Art in the 21st century

“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.

of the living

Routine streets

Of the living
clod of reality,
the bladed streams
of circumstance,
in the incinerated rush
of experience;
miracle of memories,
the enigmatic ordeal
of existing –
postponed,
quietly repressed
in the lethargic hum
of your
original routine!

 

21st century Poetry

killing time

Killing Time

 
 
 

 

Feel the beating of the prison heart? Time deals the future as cheap junk. I’m an addict just like you. No need to run, there’s no escaping. It’s useless to be optimistic or pessimistic about it. Everybody wants to change it, but who’s ever watching it? It is a remarkable thing to be a body. A body of evidence, who knows how many millions of years of evidence. The evidence points to mediocrity. If you have ever witnessed a murder, then you must know how I feel when I witness human nature. It’s atrocious. Everything is tangled up inside, confused by language, made insipid with repetitive thoughts and drives, full of sadness if you want to hear the truth. The valiant acts of art? Muddled self-pity, if you ask me. Art is a sweet kind of poison, but it is still toxic. Life, culture, art, all of it once made me sick to the bone. I am learning to deal with it now. A feeling of disgust is merely a form of disguised utopian mentality. If existence is unbearable, we are assuming or hoping for some kind of alternative worthier reality that is being spoiled by the current state of affairs. But there isn’t any and if there is, what makes us suppose we will be the ones to solve the conundrum when so many others have failed in the course of history. We wait for our time to pass, often fixated with a future state of well-being. It’s a compulsion but it does the job. It kills time. There is just too much of it and we’re running out of ideas. Take this loathsome piece of prose or art or self-pity; whatever you call it. I’m just killing time.

 

 

Nihilistic Poetry

faking pleasure

political poetry

lands
boundary
relative to
infinity and vacuums
my passport to being
in a Rorschach bureaucracy
never mix philosophy
with politics
my motto even whilst
severely drunk
yet

 

I remain silent
don’t
can’t
defend any position

 

let me pretend with
you
that this system
has foundations

 

like the planet
earth
resting on top
of an endless accession
of turtles
till
the end
of
space

 

I see their
heads.

 

 

fifth floor

fifth_floor

I decided to live on a fifth floor

because I enjoy viewing things from

afar

most afternoons

I watch down

on the swaying of the city

the moody strangers              

the angry cars

a fifth floor is a nest

seated on the branch

of a decaying tree

sunsets are my favorite

when the ooze of night

drips over the frightened lampposts

quickly the children of the day

retreat to their smaller caves

on a fifth floor

there is not much to do

but watch the ambiguous expressions

of pedestrians

and listen to the tired screams

of ambulances

while the cool autumn air

sinks

between the concrete-walled

canyon

I moved to a fifth floor

so I could have thoughts

like these

and to never

become

one of them.

 

 

 

