Tuesday, December 9, 2014

John Felder

I now speak directly to you.

I have all the links I need to make a chain...

Thank you.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Unlocking Secrets

To readers in the know, a contest awaits. Secret contents available only by solving a little puzzle. Below are links that stand for letters; if you follow the correct path, you will arrive at pages disclosing much information that previously you only hoped to glean. Click the letters, one by one with each new page (pressing a letter will take you to the letter's page, then on that page select the next letter, etc, all in proper sequence) spelling: my name, his name, your name, "our name," their name, her name, "its" name. Each will bring you to a different conclusion. And for all who dare, remember: it doesn't hurt to guess:


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Edvard Munch

A couple months ago I watched Peter Watkins's absolutely tedious 1974 miniseries about Edvard Munch, the Norwegian artist.

It was a film that reminded me how ideological art always is, and which provided evidence for my growing suspicion that art and philosophy are (almost) always a war of broken subjectivities trying to justify themselves. I now understand the reason that Plato banned poets from his Republic: they are usually not well-ordered souls, and their art is usually an effort to infect other people (though, thankfully, usually quite ineffective) through pathos with whatever psychological toxin has infected the artist. In that sense, art is often a sort of byproduct of an unresolvable remainder in a brain which is stuck in an endless recursive-loop equation that needs to simply be interrupted.

Cinematographically, I have little to say. In terms of time and space, the film wasn't particularly transporting. I'm sure they did their period research, but nothing stood out in that regard that didn't blend with all the visual memories I have of that era already. The script was rather forced and pretentious too.

And yet the film was, I think, revelatory, and disturbing, unsettling. Less so for any of its own artistry as for the content and the message of it, as I alluded to above.

By which I think I mean something like this: the film was a masturbatory romanticization of mental illness as the font of art. Modern art at least. Munch's circle of decadent bohemian wretches fancied themselves to have a special wisdom, some sort of enlightened perspective in the very fact of their marginalization. The movie itself, in turn, did little to question this delusional arrogance on the part of the circle and indeed seemed to be a sort of modern secular hagiography of their journey into the depths of a penetrating new consciousness that would go on to produce some very famous art.

Except this is all bullshit. In reality, beneath the attempt at romanticization, the truth of the story could not help but come through for any sane viewer. These people were disturbed. Mentally ill. Indeed, Munch isn't all that famous for anything more than a painting that has become the universal symbol of mental illness. He wasn't happy. And yet the movie tries to make him out as something of a brave forward-thinking hero, harbinger of a new age.

Perhaps. But if so, it is only because the new age is decadence (the future is, sadly, not always equatable with progress; when mental illness on a social scale is involved, there can indeed be "forgetting" or occlusion-by-delusion of information-density from a past age). It is a disorder of a mass social scale to value beauty more than happiness, and a miscognition regarding both.

The movie is also rather ham-handed in trying to force us to pick a side. The "persecution" of the movie's chosen "martyrs" (as if a little verbal criticism is anything of the sort) is instrumentalized clumsily to create a dilemma like: are you (the viewer) one of these (eventually surpassed and irrelevant) naysayers dismissing Munch's work as the product of a disturbed mind? Or are you one of the bold pioneers who realized that he was showing us something new?

The answer, of course, is that this is a false dilemma; we can be both. I understand what Munch was showing us, and appreciate (as someone living in a world that has learned to accommodate brokenness much better) what he added to the human story. But what he was showing us was, in fact, a disturbed, broken, disordered perspective. That perspective was a "real" human perspective, with all the redemptive possibilities that grace brings to brokenness, but what he revealed, in the end, was nothing more than the pathos of mental illness (which doesn't change the fact that it is mental illness, which is a distorted lens on reality that occludes more information than it gains).

One could imagine some pathetic soul, similarly broken, perhaps an alcoholic, watching the movie and thinking "Yes! Yes! These are the people who really knew the score!! These are my people" (and he'd be right, they are his people: the mentally ill) and then maybe falling into dysfunctional love with another disordered reprobate he imagines to be a similarly "charmed" or "touched" soul, his own little sensitive artist boy who looks suspiciously like the lead...

