5th July 2015 at the Westbridge, Battersea Bridge Road, SW11 3AG
Consciousness in Organisms, Consciousness in Things and Consciousness Itself - why life is a static?
Since the main focus of my activities these days is art - painting in my case - I will begin with art and suggest in general that it is art in a kind of proximity to philosophy and not science that is the essential for life. Science is about maintaining a material playing field. The scientific knowledge that we need to live is certainly important but this quantity of knowledge is vanishingly small compared with what we do not know. Science of course is for many, more believable than religion but it does not get at or touch upon the unbelievability, and sheer unlikilihood of the world. That is a human world of toes, curtains, and shops here and nowhere else, quite unlike the other planets and not revealed by atoms and cells. It is in the inhabiting of the vast unknown without a reduction to knowledge that Philosophy and Art disclose themselves and it is in this relationship that awakening from being awake or enlightenment is to be understood.
Enlightenment, which has been and still is an achievable state in both East and West, was many times achieved long before scientific knowledge held sway. This was never reliant upon the build up of scientific knowledge.
John Latham the artist and others make the point clear:
‘I do object to the idea of a fixed mode of knowledge. After all, one can reach a state of knowing – getting in touch with universal being – without reading anything.’
The philosopher Karl Jaspers who wrote about many of the great Western and some Eastern philosophers said after visiting Deshimaru the Zen teacher at his Dojo outside Paris:
‘If I knew what I now know, I would not have spent my time writing books but rather, I would have spent it sitting in silence.’
Heidegger himself, in later life, seems to have come to a similar, quietist, conclusion.
It is surely important to get on with the great matter and not leave preparations too late in life.
With Heidegger, I hazard that philosophy has forgotten its original definition. Even when Philosophy’s definition is trotted out with bare correctness as ‘love of wisdom’ it sheds no light at all because modern man has altered the meaning of the word wisdom beyond any vestige of its origin. These days it often seems to have boiled down to a form of intelligence, mere advice, or correctness. Truth, the Greek alethia, unconcealment as Heidegger translates it. Truth with a capital T, direct experience of consciousness itself, Being has long ago deteriorated into fact, correctness of data, both mere synonyms of truths with a little ‘t’.
When the topic was addressed by this group some 10 years ago the consensus reached was that philosophy is ‘thinking skills’ or something like that, but we need to encounter something more wondrous about the nature of wisdom in its original sense. For now I will say that it doesn’t build up incrementally because it’s rooted in an experience, which doesn’t involve time. Sophya, alethia, wisdom is enlightenment in the sense I wish to disclose and I think it best to circle round the topic.
A truly philosophical work of art is a rare thing. I think this one; An Oak Tree by Michael Craig Martin is seminal, perhaps perennially. It extends the debate about an object’s essential identity. Another, earlier work concerned with this that you may have seen is Magritte’s painting of a pipe with the caption ‘this is not a pipe.’
In Michael Craig-Martin’s piece (1974), fixed quite high on the wall, is a small glass bathroom shelf, on which stands a glass tumbler full of water:
Lower down on the wall is the following text printed in red:
Q. To begin with, could you describe this work?
A. Yes, of course. What I’ve done is change a glass of water into a full-grown oak tree without altering the accidents of the glass of water.
Q. The accidents?
A. Yes. The colour, feel, weight, size …
Q. Do you mean that the glass of water is a symbol of an oak tree?
A. No. It’s not a symbol. I’ve changed the physical substance of the glass of water into that of an oak tree.
Q. It looks like a glass of water.
A. Of course it does. I didn’t change its appearance. But it’s not a glass of water, it’s an oak tree.
Q. Can you prove what you’ve claimed to have done?
A. Well, yes and no. I claim to have maintained the physical form of the glass of water and, as you can see, I have. However, as one normally looks for evidence of physical change in terms of altered form, no such proof exists.
Q. Haven’t you simply called this glass of water an oak tree?
A. Absolutely not. It is not a glass of water anymore. I have changed its actual substance. It would no longer be accurate to call it a glass of water. One could call it anything one wished but that would not alter the fact that it is an oak tree.
