almost full circle: the psychological evolution of creative radicalism up through the virtual takeover
Pt. 1: Container and Contained
Because to believe the gift of ming cloisonné belonged to you was terror, because you could not love the world enough to deny your desire // To own it. (1)
Re-emerging on the underground music scene after a ten-year hiatus (from drug and genre of choice) to pursue sobriety, lead singer X of band Y explained his disappearance to his fans and counter-culture counterparts in terms of the following metaphor: to paraphrase: “The ideas and feelings that pour into me during the creation process conform to the mental or spiritual shape my life is in, in the same manner that water conforms to the shape of the receiving bowl or vial. I quit the band because I had to be sure that my life is in the shape I want my music.” This metaphorical rendering of the artist is as age-old as it is commonplace: still popular today, it once pervaded whole portions of art history preceding the replacement of The Era in art with a pluralism of forms and an economy of means and ends that defied and continues to defy categorization. It is no accident that aforesaid periods—romanticism, classicism, etc.—consistently emerged from cultures marked by theistic and in any case religiously-weighted ideology, a sort of Platonist solidarity with a touch of mysticism that holds a torch in one hand and a rain stick in the other, keeps its feet on the ground and its head in the clouds– hell-bent on the either/or of the “real” and the “actual,” “good” and “evil,” “beauty” and “ugliness,” “sickness” and “health” (a host of conceptual heavens and hells that the Christian deems irreconcilably opposite, and in so doing contradicts herself– insofar as she resides in (dwells in/on) both.) The conception of the artist as a vessel or container into which flows a divine (ideal external) meaning or truth is thus just a continuation of Western dualism’s identitary rigidity (sick artist vs. healthy artist, tainted art vs. pure art, internal vs. external/artist vs. art)—a conception of identity which I’ll however suggest is itself immanently fluid– representing a limina– a threshold preceding and pointing toward a transition or reform.
While I personally can’t advocate the essentially moral claim that one ought to wait to produce art until one is “art-worthy” (note the biblical undertones in the “thou shalt not” and generically religious allusion to the After in the “until”) due to the maxim’s fetishization of the aesthetic and idealization/concretization of the structure known as art—I can nonetheless sense and sympathize with a primitive dialectic– a movement toward reconciliation with otherness– emerging for the musician through this metaphorical rendering of his relationship to his art, his silence, his fans, his addiction: a semblance of identity relations-in-crisis or civil war—each part initially cancelling out the other until the whole left standing (and “standing” I use loosely) was an addict consumed with his addiction, an addict without otherness, i.e., at rock bottom, an addict through and through. Where before the battle between the other(s)-within was silent, mute, concealed from consciousness, and then perceived reductively by him as problematic when these “inner-others’” real world counterparts got involved, and consciousness could no longer ignore the roles (and their respective communities/audiences) vying for his total attention and total allegiance—where before, in other words, his thinking was in no way dialectical: he now grasps the critically integral nature of at least some of the parts of himself he’d previously repressed or segregated: namely: the sensuous (the body, the physical addiction, materiality, pleasure, health) from the conceptual (ideas, ideals, morals, beliefs, values.) What he’s done here is of course not radical; he has not disestablished nor reconciled himself with his infinite otherness, so much as invert the problem-hierarchy, placing the conceptual above (valuing values over) the sensuous—into which category he failed to include his art. Creative expression he’d elevated entirely from the sensuous to the level of conceptual, indeed– to the level of moralism, religion even– hence why he couldn’t engage in it without committing blasphemy, without tainting it, and why his prodigal’s-son-esque return to art deprives it of its inner-other—the sensuous, in turn devastating his art. What he has done, in short, is transplant the rigid dualism inherent in his concept of self, into his concept of art: his relation to which, fundamentally dualistic, did not get reformed when he recovered, or reinterpreted through his “artist-as-vessel” maxim/metaphor.