Nihilistic Poetry

A modern crisis

a_modern_crisis

We were born after a whole deal of postures and attitudes had been tried and dismissed. It seemed to me that this was the first time in human history when life was unbearable even while we have all the basic conditions for survival and a surplus of commodities. We live in the absence of a raison d’être and our very lives could actually be defined as the search for that sacred reason. We would and probably will travel around the globe and consume every possible experience in search of that elusive understanding that could justify and make sense of all the seemingly senseless gyrations between birth and death, hunting for that catharsis that would erase our feelings of inadequacy and insufficiency.   
If I am allowed to make a stand on the current emptiness that governs the modern rebel (and I must state that this rebel is even reluctant to assume this label), I could place him or her within a crisis of value. Let’s formulate this crisis. The ‘fortunate’ human being that is born in a middle-class or higher family is bestowed an excess of leisure, which is occupied with an endless parade of distractions, vague and short-lived entertainments that do not provide deep-rooted satisfaction. This repetition of material hedonism is deceiving and can engage the individual in a merry-go-round of renewable pleasures that are futile in their long-term effects. What an overwhelmingly urban and global society presents as the content and purpose of leisure is more often than not a distraction, a veiling of our impoverished consciousness. The value crisis in which we are situated stimulates thus, within the rebel, a sort of antagonisms against life in general and humanity in particular. Is this a wise human race encumbered by trivial pursuits?
The rebel stands in an existential agnosticism. What can replace the insipid routines, what solution can one offer to resolve the dilemma of human baseness? If leisure represents the time humans can delve in their purpose, our reasoning would lead us to suppose that the average human lives for unchallenging and ready-made experiences. What about the higher fields of art, music, religion, love? Have these been explored sufficiently by the modern man? Do they offer any comfort? All questions with no ready answer, the rebel is obliged to ask without answering, merely pointing to the emptiness without offering a substitute.
The rebel doesn’t conclude hastily but is eager to explore any alternative. The contemporary paradigm is of a successive development from school to career, love to family, wealth to belongings, material accumulations to distractions; yet all this is seen as a deception, a reductionism of the natural potential for a human life.  The rebel is apt to adopt a cynical skepticism towards the replacement of one mode of life for another. Life becomes an experiment, a lonesome journey through the limbo of uncertainty. Could religion fill this gap, could music appease this anxiety, could art express this loneliness, could love heal this wound? The experimenter enters them all and many others with caution but will urgently surrender if any of these would deliver him from the surrounding emptiness. Yet traps abound, the guinea-pig rebel still has within the seed of conformism, soon things lose their depth and life abandons its impetus. How to keep the zest for life awake without returning to the dullness of a repetition-ridden soul?
It may seem we are doomed, that any experience by force of repetition becomes insufficiently satisfying for the abyss of hunger that grows inside. 
These reflections surge from a modern crisis. A crisis from our lack of meaning, our absence of value. This, in other words, can be called a spiritual crisis. But the themes of this crisis are not god or original sin, it rather belongs to practical ontology, that is to say, a transforming of the quality of being, producing a reality that becomes not only bearable but powerful enough to sweep away the myopic awareness of normal human life. A new understanding might be wanting, a new wisdom of what we understand human life to be, what we do and what we aspire to; a journey that requires a mixture between philosophy and adventure, a compendium of revolt, daring and openness.
 
 
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The beauty of traffic

 

 

I had to give up the futile attempt of telling the story of alienation; of describing an uncharted state of confusion – newly born since today is new and has never before been lived.  Only recently I had begun to understand the system into which I was born, spontaneously thrown into a configuration which is perceived as bizarre shortly after one is capable of analysis. And I am baffled to discover that the very faculty that has allowed me to unveil the absurdity of these circumstances is the cause of the environment I find myself in. The sharp razor of analysis, calculation, planning, prediction… the distinctiveness of our species, the pride of our ancestors: Reason itself, master and artist of modern civilization, creator and ruler of this world of laws and symbols. So powerful, yet so deadly. I had thrust myself into the arms of such deceitful guru, only to become prisoner of a disease… caged in thought, lost in chatter. With the torch of reasoning I explored the corridors of the modern world, I studied the interior of today’s machinery, and I probed the shallowness of our desires. Horrified by what I found, I stood still…. a sun slithered down the gilded sky, cars followed a steady line… waves of intangible information flowed by.

The world is changing. It is evolving before our very own eyes. We are carrying out a plan that we inherited – a plan that has no foreseen outcome but is continued only because of an illusion, perhaps the hope of progress, or some euphoric moment of fulfillment awaiting us in some distant corner of the future. Or is it comfort and laziness, fear of challenging what was given to us? Inertia compels us to accept the system, a system that is clearly cruel, indifferent and disheartening but at least it gives us survival, a chance to carry on with our lives without suffering too much. Nonetheless, this system is expanding beyond our control, we cannot see an end to our technological societies, feeding endlessly from our endless desires.  We submit to a system we don’t understand but is presented as trustworthy, worthy of the highest respect… the ultimate goal of collective existence: civilization. And why? Why should I accept this intricate system of highways transporting money-seeking creatures, why should organization be preferred over chaos and spontaneity?