Q. Isn’t this just a case of the emperor’s new clothes?
A. No. With the emperor’s new clothes people claimed to see something that wasn’t there because they felt they should. I would be very surprised if anyone told me they saw an oak tree.
Q. Was it difficult to effect the change?
A. No effort at all. But it took me years of work before I realized I could do it.
Q. When precisely did the glass of water become an oak tree?
A. When I put the water in the glass.
Q. Does this happen every time you fill a glass with water?
A. No, of course not. Only when I intend to change it into an oak tree.
Q. Then intention causes the change?
A. I would say it precipitates the change.
Q. You don’t know how you do it?
A. It contradicts what I feel I know about cause and effect.
Q. It seems to me that you are claiming to have worked a miracle. Isn’t that the case?
A. I’m flattered that you think so.
Q. But aren’t you the only person who can do something like this?
A. How could I know?
Q. Could you teach others to do it?
A. No, it’s not something one can teach.
Q. Do you consider that changing the glass of water into an oak tree constitutes an art work?
Q. What precisely is the art work? The glass of water?
A. There is no glass of water anymore.
Q. The process of change?
A. There is no process involved in the change.
Q. The oak tree?
A. Yes. The oak tree.
Q. But the oak tree only exists in the mind.
A. No. The actual oak tree is physically present but in the form of the glass of water. As the glass of water was a particular glass of water, the oak tree is also a particular oak tree. To conceive the category ‘oak tree’ or to picture a particular oak tree is not to understand and experience what appears to be a glass of water as an oak tree. Just as it is imperceivable it is also inconceivable.
Q. Did the particular oak tree exist somewhere else before it took the form of a glass of water?
A. No. This particular oak tree did not exist previously. I should also point out that it does not and will not ever have any other form than that of a glass of water.
Q. How long will it continue to be an oak tree?
A. Until I change it.
This illustrates the most important philosophical idea since the pre-Socratics, if indeed there is any sense at all in the notion that they did not understand it.
Kant’s noumenon, Ding an Sich, the thing-in-itself. We can clarify a couple of points here that relate to Michael’s version. He uses the word ‘accidents’ to refer to phenomena or the characteristics of an object and ‘accidents’ is Aristotelian terminology. Aristotle thought a thing could have an essence that was in time but emptied of his 9 characteristics or accidents. Kant however makes no such compromise and his ‘Ding an Sich’ has no fundamental characteristics at all. This begs the question as to whether there is more than one Ding an Sich and suggests it has no duration in time.
Schopenhauer, in particular, understood that if number does not apply and there cannot be a plurality of things-in-themselves there can only be one thing-in-itself that has the capacity to pervade and touch all phenomena that are in time. This gives us a kind of pantheism and of course provides the medium through which Michael’s glass of water is transubstantiated into an Oak Tree.
Ibn Arabi the 13th century Andalusian Sufi’s famous heart poem expresses the same thing as Michael’s text in language that never fails to ignite. Here are the first few lines.
Ibn Arabi’s (1165 – 1240) poem:
A white-blazed gazelle
Is an amazing sight,
Pasture between breastbones
A garden among the flames!
My heart can take on
a meadow for gazelles,
a cloister for monks.
Michael Sells translation
As we have proceeded, a great practical truth in connection with this needs to be absorbed. It is this: logically the thing-in-itself cannot be experienced. After all there is nothing about it that has any persistence in time so there is nothing there that can be experienced since all experiences have duration. Kant, did not consider that the thing-in-itself can be experienced: and yet it can be. This is simply a practical fact that is in contradiction with every reasoned and reasonable argument.
In some discussions a thing is thrown out because it is absurd but It is often the point at which my curiousity is aroused. In this case, from the point of view of reasoned argument, it is the ridiculous, which is the practical Truth. This therefore compels modification of fundamental believability.
You cannot keep a thing the very essence of which is unreasonable by addressing it with logic or understanding. What has to be done is to get near it in a practical sense and nest in its vicinity. It is very little about mulling thoughts and not so much up in your head as in your ‘dense packed diaphragm’ as Empedocles put it or the heart that is a ‘garden among the flames’ as Ibn Arabi put it.