Mmm. Just look at those lips. (And I'm sure, in turn, that the sensitive artist boy with the sickly Munch-face and fish-lips is all too willing to play the part, to be envisioned as exactly that; it's the easiest path, and these types are always fundamentally lazy, even at the cost of their own happiness).

More seriously, though, I think the lesson I learned (unintended I'm sure) from this self-congratulatory movie (it is a sign of decadence in a culture when all our art is about "the experience of the artist," when all our writing is about "the experience of the author"...I said once something like, "If you asked a construction worker the meaning of life, he'd probably tell you it's building") was that it reassured me that these unstable souls are not, in the end, in possession of a privileged perspective on the truth of life.

Oh, I have no doubt that the mentally ill, as marginalized figures, often have piercing insights into things that others don't see. A peripheral and broken perspective is sure to bring with it some wisdom that others who have not so suffered cannot reach on their own. A broken machine, like a dead body, can often reveal as much (or more) about the system than the whole one...but only at the price of being broken, only at the cost of being a corpse.

And the great thing about these poor souls is that their wisdom then becomes available to everyone, and yet we don't have to go mad for it. That is the real essence of their delusion: that they have some sort of "special" knowledge. But the truth I realized is that I could watch this movie, understand it entirely, empathize entirely with the characters' insights, but still say, "Yes, but they're crazy. The insight is appreciated, but I now am able to have both their insights, and my own sanity and happiness."

Perhaps that's the consolation we can imagine for these tragic figures, that they are like a sort of mental dissected cadaver. In their own self-destructive psychological disorder, they are sort of like an oracle: they provide information, but it is actually the rational actors of the world (such as, I would hope, myself) who then get to interpret the oracle and so have both the prophecy and the rationality. It's almost like children compared to adults. Children can have a great sense of wonder and imagination that some adults forget. But the best adult both remembers what it's like to be a child but then, also, of course has the added insight of an adult. So there is a fundamental inequality of awareness between the mentally ill and a person of true wisdom: the adult can understand both himself and the child, but the child cannot understand the adult.

Truth is explanatory power, a model is truer that makes better predictions. In this sense rational folk still have the edge over poor sensitive artistic wretches like Edvard Munch with their personality disorders. For these artists, in gaining their insight into the world, must (it is necessary) lack awareness into their own condition. On the other hand, rational men can look at them and understand both the insights they do, can understand their works and the accounts of their experiences, and understand that they constitute a disorder. Our hypothetical pathetic wretch may think he has great insight and imagine himself one of the chosen few who "gets" this film, but I both "get" the film and understand the real reason why the wretch likes it, and can even identify all sorts of obvious resonances with his own life that his own disordered vision is too narrow to see. Like Galileo, the explanatory power of my model is simply...more powerful.

The blind-spot of these artist types is that they may understand many things profoundly, but they do not understand themselves, and indeed spend their whole lives painting the world in their own image, desperately trying to express or find some answer for their own inner disarray, all the while convincing themselves that somehow they are special. What they don't understand (and for this they don't deserve any of the self-romanticization they give themselves as a mutual appreciation society) is that many of the rest of us do, in fact, "get it"...we just understand that "it" is describing the experiences of a broken subjectivity. And while that may reveal something about the human condition, what it mainly reveals is the artist or philosopher's own need for a therapist.

There's no big mystery, it's just simple psychology! The very structure of the narrative of this movie betrays both a knowledge that this is true, but then also an obfuscatory turn to "forget" it, to explain it away, to deny it (in this case, in the form of romanticizing the mental illness, as if that justifies it or gets rid of the fact that ill perspectives are by-definition awareness-limiting or distorting of reality). In that sense, both the movie, and the artists it portrays (and any pathetic fanboys who romanticize either) are in bad faith and in the same class of adolescent mind-sick myopia.

Nevertheless, all that being said, I would say that seeing in this film some sort of confirmation of ones own preferences or justification of ones own subjectivity (however much of a "confirmation bias" such an ill interpretation might be)...is still a step up from getting the same from a talking cat.