But radical or not, this man’s little thought-picture suggests movement—a shifting of the tense cerebral plates before they rupture from a pressure produced elsewhere, further down– or out– or in. In any case: there has been a movement (the expanding and/or liquefying and/or liquidating of some one of his rigid structures– the sensuous, the conceptual, other, self) and it is his detection of this movement that furnishes the next—just as the movement on this surface is indicator of a fish under water, my detection of this indicator compelling me to cast my line there. This movement in his thinking was foreshadowed, moreover, by the cultures and eras of said idealistic/dualistic ideologies and frameworks, whose gradual reformative development he more-or-less embodies on a microcosmic level: A tension is felt in the class structure. A poor, young hippie starts a riot in front of the prison, gets shot. A slightly richer rock star goes in for drugs, comes out with religion. An anorexic (her body: a prison) goes from one abusive relationship to the next. A long-haired 32 year old cries out to god from the intensive care unit at the federally funded hospital. A former rock star becomes a pastor. A former anorexic becomes famous for her memoir. The church is still the church. The law office is still the law office. The publishing house is— the hospital is still full. The prisons are still full of young men who look like the Christ. The hippie is still hospitalized. The memoir is available online. The anorexic is still unavailable to life. The United Nation still meets in person. (And we’re all verging on machine anthropomorphization—) Little movements. The vibration before the rupture, the breath before the line, before the poem. Before the poem disestablishes you—no, before you open yourself to it, before it opens you.
Nietzsche’s statements regarding the inseparability of the health and dexterity of the mind and the body, or in Derridean terminology, the mind and the hand, make similar if more developed inferences as those intuited by musician X: if the body tires out or grows complacent, the mind will join it in grinding to a halt; if the flow or stream of thought for a consciousness stagnates or freezes over, the hand responsible for the inscription of the former’s movements will instantly follow suit. Now, insofar as post-dualist and dialectical frameworks advance, or claim to, this same integrality– of thinker-as-body and as-medium for thoughts: of the health and vivacity of the producer and that of the product: it is no small wonder that more attention isn’t paid within these frameworks to the physical and psychological dimensions of their subjects. If every artwork is a mirror of some culture, mainstream of alternative, local or global—should not the cultural theorist and theorist of art be concerned with the question of the state of the mind, the hands, the eyes, that conceived said work? She’d be naïve– or suicidal– it seems, not to.
THE RADICALIZTION OF GENIUS
There is, in spring, a euphoria that vines around this city like a pink and perfect sadness: you were its only witness.
The artist— stripped of her productions and our judgments thereupon: stands naked before us as a sentient, nourishment-requiring body; a brain churning with dreams and desires, hopes and fears; a set of eyes, ears and a nose like the rest of ours, with but heightened sensitivity to the sights, sounds and smells we all encounter on a day-to-day, moment-to-moment basis. For now, for our purposes and for the dignity of our artist, we throw this picture of the latter under the light of those products we just stripped her of—her contributions to culture, her art. We ask: how, from this body teeming with sensations and perceptions and ideas, do the products which render her “artist”—flow out?: and are immediately met with resistance by our subject, the Dionysian whose nature it is not to know its own ways, let alone to explicitly relay such knowledge to others.
If the artistic genius, in the words of Kant “gives the rule to art” and as such “is a talent for producing that for which no definite rule can be given, and not an aptitude in the way of cleverness for what can be learned according to some rule; and that consequently originality must be its primary property”—we must admit that the explication or genealogy of said genius is impossible precisely because the processes whereby, and minds wherein, it originates are first of all legion, and would need to be enumerated in a survey of each genius who has ever lived, after the fashion of the Christian “book of salvation” or the “total description” of Leibniz. Such an index is of course unattainable, but even if all geniuses could be resurrected and corralled into an enormous gymnasium to account for us their variegated processes of creation, these accounts would be deeply private (pre-linguistic), and hence: untranslatable.
Indeed, if there is anything all genius works of art have in common, it is arguably the very incommunicability of the “laws” which govern their process. Which is to say: what distinguishes the genius’s process of creation from, say, my process of deciding what to make for breakfast, when or whether to get out of bed, etc.—is precisely the complexity and ultimately the irrationality with which it manifests. Complex and irrational: but not unsophisticated; certainly not arbitrary or delusional. The “irrationality” of creative genius might rather be said to have its equal in Foucault’s conception of the imagination as not accurate nor erring, true nor false:
“Imagination is not madness. Even if in the arbitrariness of hallucination, alienation finds the first access to its vain liberty, madness begins only beyond this point, when the mind binds itself to this arbitrariness and becomes a prisoner of this apparent liberty. At the moment he wakes from a dream, a man can indeed observe: “I am imagining that I am dead”: he thereby denounces and measures the arbitrariness of the imagination—he is not mad. He is mad when he posits as an affirmation of his death—when he suggests as having some value as truth—the still-neutral content of the image “I am dead.” And just as the consciousness of truth is not carried away by the mere presence of the image, but in the act which limits, confronts, unifies, or dissociates the image, so madness will begin only in the act which gives the value of truth to the image.”
