecologies, except ‘worldings’ include the activities of nonhumans. The book becomes an ecological vehicle to show us ecological problems. It mimics, or rather it re-presents a world with the purpose of revealing a problem. In the process it becomes a habitat and ultimately open to being destroyed.

          Cinta explains that the creature she pries out of the piling, which is part of a pier, which is part of the infrastructure of the city itself, is ‘a ship worm’ which ‘are invading Venice, with the warming of the lagoon’s water. They eat up the wood from the inside in huge quantities. It has become a big problem because Venice is built on wooden pilings. They are literally eating the foundations of the city.’ The damage the ship worms are causing, becomes an event which happens to Deen and Cinta. This event is one of the causal ‘footprints of hyperobjects’, which are never the directly encountered hyperobject itself, but an interobjective encounter. Ghosh, in this event, is drawing our attention to an ecological problem, a problem caused by global warming. The warming of the lagoons, is an effect, non-local to Venice. The workers of Bangladeshi origin who we encounter in Part II Venice, are refugees from a place profoundly impacted by global warming. Their presence marks the continuity of global warming from one location, to another. The impacts differ aesthetically, however the cause is the same: global warming. The hyperobject as we know, forbids us from discerning the totality, we are able to witness only temporal manifestations, at various scales. Ghosh gives us imminent access, via the resulting collapse of the pier, to the impact of a process, which global warming causes to humans and nonhumans. Tacit in this local manifestation is the implication that this is a broader ecological problem. Nonhumans are the agents, acting discreetly, until they rupture the fluidity of the human, everyday. This is what Ghosh suggests, in a more simplified form when he says: ‘Who can forget those moments when something that seems inanimate turns out to be vitally, even dangerously alive?’[22] Returning to this, Ghosh later states this is, ‘one of the uncanniest effects of the Anthropocene, this renewed awareness of the elements of agency and consciousness that humans share with many other beings, and even perhaps the planet itself.’[23]    

          The word ‘uncanny’ is used by Morton, when he talks about the conjunction of human and nonhumans: ‘We are made of nonhuman and nonsentient and nonliving entities. It’s not a cozy situation: it’s a spooky, uncanny situation…We find ourselves in…the uncanny valley.’[24]

Just as Cinta and Deen, slip on the swarming worms into the rising lagoon, sinking literally and figuratively into the ramifications of interobjective encounters within the hyperobject. Morton, regarding the space of the uncanny valley, explains: ‘Everything in your world starts to slip [my italics] into the uncanny valley, whose sides are infinite and slick.’[25] The hyperobject enables us to ‘slip’ between scales, moving from the zoomed-out ecological scale of climate-disruption processes, to telescoping into singular events, such as Cinta and Deen slipping into the lagoon, or the migration of displaced people. 

          The Bangladeshi migrant Bilal, one of those displaced by climate change in the novel, witnesses in part this temporal event of global warming, which is connected to the cause of his being there. Bilal is squatting in an abandoned building on the Fondamente Nove and comes to Deen and Cinta’s rescue. There is something uncanny about this. The happenstance of Bilal’s immiseration, which places him at the right place, at the right time, is indicative of the interobjective, viscous properties of the hyperobject to bring humans and nonhumans into alignment. In this alignment we can trace heterogeneous events and objects through the hyperobject.

          What Ghosh may be suggesting, is a challenge to the notion that nonhumans can’t have or create worlds. The ship worm’s habitat inside the wood of the pier, is an ecology, within the ecology of the book, which exists because it replicates a reality aesthetically, to show a reality to itself. This is because, as Morton tells us, ‘Worlds are perforated and permeable, which is why we can share them.’[26] The concept of a world is not singularly reserved for the human inhabited world. Morton explains further that, ‘human worlds are no different in value from nonhuman ones, and also that non-sentient nonhuman lifeforms (as far as we know) and non-life (and also by implication the non-sentient and non-living parts of humans) also have worlds.’[27] In this way humans form what Morton calls ‘solidarity’[28], even and especially between the host and the parasite. The host and parasite may change, but solidarity remains. Between the city pier and the ship worm, a world emerges, a world which shatters the human world. Regardless of negative impacts, it is still a form of solidarity.

          Ghosh, in The Great Derangement asks: ‘What is the place of the nonhuman in the modern novel?’[29] He answers that question here in this event in Gun Island. By extension, as the novel exists outside itself, within a hyperobject, it also asks the question to the reader, now part of it, ‘what is the place of the nonhuman in the Anthropocene?’ Its place cannot be assigned to it. It will take its place according to its own agency, in part, or so it will seem. Because as we have established, the hyperobject forbids us from seeing the entirety. So it will evade us, and it will be the continuing task of the ecologically aware author, to show us some aspect of it, or at least how to access methods for seeing aspects of it.

Bibliography

Amitav Ghosh, Gun Island (Great Britain: John Murray, 2019)

Amitav Ghosh, The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable (Chicago & London: The University of Chicago Press, 2016)

Donna J. Haraway, Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene (Durham & London: Duke University Press, 2016)

Timothy Morton, ‘Here Comes Everything: The Promise of Object-Oriented Ontology.’ Qui Parle: Critical Humanities and Social Sciences, 19.2 (2011), p. 163-190. Project MUSE muse.jhu.edu/article/431001

Timothy Morton, Humankind: Solidarity with Nonhuman People (London & New York: Verso Books, 2017)

Timothy Morton, Hyperobjects : Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World (Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 2013)


[1] Amitav Ghosh, Gun Island (Great Britain: John Murray, 2019), p. 245

[2] Ghosh, Gun Island, p. 245

[3] Ibid., p. 245

[4] Ibid., p. 246

[5] Ibid., p. 246

[6] Timothy Morton, Hyperobjects :Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World (Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 2013), p. 91

[7] Morton, Hyperobjects, p. 1

[8] Ibid., p. 88

[9] Amitav Ghosh, The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable (Chicago & London: The University of Chicago Press, 2016), p. 62

[10] Morton, Hyperobjects, p. 27

[11] Ibid., 28

[12] Donna J. Haraway, Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chtulucene (Durham & London: Duke University Press, 2016), p.31

[13] Haraway, Staying with the Trouble, p. 31

[14] Ibid., p. 53

[15] Ghosh, Gun Island, p. 119

[16] Ibid., p. 11

[17] Ghosh, Gun Island, p. 247

[18] Ibid., 250

[19] Ibid., 247

[20] Ibid., 250

[21] Haraway, Staying with the Trouble, pp. 32-33

[22] Ghosh, The Great Derangement, p. 3

[23] Ibid., p. 63

[24] Morton, Hyperobjects, p. 130

[25] Ibid., pp. 131-132

[26] Timothy Morton, Humankind: Solidarity with Nonhuman People (London & New York: Verso Books, 2017), p. 14

[27] Morton, Humankind, p. 14

[28] Ibid., p. 14

[29] Ghosh, The Great Derangement, p. 66

A Brief Introduction to Object Oriented Ontology & Speculative Realism: The How of What

Object Oriented Ontology (OOO) challenges commonly held considerations towards what objects are and how they (inter)act in the world. Ecology, science, economics, art, architecture, and programming are core disciplines OOO utilizes. In OOO we encounter objects not only in rendered, physical, tactile modes, but in addition, processual, agentive & eventful modes. Human, a priori encounters with things, are radically altered when objects obtain equality, and hierarchies dismantled. My definition of ‘mode’ here, is taken from Jane Bennett: ‘What it means to be a “mode,” then, is to form alliances and enter assemblages: it is to mod(e)ify and be modified by others. The process of modification is not under the control of any one mode – no mode is an agent in the hierarchical sense.’[1] The polemic of whether things exist independent of the human mind (realism), or because of the human mind (idealism), resulted in the latter being firmly established in Western philosophy. OOO modifies this special ontological status of humans, encouraging a radical reorientation of all ontological statuses.

           This introduction condenses the dialogue between OOO thinkers Graham Harman, Timothy Morton, and Jane Bennett; as well as two thinkers from the Speculative Realism Movement, Manuel DeLanda and Tristan Garcia, and in addition, thing theorist Bill Brown. These thinkers are readily conversant, informing each other’s ontological ideas. They are often found in the bibliographies of each other’s books.

          How assemblages emerge out of various scales, from the microcosmic to the encountered reality of the everyday, is central to OOO. It is through assemblages that most of these thinkers express the importance of things in themselves, and further, how ecologies are composed by and compose themselves with assemblies of things. Objects and their processual ontologies, give things fungible properties, interchangeable within an assemblage. An atom, like qualia, moves between different things, yet things remain themselves.    