This is Empedocles:
If you press my words down
underneath your dense-packed diaphragm
and oversee them with good will and with
pure attention to the work, they will all
without the slightest exception stay with you
for as long as you live. And, from them,
you will come to possess many other things.
Peter Kingsley translation
In a real encounter with self this thing-in-itself washes over and within the whole body with grace and poise. There is the enormity of an expanding universe of awareness and intelligence that is simultaneously inward and outward.
What is required preliminary to the great realization amounts to a complete stilling of the movement of thought. The Greeks called this hezychia and when this flowering occurs the stilling does not close everything down but evidently opens it all up. It opens in authentic, creative, self-deploying will, which inhabits an expanding universe in present-time.
The past is not a characteristic of existence.
That perhaps needs repeated if we are to begin grappling with it: the past is not a characteristic of existence. It is a thought to sit or rest near, permeate and be reminded of daily and with every breath. The past is to be exhaled and the present inhaled until it is not I who breathe but I who am breathed.
Will is to be discovered here if we can put it together. Until we can turn it round we must begin with the full acknowledgement that we are created beings. Nobody really understands anything much about how they walk down the road, breathe and so on. They couldn’t make themselves with their current faculties. There is real will but it can only arise in the most complete realization that we have none and yet at every moment imagine that we can have it. What passes for will in humans is a mechanical force of attraction. To realize one is asleep is to begin to awaken. The goal of Sophya is to awaken from being awake.
Now, every memory anyone ever has only ever happens in present-time.
The universe never did begin a long time ago and we must rather, stay near, nest by; the way it is that this thought persists in present-time.
I heard that if you take away all the gaps between all the particles and all the gaps between the stars you can put all the stuff in 1 cm3. Admittedly it is a very, very, heavy, cubic centimetre. I’m still surprised because I don’t really think there is even that much stuff and I am quite sure the Physicists are mocking it up to have something to deal with.
We could say something along the lines that every non-existent point in space and every observation of a thought or idea is itself a black-hole.
The universe never did start a long time ago with a big bang because all the ideas associated with this cosmology and all the views of the desks, the papers and even the Large Hadron Collider and every single one of these things are all memories that rely upon other memories and all these memories only ever happen in the present and never ever happened anywhere else, because:
The past cannot be a characteristic of existence.
A point is something with zero dimensions but it isn’t there because any kind of dot has some kind of area and any kind of position has to be separate from other positions so there cannot be a Cartesian position without some area or mass however small. Our dot repeated next to each other then develops into a line, which is supposedly one dimension and that’s not there either and then a row of lines develops and that’s an area, which is not there either and then these two dimensional areas build up and all of a sudden a 3 dimensional object is supposed to exist and really be there and then a 4 dimensional one but of course its nonsense and they aren’t there either. (see Nassim Haramein, Sacred Geometry 2010) If there is something there it’s at the very least all the other way round and there’s no point starting with 0 dimensions as any kind of origin. An origin and extended creation needs to be all 100 dimensions in no space at all characterized in Physics terms, as something like a black hole at every position or as every atom including the removal of number and separateness and that is where we a had got to anyway – that is apart from the zero having a hundred dimensions.
The importance of getting it this way round is that it empowers humanity beyond scientific data collection and actually can deliver intergalactic space travel with a far better chance of success than lighting bombs under metal tubes. At the same time we begin to disclose the temporary nature of science and the logic of categories. Even in a universe with as much as 1 cubic centimetre of stuff it is surely obvious that our focus needs to be on the huge quantity of so-called space and whether we can join it, rather than on the much less real solidity of planets and mocked up spaces such as our own space, architectural space, galactic space and so on.