The non-referential mental images produced in and by the imagination are exempt from the categories of truth and falsehood, and the imagination itself– even the wildest of the wild– incommensurable with the categories of sanity, rationality, health. The drunk man, the man startled awake mid-dream, the artist mid-creation or immediately upon emerging, has not yet given a value to the image at hand—has not deemed it true or false, artful or not, meaningful or nonsensical: but rather simply produced it, unwittingly and without a thought as to what it might mean or not mean. Thus, the thoughts and perceptions that occur when the artist or writer approaches her work for the first time rationally, objectively, in the aftermath of the original event of creation—this “second glance” can be described as the “waking thoughts” of a dreamer, which thoughts in turn can be described as a whirlwind at the border between states of consciousness.
Of the tornadic experience that is waking: just as the tip of the cone touches down, just as the “critical eye” flies open, and begins devouring its surroundings in a fated encounter of the troposphere and ground, the celestial and earthly realms, the clouds in which children “decipher” crude images and the explicit weather that obstructs our vision—the now swirling, now illegible sequence of symbols, reduced to a general mood to be measured in the primitive terms of perspiration, heart rate—sweeps over, wreaking havoc on the hitherto uncensored sensory footage; and just as quickly as the violence manifests—it passes. One takes a breathless survey of one’s body, the room, the yard, and when reoriented: returns to the Old World Order. (Or, contrarily, he embarks on the day as if he carries in his satchel a top-secret document; an undiscovered cure; a firearm. The dreamer’s proverbial travel log comes equipped with lock & key—it is written in a language which he, alone, can translate. Creative geniuses will tend to fixate on their dreams—a fact which lends texture to their creations and conscious experience, and simultaneously lends to the isolation of that consciousness and experience. Left brained individuals, and those who expend minimal energy on the act of introspection, tend to resolve, or abandon, their dreams with greater ease. This distinction foreshadows the discussion of madness and radicalism, madness as the accidental or not-strictly necessary consequence of extreme isolation as experienced by the radical creator. More on this to come)
Of the tornadic experience that is the limina of creation (from the last section of my Groundwork to the Most Beautiful Trainwreck in the World): Her [the creator’s] dreams she’ll let expand and bramble-over like a wild terrain fearless of its own unexplored vestiges and corners, ever expanding, twining back on itself, expanding still, her dreams, the multiple orgasms of unfettered sexuality, the yes, the landscape before maps and before trains, the landscape and thensome, illimitable, her dreams—or That which contains the first seed of destruction: her unquenchable, untameable, unrelinquishable capacity to alter, slice open, and vine out of her stone self— rendering the round world formless, no—re-formable, yes—reformed. This artist’s dream, her as-yet-unexpressed vivid idea, expands, gyrates, kills off, regenerates, masturbates, self-mutilates, coagulates, scabs, scars, expands further, purges, devours, pusses, groans, foams, grows upward, slumps over, grows inward, self-punctures, grows outward, expands further—all of which the inner-eye watches, nay, feels, with complete attention and fathomless wonder: at which border of cognitive states consists the second seed, the seed of creation, expression, verb-alization. From this momentary merging of her Apollonian and Dionysian/ordering and disheveling counterparts, rises the genius’s trace like a mirage, a blueprint, like both-and-neither mirage and/nor blueprint, rippling majestic and timid in turns, depending on the force, the ebb or flow of the will as it moves outward to be fulfilled in, of, and by the world.