I’ve learned that any set of beliefs is relative to tradition, an environment endowed with the authority of time (or feigned timelessness), a community of believers that reinforce the belief with repetition, indoctrination, in short, education… and based on what, the authority of their opinions, their convictions based on the solemnity of their forefathers’ expressions, and so on, until the very necessity of proof is vanished because tradition has been instituted and a full circle has been completed. Tradition contains the “truth” and that truth was begotten by the unchallenged belief of generations which granted tradition the authority of timeless revelation. I’m not only thinking of religion which is of minor concern nowadays. Tradition in the form of greed, individuality, progress, happiness; any principle by which we can govern our lives. Doesn’t it make sense that our calculating minds, striving for one fulfillment after another, have adopted this behavior after years upon years of learning the same old ways of our immediate forefathers? And can we continue using the moral imperative of “ought to”, we ought to be happy, we ought to be successful, we ought to be reasonable; in modern terms, we ought to be well off. How can we again insinuate some sort of collective ethics, when every purposeful ideal is always biased, wrought by individual preference and thus, completely inadequate for generalization?

In universal terms, in the metaphysical urgency triggered by poetic insight, in silent contemplation that destroys the metanarrative of cosmic history painted by science and rationalism, when the grand picture of the universe is captured in one unified indescribable awareness… in that state which is short-lived but long-lasting… and to view a queue of cars, the sidewalk wet by rain, the sun tainted by clouds, the air still, all these and yet none of these. When nothing seems like a necessity, anything can be challenged, overturned, changed — beauty that has no structure, no rationale

…. a sun slithered down the gilded sky, cars followed a steady line… waves of intangible information flowed by.

Beyond Language BLOG 

The world’s a machine


^ A by ytuquike
http://ytuquike.deviantart.com/art/A-32785575

 

Let me tell you something. It may be a hard pill to swallow. No, on second thought, maybe my criticism is hollow and attempts to belittle a world too powerful to be challenged. Besides, most people are already aware of what I’m about to say. We all are. But it doesn’t matter. I must get it out; otherwise I’ll wallow in my own disgust and perpetuate a system too cruel in its indifference. 

I‘ve been sitting here for seven hours. Patiently chatting with customers over the internet, satisfying their demands, answering their recurrent questions. Yeah, it’s as simple as it sounds.  A few minutes here with a Dan from South Africa, a few seconds there with a Marysia from Bulgaria. I’m connected to the world but between me and the rest of the globe there’s a box that displays organized patches of light and allows me to interact with people I will probably never encounter, physically or virtually, again. It’s just that – organization – that bothers me. Here I am at the threshold of a global society and my enthusiasm is imprisoned under a thick layer of discomfort.


It doesn’t make sense to me. How we got here and all that. I was involuntarily born into a world that had organized itself in this way without my consent. Here I am functioning according to it, adding fuel to its monstrous engine by my insignificant but necessary participation in its affairs. I am a mere appendage to this colossal machine, a machine that keeps rolling on and on without any constraints – makes me wonder if we could stop it should we desire to?
 


That fact is that it is here, an organization a priori to my existence, and I must operate according to its rules; my life with its sufferings and joys must fit the frame of modernity; my dreams are shortened by 40 hours a week which are mandatory for my basic survival. I’m no utopian, I don’t trust in any universal remedy for happiness and prosperity, yet even with my mistrust in progress I’ve perceived the approach of a conviction that promises a better world, a saner reality.


Hadn’t fear regulated most of our expectations, or if habit wouldn’t paralyze our imagination, would we still be living for minimal wages and restricting life to those scarce hours of leisure that work “allows” us? While trapped in those routines of cement and asphalt, how often do we get to experience the beauty of nature which, according to poets and sages, delivers endless moments of delight and communion with the divine?


I don’t know, I don’t care. I will continue to intoxicate myself with the monotony of uneventful hours… who cares what a screw thinks when the machine can operate without it. New screws will be born to furnish The Machine with the elixir of eternal life, namely:
  

Our conformity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A man in San José

  (photo by Ryan Moss)

 

 

It may appear imprudent that a story that takes place in a Spanish-speaking city should be told in English. First, and partly, because the English-speaking readers will have a hard time grasping the culture in which the story takes place. Secondly, and conversely, those that can relate to the story are few since the story is narrated in a foreign language. But I will remind the indulgent reader that my situation is a hopeless conundrum. English-speakers constantly visit San José but do not have enough time in the city to experience its routine and tradition. Anglophone foreigners might have come to live permanently in Costa Rica but it is highly likely they have stayed outside the capital due to its ordinariness and its dangerous crime. Likewise those that were unwittingly born in this country have avoided the city because of its pollution, recklessness and delinquency. Finally, those that have actually managed to live in the heart of San José year after year are unlikely candidates to enter this blog and squander a few minutes to the reflections of an (Anglo-phony!) Costa Rican.  I have therefore taken the liberty to entertain only a few at the risk that much of what will be said will be lost in the abysmal gap between dissimilar cultures. Also, it may not be superfluous to add that the message will apply to Anglophone first-world citizens and the English-speaking high-class citizens of Costa Rica, which so eagerly emulate the ideals of foreign societies. 