          OOO begins with Harman’s Tool-Being: Heidegger and the Metaphysics of Objects (2002). Harman’s reading of Heidegger, encourages him ‘to develop a ruthless inquiry into the structure of objects themselves.’[2] Harman’s ideas are a continuation of Heidegger’s discoveries into how objects are encountered in the world. I think it important to briefly outline Heidegger’s ontology.

          For Heidegger, objects are in one of two states, either they are ready-to-hand, which means they retreat into their function; or they are present-at-hand, which means they no longer function and no longer functioning, appear to us. Objects then, either function or are broken. Harman agrees there is no direct contact between things: ‘Reality is always radically different from our formulation of it, and is never something we encounter directly in the flesh, we must approach it indirectly. This withdrawal or withholding of properties from direct access is a central precept of OOO.’[3]  Timothy Morton talks more about this ‘central precept’, which

    Extends this irreducible darkness from subject-object relationships to object-object relationships. Objects encounter each other as operationally closed systems that can only (mis)translate one another. Causation is thus vicarious in some sense, never direct. An object is profoundly “withdrawn”—we can never see the whole of it, and nothing else can either.[4

Tristan Garcia interprets this ‘closed system’ similarly, but obtains access to the thing:

Being enters into a loop wherein being is not projected in itself, but cast outside itself. In our model, an arrow points inside to a circle – a thing – and then from this circle a second arrow points outside. Being comes inside a thing and being goes outside it. A thing is nothing other than the difference between being-inside and being-outside.[5]

Garcia allows ‘being’ to perforate ‘things’, so that it may oscillate between the outside and inside, of things. This access to the thing by being, is an attempt to access Harman’s ‘closed system’.

          Aesthetics, the arts and literature, are Harman’s methods (somewhat influenced by phenomenological speculations) for attempting to access the withdrawn (sensual) qualities of the real object. This is because they are not forms of knowledge, but rather, indirect means of expression. Harman uses metaphor as an example.[6] The terms ‘sensual qualities’ and ‘real object’ refer to Harman’s Quadruple Object,[7] which diagrammatically illustrates the tensions between objects.          

           Because ‘philosophy is not the handmaid of materialism’[8] Harman challenges what he calls ‘undermining’ in philosophy, which is the down-scaling of a thing to constituent parts, such as atoms or molecules. Because these scales are inaccessible to perception, they are discounted by Harman. He also dismisses ‘overmining’, which up-scales impact to anthropocentric influences alone. This resembles idealism, which problematically denies ‘any excess or surplus beyond such impact.’[9] The human holds the monopoly on meaning. This is especially problematic when it comes to nonhumans, considered in OOO to be integral and integrated into ecologies. Both ‘undermining’ and ‘overmining’ fail to render the potentialities of a thing or nonhuman, because they can’t express the tension between objects and qualities, which things and nonhumans react to.

          While Harman finds an effective means to access things through aesthetics and art, DeLanda’s access comes from materialism and science. Harman quotes DeLanda’s criticism of him in Object Oriented Ontology: A New Theory of Everything (2018): ‘I am not sure why Harman wants to stick to objects. I do not deny that objects exist…it is just that a full realist ontology must possess objects and events, with a process being a series of events.’[10]

          DeLanda has no problem with the withdrawn, indirectness of the thing, as things are assemblages. DeLanda’s influence is Deleuze & Guattari, who write about assemblages in A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (1988), explaining that, ‘an assemblage is precisely this increase in the dimensions of a multiplicity that necessarily changes in nature as it expands its connections. There are no points or positions in a rhizome, such as those found in a structure, tree, or root. There are only lines.’[11]

          DeLanda finds assemblages penetrate everywhere, like the rhizome. It is not a containing principle, where parts play a secondary role to the primary assemblage, but rather an encompassing principle without the need for subordination of the secondary to the primary; there need be no primary-secondary relationship whatsoever. Because DeLanda is ‘conceiving of the components of an assemblage as themselves assemblages.’[12] His conception of the thing is energized, oscillating multiple temporal and spatial scales, because included in the potential of a thing is an inherent processual ontology. What we see here is,

    A view of reality in which assemblages are everywhere, multiplying in every direction, some more viscous and changing at slower speeds, some more fluid and impermanent, coming into being almost as fast as they disappear. And at the limit, at the critical threshold when the diagrams of assemblages reach escape velocity, we find the grand cosmic assemblage, the plane of immanence, consistency, or exteriority.[13]

The reality of a thing is a consequence of a ‘material [and] energetic substratum’[14], which is precisely what Harman challenges in his criticism of ‘undermining’ in philosophy. DeLanda, by positing that a thing must have material and energetic properties, implements the atomic and molecular scale of matter as evidence of these properties in the emergence of assemblages by assemblages. The essential difference between Harman and DeLanda is that the latter thinks philosophy a form of knowledge, so theorizes in a scientific mode; whereas the former thinks philosophy part of aesthetics, not knowledge. 

          DeLanda has to explain how something can be both singular and multiple, both heterogeneous and homogeneous. He explains that ‘all assemblages are unique historical individuals.’[15] ‘Individual’ is synonymous with person, but DeLanda assures us ‘this is just a quirk of ordinary language.’[16] For DeLanda,

    As an ontological category the term ‘individual’ has no preference for any one particular level of scale. It is perfectly possible to speak of individual communities, individual organizations,individual cities. Similarly, we can, without invoking any undesirable connotations, speak of individual atoms, individual molecules, individual cells, and individual organs. [17]

          This ‘level of scale’ is important for constructing a realist ontology of assemblage theory, as what fills the scale is perforated and permeable. Everything accesses everything else in an assemblage.

          DeLanda, unlike Harman accepts reality as a consequence of an energetic substratum. Jane Bennett’s conception of assemblages is similar to DeLanda’s, Bennett is also influenced by Deleuze and Guattari. Bennett explains: ‘Assemblages are ad hoc groupings of diverse elements, of vibrant materials of all sorts. Assemblages are living, throbbing confederations that are able to function despite the persistent presence of energies that confound them from within.’[18] In Bennett’s work, elements of Harman and DeLanda fuse together. Bennett is more emphatic than DeLanda about things. Things for Bennett are ‘vibrant’, this registers aesthetically. Harman would call them ‘sensual qualities.’ Where Bennett closely connects with DeLanda is in the energetic ‘substratum’, which ‘confound[s]’ things. Harman is keen to maintain the ‘autonomy’ of things ‘despite their interrelations.’[19] Harman’s response, ‘is that OOO means ‘object’ in an unusually wide sense: an object is anything that cannot be entirely reduced either to the components of which it is made or to the effects that it has on other things.’[20]

          The assemblage is a mereological matter. Morton brings this into consideration with his challenge to the popular maxim, ‘the whole is always greater than the sum of its parts’. For Morton, this makes little sense if the whole is itself a thing. Therefore, Morton reorients the maxim to ‘the whole is always less than the sum of its parts’,[21] so that any primary containing principle is reinstituted according to the interconnections of things/parts. Depending on the scale of the ontological system, depends on how parts are conceptualized into wholes. If assemblages are assembled with assemblages, the relationship of the part to the whole is more complex than a mere whole containing everything, with its holistic connotations.

           ‘Flat ontology’ was first used by DeLanda.[22] However, Tristan Garcia’s extensive study of things in Form and Object: A Treatise on Things (2014), offers a more rendered treatment. I want now to connect flat ontologies to assemblages.

            Garcia’s mereological [formal study of parts and wholes] ruminations begin with a criticism of division and what he calls an ‘epidemic of things.’[23] There is an ethic at work here, applicable to ecology and politics, which both Morton and Bennett concern themselves with. Garcia explains, in a tone not dissimilar to Harman that, ‘No preference is given here to any one special kind of thing, since each kind is neither better nor worse than another kind. Real things do not matter to us here. Real things matter to us— and, for this reason, other kinds of things as well.’ [24] With this in mind, the rhetorical strategy of listing things, with seemingly different ontologies— all exercised by Morton, Bennett, Harman and Garcia— makes sense as an aesthetic exercise in flattening ontologies. It illustrates things are invariable in value. So lemons, sine waves, theodolites, cats and WiFi belong side by side, equally. Or to take Garcia’s list: ‘A human person is no more and no better something than a duck, a pebble, a dust particle, a chair, a word, or the sky.’[25] This is a rudimentary way of depicting a flat ontology. Assemblages similarly, align things. Take DeLanda’s human-horse-bow assemblage[26], which illustrates how parts are used to create an assemblage, while remaining assemblages themselves. A flat ontology unlike the assemblage is purposefully, maybe even radically aesthetic, because any thing can appear alongside another thing. Whereas the assemblage illustrates more familiar orders.  

