This piece by Katy Siegel, titled The Worlds With Us, is the best summary of the current intellectual/social moment that I have found. I have been struggling myself to write or express something like this without sounding new-agey or ancient. (It’s odd that ideas such as these leave you pegged as either Santa Barbara Bead Shop or Byzantine.) My greatest fault, whenever I tried to take pen to paper on the subject, was that I’d end up bitching about the academy being a wank fest (which, when bad, it is). While this piece is concerned primarily with the aesthetic of contemporary visual art, I believe the shift in consciousness that it’s getting to can be viewed in any intellectual circle. Writers are always late to the game when it comes to aesthetic movements (or at least they have been since WWI). In this case, however, many are stuggling with the same beast.
Here’s the heart of the matter: [The] shift is not from one perspective to another, but to the loss of perspective itself, to the rejection of an anthropocentric worldview and its subject/object dichotomy. Basic is the recognition that humans are neither on top of the world or outside it; they are in the world, and not as a special category (the subject). The subject/object polarity underlies and maintains categorical dualities such as organic/inorganic and nature/culture that we have used to carve up existence; dualities that, following the dismantling of the first opposition, no longer seem useful, much less true or still less inspiring.
When I was in graduate school, and I graduated in 2002, I argued strongly against what I saw as a form of institutionalized yet invisible censorship disguised to look like openness or a liberal philosophy. What I mean is that writing, especially literary fiction and poetry, was judged to be either PoMo or non-PoMo, “innovative” or “square”; in both cases, the former was “good” while the latter “shit”. It’s hard to explain without looking at examples, and I don’t want to get into examples or parodies. I’ll expose myself: the typical art student I encountered, and I was this way to a degree, went to art school because s/he saw it as a means to escape becoming a middle class square. Art school, however, wasn’t enough. You also needed to become a hipster, if you will, and dismantle all things square. One of those things, for example, was the narrative that you learned made for a “good story” in high school, taught to you by a teacher who reminded you of your mother.
In college, you learned to dismantle all things square by “deconstructing” them. Now, you’ll forgive me, because I haven’t the slightest clue what deconstruction is. I wrote papers about it, and, apparently, used the method to deal with literature. One teacher called one of my “deconstructions” brilliant. The whole time, if I’m to tell the truth, I felt like I was playing amateur shrink, using various clues an author gave me to peer into his sex problems, all of which I invented, basing my inventions on various texts by Sigmund Freud.
I think any reading of any text, either formal or informal, is fine, so long as it is not built up as THE WAY to do it. You cannot call yourself a defender of open-mindedness, the kind of open-mindedness that’s necessary to creat art—to play, as a child does, in the sand with the stones—if you believe there is only one way to play, only one way to observe the game. There is more than one game.
Except, of course, for the BIG GAME, the game in which all the little games get played, the one where the illusions take place. I’m talking about what Zen teachers call emptiness, what Alan Watts calls “it”. It is, to use a brutal term, a singularity, a universe in which we are not subjects engaging objects, separate from anything, but entirely and completely part of a system that we can neither fathom nor perceive, except in small chunks generated by our (flawed and limited) minds. Everything is in constant shift and flux and, ironically, that’s always true: it’s impermanent. Always. Shifting so quickly that nothing—no thing—is ever fathomed as frozen and itself. Born human, all you get is flow.
In such a predicament, you should be able fearlessly to tell exactly the story you wish or write the text that flows naturally to you. I myself was guilty in the past of attempting to write stories and texts that adhered to some aesthetic movement or theory, and for doing it to demonstrate my understanding of that theory. Of course, it was all contrived bullshit. The only idea I ever encountered that did not seem to create automatic dualism was Robert Irwin’s seeing is forgetting the name of the thing one sees. His artistic project was a strong inspiration to me when I encountered it in graduate school.
That was over ten years ago. A decade later, I’m preparing for my own Jukai. I don’t know if it’s ironic that now my single greatest aesthetic position or theory is one that exposes all theories, including the self, as constructed delusions. I have become aware that all I can really perceive is myself perceiving, and that this is its own delusion. How to express the realm beyond this is not as important as simply accepting that there’s a story flowing inside me, an image I’m imagining, a feeling I can set alight by selecting the right kinds of words, hand them over to an interested reader.
Most imporantly, I’m happy to see that we’ve come back around as a society and a human race. We’re understanding once again that a work of art does not have to prove anything. It can’t. We knew a very very long time ago that there is nothing to prove.