All of said drama has so far taken place on the side of the subject (the author of the given life-narrative), for whom there is, as it were, a vision here and a world there. And precisely “there” is where the becoming identity encounters its greatest resistance—not from the materials with which it must actualize its idea, nor from the other—but from its own fixation thereon. The self, to borrow the terminology of Hegel, “desires recognition from the other” to validate its independence, its freedom there from. But the new artist [the radical]….gripped with the greater anxiety, allow it, the greater “evil,” over failing to create by ceasing to create….understands that this endurance paradoxically demands both recognition of its trace by the other, and that it not seek recognition for its trace. For the moment the will turns its gaze toward the other, or even back toward the trace—as Orpheus turned back toward Eurydice—it turns away from the object of its creation, which is always simultaneously “here” and “forward”—a path, a trajectory—thus forfeiting the momentum in which alone the trace is sustained.
Thus the genius orchestrates, half-unconsciously, a systematic layering of images and symbols—which is not yet a “logic system” whose statements and products are rendered true or false by a set of rules and laws of which the logician is conscious. The genius work indeed gives the appearance of systematicity, insofar as the unity, variety, and elegance so characteristic of what we call “good art,” when added to the self-referential nature of artworks, creates this impression for the viewer. What results is a statement, a picture, a semblance of meanings or symbols which somehow appears—occurs—to the viewer as having sprung from necessity, from some alien logic which holds together when translated through one’s senses, despite one’s inability to articulate its language of origin or understand its rules. Says Kant: “It [genius] cannot indicate scientifically how it brings about its product, but rather gives the rule as nature. Hence, where an author owes a product to his genius, he does not himself know how the ideas for it have entered into his head, nor has he it in his power to invent the like at pleasure, or methodically, and communicate the same to others in such precepts as would put them in a position to produce similar products. …” What distinguishes the work of genius (as far as art is concerned) from the proof in logic is the absence of universalizable or even articulable laws or rules. Therefore, what needs concern us most (what we can conceive of at all) is not the nature of the artworks, nor the socially-deemed status of their creator’s condition while creating them (as “genius,” or as “insane”)—but rather the irreducible common denominator of these, which I’ll call their radicality.
THE RADICALIZTION OF MADNESS
And because you insisted on watching it grow from a distance, you could not taste its sugary truth between your lips, nor could you possess it.
Radical creators are those who produce from necessity, whose raison d’etre is creation, and who understand this term, creation, to mean a way of dwelling-being as opposed to a hobby, vocation, or talent. They live to create; they create to live: the chicken is inseparable from the egg, for them– the motivation is not so much a motive as an aviation: a pre-existing formula for flight, for approaching flight, built ambiguously in to the body and mind of the bird, of the artist, before birth. I am not talking here about inborn talent, or using “birth” in the usual sense of beginning of chronological development, of time proper. I am talking about the inception of the radically radical, the flight or fight (fight for flight) impetus that must take possession of the individual before artist-hood as such is conceivable, in the same sense that the embryo must be fundamentally bird before chicken or egg can be conceived of/ conceived.
Radicality is commonly conceived in the negative, as deviance or the negation of accepted structures and norms. And indeed it must be so conceived, insofar as the positive manifestation of genius—individual creators and their respective creations—cannot be categorized or made to conform to a definition due to their immanent originality. But to define her in the negative is to affirm her rigorously positive identity, insofar as it is this identity that prevents the radical from conforming to any name or criteria but her own. Moreover, that the radical couldn’t be less concerned with her identity as a radical is an essential feature of her character. If her life or her work differs greatly from that her contemporaries, it is not this deviance that the radical artist is after; if it or he is praised or despised, these facts are but contingences: the radical artist’s motivation, at its origin, neither anticipates nor desires acceptance or rejection; its sole anticipation and desire is to give expression/flight to the designs that haunt his unconscious, demanding an out. These designs, as mutually-determined by the artist’s method or approach, will indeed continuously change and evolve; they are undeniably subject to influence and as much a product of environment and influence as the artist herself—to whom none of this occurs, and if it did occur, would not matter. The bird in flight is not concerned with why it is in flight.