It is common to step down from the bus and abruptly wake up from your daydreaming as you enter the rowdy streets of San José. Those inevitable reveries that take place while you sit silently on an old American school bus come to an end when the smoke, heat and noise startle you back into reality. The images of the outer world that were streaming like invisible currents in the fabric of your mind become concrete and your attention is no longer floating in careless thoughts. Your vision is attracted to the large enchiladas on your right, the kiosk man selling newspapers and mangos at the corner, the pretty girl with a low-cut skirt, the taxi honking at that young woman, the bus almost crashing into the sidewalk, a big dog followed by three smaller dogs. Your head turns to and fro unless you are already too numb to notice the riot of any ordinary day. Your pace accelerates as you cross the street when the pedestrian light is red or slow down as you inspect the imitation sunglasses in every third store. People cross by you as they speak on the phone, scold their children or speak to themselves in a sometimes delusional manner. The stores’ windows have merchandise in every conceivable quality with prices tags in bold colorful numbers: ¢5,000 for a tank top, ¢800 for lipstick, ¢13500 for wide legged jeans, ¢250 for a pair of earrings, ¢18000 for a new toaster oven. Small cantina bars have brown and white beads-on-a-string hanging from the entrance, palm trees are easily spotted at street corners and if you venture a bit outside the crowded pedestrian streets you may even find trees ripe with mangos, bananas or jocotes. You get on an inner city bus that costs ¢100. When you pay make sure you don’t stand in between the electronic bars that count how many passengers get on and off (a rather recent feature), and then, quietly take your seat and distract yourself with the view of the sidewalks. It was on this Sabana-Cementerio bus that I saw for a quadrillion time the old bespectacled man that takes notes on his clipboard.

He has been working for the bus company for 37 years, out of those he has been in the same position, every weekday, for 35 years; keeping track of how many buses pass by his position, how many passengers were on the bus at each particular time, and making sure the money the bus driver has matches with registered passenger count of the day. It seems the electronic bars are not foolproof, and a good pair of scrupulous eyes is still warranted.  I have seen him so many times I was bound to ask him one day about his job, but as it is common in our country to tattle once we engage in a conversation, I ended up knowing much more than I initially wanted to inquire.   

It may seem strange that a man of sound judgment would choose to work in the same unchallenging job for 35 years. Not unless, we could argue, it was very high paying. But the truth is that a salary of under $325 a month is not very much. Our modern avaricious conscience would rebel against this inhumanity; but our initial repulsion might subdue with what I will now tell. 

It has been the fortune of many of us to never have dealt with the misfortune of poverty. Even if some of us have endured the hardship of unemployment, most of us, I venture to say, have always had enough food on our tables. In this country many have to strive for a decent meal every day and sometimes circumstances are not in favor of poor families that battle just to survive. Our protagonist grew in a similar condition. His mother had to support his whole family because his father had become blind from an accident at a construction site after some deadly chemicals had fallen on his face. Her mother worked in middleclass homes as a maid and on weekends sold knitted sweaters at a street corner in San José. Having four brothers and a sister, they had a very harsh time growing up. One brother ran away when he was twelve, the remaining three had to drop school to help their mother earn a living. Our friend never reached beyond third grade. It was clear from his expression that his early years were tremendously hard, yet I could perceive a certain satisfaction in his eyes. I assume he is now proud that they survived those tumultuous years.   