A similar reductio happens when we address our physiological geometry. Our perception of the world and existence cannot come out right since we only see forwards with our eyes. We try to correct this by looking back into our mind’s eye and thinking in the round or mathematically. It could be an improvement for a being to be a kind of sphere with eyes all over its surface and then behind would only exist as the interior diameter of the sphere. If however we wished to get rid of the distorting effect of this interior itself by reducing it to a point we would need to face the reality that since the point cannot really exist the point-from-which-I-views is everywhere equally at one moment in time in a Parmenidean block universe that was never created. We could say, it is create in every moment of present-time as a single non-existent point or black hole with a power to put on a fantastic show… begging the question: by who?
In this context it is correct to recognize that any advanced civilization must leave its terrestrial base as a rite of passage. One simply is not going to last on a sphere with an atmosphere equivalent to the thickness of one thin coat of paint on a ball.
It is possible to play around with the practical side of the ontology I have been describing and in some ways live by it. I think it is essential to do so and it is surely the case that most of us work with it moreorless imprecisely.
I want to give the Scientology version of this and to show its practical use.
I should clarify that I cannot call myself a Scientologist because although I have read quite a number of books and done some basic courses my involvement with the organization ended over thirty years ago. I am staunch in the sense that I do not want to throw any babies out with the bathwater in the prevailing atmosphere in which the public criticizes the goings on of the Church of Scientology without addressing the subject itself in any meaningful way. It seems to me that Scientology understands some things much better than anyone else.
I will just add that a study of Scientology does not involve reading the science fiction novels of L Ron Hubbard.
The Axioms of Scientology go from 1 - 58; I am concerned here with Axiom 11 a-d. All the axioms are of great interest to me but there is not time to go over a great many in one sitting. Taken together they are something like the rules for making a universe but already with a sense that science and technology though part of the tool kit will sooner or later be a more distant background.
This then is the Scientology bit of the Kantian bit:
The considerations resulting in conditions of existence are fourfold:
As-isness is the condition of immediate creation without persistence, and is the condition of existence, which exists at the moment of creation and the moment of destruction, and is different from other considerations in that it does not contain survival.
Alter-isness is the consideration, which introduces change, and therefore time and persistence, into an As-isness to obtain persistency.
Is-ness is an apparency of existence brought about by the continuous alteration of an As-isness. This is called, when agreed upon, reality.
Not-isness is the effort to handle Is-ness by reducing its condition through the use of force. It is an apparency and cannot entirely vanquish an Is-ness.
Kant’s thing-in-itself, Michael’s Oak Tree, and the Scientology conditions of existence are relatedly important for ordinary, practical living.
We may wish to view a problem or even a universe completely or partially so as to bring about a partial or complete disappearance. The advanced Sufi at the highest station, which is no station (maqaam) must realize the universe in a single sign and so: empty it.
The fundamental structure of a lie is the alteration of an As-isness. Such alterations give us solidity.
What is the development of the motorcar and change in general but the partial disappearance or As-ising of phenomena through the accumulated looking of engineers and technologists. Some things disappear and others are altered to engineer new persistence and appearances without the need to invoke motion.
As I’ve already tried to say humans put themselves on the false twin-headed path with the logic of categories that began after the pre-Socratics two and half thousand years ago. But what if there was two and a half thousand years of going the other way? We would surely have teleported to distant galaxies and telepathized between each other long before technology provided weak approximations of these innate potentialities.
The as-is-ness describes the fundamental state of existence, which Scientology calls the life Static and it is pretty much the equivalent of self’s identity and the Kantian Ding an Sich. The phrase Life Static is another bit of Scientologese that I think is so well defined that it should be widely available.
Here is the definition from the Scientology technical dictionary:
A LIFE STATIC HAS NO MASS, NO MOTION, NO WAVELENGTH, AND NO LOCATION IN SPACE OR IN TIME. IT HAS THE ABILITY TO POSTULATE AND TO PERCEIVE. The static is capable of considerations, postulates and opinions. Space, energy, objects, form and time are the result of considerations made and/or agreed upon by the static and are perceived solely because the static considers that it can perceive them.
The Life static is symbolized by the Greek letter Theta.
It’s clear to me that Kant didn’t really discover the Ding an Sich or Life static. Anaximander understood it and called it the Apeiron or Indefinite. That which is indefinite has no characteristics. It also defines the basic self, point-from-which-I-view or consciousness itself. Clearly, once combined with physical bodies one may talk about there being several and many of them but bearing in mind the essential definition they are neither subject to spaces, times or number.