I am speaking here most broadly of the inner dynamics of the psyche of the radical artist—a title which can and does assume a plethora of forms. This is because style is not the determiner of radicalty, but vice-versa: radicality is the determiner of style, as well as of process or approach. The radical artist thus cannot be identified or categorized according to the formal qualities of his work, and certainly not according to the peculiarities/eccentricities of his process. The latter categorization is strictly impossible, for the same reason that a truly private language, according to Wittgenstein, is impossible. What determines and identifies the radical artist is precisely aesthetic fixation: the dual desire to create being (or “beauty,” if we do away with the conventional connotations of the term), and to create being/beauty as such.
This second condition, the desire to create being/beauty/art as such is comparable to an obsessive-compulsive tendency in that it cannot be explained by or to the artist (save perhaps in neuroscientific terms), in the same way that the obsessive-compulsive cannot explain or have explained (except, again, in terms of physical causation) why she must touch the same spot on the wall thirty times every time she passes by it. The aberration of artistic genius—profound originality, masterful expression—is a byproduct of the radical, i.e. profoundly aesthetically fixated, mind. My usage of “radical artist” is sometimes conflated with “artistic genius;” I distinguish between the terms, because the word “genius” carries the baggage of a historical usage which makes an implicit value judgment on the mind in question, and by proxy on minds like and unlike it. My belief is that such determinations, aesthetic judgments that place a value, be it positive or negative, on a mind or a creation are always subjective, inter/intra-subjective “at best.” I don’t believe that “genius” in the sense of “creator of brilliant/good/timeless/Beautiful artworks” can be located, much less agreed upon, let alone timelessly determined. The evidence we refer to and rely on to make such a determination is precisely the artworks on whose quality we will never all agree. Radicality on the other hand refers to, relies upon, as its evidence an irreducible, indeed, an inexplicable will to create being/beauty as such. The radical’s standard is not enforceable, and is only justifiable to the artist—on account of her inability to self-justify any other model, and to others—to the extent that they are unwittingly moved (intrigued, challenged, silenced) by her work. Radicality thus implies an inability on the part of the creator to control or determine her own standard and approach.
I apply this conception of the radical to the discussion of the impact had on the artist by the virtual revolution: a discussion I distinguish from that of virtuality’s influence on the products of said. As I stated earlier on, this essay is not concerned with aesthetics, proper: of exclusive pertinence here is the artist: without direct consideration to his works. We remove him from these superficialities, all the while recognizing that they are nonetheless essential to his being and self-concept—and in so doing, strip his radicality of all conventional genius: the adornments whose aesthetic value centuries of aesthetic theory, debates and language games have still not been able to quantify. Nor can these debates touch our subject, the radical, for they only further obscure or ignore its source: the inner (and not so inner) life—the hands and the face and the mind behind the face—behind the work. Correspondingly, we remove from our view the obstruction of social function: the “role” or “job” of the artist as conceived by a given social order at a given moment in history: artist as mirror, as spokesperson, as entertainer, as prophet—transient functions or job descriptions which serve no purpose except to help the radical’s contemporaries—the academy, mainstream culture, the majority, society in general—to cognize, contextualize, rationalize, this deviant’s existence. Moreover, such designations/diagnoses tell us little about the inner-world or experience of the radical—no more than what they tell us about anyone who dons them as nametags or labels: namely: what societal expectation they fail to meet, from which mean or average they deviate, according to some arbitrary “professional.” We can learn from diagnostic criteria, experimental research from neuroscience and psychiatry, demographical surveys and so forth– why Plath, a middle-class white woman in her early thirties, a divorced mother of two with a serotonin imbalance, etc. could be considered mentally ill according to the current DSM. What we can’t learn from these conventions is Plath’s subjective/psychosomatically valid reasons for creating art, or for isolating, or for killing herself. We’ve pointed to the radicality shared by all geniuses on my definition as a starting point for understanding the real phenomenon that are artists like Plath, whose experience we hope will tell us something about the artist’s (and thus art’s) situation at this moment in history. We tackle the subject of the artist-as-radical’s psychical experience first, so that we can later cast this picture in the light and context of present-day Society: for only then can we understand the two in terms of mutual-causation, or grasp how they relate dialectically. Having characterized the phenomenon of radicality, then, we move onto a discussion of the implications it has for the psyche of the artist qua social animal.
