What no one will remember
A flux of metal, light and mind. June 18, 2013.
A flux of metal, light and mind. June 18, 2013.
you heard the extra elle
let’s get down to the facts.
There’s this thing, civilization.
Outcome of humanity. Yes,
Humanity. If it could speak collectively,
it would say, ‘yes, it was moi, I made
civilization out of my disposition to progress
in my creative adaptation’ but let’s re-examine
that posture (not to mention that cosmolomania,
if moi, the poet, can coin a neologism).
That anthropogenic posture that humanity,
or little clusters of near-humans, created
civilization is far-fetched indeed and in deed.
The modern individual does not take into account
what s/he means by the word ‘individual’,
which is fundamental to the concept of humanity,
especially when it comes to the ‘feats’
humanity has achieved. The individual of today
will have you believe that s/he has been,
to some degree, in control of their personality
(the exact age is imprecise, perhaps inaccessible,
but they will say something between the ages of 7
and 10), that this awareness of theirs has been
the same entity carried through time, up to the present
moment, of which they are the agglomeration
of any events, reactions, decisions and postures
taken in that period of time. Wonderful, I say.
But there is this assumption of control, you see.
Humans today assume they are to some degree
in control of their personalities. Whereas, through
introspection and plain observation, we can become
aware that we’re in no way conscious of many processes
that enable (that allow) our personality to subsist.
For example. The learning process or method. We
learn things, yes. We memorize things, yes. But these
so-call feats are generated effortlessly by our
own cognitive substratum. Let’s not get too complex.
I said up there, let’s get down to the facts.
The facts are, as far as one can be honest, there are
abilities or capabilities that enable us to do the things we do,
and we don’t know how we do them. Things such
as memory, imagination, learning, poetizing;
that are not in our direct conscious control. In fact, they
operate without our consent. In a way, we are the
outcome of these underground mechanisms that
dictate our perceptions, actions and philosophies.
So, we have this thing. Civilization.
Expressing itself and we’re its own audience and stage.
Just playing around, for a while it seems.
And it’s not really our doing. It arose from the interaction
of so many intertwined factors that it’s not computable. Oh
I can already hear the technologist of infinite progress
shrieking in dismay. But that’s my story folks. As they say
in these lands. Skål!
“Despite all its powers, society cannot sustain the artist if
it is impervious to the vision of the artist.” – Henry Miller
What is art today? More precisely, what does art convey? Art has become an adornment, mere embellishment to our mechanical society. It is what you hang behind an office desk, in the hallway of a bank, in the solitary confines of a museum. It is what is read while we travel between two points, what is listened to while we drive to work, what we assist to in moments of laziness and passive submission to entertainment. It is that which is viewed askance, situated in the periphery, unobtrusive to the real function of society: business.
Art is no longer an expression of a deeper vision of reality; and if it is, we, at least, no longer perceive it as such. It is aesthetic, no doubt. But it is not beautiful enough to secure a prominent role in our routines. As far as we are concerned, it is pastime, an elegant but inferior activity in life. It conveys no truth or doubt to the spectator. Life is predetermined and already decided; art is solely an amusement, even if it constantly fights against modern life. It exists as a hallucination, a sort of intoxication that can easily be dismissed as unreal and irrelevant. The serious business of life cannot be questioned; it has no room for the artist and his or her artwork that challenges the unconsciousness of its drives.
And yet some artists do become idols in this culture and their art known universally, but is their artwork studied as profoundly as we study engineering or business administration? The artists’ message, their restructuring of our understanding of reality, their incessant re-questioning of our basic assumptions, remain quite below the general level of public attention. We all recognize the dripping clock of Dali or the visual massacre of the Guernica, some will recognize the dreamy seascape of La Mer or the cavernous sorrow of the Adagio for Strings, the name of Humbert Humbert or Harry Hope may be familiar to a few, a minority will recall The Waste Land or a Season in Hell; but what is noteworthy here is that recognizing these works of art by their name is no sign that we have delved in them and studied them profoundly. We care only superficially of what they imply, what the message is all about. There is no understanding that an artist is a transformation of the human being and is attempting a redefinition of what is to be alive in a mysterious universe. We assume art as a gift to culture by one and the same kind of individual that already lives in that culture.