Richard Feynman the physicist makes the same point while putting it the other way round. As he says: consciousness is a singular that has no plural. There is nothing to suggest consciousness is not everywhere and nowhere all together. One can get the time element down to a zero by reflecting once again upon the statement that ‘the past is not a characteristics of existence’ and of course neither is the future.
Anaximander understood the process by which the indefinite or consciousness itself gets altered into all the appearances of things by living. He understood the process of re-igniting consciousness in its full glory of awareness of awareness through a profoundly moral sense of expiation. That is full payment to Dike / Justice – ‘she who demands exact returns’ - necessary to self-remember existence.
So here is Anaximander, the first fragment in western philosophy:
Whence things have their origin,
Thence also their destruction happens,
As is the order of things;
For they execute the sentence upon one another
- The condemnation for the crime -
In conformity with the ordinance of Time.
Friedrich Nietszche translation
Anaximander’s moral sense of existence in time requiring full expiation can be brought to the necessary zero and helped along by fully compelling the moral injunction: ‘there go I but for the grace of god’ as long as it includes all the most extreme difficulties. It surely works a sublime transformation of legal and ethical parameters and not one that necessarily disallows a death penalty or war. It is judgment that requires the fullest imaginable individual responsibility and courage. He must know very well that he is Adolf Hitler to take responsibility for this execution within and without self. The judge passing a sentence of death must know full well that he is the judged and indeed that he cannot stand before the defendant without first having already fully been him - and so it is. The other to be the other who I do unto requires that the support of the universe be such that I have already been you. The tangle of tenses here perhaps acts as an improvement and unraveling, consistent with our friend in the equation that the past is not a characteristic of existence.
Where else are our past lives but in the present given that the past is no characteristic of existence and so how can it ever be that we can encounter someone we have not already been? And where but nowhere is the distance between us?
But just in case we risk losing touch with the goal of practical experience that the intellectual mind is so far from: consider this very literal description of actual realization by the 8th Century Zen poet Han Shan to earth us.
““As one coming suddenly out of darkness, I perceived the full meaning of the doctrine of immutability and said: “Now I can believe that fundamentally all things neither come nor go.” I got up from my meditation bed, prostrated myself before the Buddha shrine and did not have the perception of anything in motion. I lifted the blind and stood in front of the stone steps. Suddenly the wind blew through the trees in the courtyard and the air was filled with flying leaves, which, however, looked motionless. I said to myself:
“This is the whirlwind which will destroy Mount Sumeru and which is permanently still.” When I went to the back yard to make water, the urine seemed not to be running. I said: “That is why the river pours but does not flow.” Thereafter all my doubts about life and death vanished.””
From Parabola magazine
This is precisely the same experience that Parmenides, Zeno and Empedocles invoke and should recall if we are not to forget what philosophy is.
It is Parmenides who offers the most perfect Philosophical prerequisite with his dissolution of the three paths. His great poem that better than any, encapsulates the entire philosophical agenda dissolving the paths of Truth, which is Alethia or what is, and the path of doxa or what is not, as well as the ‘twin-headed’ path of humans who try to combine the other two.
But then I hold you back as well from the one that
Mortals fabricate, twin heads, knowing nothing.
For helplessness in their chests is what steers their
wandering minds as they are carried along in a daze,
deaf and blind at the same time: indistinguishable,
undistinguishing crowds who reckon that being and
non-being are the same and not the same. And, for
all of them, the route they follow is a path that keeps turning
backwards on itself.
Peter Kingsley translation
Philosophically it is just the empty place where an authentic beginning has to be that Nietzsche has so eloquently spoken of in his Parmenidean prayer:
“Grant me, ye gods, but one certainty, and if it be but a log’s breadth on which to lie, on which to ride upon the sea of uncertainty. Take away every-thing that comes-to-be, everything lush, colourful, blossoming, illusory, everything that charms and is alive. Take all these for yourselves and grant me but the one and only, poor empty certainty.”