TWO ILLNESSES, TWO REMEDIES: VIRTUALITY AND THE RADICAL
Exhaustion has nothing to do with it— from time to time the radical artist rather gets metaphorically, not drained—drained into the sea where the thought-streams that unceasingly feed her creative productions and discoveries at long last converge on a point, a lost point—the invisible vanishing point of a dark horizon after sundown, the night of the unconscious-gone-awash in its own despairing vastness: the fog obscuring the starry sky—the tug and pull of its waves for their own sake obscuring the vessel—the body-mind throttling forward by the sheer power of will: the non-mechanics of the psyche’s now dynamic, now centrifugal, now uncategorizable (e)motion as incommensurable with intellect and irreducible to either pragmatic function or ulterior motive (sailing—the way a lost faith sails, limp and broken, but somewhere) the hand’s mute and blind poetic guiding the thrash-metal poet-think of the blacked-out star-form formerly known as reason (but then the show got ridiculous—the lead singer smashing his guitar on the amp: cataract of sparks, like red stars) further and further out, or, if you’d rather, in—to the darkness of the madness of the psyche—the impenetrable because infinite lens of the inner eye, a progression which might also be described as “further down,” the plunge of the gaze into its own depths where it has come to expect to find the treasure, the idea or line or flow, the plunge of the gaze whose desire for the treasure is enough that it is willing, in the words of Shakespeare, to “rake for it”—comb the beach and then the waterline and then the floor of the abyss…
…whereupon our fearless seafarer looks suddenly back (or up, or out) whence she came: the solid ground and clear light of day, the order of pragmatic thinking and communication, the forgetability and forgivability of speech (whisper absence: a cathedral appears around your lips) the spoken word which cuts like a sword and literally in the same breath disappears like a specter: a specter-sword or sword of specters—all the unwritten egos who wield language to their own ends, or indirectly to their own through the medium of collective good or allegiance, to pierce and even kill the Other, and in turn to be so killed, at which threshold (fatal wound) the word-sword dematerializes—not on the hands, but on the lips (on the lost—the purple lips of the beloved)/killer/subject. Such is the freedom of verbal expression: a blessing taken for granted by the writer’s vocal peers. The speaker may wear the dry blood, the battle-stains or scars on her memory; she will for some time recall having mouthed the word “lover,” whispered “betrayer,” screamed “die”—but these like all memories are subject to decay, they are the streaks of hunted-animal blood that wash off from the cliff side with the ebb and flow of emotion over time; more precisely, they are the cliff itself: eroded and crumbling, the spoken word dissolves—never to be heard from again.
As opposed the voice, the pen wields words that resist diffusion and refuse to be forgotten, but instead desire and demand to be eternally repeated and withheld as evidence for the thought they re-present. Its word is characterized by such qualities as pressure, absorbency, self-absorption/infatuation/saturation, the unforgiving, the scarcely forgettable, endurance, violence, intrusion, obtrusiveness, the transfixing, the premeditated, the prestructured, the analyzable, the aloof. The written word, and above all, the act of transcribing, has an isolating effect on both mind and hand, two organs which Derrida thinks indeed co-condition the possibility of thought: the hand busied therein by the physical circumlocutions which represent—are mere symbolic extensions—of the mental circumlocutions simultaneously undergone by the mind. Mind moves: hand follows: hand moves: mind follows. It is a self-referential, self-determining system whose resources are therefore inexhaustible—infinite: even if by this we mean merely repetitive. Compulsion is a form of oppression, a form of violence; the compulsive hand is the hand engaged in—not dualistic—but codependent behavior with a subordinating structure. The hands sole power over this structure, the ego/mind, derives from the latter’s own need: the need to subordinate. For the ego’s awareness of its compulsory need to subordinate the hand (the body, the material counterpart, the other) is the source of mind’s contingency, or dependency on the body, the hand, the other.
