4. Walmart and the Woods
by Culture and Anti Culture
Take away the normal life of everyday thoughts, feelings and desire – bringing only your sensitive attention – and enter into a sprawling, high-ceilinged, blindingly lit rectilinear warehouse, packed with shelves of innumerable aggressively-colored goods on offer, loud tinny music and intrusive announcements and bereft of any humane architectural impulse: the big box store – the WalMart, Wally World.
The most obvious undertone of feeling associated with even brief immersion in this manufactured pandemonium is profound ineffable fatigue – the draining away of one’s vitality. No physical or mental exertion induces this lifelessness, but rather a strangely palpable invasive miasma at enmity with the very life of the soul.
‘Lasciate ogni speranza, voi ch’entrate’ – Abandon all hope, ye who enter.
This is what is fundamentally expressed through the aesthetic vocabulary of this form of mass merchandizing.
Very different aesthetic languages evoking very different tones of feeling exist:
‘The wilderness has a mysterious tongue
Which teaches awful doubt
Or faith so mild so solemn so serene
That man may be but for such faith
With nature reconciled’
– Mont Blanc by Percy Bysshe Shelley
Bringing only your sensitive attention, walk from a parked car along a dusty hard-packed gravel road, under a hot sun and step onto a meandering forest path, soft with humus underfoot, canopied by graded layers of leafy hardwoods and needled evergreens, permeated by birdsong and the sighing of the wind and the mingled scents of the forest. A living prism, the forest canopy, artistically veils and reveals the sunlight. Out of such settings arise the forces that revivify and re-create the human soul.
Truth is that which is self-evident to the prepared consciousness – This polarity of death-dealing and life-giving forces we have portrayed is not an expression of subjectivity, of opinion, of the supposed arbitrariness of taste, but of actualities in nature and humanity. Yet part of the preparation for wakening to the self-evidently real is learning the relevant language. The aesthetic language of WalMart is intended to dim and dull human consciousness, to make one unmindful. This is also an aesthetic language of death, and to become conscious of it is shockingly painful. The aesthetic of the forest calls for a language virtually lost to post-modern man and it is difficult and often, in its own fashion, distressingly humiliating to try to learn; yet it is the language of enchantment and enlivenment.
‘O you who are within your little boat
eager to listen, following behind
my ship that, singing, crosses to deep seas,
turn back to see your shores again: do not
attempt to sail the seas I sail; you may,
by losing sight of me, be left astray.
The waves I take were never sailed before;
Minerva breathes, Apollo pilots me,
and the nine Muses show to me the Bears.
You other few who turned your minds in time
Unto the bread of angels, which provides
Men here with life – but hungering for more –
you may indeed commit your vessel to
the deep salt-sea, keeping your course within
my wake, ahead of where waves smooth again.’
-The Divine Comedy: Paradiso, Dante
“Contemporary humanity is in the midst of many crises. At the heart of them all is the crisis in the inner life of the human being. We are writing for the consciously distressed.”