          Flattening ontologies may provide a response to Bill Brown’s query: ‘how does the effort to rethink things become an effort to reinstitute society?’[27] Taken from his essay ‘Thing Theory’ (2001). Exercising flat ontologies enables the dismantling of hierarchies instituted into society and politics. Garcia calls this ‘no-matter-what.’[28] Garcia outlines this as:

    Quite simply the plane of equality of what is real, possible, non-existent, past, impossible true, false, or bad. It doesn’t matter. It concerns the possibility of being either real or possible,  or real and possible, or neither real nor possible, either constructed or given, either natural or  artificial, or natural and artificial, either true or illusory, of not being all of these at once, but  of equally being able to come under (or not) one of these determinations, any determination.[29]

          A reinstitution of society according to these principles of inclusion, including everything from the processual to the nonhuman and human, fundamentally modifies hierarchies. Ontologically, hierarchies restructure the importance of one thing over another. This is detrimental to a healthy ecology. Therefore, Bennett and Garcia agree that ‘reification’ or ‘anthropomorphization’ if they lead to radically dissembling hierarchies between humans and nonhumans, aren’t necessarily ‘the reduction of our world to a world of things…not an evil, the dehumanization, desensitization, or disenchantment of the world, but the precondition of a human understanding of the difference between things.’[30]

Rather than ‘desensitization’ we may take Bennett’s cue that ‘it is wrong to deny vitality to nonhuman bodies, forces and forms, and that a careful course of anthropomorphization can help reveal that vitality, even though it resists full translation and exceeds my comprehensive grasp.’[31] Bennett’s term risks seeming anthropocentric, however, I interpret her usage as a means of turning the anthropic in on itself.

What emerges from a familiarity with OOO and speculative realism is a radical reorientation of the degrees of agency that objects have in an assemblage. Note that assemblages are everything, everywhere and do not conform to a particular measurement or set of limits. What this means for us is, a familiar world filled with familiar things, suddenly becomes populated with beings, things that have affectivity. Things can affect each other and us. Nothing is inert in reality. A simple object has a bundle of reactive properties with us and likewise with other objects, differing sometimes in degree and sometimes in kind. This does not mean that objects can articulate dissatisfaction and rebel against us, though sometimes they may fail to work inexplicably or do odd things we don’t expect. What it finally means for objects is that they are included into the world as the world: there is nothing in the world if not things. Just as we come into the world, so do objects. The influences they have are—regardless of the common objection that ‘we put them there and can remove them’—pronounced and do explain how asymmetries occur: we always want control. If someone has access to a thing which makes them powerful, it is owing to the existence of that thing itself, and the manipulative impulses it effects in the owner, which is a major contributing factor to an asymmetry of power acting on the person. Nothing is to blame, we must still hold those in power to account, however, the thing’s affectivity tells a rich history of how the powerful individual came to access the thing’s potential. Or consider a map, a person and territory. Without the territory there is no reason for the map to exist, nor a place for the person to exist. The attempt to co-ordinate a person through a terrain demands a map. Therefore the existence of a map is indicative of not only important terrain, but also a person navigating that terrain. This is the inception of a place of importance and what follows is civilization: more things. Therefore the relationship of man to terrain creates the encounter between map and territory. This is called the material turn and it encourages us to pay attention to the way we encounter and interact with things and what follows from those encounters. Now, as a little exercise, pick up a thing and tell it what it does for you.

Bibliography

Bill Brown, ‘Thing Theory’, in The Object Reader, ed. by Fiona Candlin and Raiford Guins (USA & Canada: Routledge, 2009)

Bruno Latour, ‘From Realpolitik to Dingpolitik or How to Make Things Public’, in The Object Reader, ed. by Fiona Candlin and Raiford Guins (USA & Canada: Routledge, 2009)

Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. by Brian Massumi (London & New York: Bloomsbury, 2019)

Graham Harman, Object Oriented Ontology: A New Theory of Everything (UK & USA: Pelican Books, 2018)

Graham Harman, Tool-Being: Heidegger and the Metaphysics of Objects (United States of America: Open Court, 2002)

Igor Kopytoff, ‘The Cultural Biography of Things: Commoditization as Process’, in The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective, ed. by Arjun Appadurai (UK: Cambridge University Press, 2008)

Isabelle Stengers, ‘Including the Nonhumans in Political Theory: Opening Pandora’s Box?’, in Political Matter: Technoscience, Democracy, and Public Life, ed. by Bruce Braun and Sarah J. Whatmore (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010)

Jane Bennett, Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things (Durham & London: Duke University Press, 2010)

Manuel DeLanda, Assemblage Theory (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2016)

Manuel DeLanda, Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy, 3rd edn. (UK & USA: Bloomsbury, 2005)

Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism: Is there no alternative? (UK & USA: Zero Books, 2009)

Timothy Morton, Being Ecological (UK & US: Pelican Books, 2018)

Timothy Morton, Humankind: Solidarity with Nonhuman People (London & New York: Verso Books, 2017)

Timothy Morton, Hyperobjects :Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World (Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 2013)

Timothy Morton, ‘Here Comes Everything: The Promise of Object-Oriented Ontology.’ Qui Parle: Critical Humanities and Social Sciences, 19.2 (2011), p. 163-190. Project MUSE muse.jhu.edu/article/431001.

Tristan Garcia. Form and Object: A Treatise on Things, trans. by Mark Allan Ohm & Jon Cogburn (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2014)


[1] Jane Bennett, Vibrant Matter: a political ecology of things (Durham & London: Duke University Press, 2010), p. 22

[2] Graham Harman, Tool-Being: Heidegger and the Metaphysics of Objects (United States of America: Open Court, 2002), p. 15

[3] Graham Harman, Object Oriented Ontology: A New Theory of Everything (UK & USA: Pelican Books, 2018), p. 7

[4] Timothy Morton, ‘Here Comes Everything: The Promise of Object-Oriented Ontology.’ Qui Parle: Critical Humanities and Social Sciences, 19.2 (2011), p. 163-190. Project MUSE muse.jhu.edu/article/431001. p. 165

[5] Tristan Garcia. Form and Object: A Treatise on Things, trans. by Mark Allan Ohm & Jon Cogburn (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2014), p. 11

[6] See, Harman, Object Oriented Ontology, pp. 66-73, for a full discussion of metaphor. Harman dedicates all of chapter 2 to aesthetics.

[7] Harman, Object Oriented Ontology, p.160

[8] Ibid., p. 40

[9] Ibid., p. 49

[10] Ibid., p. 41

[11] Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. by Brian Massumi (London & New York: Bloomsbury, 2019), p. 7

[12] Manuel DeLanda, Assemblage Theory (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2016), p. 6

[13] DeLanda, Assemblage Theory, p. 7

[14] Ibid., p. 139

[15] Ibid., 140

[16] Ibid., 140

[17] Ibid., p. 140

[18] Jane Bennett, Vibrant Matte, pp. 23-24

[19] Harman, Object Oriented Ontology, p. 41

[20] Ibid., p. 43

[21] Timothy Morton, Being Ecological (UK & US: Pelican Books, 2018), p. 92

[22] Manuel DeLanda, Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy, 3rd edn. (UK & USA: Bloomsbury, 2005), p. 51

[23] Garcia. Form and Object,  p. 1

[24] Ibid., p. 4.

[25] Ibid., p. 29

[26] DeLanda, Assemblage Theory, pp. 68-83

[27] Bill Brown, ‘Thing Theory’, in The Object Reader, ed. by Fiona Candlin and Raiford Guins (USA & Canada: Routledge, 2009), p. 143

[28] Garcia, Form and Object, p. 30

[29] Garcia, Form and Object, p. 30

[30] Ibid., p. 29

[31] Bennett, Vibrant Matter, p. 122

[32] Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism: Is there no alternative? (UK & USA: Zero Books, 2009), p. 54

Metaphor to Magnify

Metaphor to magnify

This may be a bit rambling, it may chime, but this is a semi-riff-with-structured-argument on a number of books (provided at the end) I have read in the past month (except Being & Time, which I am currently reading, but which has featured in good measure in Morton’s & Harman’s books). I hope it provokes some discussion.

Metaphor has extensive reach in how we perceive reality. That’s quite a bold, counter-intuitive assumption, isn’t it? Well yes, or not. Stopping, considering, it seems remote that a device, which uses another thing to point at a thing, indirectly, can’t possibly extend downward in such a perforating manner, to the core of perceiving a [the?] reality of things (maybe that’ll prove to be taking things a little far). But maybe metaphor is one (of potentially numerous) mad method for doing so.

Metaphor has taken a bit of a haymaker since Pound’s Imagiste Manifesto, especially the 4th criteria:  To present an image. We are not a school of painters, but we believe that poetry should render particulars exactly and not deal in vague generalities, however magnificent and sonorous. It is for this reason that we oppose the cosmic poet, who seems to us to shirk the real difficulties of his art. I have always taken this to be a contributing factor in the shrugging off of figurative language, as if simile, metonym, personification or the like were a taint on the gracile sheen of a thing chosen for its already rendered, veneered perfection. But that seems to me problematic. It sort of embodies the assumption of a surface-reality exclusivity & moreover that things are in & of themselves without any capacity to affect each other. I have no quarrel with direct perception & the artistic validity direct focus on stuff for stuff-sake, is one I find admirable & can & often do subscribe to in my own poetry & gandering at the world.