Those who are especially possessed of the will to intellectual creation—the radical and prolific writer of every genre or discipline—have particularly dominant, and thus subversive, and thus codependence-prone intellects. Their wrists keep up, get carpal tunnel. Their hands fall in line. Their hands are bound by invisible strings attached (and here we say X is only anthropomorphizing) to another set of hands in the executive office of the mind—making of the mind the puppeteer to the body’s marionette-esque servitude. The hands are thus not free—open—at liberty to scuttle off like snow crabs across the ocean floor to play, to mate, to fall asleep. To the extent that they are a separate, separable entity: they are barnacles, cleaving to the vessel and literally feeling its way through dark and endless after dark and beginningless thought-wave, wave of inspiration, revelation, despair (obsession. Night sweats. Terror.) …or the hands of the rower: chapped, broken, whip-lashed, salted, scarred—heaving the master-monster ever forward on his mythic, so violently mythic, journey. The hands, the barnacle, the slave know nothing beyond this motion, the mechanical gestures they perform to produce and sustain it; they remember what happens if they stop or slow down only so far as a beaten dog “remembers” not to bark. The hands that can’t stop producing for the life of them. The mind, or imagination, which runs away with itself– and begins to properly believe its own constructions as truths and as reality. Returning to Foucault:
Madness is thus beyond imagination, and yet it is profoundly rooted in it; for it consists merely in allowing the image a spontaneous value, total and absolute truth. The act of the reasonable man who, rightly or wrongly, judges an image to be true or false, is beyond this image, transcends and measures it by what is not itself; the act of the madman never oversteps the image presented, but surrenders to its immediacy, and affirms it only insofar is it is enveloped by it: ‘Many persons, not to say all, succumb to madness only from being too concerned about an object.’ Inside the image, confiscated by it, and incapable of escaping from it, madness is nonetheless more than imagination, forming an act of undetermined content.”
The isolated radical who, losing touch with all but her inner storm, cannot manifest the being for which all of her activity and inward movement is but means, now relates to her work as the madman relates to the products of his deranged imagination: as a prison, as deprivation, as negation, as void—and no longer transcends the rational/irrational distinction through any movement Foucault would say qualifies as sane. As we recall, the imagination for Foucault cannot err so long as the subject does not believe in the reality of the image. The radical who isolates internally to the point at which her inner experience, her unmanifested imaginings, become her prime and sole reality, is now eligible to be categorized as irrational, as mad, according to Foucault. Analogous this judgment of the imagination “gone too far” and turned “insane,” De Beauvoir’s charge of “seriousness” is less harsh, but equally devastating:
“If one denies the subjective tension of freedom one is evidently forbidding himself universally to will freedom in an indefinite movement. By virtue of the fact that he’ refuses to recognize that he is freely establishing the value of the end he sets up, the serious man makes himself the slave of that end. He forgets that every goal is at the same time a point of departure and that human freedom is the ultimate, the unique end to which man should destine himself. He accords an absolute meaning to the epithet useful, which, in truth, has no more meaning if taken by itself than the words high, low, right, and left. It simply designates a relationship and requires a complement: useful for this or that. The complement itself must be put into question, and, as we shall see later on, the whole problem of action is then raised.”
Perceiving himself as enslaved, if not insane: the radical responds most often in one of two ways: he thrives on: plunging further and further away from the coastline, the objective/rational perspective or vantage point—
and cuts off his ear
sticks her head in the oven
throws himself in fits of hysteria at a horse
Or: she re-adopts the artist-as-vessel conception of her identity, viewing her deviant lifestyle and personality as strictly negative, sick, morbid, amoral, evil; in short: she awakens mid-plunge, suddenly starkly aware that she is under water, being dragged down, drowning. Reason’s adrenaline kicks in and flings her 180-degrees so that her now-upright body, through the simple pressure of the ocean floor under her feet, transforms into a water-born bottle rocket—throttling at the speed of panic to surface from the thought streams which her memory paints as intoxicatingly rapid but which are in all actuality dangerously, life-threateningly, viscous in relation to the stream of information/stimuli that characterizes 21st century culture, the ether-net, the determiner of the perspective of the radical’s almost-every Other.
In this century, the radically inwardly-tuned perception shares the phenomenological vantage point of a fish caught in the river’s current, travelling at its speed, its speed setting the cadence, the tempo for the fish who in this moment of its personal fish-history is passing under the first-ever high-powered radio signal—in relation to which, the river, the fish, appear not to be moving at all. This time differential thus may in fact work in favor of the Van Gogh’s, Plath’s, and Nietzsche’s of the post-modern world, in that in proportion with technological advancements it becomes increasingly impossible to plunge, to one’s death or at all, into one’s own unconscious whirlpool. Distraction is everywhere. Everywhere noise. Distraction and noise enough to block out the echo of the other(s) within. Hence the “social networks” of the internet serve as much as a safety net for the radical, as they do an avenue for communication. All one need do is reach out, hit the power button, and wait for one’s computer to boot up (think your typical abduction motif meets addiction intervention) and rescue one from one’s neurosis or suicide.