Maybe, just maybe Nietzsche does not understand the practical experience of Han Shan because the aperture that has closed down to an empty nothing turns out to be a black hole that includes everything in enlightened stillness. You may still be looking down at your toes or towards the curtains but there is something different going on and it is an elephant on the doorstep as to its importance. Emptiness is furnished without a speck of dust.
Suddenly the wind blew through the trees in the courtyard and the air was filled with flying leaves, which, however, looked motionless.
I said: “That is why the river pours but does not flow.” Thereafter all my doubts about life and death vanished.
This seems to fly in the face of Heracleitus’s ‘all is flux’ but Heracleitus knew perfectly well that the flux was bounded by the still. He knew that the consciousness that pervades himself and the river he stepped into never changed in the slightest.
Having experienced something of this myself, it is now long ago since the observation of motion transformed into a series of disappearances and appearances that are more magical to my senses than any belief that I have moved my head or body to change a view perspectivally.
I know two levels of stillness that can be clearly identified. First there is the experience of the mind going quiet, empty, peaceful, spacious and full of bliss, expansive and very alert. Secondly there is the experience of all this and additionally the whole body: enters into present-time. The literal sign of this is that the entire surface of the skin is in equal bright awareness and there is no movement around and about of a focus of attention from say an itch to a pressure on a limb.
I do want to labour the point that Scientists don’t seem to think they know what consciousness is and I really don’t have any doubt that I know what it is. One could also fill a hall with people who are at least on the right track, without dwelling upon the consensus here today. Are scientists, perhaps, changing consciousness into something else so that they can talk about.
Pythagoras encountered Wisdom in a cave or underground construction in Thrace on his way to Croton in the bay of Tarentum. It’s very important to understand that wisdom needs to be encountered. It isn’t a study and its encountered in silence. The underground cave was very silent but Pythagoras encountered a silence that was greater than the silence of the cave. That’s to say he encountered the silence of silence, which is a very real elephant on the doorstep. In Parmenides words it is news from the very place from where ‘no news returns.’
The most complete stilling of mind and body that can be achieved while still living and which is the same thing as the silence of silence. In Greek this stillness is called hezychia. But another thing, perhaps the most important: this stillness or silence of silence or Sophya is not separate, she is the very self that needs to be re-membered. That is the Ding an Sich that Kant never tried to encounter directly. Sophya, Wisdom, consciousness itself, the seat of our awareness, the sense-in-common.
We touch upon the great matter of will. That humans in time have no will but are predestined to believe they have.
The sense of our existence lies in the recovery of will as Ding an Sich, the very seat of our awareness. Consciousness, the sense in common etc. As it is said ‘who has will has will’ but this a great rarity because will is an orientation within the Ding an Sich as opposed to a force pegged to attraction. Real will must be identical to the empty universe and not attraction to a desire or purpose that reels us in or out.
We must rediscover the ability to ask for everything, first by having a sense of what it is, and recognize that any philosophy worthy of the name will promise it.
That last one the sense-in-common reveals consciousness itself because the impressions through the other senses can all land on it, which so to speak joins them all up and unifies them. It is the point-from-I-which-view, self, Sophya, the place of all knowledge. But mostly things get snagged because people are unable to stay with their sense-in-common or self for long, if at all.
And that’s the truth: the majority of people never encounter self in their entire life and our scientific culture, at least in its huge destructive aspect doesn’t seem to help this.
Will is an orientation of cells and atoms perfectly aligned in their response to what is immediately present. It arises from metanoia, total change, the Christian deep sense of repentance, Anaximander’s expiation to the Parmenidean zero.
Philosophy needs the guidance of true authority rather than individuated thinkingness. It has little to do with thinking, much to do with consciousness and cannot be done by oneself. As a prisoner intending to escape one needs help from those on the outside. The authority of beings whose perspective has already arrived at an advanced state beyond that of a sphere whose organ of vision is mounted across its entire surface and even beyond those who’s anterior is the diameter of the sphere. Beyond this to a sense where the diameter, which is behind has been reduced to the point-from-which-I-view to the truth that the point itself is not there and therefore everywhere and so to the understanding that the universe is one sign or black hole in no space – and that is self.