Graham Harman is a contemporary philosopher in the “New Theory of Everything” OOO, which stands for Object Oriented Ontology. His friend & fellow OOO enthusiast, Timothy Morton expresses ontology as “the how of what” which is pretty succinct, but accurate.

The justification of OOO’s necessity is complicated, but the actual action needed to live by its tenets is pretty easy: respect inanimate things as you would animate things. Why? Well, when you do, you come to more rendered considerations of the reason-for, & what-will-happen-if of creating something. As Morton likes to highlight in his book Hyperobjects (:enormous entities stretched across time & space, non-local, viscous, affecting; global warming, being an often used example) if we’d thought in such a way earlier in our civilizing capacity (hindsight not really helpful here), we’d have been more cautious in our plastic usage, more ready to outline the potential negative feedback loop it would initialize; realize sooner it takes the potential rise & fall of cultures to degrade. Same with nuclear fission, yes, it powers our homes, provides comfort, concludes our ancient fear of night, but it has also affected the ecological imbalance of the world, penetrating the ecosystem, leaving lasting damage 24,000 from now in the form of plutonium-239 “Gamma rays shoot out of” (Morton) through its lifetime & iodine-129 which will still appear in the sediments for future archaeologists to discover 15 million years from now.

These examples show how our rash progressive nature is acted upon without proper interrogation of the lasting effects.

This is becoming increasingly incontestable in the context we find ourselves in: we are actually, seriously debating altering the geological period as we exist through the tipping point of our effect on the ecological system. There is no going back on what we have done—we are in the Anthropocene; (elegantly treated in Simon L. Lewis & Mark A. Maslin’s recent book The Human Planet: How We Created the Anthropocene, a text worthy of everybody’s attention.)

In his book Object Oriented Ontology: A New Theory of Everything Harman lays out some of the “principles of OOO”, number 1 being: “All objects must be given equal attention, whether they be human, non-human, natural, cultural, real or fictional.” How so? Well, easy. Look at the effects of pollution, the examples of which are numerous. As Morton explains, we live in “a world in which there is no away” because when you begin to treat even a typical process as a thing (object), then something always has an effect, we get “context explosions” which Morton articulates better than I can in an article titled Subscendence:

The thing about ecological contexts is that you can’t draw a line around them in advance, because ecology is profoundly about interdependence. The biosphere depends on earth’s magnetic shield to protect lifeforms from solar rays, and this depends on the way earth’s iron core is spinning, and that depends on how the earth formed in the early stages of the solar system, and so on. We are dealing with a potential infinity of entities on a potential infinity of scales—there is no way to ascertain whether the pleroma of beings has an end point, at least not in advance. Ecological awareness just is this context explosion.

This all ties in with metaphor & how it gets at the substance of stuffs. Kenneth Burke highlights that “etymologically ‘substance’ is a scenic word. A person’s or a thing’s sub-stance would be something that stands beneath or supports the person or thing.”(Burke: The Paradox of Substance) Because of the “context explosion” affecting things with things, in the context of an [the] environment we can see that sub-stance of reality is the propping of things by things. “The leg bone’s connected to the toxic waste dump” (Morton).

Harman breaks down an essay by the Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset, in one of his chapters. Harman thinks the essay a “neglected masterpiece in the realist tradition of philosophy.” Harman’s extolling the virtue of Ortega’s essay is due to how Ortega pinches shut the gap jacked by Kant, who saw phenomena (everything we are “able to encounter, perceive, use, think about”) as irreconcilable with noumena, which we are unable to access directly. A thing [being] is ultimately ungraspable (something, which Heidegger when to great lengths to remedy). The repercussion for OOO is that objects become (potentially & demonstrably: people are clearly not making adequate alterations to veer away from planetary catastrophe despite the evidence) insignificant, they are unworthy of attention unless they attract us through a conditioned pleasantness: a flower’s scent, a beautiful object, fashion, cute animals; while ugly animals, weeds, algae, lichen, fungi are not as clearly represented as beautiful in & of themselves & thus of a lower degree of importance. This perpetuated bias is of little use to OOO.

Ortega’s great insight is that “there is nothing we can make an object of cognition, nothing that can exist for us unless it becomes an image, a concept, an idea—unless, that is, it stops being what it is in order to become a shadow or an outline of itself.” This happens often when a scientist tries to explain (turn into metaphor) to a layman what would otherwise be an equation, or complex technical process only an expert would normally understand. This may be considered a belittling of the thing, but actually, in the context of a scientist informing a layman, the reach of the idea is expanded, the context explodes into language rather than confined to a specialized jargon. Carlo Rovelli, is a fine example of a physicist who captures the poetry of his profession & articulates its merits, through metaphor to a wider audience; I wish I had his book Seven Brief Lessons on Physics to hand for examples, but I left it in Korea.

Music is another example. The musician writes the music & then reads it. To the average person the written music is unintelligible, it could say anything. The musician transforms the jargon of written music into something accessible to anyone, on top of which value can be obtained. Imagine if music was a mystery in the Eleusian register?

What the metaphor provides is a similar access. This is because art does something spectacular, something data & empiricism struggles with: it aestheticizes the thing, making it accessible. Ortega qualifies this: “Notice I am not saying that a work of art reveals the secret of life and being to us; what I do say is that a work of art affords the peculiar pleasure we call esthetic by making it seem that the inwardness of things, their executant reality, is opened to us.”

This is my qualification for beginning this essay as I did. It helps give perceptual context to the quality of objects.

Metaphor I consider to be a magnification of sorts. Magnifying is to make the small larger, what metaphoring does is remove the insignificance of a thing & make it more significant, this has repercussions across all things, because of the proximity-making effect taking note enough to transform has. Metaphoring provides adjectival comparatives & superlatives a whole new reason to be. Think of looking into a petri-dish & then looking at a Hubble photograph of the observable universe. Two scales that resemble each other. The result: a conversation on scale, which in turn provides a context that oscillates between the macro & micro.

The performance of likening something to another thing[s] introduces us into the equation because it is only through the agency of a being (something like Heidegger’s Dasein) that the transubstantiation of stuffs into stuffs can become a force for understanding a closer knit relation we have with things. We come closer to objects in the act of likening them, because OOO brings us into an akin proximity with anything whatsoever: you are not so much indistinguishable from things, nor are you as or less important, only that by seeing them as accessible they become important tools, with a reduced likelihood they’ll be taken for granted. The bacteria, nor the cells or DNA in your body is not human, but they are the constitutive factors that allows you to be human; love your bacteria.

Ortega goes on to clarify that “the esthetic object and the metaphorical object are the same, or rather that metaphor is the elementary esthetic object, the beautiful cell.” [my italics] A cockroach is no replacement for a doctor, but that doesn’t mean the cockroach should be afforded less right to exist, otherwise what sort of repercussions on being-responsibility can that have? Where is the demarcation & why make it, how even? Who gets to say? Look around you. Essentially the swatting of a cockroach can produce the deleterious fixation of consumerism: both actions are thinking one effect has no effect on anything else.

To metaphor well, the properties of things can be listed & parallels founded on the evidence of their likeness, which intensifies both, bringing us into contact with the textures, uses, degrees of scale, shape & form of the thing being likened. (Degrees of scale is something I really want to talk about now, but will leave for a treatment all of its own.)

Take Alice Oswald’s metaphor in her poem Sisyphus from Woods etc. where she has the “thundercloud shaking its blue wolf’s head” & immediately both objects, though dissimilar in their structure & motive enhance each other through their puissance, texture & shape. We recognize immediately both objects as powerful, so they complement each other regardless of their dissimilitude. The properties of each are irreconcilable except through the aesthetic binding in the magnifying metaphor.

Metaphor allows us to interrogate the thing & in our interrogation we integrate ourselves, enabling dissimilarities to coalesce through aestheticism. This is why Morton analyzing Plato, arrives at the conclusion that “art is demonic: it emanates from some unseen (or even unseeable) beyond in the sense that I am not in charge of it and can’t quite perceive it directly, in front of me, constantly present.” (Morton, Being Ecological)

Metaphor is a telling phenomenon, it not only enhances aesthetic effect, it enables the restructuring of jargon accessible to a minority, to be opened to a majority. This is akin to the move away from the sacerdotal securing of knowledge for itself to control others, to the information age where we carry the whole history of human thought in a small, easily accessible, easily manipulated device. Whatever the problems the contemporary world spumes up from its well of complexity, I think we are more provided for & prepared to formulate solutions under the current paradigm than at any other period in history. Go forth & metaphor.