But the question arises as to whether the discussion of dangerous radicality even pertains to our age. Indeed, a plunge into the tornadic locutions of one’s unconscious is arguably necessary to the production of artworks, or at least artworks whose originality achieves afore-cited proportions: but the taking of said plunge, and maintenance of its subjective momentum, grows increasingly difficult to the inverse proportion that it grows difficult, now, to maintain a virtually inactive social existence.
There are benefits: the easy access to others, if virtual others, and all variety of distractions that cyber-culture affords, promises instant relief to the isolated radical. If Van Gogh were of our time, he might have evaded madness by escaping into the distraction-factory of social networking, the chatroom, the online forum. There are consequences: if Van Gogh were of our time, his name would be associated with drastically different works (qualitatively and quantitatively speaking) than it is currently; or, if his work retained the sublime form for which they’re now known—suggesting he maintained the momentous isolation its production required—we wouldn’t recognize them or his name. For to evade cyber-culture is today to revoke one’s social existence, and so for the artist: to revoke the existence of one’s art. “Van Gogh” qua Van Gogh would be off the radar, Van Gogh qua “Van Gogh” off the charts. Under which ideal circumstances we’d say that Van Gogh did not “sell out” and on this account could unfortunately not cash in on the benefits social exposure holds for radicality and deviance, namely: an imposed awareness of one’s extreme alterity as a potential hindrance to one’s social and literal survival.
In other words: the requirement (present or futuristic) that I interact with my virtual Other in order to garner a name/venue/audience for my work (a name/job/social network for myself) will for most Van Gogh types—radicals whose genius inevitably goes hand in hand with some risky dispositional features: the bent for isolation, neurosis, compulsivity, groundlessness—this requirement, where honored, indeed serves as somewhat of a saving grace: the artist who honors the law of virtuality in post-modern culture will feel obliged or responsible to check in periodically, or compelled for motives such as recognition or career security, money or fame (thus voiding his radicality) and are thereby dealt a dose of the human connectivity or external stimulation just distracting enough to temporarily subdue the inner storm, take the edge off. The implications this “saving grace” might have for the quality and/or quantity of a given artist’s work I think are obvious enough; we can all at least agree, value judgments notwithstanding, that there will be implications. (An aside: all divide-breeching attempts—“selfish” or “unselfish,” to say: regardless of the motive—which compromise the integrity of the agent’s intentions or will are instances of self-sacrifice.)
The virtual phenomenon is thus in one sense a readily available remedy for self-induced destruction-by-madness or self-induced social destruction-by-isolation—for radicals (namely artists) so disposed. On the other hand, it is a loaded pistol for the entity Art as previously known, whose fate represents just one instantiation of a universal death sentence for all reflective/psychosomatically charged species of discipline as rendered inevitable by the new Virtual World Order. Of course different artists, and different individuals generally speaking, respond differently to the nonetheless same sources and degrees of influence. There are some who in times of profound mental disturbance: inspiration, revelation, disembodiment (or extreme re-embodiment), states conducive to creative production or processing, resist distraction and diversion with every generative (and degenerative), self-realized and self-destructive, fiber of their being. The true radical, as characterized here, will resist to whatever extent the absence of distraction is necessary to his radicality’s expression—the creation of being/beauty as he conceives of these terms, and the inner momentum required to engage in this creation. The question we must now ask is whether this radical, so unfitted for existence in society—especially virtual society—will survive his own profound isolation. Will he succumb to madness, and an eventuated, self-imposed death? The radical, so far as we can predict, would answer: Sacrifices sometimes must be made. And so the question is deferred to an art-starved society: how do you like your wordsmith? Mute—or minced?
1. italicized quotes from Tessa Rumsey’s “Special Transmissions Outside the Teaching”