…and thus also that all speed is within stillness and so dimensionality is not built from the point that yet has area to the length that yet has width to the area that yet has volume to the volume that exists because it persists but rather from the nonexistent that always exists and yet has a hundred dimensions in present-time, but that for current average humans awareness is occluded to a mere, inhibited 4.
It was Gorgias the great Sophist who understood that the problem and contradiction is what is real as essence so it is not to be understood; and understanding is the wrong tool to apply. It is just this that grants the very wiggle room that allows it to be experienced.
Some artists have been getting close and I am fascinated by the critics Clement Greenberg and Michael Fried writing about the art of the 50s and 60s and their efforts to get at the essence of painting and so nearly beckon us to inhabit the creative centre itself. They were determined to define the essential quality in painting and opposed the tendency toward theatre where painting moved away from its integral content upon a flat surface tending outwards towards becoming objects. Objects that invoked the spectator’s space as part of their content. Greenberg saw the new minimal art of Donald Judd and Robert Morris and Carl Andre as the theatricalizing of painting and sculpture into more of an object that introduced time as content and in this development he saw the demise of painting. It was already being established in advanced art that the essential could not include nature, political or social concerns.
Apart from reading Clement Greenberg and Michael Fried which to tell the truth was a kind of death by sludge, I am still fascinated by the problem invoked. I only wish Greenberg could have been more fundamentalist still and more deeply explored the theatricalization of painting into objects that he criticized the minimalist tendency for enacting. He might have gone further into an exploration of any outbound expression of thought projected upon the screen of the mind’s eye and explored that in doing so it engenders a deceit as to the fully abstract essence at the origin. Thus there could be a tying this into painting’s symbolizing more genuinely reflecting its essence.
Having said that, once revealed it then becomes clear that all outbound expressions of thought are some kind of symbolizing. I am bound to appreciate as a painter that the situation is not improved by adding in time or exploring one medium after another that give an attractive appearance of a string of original acts. These perhaps only obscure the possibility of engagement with an essential characteristic of quality in art. Modernism touched upon the core of the matter and defined the authentic art of its time but just avoided the necessary fundamentalism that could target the seat of our awareness. Mondrian and others got very close, essentially removing both nature and development through time as a factor in painting as his practise did not change across several decades. Earlier on modernist writers and critics in Europe skipped the central discoveries of Malevich’s Suprematism: take nature out of art…(indeed I might say, take the world out!) as the critics avoided the basis of their thinking which was theosophical - a subject which they still hardly mention.
In part I am saying this because the cultural effort is where the west must find its own fundamentalism if it is to survive at all. I do not believe it should be technological and it cannot be democratic if it is to survive the theatre that appears to be developing in the modern world. For philosophers the point is not to get entangled in any leadership contest or zeitgeist but to use the pressures to facilitate a speedier awakening for transmission to the next culture.
Malevich and Mondrian Theosophists and Samuel Beckett a Sufi were all more able to take on the source in authentic mystery.
Beckett in an interview with Georges Duthuit had exited weeping some days before after trying to talk about the painter Masson. On this occasion he speaks to George Duthuit about the painter Bram Van Velde. It is somehow even more intensely bereft than the better known: ‘Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.’ … which was from Worstword Ho.
B - Frenchman, fire first.
D – Speaking of Tal Coat and Masson you invoked an art of a different order, not only from theirs, but from any achieved up to date. Am I right in thinking that you had van Velde in mind when making this sweeping distinction?
B – Yes. I think he is the first to accept a certain situation and to consent to a certain act.
D – Would it be too much to ask you to state again, as simply as possible, the situation and act that you conceive to be his?
B – The situation is that of him who is helpless, cannot act, in the event cannot paint, since he is obliged to paint. The act is of him who, helpless, unable to act, acts, in the event paints, since he is obliged to paint.
D – Why is he obliged to paint?
B – I don’t know.
D – Why is he helpless to paint?
B – Because there is nothing to paint and nothing to paint with.
