Wednesday, November 10, 2010

more theory-minded thoughts less likely to stir up trouble

I have written a temporarily postponed post that I believe I should save for a more propitious moment. This one is less intellectually defensible but less likely to irritate people since it can be dismissed as a piece of whacked-out off-the-cuff fantasy.

Someday there will be time to have arguments but right now there is too much to be done.

Patrick Harpur, in his maddeningly elusive "history of the imagination" The Philosophers' Secret Fire, resurrects the Eastern Orthodox (among others) notion of "spirit" versus "soul" as opposites that nevertheless complement and complete one another: "Not only purity but order, clarity, enlightenment are spirit's watchwords.... but soul is always at its side, obscuring, muddying, and muddling. For soul favors the labyrinthine ways of slow reflection, not rapid thought. Things cannot be made straight because they are intrinsically crooked and ambiguous, cannot be spotlit because they are intrinsically twilit; cannot be wiped away because they are harnessed to a long history whose traces cannot be kicked over." (That errant extended metaphor, like the divagation of this parenthetical aside, illustrates the point I am about to make.)

In reality, each side needs the other to achieve anything like depth or profundity; highbrow spiritual abstraction without the messiness of a recalcitrant materiality becomes dry, detached and generally uninteresting, while lowbrow soul without the ordering principle of style or a sense of doing things well turns quickly into sloppiness. (This is why Lowbrow's meticulous attention to a sense of craft and/or craftiness makes it a two or three generation art movement, while bad art remains merely bad art, and not the Bad Art of the show of that name that changed the art world at the end of the 1970s.)

Or as Immanuel Kant put it, "Concepts without [physical perceptions] are empty; [physical perceptions] without concepts are blind." (That's my combo of the old translation "Concepts without percepts are empty; percepts without concepts are blind," because I don't like the unstylish lack of parallelism in the new translation. Plus I want to distort Kant for my own purposes here.)

Okay, so all this is a commonplace: Nietzsche's Apollonian and Dionysian, all that stuff. It doesn't mean anybody has quite gotten what it all means. "You say I am repeating something I have said before. I shall say it again," as T. S. Eliot wrote in the Four Quartets.

I want to say it again because I want to revisit the idea of the carnivalesque, not that I remember that much of what Mikhail Bakhtin actually had to say about it. Maybe I just want to rethink the notion.

I want to do this because the closing event of the Art of Such n Such's "Inspire! Incite! Ignite!" is coming up on Friday November 12 ( and I have been trying to get my head around the larger implications of all this stuff without complete success ever since the opening night. (The multi-artist, multi-state assemblage of mostly non-sexual transgression that is the wall-sized Peep-O-Rama—a structure constructed by Jeffry and Nanette Johnson to house the dioramas' transgressive weirdness—deserves a critical commentary all its own, independent of the fire sculptures and the many varieties of performers and purveyors of puppetry and possible prevarication.)

Since I not going to get round to writing this rethinking, check out what these folks did in Austin:

And those of my readers within driving distance of Atlanta can always tool over to Eyedrum on Friday night at eight p.m. for the festivities: for calendar and directions for those of you who need either one.

Meanwhile there are other art reviews to be written which also raise the issue of craft and the carnivalesque, at least implicitly. I shall get at it.


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