12. Re-enlivening of Words and Images
by Culture and Anti Culture
(For context begin with Post 1)
Have you ever gone to a museum and stood before a painting reputed to be in some way great, or visited a place in the natural world you knew was majestically, profoundly beautiful yet felt little or nothing out of the ordinary or even had a sense of loss or vacancy? (This also applies to music and literature which we will address in later posts.) Have you, in a way, bounced off such images? This can be observed in others–watch museum goers blandly drift and flit from one image to another and hikers clump along at speed in loud conversation with only brief episodic regard for the world around them. (A Sherpa who had come to trust me pointed to this not-quite-universal feature of the trekkers and climbers around us on the route to Everest.)
This has not always been the case. Through human history aesthetic experience, for the most part, occurred spontaneously, mysteriously, “out of the blue”, without being pointed to or theorized about. It was the inspired, gift of aesthetic pleasure–the Dionysian visitation. You can still sometimes see it in the spontaneous delight of children in the world around them.
Higher aesthetic experience is dying out in the postmodern world, it is being beaten and trivialized out of us. Our language is dying too, being reduced more and more to a mass of empty phrases. Yet words can be restored and must be renewed and they are now indispensable in drawing attention to the vitalizing objective aesthetic forces characterized in earlier posts. More and more, language is essential to induce, sustain, elaborate and recall higher aesthetic experience .
Let us use the image of ‘Day’ by Michelangelo again. (Refer to the previous post.)
Initial reactions might perhaps range from ‘wonderful’ to ‘so what’ or ‘strange’. Winning through to the recognition of the torsional, vortex-like tension in the figure and the aloof, radiant head gesture is not easy for an untutored person. It requires an effort akin to physical labor and difficult inward inquiry, to perhaps contort our own bodies actually or imaginatively into the corresponding posture, or, sun-like, to expand our sense of attention to be all inclusive. This requires the distinguishing of ideas inherent in the image, ideas found through quiet contemplation and reflection in thought and expressed in words. Words must be struggled with and forged, however clumsily, to point the way. Words like torsional, vortex-like, radiant–words that are tentative, perhaps unsatisfactory, but in a way necessary. Otherwise art will be left as a mere weekend amusement: possessions of status, trophies for our hideous elites.
The words, the ideas are not the aesthetic experience. Working with ideas and words is like building a handbook of observations, however, it is not the vivifying bliss of aesthetic feeling which can arise in the soul. But without such a handbook, without a guide to help set the stage our efforts remain much more subject to chance and temperament.
This might be called an Apollonian approach to aesthetic experience–experience attained in the light of waking, thinking, self-aware contemplation.
As an illustration of the above point, look at the following image and use this simple procedure:
1. Gaze intently for a time at this leaf form.
2. Imagine the pointed leaf tips as being drawn out by some unseen force in the infinite distance (periphery).
3. Picture the rounded indentations as being held back by a restraining power centered in the body of the leaf.
With prolonged concentration, a different, intensified feeling for the reality of this form will arise.
“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.”