Art has now been banalized, it has become a career and today there are flocks of artists that operate as businesses, as factories manufacturing objects to be bought and superficially enjoyed. The true artist is rare these days, he or she is muted and oppressed by this contradiction. How to bring forth a genuine work of art in this spurious world that is driven by money? The voice of art is being drowned by the roar of commerce and trivial entertainment. Society has absorbed art; and the artist has docilely submitted to his or her new harrowing role of ornamentalist. The commandments of art are now thus: you shall entertain, you shall impress, you shall produce the beautiful, you shall be famous, but under no circumstance should you dishonor your loving parent: society. Society does not want individuals to think and act differently, to produce controversies that may outstrip the authority of the status quo. Art may produce change insofar as it remains within the parameters of the socially digestible.
The artist is no longer an artist. He or she has forgotten that divine calling of making of life an experiment. The artist must suffer eternally, must wrestle with the incongruities and absurdities of living and dying, must explore the unknown realm of the spirit and (in the words of Rimbaud)become a seer. The work produced thereafter will be only an inkling, an announcement of vaster realms accessible to all, it is an opening at the roof of an abyss for those who dare plunge into it. The experiential adventure of consciousness is now going extinct, there are few enthusiasts left. It is a form of wisdom that society ignores and lumps together under the heading “esoteric mumbo-jumbo”, or more spitefully, “madness”. (Hasn’t history shown that many great artists were deemed mad in their time, only later to be proclaimed visionaries?). And yet this wisdom is no particular statement or philosophy; it is an active engagement with the mystery of creation, what once was the domain of the artist and religious fervent. Today art as well as religion is downplayed as historical curiosity, still operating as long as they leave intact, and even follow, the new order created by the God of modern civilization: money.
where’s the off switch
the icicle of reason
leaving a small puddle
at my feet
and we will build
assemble great systems
to the outer edge of the milky way
the civilizations, the civilizations
with its civilians hooraying
their democracies pushing
the sciences inventing
the artworks embellishing
the museums and the highways accelerating
the capital erecting
of the great laughter of achievement
while the black smoke of reality
into nothingness dreamt.
It is no accident
that we grew civilizations
on the first day
we became pubescent
instigators of chaos
the profligate erosion
landscapes on the arc
of this catastrophic planet
the erotic sapiens
complexity as fetish
how the tables have turned
served in Smörgåsbord style
for queuing prole
while the offices are
pulpit for the priesthood
of the abstract totem – $
and the day comes
clearing the malaise of cogito
the terrible sunshine of noon
falling on the
playground of the earth.
Since these are all eyes pouncing upon their own light
since these words are still in the air we breathe
nobody has yet seen the cruelty of today
nobody has measured the necessity of crying
to be sick and living
asphyxiated with desires, unclothed by opinion
the taste is in my mouth:
progress has vomited a sickly herd.
Be careful, o’ solitary wanderer
Of what the night might do to you
(a short fictional narrative)
Under the asphalt of the night when the city streets have become a monotonous geometry of angles and straight lines, where a few strangers roam free in silence and private thought, it was then when the Scavenger of the Rare was struck by an indisputably bitter truth, a truth so bizarre and easily forgotten that none seem to notice it. As all mortal days have it, today was simply a cascade of neglected events (meaning that little or no attention had been paid to the events of another perishing day), the Weight of Time had unstoppably dissolved every single phenomenon of the decaying present into an ambiguous mist of past: the world is burning, slipping away and nobody cares! But to return to this already desultory narrative, the Scavenger of the Rare having spent the whole day seeking among the Fragments of the Impermanent for signs and symbols of a meaningful and trustworthy existence, but had by some unfortunate circumstance stumbled upon quite the opposite evidence. The truth he discovered, perhaps re-discovered for it is easily forgotten, was that…
A brief parenthesis is here peremptorily required. The “truth” that will soon be expounded is by no means easily understood. Millennia of ineffective thinking have putrefied the meaning of the word truth and therefore some elucidation on this matter is necessary. Even though in this day and age faith in the possibility of truth has nearly disappeared, there still remains the concept of truth as a statement made in language that accurately reflects the state of affairs it refers to. A more ambiguous definition is virtually impossible, but a general sense can be rescued from that definition. In other words, Truth is equated to words rightfully employed. But my long conversations with the Scavenger of the Rare and our long (frightfully long) speculations into the nature of truth have convinced me that mankind has been deceived for far too long in this matter and a serious revision is needed in the world of epistemology. However, the Scavenger of the Rare nor myself are at all interested in clarifying human existence, instead I believe we prefer to obscure it. But for the purpose of this short narrative I’ll have to explain the background of the words here employed so as to convey a wider context of meaning.