Bibliography:

Burke, K. (1989). On Symbols and Society, ed by Joseph R. Gusfield. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Harman, G. (2018). Object Oriented Ontology: A New Theory of Everything. Great Britain: Pelican Books.

Heidegger, M. (2010). Being & Time. trans. Joan Stambaugh. New York: State University of New York Press, Albany.

Lewis, S. L & Maslin, M. A. (2018). The Human Planet: How We Created the Anthropocene. Great Britain: Pelican Books

Morton, T. (2018). Being Ecological. Great Britain: Pelican Books.

Morton, T. (2013). Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World. Minneapolis, London: The University of Minnesota Press.

Morton, T. (October 2017). Subscendence. https://www.e-flux.com/journal/85/156375/subscendence/ e-flux journal #85.

Oswald, A. (2007). Woods etc. London: Faber & Faber.

Four Impressions up at Marie Marshall’s Zen Space

I don’t usually write short poems, I always get carried away. Marie Marshall & Bob Okaji persuaded me to try my hand at something short, so thanks must go to them for the encouragement & extra to Marie for including me at my most unsure. Writing short poems is so difficult. It’s a neat little showcase Marie puts together, worth a bit of your day to have a browse, go here to do so. Also, worth a browse for the Man Ray photos.

Richard Weaver (10 Poems)

These poems by Richard Weaver create an atmosphere I haven’t felt for a while in poems. Weaver’s intimacy of his subject & his sense of Walter Anderson’s inner motions & how this co-operates with the environments in the poems, is astonishingly handled. Richard sent me 10 & I couldn’t not take all 10 as the thread of the theme & the tone of them just demanded it.
Was really pleased to receive these. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

Daniel

Underfoot Poetry

The subject of these poems, Walter Anderson, a Mississippi Gulf Coast artist who died in 1965, spent most of his time on the Barrier Islands off the coast of Mississippi. The first 6 poems are reflections of that. The final four are set in China during the Cultural revolution. Anderson attempted to walk across China in order to reach Tibet.

Squall

I know weather by the osprey.
When a change is coming they take to the air

riding the upward currents before a storm,
lighter than wind. They roll and loop,

dive then soar again, disappearing
into the black edge of the nor’easter

as the water turns to green fire around them.
The horizon is lost then found again

between earth and sky. One image
succeeds another. Like the Moor hens

giving chase in the surf. Or the young
pelicans standing in the palmettos

who flap their wings with the…

View original post 1,680 more words

Renovation-aesthetic

(Remember, what follows is opinion, as always in these essays, it is not an incontestable truth.)

Renovating-aesthetic

The following passage is from Robert Browning’s Red Cotton Night Cap Country or Turf & Towers:

Have you, the travelled lady, found yourself
Inside a ruin, fane or bath or cirque,
Renowned in story, dear through youthful dream?
If not,—imagination serves as well.
Try fancy-land, go back a thousand years,
Or forward, half the number, and confront
Some work of art gnawn hollow by Time’s tooth,
Hellenic temple, Roman theatre,
Gothic cathedral, Gallic Tuilleries,
But ruined, one and whichsoe’er you like.
Obstructions choke what still remains intact,
Yet proffer change that’s picturesque in them;
Since little life begins where great life ends,
And vegetation soon amalgamates,
Smooths novel shape from out the shapeless old,
Till broken column, battered cornice block
The centre with a bulk half weeds and flowers,
Half relics you devoutly recognize.
Devoutly recognizing,—hark, a voice
Not to be disregarded! “Man worked here
Once on a time; here needs again to work;
Ruins obstruct, which man must remedy.”
Would you demur “let time fulfil his task,
And, till the scythe-sweep find no obstacle
Let man be patient?”

In short Browning is saying, the ruin obstructs the progress of time, & in consequence, life; the work of man— the shell-of-what-was worked for prior generations & it is in its nature to continue to be of use. In its disused state, “picturesque” yes, but as he says “little life begins where great life ends.”
Browning’s protagonist Monsieur Leonce Miranda, renovates an old priory inherited from his father, called Clairvaux. Rather than live in a comfortable Paris apartment on the Place Vendome, Monsieur Miranda opts to renovate the ruin & house his love Clara de Millefleur there.
There are scenes in which Monsieur Miranda ascends the tower & surveys the land; the tower at Clairvaux becomes a metaphor of self-mastery, of working on oneself, of noting the inner mechanics of self, as if the labour expended on the task compensated for the stain of sin.
The tribulations of Monsieur Miranda make the renovation of a priory ironic; what was Browning saying about religion, owing that Monsieur Miranda’s efforts fail? Browning has some interesting speculations in religious matters, which i may go into in another post.
(Aside: Though the poem is by no means one of Browning’s most popular & can prove a difficult read, it is worth the effort for his diverse, unexpected speculations & the strength & ease of his line. Moreover it is an interesting approach to a long poem, being a conversation between Browning & his friend Anne Thackeray. The critic C.H.Herford called the style of the poem “special versified correspondence”. Browning borrows some of the journalist’s methods in the telling of this story. Browning is an overlooked Victorian in my opinion, worthy of more devotion, with a much more interesting vocabulary than say, Tennyson, who is a lesser poet.)

Why leave a ruin to the ravages of time? i can only speak for England (but i’d hazard to say the same concerns most cultures): we do it because we suppose in the ruin is relic & relic is a matter of identity, it connects us with an authenticity, a chapter of our history that we take pride in, that we amalgamate together to compose our cultural identity. Why we venerate periods of time few really understand, & even with such scant understanding, find indomitable commonality, becomes stranger to me as i get older— nationalism is built on such monuments. Why we have made family fun out of dungeons is very peculiar. It discombobulates to think the largest exodus from a war torn nation, since WWII is taking place across the continent of Europe, & idle landmarks are preserved for passive Sunday outings & the country is deemed full.
England is full of ruins. i remember some outrage about Tesco (a supermarket chain) renovating an old church & people were saying how disrespectful it was, yet they don’t care when the chain-pub Wetherspoon’s turns a stone masons or cinema, or any other 2nd grade listed building, into a pub. The church was idle, a business moved in, employed people, provided a service to a local community, made a use out of it: “vegetation soon amalgamates.”

Roger Scruton made a documentary some years ago called Why Beauty Matters, for the BBC. His concern, that “we are losing beauty, and there is a danger that with it, we will lose the meaning of life.” because, he continues, “[beauty] is not just a subjective thing, but a universal need of human beings.”
i don’t entirely agree with Scruton. He relies heavily on a spiritual dimension that establishes the talent & vision in the artist, suggesting that in tandem with talent, there is an element beyond the will of the artist.
He oscillates between examples of modern ugliness, starting with Duchamp’s urinal, & what tend to be irrefutable examples of high art, often Renaissance works that people don’t usual have a leg to stand on when criticizing, part-of-the-canon art; such as Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus, which, if i am honest, i think a horrible painting. When he says things like true art (& beauty) “show the real in the light of the ideal” he just shoots himself in the foot. i don’t see how this isn’t subjective, which he says true art isn’t, it is revelation & realization of a universal, irrefragable truth expressed through the aesthetic.
What is the outcome of such a upholding? Does art not fail to change in response to the ideas that we fall prey to?
In his hometown of Reading, Scruton tours abandoned offices & a bus station built in the 60s, on the premise of Louis Sullivan’s edict “form follows function”. The buildings are plastered in graffiti, a wrecked eye sore. “No one wants to be in them” he explains; they are ugly. However, he takes us to a relic of the past, an old forge turned café, lovingly restored, full of people. You get the picture.
i see much the same in Jeju where i live. The old native houses sell without struggle & people, though they take a great deal of hard work to restore, put the effort & capital into the endeavor. However, we might contest, that our beauty is informed by what we are told is beautiful & that demolished, disused buildings, whatever their history, don’t have to remain so, if we only alter our perception of what is generally regarded as beautiful. Is a structure aesthetically valuable because of its history & decoration, or can the use it is put to, the cause it works for, not be the object of its beauty? Surely a worthy endeavor with enough effort can elbow an aesthetic leaning into the renovation? If a ruin can be renovated then surely an ugly factory built under Sullivan’s tutelage can be beautiful in its usefulness?
The historical landmarks Browning asks his friend Anne to picture, are not languishing unwonted due to ugliness, they need only reformatting for a new purpose, they need less attention & could have maximum effect. Imagine Buckingham Palace, rather than packed with paying selfie obsessed tourists, full of refugee families. Instead of Saint Paul’s Cathedral serving up the diatribe of Christianity, imagine if it housed the homeless on London’s streets; same goes for the numerous cathedrals across the whole of Europe. Idealism, yes; but this is what Scruton thinks high art does to us.
Do we really have the space available in this overpopulated world, to be as finicky as Scruton is saying our sense of the aesthetic is? i am not challenging beauty’s importance, but that it isn’t a matter of what Scruton determines is important based on art that is canonized as high art by an elite. i don’t particularly wish to defend Duchamp or Damien Hirst, why do i need to— i certainly don’t think Scruton sees the whole picture though.