As a young adult he carried out many different kinds of jobs. He didn’t go too much into detail but he had enough to live on and support his family until the unavoidable crossed his path. He had gone out one night to a salsa/merengue club. Never having a radio or TV at home he grew up unfamiliar with the dexterous moves of Latin dance although he enjoyed greatly listening to the music. (He jiggled his rusty hips, I laughed). He would envy every corrongo male that would sweep women by their dance abilities. That night he was drinking a cold Tropical, a new beer that had just been released in the market by Cuban entrepreneurs, although he hardly had the habit of drinking beer. Eased by the alcohol, he ventured to take out a girl to dance. If it wasn’t for those beers, I would have never asked Yelena out for a dance– he commented. Not very romantic, I know. There’s a common misperception that we Latinos are all desperate romantics. They got married next year and started raising a family. His wife’s father had been working as an administrative director in a bus company and the rest seems logical. 

I didn’t dare to ask him why he settled for that simple position. True, it’s a higher position than being a bus driver but also very monotonous. However, when I was just about to bid him goodbye, in an unusual expansion of lucidity, he reflects on his humble circumstances and pronounces thoughts that have answered my tacit doubts: 

 “No puedo culpar mi familia, mi cultura, mi sociedad, mi país, ni la civilización mundial actual. Mi vida fue la consecuencia de una sencilla decisión: vivir sin la ambición de conocer otros continentes o poseer una abundancia de posesiones. Yo viví así y declaro sin arrepentimiento mi total conformidad con la rutina y singular angostura de mi vida. Me conformo con ser el señor que trabajó 35 años en la misma parada de bus, repitiendo la misma labor día tras día, arruga tras arruga, sin la ambición de buscar algo más que tener la comida en mi hogar mientras veía mis hijos crecer.” 

This can be roughly translated thus: 

I cannot blame my family, my culture, my society, my country, or this modern civilization. My life was the consequence of a simple decision: living without the ambition of knowing other continents or having great material wealth. I lived this way and I affirm without regret my complete conformity with my routine and singularly narrow lifestyle. I’m comfortable being that man that worked for 35 years at the same bus stop, repeating the same activity day after day, wrinkle after wrinkle, without having the ambition to look beyond the meal of each day while I saw my children grow up. 

The end.

An Attack on Science

 

Science is based on an unscientific judgment of value. Science and its followers claim that knowledge and truth about the world are only possible through the scrutiny of the scientific method. Therefore, all other sources of knowledge are doubtful, if not, downright mistaken. It eradicated subjectivity from its grand representation of the universe and claims to speak as matter-of-fact and objective as possible.  However, the scientific enterprise has still to prove why we should deal with the cosmos as a problem to be solved; it has yet to answer why knowing is much more important than any other human activity. The great technological benefits we enjoy today are not at all essential; we clearly see the animal world enduring without vehicles or television, or notions such as gravity and entropy, such ‘animals’ even have very complex societies or innate flying abilities. Therefore science cannot claim to be the ultimate route to a better and wiser life, it is a historical phenomenon existing only for the past few centuries and not necessary to life on this planet. In this sense science is morally unscientific; it cannot provide evidence for why a scientific attitude is more preferable than, for example, an aesthetic or nihilistic one. This is simply because science has not been able to predict human emotions or chart our future decisions, it has nothing to say about what we should do; it merely states what is not what should be. 

Scientific-minded people believe themselves to be the most rational minds today. They have associated rationality with one method of inquiry (i.e. scientific method) and have abolished all other sources of data and knowledge. This seems to me more like a limitation than an advantage, precisely because science cannot deal with the whole spectrum of our experience. It works simply on the observable external phenomena and has yet to contribute to an understanding of human consciousness. It pretended for many centuries to get rid of this uncomfortable fact but the shadow of consciousness has crept into modern physics and it is now clear that even basic physical concepts such as mass, distance, velocity, time, are dependent on an observer. In a broader sense, rationality should encompass more than just science and its mother logic, considering that science is narrowly limited by its inability to connect with our whole experience of life. In other words, we are aware of things that the analytic mind cannot formulate. The rational discourse of science is incomplete; it cannot be the entire picture since it lacks insight into our inner life which is as real and undeniable as the external world. For this reason we can learn about life equally as much from a scientific treatise as from a novel, a poem, a kiss or a beautiful landscape. 

(This is not an attempt to invalidate science but simply a reminder that the powerful mystery of life cannot be grasped from one perspective. Those that are dedicated to the exploration of existence must remember: there are no official paradigms; we alone bestow authority to whatever we choose to believe. We cannot limit the cosmos to certain aspects of itself, it is beyond our attempts to reduce it to one knowable thing.)