D – And the result you say, is art of a new order?
B – Among those whom we call artists, I can think of none whose concern was not predominantly with his expressive possibilities, those of his vehicle, those of humanity. The assumption underlying all painting is that the domain of the maker is the domain of the feasible. The much to express, the little to express, the ability to express much, the ability to express little, merge in the common anxiety to express as much as possible, or as truly as possible, or as finely as possible, to the best of one’s ability.
D – One moment. Are you suggesting that the painting of van Velde is inexpressive?
B – (a fortnight later) Yes.
D – You realize the absurdity of what you advance?
B – I hope I do.
D – But might it not be suggested, even by one tolerant of this fantastic theory, that the occasion of his painting is his predicament, and that it is expressive of the impossibility to express?
B – No more ingenious method could be devised for restoring him, safe and sound, to the bosom of saint Luke. But let us for once, be foolish enough not to turn tail. All have turned wisely tail, before the ultimate penury, back to the mere misery where destitute virtuous mothers may steal bread for their starving brats. There is more than a difference of degree between being short, short of the world, short of self, and being without these esteemed commodities. The one is a predicament, the other not.
D –But you have already spoken of the predicament of van Velde.
B – I should not have done so.
This of course is well on the way to Nietzsche’s Parmenidean prayer.
I repeat it.
“Grant me, ye gods, but one certainty, and if it be but a log’s breadth on which to lie, on which to ride upon the sea of uncertainty. Take away every-thing that comes-to-be, everything lush, colourful, blossoming, illusory, everything that charms and is alive. Take all these for yourselves and grant me but the one and only, poor empty certainty.”
If there is a conclusion it is that all knowledge and data is within the synonyms: life, consciousness, and wisdom. To encounter wisdom is at the very least to directly access a huge body of knowledge. So much so that acquiring knowledge in a roundabout way, supposedly late, in a long process of evolution, through the screen or servo mechanisms of the brain or body - must be badly flawed and bound to result in false information – literally death by bullet points - in the office and particularly at the fundamental level of Physics, enslavement by the digital. The means by which the higher eats us.
In this reading I have often argued through to a zero in an attempt to disclose where wisdom opens and I will finish by repeating something I heard Peter Kingsley say:
He describes a dream or vision in which he wakes to see a beautiful woman kneeling facing towards the corner. As he approaches he observes that she is weeping. She says that she is Persephone, goddess of logic. Persephone is the identity of the unknown goddess in Parmenides poem. She is weeping for the two and a half thousand years in which she has suffered abuse from humans who have divided and placed knowledge in categories and lists rather than discover unity and wisdom in the seat-of-our awareness.
Thanks to Iain Orr for reading with me the texts of Michael Craig-Martin’s Oak Tree and George’s Duithuit’s interview with Samuel Beckett.
(See Iain’s review of Craig-Martin’s Being an Artist on Amazon.co.uk)
Some relevant texts:
John Latham, Still and Chew, (1966-7). Case with Documentation, MOMA
Karl Jasper’s, The Great Philosophers, 1975
Michael Craig-Martin, by Richard Cork, 2006
On Being an Artist by Michael Craig-Martin, 2015
For Ibn Arabi’s Heart poem see Michael Sells, Mystical Languages of Unsaying, 1994
Quotations from Empedocles and Parmenides see Peter Kingsley’s Reality, 2003
Friedrich Nietzsche’s The Parmenidean prayer see Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks, translator Marianne Cowan, 1996 (from N’s notes 1873)
The Life Static, see Axioms of Scientology, 1954
Dimensions. See E H Shattuck’s An Experiment in Mindfulness 1958
Dimensions. See PD Ouspensky’s Tertium Organum, 1922
Dimensions. See Nassim Haramein, Sacred Geometry, 2010
Predestination see Peter Kingsley’s Reality, 2003
Predestination see PD Ouspensky’s In Search of the Miraculous 1949
Clement Greenberg’s Art and Culture, 1961
Michael Fried’s Art and Objecthood, 1998
Samuel Beckett, Three Dialogues with Georges Duthuit, 1949