Interestingly, a short sub chapter of George Santayana’s The Sense of Beauty is titled The Influence of the Passion of Love. In this chapter Santayana expresses something deeply profound that “If any one were desirous to produce a being with a great susceptibility to beauty, he could not invent an instrument better designed for that object than sex.”
But sex is not constricted to the act of copulation, the effect of our desire for it is the same effect that instigates our sense of beauty for things or devotions, it becomes a blanket term: “If the stimulus does not appear as a definite image [a lover], the values evoked are dispersed over the world, and we are said to have become lovers of nature, and to have discovered the beauty and meaning of things.” Including art.
Returning to Scruton’s question of why beauty matters? We have an answer. Beauty endows things with a sort of “sexual passion” (as Santayana puts it) thus we are attracted to them & give them value. This is probably just Plato’s Eros termed differently; i think Santayana goes into more depth though.
It may be a monstrous thing to say & i may risk making myself very unpopular, but beautiful people, models or actors & the like have an advantage over others when they walk into a room, they are responded to with our gaze, a mark of value that jumps ahead of any knowledge of who the person is— don’t judge a book by its cover we say. We don’t aim to but sometimes we slip up with the parapraxes of our attentions.
I have always thought it a genius move on nature’s part to make the infants of any species, cute. What is cuteness if not a sort of evolutionary reaction to the possibility of neglect or loss, designed to elicit the cooperation of the environment; to get people to care for you, educate, feed etc? How many times do we see in a film, someone who hates kids take the kid under their guardianship?

i always like to get something about how the poet fits into this & we do of course. We poets & writer-types are all mining each other in some way. i acquiesce to the charge, it is probably called learning.
i’ll read a poem, it jolts something in me enough to want to make use of it; there is a theme or subject the poet raises & i think to myself “i like that, it’d fit snugly in something i’ve been working on, but i could make it more in my aesthetic register.” The thing extracted feels so connected with something we would say but never got around to thinking yet, it feels natural to borrow it for our own circumstance. No compunction necessary.
What would be the opposite of this? A sort of inverted aesthetic, where the poem is so terrible we ache to set the balance straight. Would this reaction still begin from an aesthetic point? Does the bad aesthetic of a crap poem teach us how not to write a poem & in the negative influence retain some aesthetic if only indirectly?
Eliot as we know was a great borrower, the greatest i’d say. His borrowing was a sort of renovation of the towers of the past, giving them a lick of paint & some new curtains.
i don’t think it necessary to borrow from that towering past, i’ll take what i can learn from it, then alter that new information. This is more interesting & cogent, not spraying graffiti over it, more noting it & writing what it left in the gaps, which is pretty much everything it isn’t & could never be; in that way it doesn’t only get re-contextualized it gets a new format too, enough so it wouldn’t recognize itself. My sense of its beauty is in the “sexual passion” for it, masked as my attention, my respect to still let it take me under its wing, even if the influence ends in challenge. It is partly our challenge of the past that enables us to keep our feet firmly in the happenings of the present.

Next time you’re out at an art gallery or buying pottery in an antiques shop, reading a poem or even about to eat a cream cake, i hope your hounded by the feeling of a “sexual passion” for the object; however, remember it may not be an idea, but mechanism— the trigger of beauty.

Our HD nature

(There are probably a lot more i could have talked about, some of it left out purposely, some not. i want these piece to be, ideally, between 500-1000 words, i failed this time, but i am trying. i want them to be diving off points for extended dialogue with those interested. It is odd though that as these ideas for think-pieces arise, a whole synchronicity of material unfolds & tidally moves toward me, making it hard to ignore & so the pieces expand.)

Our HD nature

There was not long ago (i think it is still played sometimes) an advertisement on TV, here in Korea (& perhaps elsewhere; maybe you know it) for a new fandangled HD-flat-curved-screen-Oled-TV.
Much to my embarrassment, i don’t recall if it was Samsung or LG, the model or any of that stuff i neither need, watch nor have the money to buy. i tried to search Youtube so you could watch the advertisement & i could prove its existence, but i failed so you’ll just have to take my word for it.
What interests me, is how the company tacitly express a lot about the relationship between nature (or what Tim Morton would term the symbiotic-real, which i’m quite fond of) & man (or maybe culture might be a better dichotomy)— perhaps not even tacitly, as the indelible aplomb of marketing attempts to sell the product by illuminating the crossing triumph of man’s organic threshold with technology.
The advertisement’s music is a piece i recognize, on the tip of my tongue, but for the life of me… It is rooted in African tribal chants & drums, it has an epic, authentic sweep to it, but not quite, there is something just slightly off about the authenticity.
This music plays in tandem with wide vistas of various terrains: the dorsal fins of sand dunes, rain-forests dripping in beads of rain just after rainfall & verdant valleys goose-stepping into snow-capped mountain ranges. Among these grand landscapes, a solitary figure gives the spaciousness depth, complementing the mass of saturated colours & naturalness: a Masai (i think) warrior searching distances; a Native American on horseback riding away from us; a Peruvian profoundly opening their eyes (i made this one up)— people whose authenticity means they’d never be able to afford such a technical feat as a convex TV; they’d have nowhere to plug it in for a start.
From the comfort of suburbia, white, rich people, with houses seemingly made of nothing but glass which opens out onto a curated nature— even those cooped up in expensive apartments— taste authenticity, they become endowed through their attention of authenticity, more authentic themselves, through a sympathetic effort, so long as they own this TV. Dressed in their purified white linen & cashmere, matching their mother of pearl teeth, they are an embodiment of betterment through symbiosis with authenticity.
Woven in this woof of superficial authenticity, is a leopard in its natural environment, which walks across the façade of the TV inexplicably planted there, paying no mind to it, until it flicks on suddenly with an image of a leopard almost identical, if not the same leopard, causing the leopard to jet out a terrified, defensive roar.
The TV is set into the natural environment, a picture of the environment on its screen, camouflaging it, symbiotic in its relation; an inevitable outcome, man’s emergence from the organic, via his technological triumph; boasting a clarity the eye can see but not replicate itself. There are no borders on the TV, suggesting no borders with nature (the symbiotic-real), freed from the demarcations of technology, yet containing nature, creating new demarcations, or rather toppling old barriers, long overdue a kicking. We can have it all.
But it isn’t symbiotic with nature, nor is it the symbiotic real realized in an object that entertains & informs. The TV’s commercial & the TV itself, tacitly boasts the besting of nature, because it functions, through its crystal-pristine-pixels, its HD-fat-saturation, to be an improvement on the quality of what the eye perceives. This damages our expectation of what reality delivers, it is a divorce from what the eye perceives; it is like arriving on that beach in Bali you saw in the tour guide, or on that travel blog & finding the susurrus waves scrumming beer cans & condoms.
The tech is not imitating nature, it is taunting nature to catch up with it, else risk obsolescence.
But we are, vicariously, the eyes for & of nature: nature substitutes a consciousness that is aware of itself (for itself) & allows us to maintain exclusivity of that consciousness & with this, as we stack our limits for advancement, have gotten around to creating what the eye cannot itself do. This is a form of evolution, i suppose. If we cannot improve the function of the corporeal, let tech do it; even in the minor annex of entertainment. The microscope enables us to peer into the microscopic as the telescope does the opposite. Tools are one thing, entertainment is quite another. Are these companies telling us they can sell us a reality realer than reality because we don’t have the technology, in the flesh, to see as well as their technology can?
That is what i am saying.
It is the technological boast of an advancement, missing the mark because, the purpose, the selling point—that the TV can give us an accurate, if not better appreciation of our environment through greater pictorial clarity— is, simultaneously, deriding the environment & even our tools of perception (our eyes) as inferior compared to the product’s achievements. A result of this is that our expectations can never match what the TV is alerting us to. The TV is representative of a significant amplification of authenticity, yet in the process it devalues, through excess, the authentic. It has shit where we sleep.
We see something similar in tourism. Foreigners want to escape to an ideal of paradise they have resolved themselves to, erroneously, from what they are told constitutes a paradise, which is in fact not the actuality. However, the reality is sustainable so long as the illusion, the amplification, persists. But if one understands the realities of a paradise: the excesses that strain the local populace, access to water being one; the buildup of unrecycled waste, due to the stretching of a paradise’s limits in answering the call of foreign desires; the lack of prospects for locals other than crap jobs in the tourist industry; the exorbitant increases in rent & land costs, owing to hoteliers with huge capital moving in, meaning locals can’t afford to live comfortably, having to secure second jobs to make ends meet; sometimes, a large percentage of facilities are tailored for tourism, locals uncomfortable or simply seeking a rest from the touristic, find it difficult to do so— i think i read that there was only one cinema in Venice.
Paradise under these considerations, becomes more problematic & less appealing.
What i can’t resolve is, if an artist or poet is guilty of the same mistake, or if this even is a mistake or simply imminent? i don’t know if i want to be judgmental & risk hypocrisy. i am being deliberately ambivalent as to how i feel about all this.
In painting a landscape or depicting it in language, there is distortion, there is a stylistic element brought in to form the content of the work, to elevate the thing in itself to artistic expectations.
If we were to be simply, natural, organic entities, existing without attachments, in our environment, we’d find less usage for technique or technology. Yes, it exists, it is of use, it is even essential, but has fundamentally practical necessities. It is not abundance but need that the tool or the artifice provides for the integrated, practical human. The artist in this system would observe & leave it at that, it would be enough, wouldn’t it?
Well, probably not. Because to see is to test the instinct to reproduce. The artist isn’t just content with mimicry, it is the skill that it takes. There is always a certain egotism between the artist & their subject.
So what of the cave paintings found across the globe? Is the authenticity in the primitivism of the style? Were their reasons any different from our own? Was there egotism in their endeavor, a quest for a transference of mortality into immortality, or just an attempt to quell boredom? As we come closer to more absolute correction of the thing itself through style, do we actually inch further away from accuracy because we are over-compensating, in an ego tousle with the organic, as with the exorbitant saturation of TVs & digital cameras?
The poet is under similar pressures. The word in itself is a poor replication of the thing it represents. Take any word & line it up with its object or subject & it has little substance without the a priori knowledge that comes with knowing the semiotics of the language the word comes from. If i write the word 사랑 & ask you to, from the physicality of it, determine its meaning, it would be but a guess, unless you read Korean & have a basic vocabulary set. This word is an emotion we all know, all struggle to interpret or rather, interpret based on the context of our experiences— it is the word love. Yet we receive it as an ambiguous symbol because we are ill informed by the physicality of it in space.
But none of this matters: humanity is the great anomaly from the offset. As soon as we attempted the replication of that which we witnessed, we parted ways from nature, in some sense, because it became a form of domination over our environment; a form of taking the environment with us where we move & reproducing it through memory into art.
Any imbalance has been countered by the very act of replication. In our replication, in the evolution of representation, we remain tethered in some way to our origin, to that which delivers us from starvation & gives life meaning. Just as our dreams, when we give them our attention, are founded on very old symbols & stories, so our attention to representation through art & tech & whatsoever, is an attempt to maintain a bond with something inching further away in actuality, but maintaining a hold subjectively.
We cannot escape the hold the ecosystem has on us, because, taken for granted or not, we know sustenance comes of the soil, all the ignorance coalesced into its most disastrous form, cannot separate use from this truth; it is pushed deep down at an instinctual level, where the will cannot touch it.
i imagine a distant, dystopian future, where there is no longer a nature, or rather, it is so removed from the city it is unknown to its denizens who have become nigh digitized. Children, inexplicably, doodle extinct animals & plants, even flowers they’ve never seen on the new iPad & show them to their dumbfounded parents who remember something & call them beautiful.