Words. They are close to being the most elusive phenomena of human existence. Words don’t have a meaning in themselves, I recall the Scavenger once saying. We impart meaning on them by constantly associating them with our perceptions. After long years of repeating words after the same objects of perception we arrive at a stable vocabulary. But when we have a novelty in our perceptions, a never-before experienced feeling or intuition, we are unable to communicate this new experience in terms of an old (and therefore inadequate) language. The truth of the experience precedes the statement of the truth. This is how Scavenger’s experience should be read, we’re reading into his state of mind rather than a statement of his mind.
So to continue… He discovered in himself a truth that made him shudder and nearly vomit in that dismal revelation. The street light was red and he waited rather impatiently for it to change its color so he could cross the street and examine an abandoned shoe on the other side (he had a peculiar pleasure in spending time with the most trivial of human objects). Two cars glided in front of him as he remained magnetized with the sight of that footwear, pondering perhaps the history of its wretched condition. But as the time came closer when the red light would fade out and in its stead a green caricature of a man would magically appear, an uncomfortable sensation sprung at the kernel of his being. In the complexity of an instant: red-light, impatient-waiting, shoe-on-the-other-side, cars-passing-by, breeze-on-the-face, twinkling-bright-stars, quiet-thinking-strangers, parallel-streets, right-angled-corners; in that jumble of sensations that occupy the minutest millisecond, a volcanic revelation took place that challenged his sturdiest notions of human reality. Oh! I wish I would have the ability to fully recall my friend’s eloquent recounting of this episode. Here I can only rescue a few scraps from the tenebrous archives of my memory.
The Scavenger of the Rare approximately said, “It was as if the entire planet had split into two and I was suspended between the two halves, lingering in a dumbfounded state, relentlessly asking myself if I were not dreaming or altogether dead! I conceived it clearly, nay, FELT it lucidly how mistaken we all are. Slowly I recovered my senses to find myself still standing at the edge of the sidewalk. The city, if city I could call it, had transformed itself into an enormous chessboard and every individual walking in their quiet monologue I saw as hollow puppets following invisible commands that the authority of routine had imparted upon them. I understood to the very marrow of my bones how gullible we all are, how we’ve demolished all potential in the human realm by reducing our lives to this civil existence, believing too firmly that we ought to live for this type of civilization, as if human life could only strive in the conditions we now find it. The question of why we find most of us walking on sidewalks, going to work every Monday and talking to ourselves endlessly is most naturally answered by our submission to the authority of tradition, an authority whose power comes from our believing in it. If we didn’t believe in it, it would cease to have control over us.”
The Scavenger uttered such words in terrific excitement. I remember his wild eyes soaring from one end of the room to the other as he practically relived the earlier portion of that significant evening. Before his sudden departure, he added,
“I had to come here and tell you all this for fear that I might forget it tomorrow and return to the sidewalks and crosswalks. I might wake tomorrow and return to the same systematical squandering of time, through barren alleys and among neglected benches under clouded skies. But since the revelation, I feel these, also, to be utterly meaningless activities even if they remain outside the stock of normality. No matter what activity I choose for my life I will make it a tradition and inevitably become a slave to it. I would care less if a lightning struck me dead right now. Yet in discovering this so-called truth there is one reason that still makes me laugh in despair and it is this: how little is solved with the discovery of our mental slavery.”
In haste he disappeared from my sight and left me in a prolonged state of silent bafflement. It has been a few weeks since I last saw my friend, the Scavenger of the Rare, yet I’ve kept a rigorous watch on the weather conditions of our locality and fortunately there have been no electrical storms since his disappearance.
His gaze was dismal. His face pale and furrowed by his old skin. And those eyes… almost inert yet burning with sadness as if they were looking straight into empty meaninglessness. What happened to him? Had he found irrevocable proof that the universe has no purpose, had he understood the absolute nonsense of existence? His face was like an ancient ape, the first animal in the history of the universe to become aware of mortality – the original simian that understood:
” I AM
but I must die one day”
Oh poor old man!
Those eyes scanning the infinite indifference of the civilized world. Somewhere in the glimmering of his left eye I read his thoughts.
They were thoughts of a hopeful pessimist:
My life in shadows.
My life in this modern world
Splendid technological forms unfurled
Nobody knows the monster that’s been created
But who will listen to my voice recluse and alienated
If only we could invent a new auspicious religion
To bury our fears and escape ever-lasting oblivion
The old man stood up and got off the bus and sat by a tree. And then we rode off into other streets, other corners.