ointment for grazes & cuts

ointment for grazes & cuts      10 Duracell batteries      a
black biro      USB mouse      cube of soap      a decent
bottle of sake from Tochigi city      handmade porcelain cup
made by a friend | low & wide      an almost finished toilet roll
body butter      2 bottle caps from empty ale bottles      mints      utility
bills      Micheal Hofmann: Approximately Nowhere       facial cream
receipts (so many receipts)      a small cardboard box
containing vitamins Tylenol & Danzamin      pack of wet tissue
a sock      half a bar of 83% cacao      scraps of paper with
forgotten reminders scribbled on them in Hangul      my notebook
a danso flute      freshly dried towels warm out
the dryer    sachets of hand lotion
: the snafu of the kitchen table      in hysterical silence
& teaching me a thing or 2
about where things should go & why there
are accidents & consequences

Streets of Jeju part 1

i was aiming on this day to get out of my abstract, narrowing habit & let the lens breath a little by opening up the periphery & see if i can’t capture something of the bustle of architecture, the way buildings & parked cars scrum & squeeze each other in a jostle for space. The continual work & construction that is a daily sight here— & the calm of facades.

Something else interesting happened this day: the weather was gloomy, but not just dark, the cloud was a white blanket, without any definition in the contours that you get with individual cloud, or even a cloudy day, when it is windy, which means the clouds are in motion; these days are ideal for photography, but milky, soupy skies, sap any opportunity for light & just create a matte effect across the landscape. i’d usually find it hard to find my stride in this atmosphere of weather & call it quits; however, i was able to alter my perceptions, pull myself up out of this coma of light & find a mood that i could work with. This feels like a leap forward in my sensitivity with the camera & i wasn’t disappointed with the results when i got the photos back for editing.

 

The Freedom to Art is the Art to Freedom

I

“The aim of art, the aim of a life can only be to increase the sum of freedom & responsibility to be found in every man and in the world. It cannot under any circumstances, be to reduce or suppress that freedom, even temporarily.”
Camus expresses this aim in an interview, found in the book Resistance, Rebellion & Death a collection of Camus’s articles, speeches & interviews. It is clear Camus is not just talking about art, we could (regarding our current era) go into duty, eco-responsibility, politics, psychology, or any of the subjects that affect us, but i would like to concentrate on a few points about art; not just art in the narrow parameters of painting, sculpture & design but the broad coverage of all creative mediums.
The duty of the artist is to increase the sum of freedom; i’d say, the new millennium bears witness to the sum of freedom creating artists. The freedom to art is the art to freedom, you might say.
You only have to type ‘art’ or any word related to creativity into WordPress & there are exorbitant amounts of creatives at various levels of proficiency, each with their own space to freely exhibit ideas. A tipping point has taken place, whereby artists no longer need to focus their art on increasing freedom, their art can be based upon principles of design & yet, the act of doing art is self-perpetuating freedom, an unstoppable nodding bird. Freedom is buoyed simply by the conscious choice to create something, regardless what it is, or its quality. What does this reflect about our natural inclinations? We might follow Bohm & suggest “in a deep enough view, we in our act of observation are like that which we observe: relatively constant patterns abstracted from the universal field movement, and thus merging ultimately with all other patterns that can be abstracted from this movement.” And i trust Bohm is not being swayed entirely by pseudoscience or overt spiritual leanings.
Generations before us may be said to have moved with the times, now moving with our times is a chaos trying to establish order ever more apperceptively— & so much flipped on its head. The spectrum of meaning quantum ideas bring to the table make this ever more complex. But for now we really only need to borrow observation being like that which we observe. For this is essentially how freedom has contributed artists rather than artists directly contributing freedom— we follow the patterns of progression, available to us from the co-operation of a generation working together on different levels of attention; now we know the range of those levels oscillate from the microscopic to the infinitely large, we are more open than ever.
The artist no longer has to be concerned with the necessity of their art for it to contribute to freedom. Therefore, any form of censorship inevitably leads to chipping away at our freedoms. Whatever the reason to censor or negatively critique, whether it be for reasons of taste, political polarity, or ethical reasons, all are brought under the umbrella of the right of free expression.
This to me, becomes problematic “In the face of so much suffering, if art insists on being a luxury, it will also be a lie.” (Camus) i am uncertain if lie is best word, perhaps insensitive is better. Despite the abundant freedom for large populations around the world, there are still enough people subjected to intellectual constriction, to justify the necessity of art (generally) to focus on increasing the sum of freedom. Is this an impossible oxymoron to navigate around? i suspect it is. The sheer volume allows for both freedom to perpetually create art & simultaneously, due to the law of averages, for a quantity of those artists to take up the duty of freedom created through art, directly.

II

There is a presence of vapidity, of essential meaninglessness in art, a felt absence, which creates resistance to it, in the form of general passivity to the importance & enjoyment of the arts in their present form; but which also has its root in people’s pre-conceived ideas of what constitutes art.
Take my father as an example: art impresses him, but only classical works, or art that reproduces reality with exactitude; he is John Public (this is not a criticism). He can become emotionally affected by a fresco of Biblical proportion despite not being deeply religious or a canvas bulging with nature’s splendours pouring out fantastic displays of umbrage mottling a terrific landscape (affected language for sake of hyperbole); he is lured into a Wordsworth lyric due to the natural imagery appealing to his simple taste— they’re concluded as irrefutable standards of good taste. What he has never been taught is the efficacy of these standards of art to stand up to the scrutiny of a more diverse yet divisive world, in the context of which, they don’t always appear useful guides. Perhaps Wordsworth isn’t the best example, as we can approach him from two periods in his career: admittedly, he did develop a rural idiom, which at least attempted to sympathize through a Romantic lens (which is problematic in itself), the trials of life for common folk; but then i’d contest that his acceptance of the Poet Laureateship as evidence of the betrayal of his earlier principles, on which he found favour with the public.
This problem of efficacy, is an absence of diversity in our education programs, finally being addressed by Cambridge University students from ethnic backgrounds, who do not feel it correct to fill literature syllabuses with fusty, white males from the days of Empire, when pressing problems of the current era need to be addressed & confronted by the educated people who are a result of Empire. This can clearly only occur with a switch in the education system, which introduces young people to liberal ideas. But it should really start much younger, to sow a more accurate narrative of history in hope of severing any ties to misconceptions about white privilege. How can people be expected to debate problems when the problems are failing to be accurately represented in full and information is withheld? An extreme case being the Korean school system under Park Geun-hye, who had history books revised to omit her father’s involvement with the Japanese during the Occupation. In Britain, we are all taught how the British Empire brought infrastructure to the Colonies & thus Civilization. But what we are never told to question is why & who really built them. Never, are we taught to consider that Britain built railways, so they could themselves better navigate & thus rule their subjects, & that schools were in fact built, but only so the Empire’s subjects could be taught English & their own language eradicated. We are not taught about the famines in India that killed millions because the English raised the taxes despite there being no food; nor asked to question why, when Ireland had a potato famine did they not eat other food, well that’s because we took all the other food.
Freedom, craved by Palestinian’s, or wrongly interred Guantanamo inmates, Syrians arrested by war & their president or North Koreans in reeducation camps, put meaningless art into a context that begs for it to be questioned & consulted— it is a pressing matter. But how? As outlined, to censor at this point in history is to counteract the progress made by art in the amphitheater of freedom.

III

We should consider this from Camus:
“Any publication is an act, and that act exposed one to the passions of an age that forgives nothing. Hence the question is not to find out if this is, or is not prejudicial to art. The question, for all those who cannot live without art and what it signifies, is merely to find out how, among the police forces of her many ideologies (how many churches, what solitude!), the strange liberty of creation is possible.”
First we need to accept that we expose ourselves when we create, we must be prepared to face criticism, & meaning is going to be an inevitable matter for debate; if we take all aforementioned into consideration. Criticism, to be valid, must be informed through study and collaboration, or else curiosity must guide the critic in the manner of Socrates, a question & response, which means the co-operation of the artist.
i don’t know if forgiving nothing is a purposeful way forward, it leads to bellicose positions & when coupled with a barrier, or veil, which the internet provides, leads to societal phenomena such as Internet Trolls. Instead, a mitigated, judicial art, essential to criticism should be carried out, intellectually informed by close reading & focus on the produced thing itself. In general, criticism is misunderstood. Criticism isn’t about binary positions, it is about getting to the heart of a matter.

IV

Nobody wants to be the bad guy, a charge i at least have gathered from people’s reaction to criticism; this is a problem of labelling. People with a critical eye, do not accept the status quo because, for them, after close inspection, something doesn’t add up. Rather than cast in a negative light or sighed at for once again objecting, they should be engaged with. People need to abandon the habit of using language & approaching problems from a binary standpoint. The media & our education has fed this to us. There needs to be a developed trust established over time, rather than anticipated; but people also need to respect the difference between being informed & being emotionally inclined. People have to build a profile & work in tandem with a community. This is a positive aspect of blogging. It creates a stable environment for show casing work & trusting it to deliberate critique. This is not the case with a more ubiquitous social platform such a Facebook or Twitter, where Joe Public doesn’t expend as much consideration on how they react, which is usually emotional, with unreliable sources or with barefaced lies & a bruised ego. If we are to serve our cliques, be a part of communities, we must be open to correction. Algorithms are not helping this, neither is the burying of heads in the sand when anything challenges emotionally charged ideologies. This is happening, you can see it in action on Facebook & the feeds of Youtube videos, in the comments sections of online newspapers, in hashtags.

V

i don’t agree with Camus when he says that the art of cliques or the purely formal fed on affectations and abstractions ends with the destruction of all reality. The process to greater understanding starts informally, with people forming alliances through vested interests. More collaboration, tends to wend toward more inclusive sets of ideas.
It is ignorant to think that our actions do not create ripples. Did you use the oil in your paint effectively? Was the wood used to make your instrument worth the sacrifice? The energy you spent to produce anything, was it worth it? i try to settle this score with myself all the time & admittedly i am a hypocrite. i know that a majority of the things i do are of little value to making the world a better place. But i try. i have taken my head out the sand & it may take my entire life to think of an answer, but if i can pass on some small benefit, if i can make even the most minor dimple, then i have spent the energy productively. i suppose this goes beyond art to moral action. But then the original meaning of art from the Greek according to David Bohm, is ‘to fit.’ Make of that what you will, considerately.

VI

How important is art to you? Should be the question on every creative’s lips. How many ask this of themselves? Art cannot be for the sake of it, reality becomes insignificant without it; it must have substance— art is produced with(in) reality.
Only after many years of production for production sake & only because a friend confronted me about the meaning of my writing did i consider the importance. For some time i didn’t write, until i had something meaningful to write about. i had never chewed over why.
i realized we are that which we observe. So i looked to my environment. i began to see that the ambivalence & the abstract chaos of our art is a reflection of our quantum ordering. Perhaps our resistance to meaning is a form of freedom, our most sensitive instrument for revealing the state of our time. There is no clarity to be found, there is only honesty, the effort to be as honest as we can. We are regulated by symbols & our manipulation of them in different periods expresses something about us, so it goes back to the job of investigative criticism to guide us in understanding ourselves. We cannot blindly negate something based on our taste.
Some music makes me want to tear my ears off, & i find it difficult to constructively critique it, because people are so defensive of their taste. In that case, i have to step back & evaluate it in my own space & utilize that space to further explain what causes this.
Most pop music if you know a little about music, employs certain devices that have been studied to stimulate a positive reaction. This has been in the news & is attested by the success of such songs as Gangnam Style; in fact Psy has made himself very rich with a formula that he just keeps on churning out. A simple beat provokes movement, a certain arrangement of chords creates a certain pleasure for the untrained ear. A hook, with a wormy chorus on the end will get a bite. This is a form of manipulation. Now my constructive reasoning for not appreciating popular music these days, is that it is a cheap form of manipulation, which makes people a lot of money— there is no honesty in this production & all it does is buoy an entertainment industry that recklessly wastes resources & feeds us a value it perpetuates through setting standards that have no reality for the average person.
The same reason i don’t like devotional art of the Renaissance, it is designed to provoke awe in people who had no access to colour, no access to an education; so long as they were ignorant it worked. The choice of attire for a monarch confounds me, as it was designed to bolster their power, it is abhorrent to me. Business has taken liberal arts & used them to make money, Nick Drake’s From the Morning was used in a popular butter commercial in England & Hamlet’s famous soliloquy beginning “To be or not to be” has been used in a flat screen TV advert in Korea. Why is this acceptable? It isn’t. There is no humility, it is morally bankrupt to emotionally blackmail us with art that is high brow, for personal gain. The art must guide us toward understanding & though i don’t disagree an artist should profit from a living for their endeavours, to become excessively wealthy, makes little sense to me, especially when the wealth comes from trying to blanket the market by appealling to a market sector of creatives.

VII

“Art in a sense, is a revolt against everything fleeting and unfinished in the world.” (Camus) & we might extend that the artist should not assume that on completion of a work, it is finished, for its release to the world opens the door to new opportunities of insight— the dialogue continues as individuals who engage it bring their cards to the table.
This essay for example, to be accurate, to be complete, would need to have perfect knowledge of art, freedom, politics, philosophy, Camus, literature & more, meaning the essay would tediously drag out to meticulous volumes of hermeneutics, perhaps an entire library, which would then no longer be accessible to a majority, but an interested collective who would need to devote a career to its study (not that i am actually capable of such a feat, if you’ll excuse the logical conclusion). Accepting my limitations i can write with the anticipation of a dialogue, because i have accepted brevity as an inevitable outcome of time & intellectual capacity. As a practicing Absurd Man, i can take comfort in my limitations & extend my artistic efforts to a public sphere, where i can hope to learn as i bring to light what people may not have noted.
Freedom is creating art. But this isn’t something to be concerned about, it means we have to stay vigilant & not be afraid to confront each other, to debate with each other, so that we all improve our reasoning faculties, our understanding of art, our abilities to instill our creations with as much value & meaning as we can muster— what can be negative in such a proposal?