The cultivation of childhood goes back to Mother Mary’s profound transformation of family culture.
We don’t see such enormous emphasis on the representation and refinement of nursery culture before her magnificent historic feat. The Greco-Romans were into adolescence and adolescent sexuality, but had no appreciation and no use for childhood. Children were treated more or less as slaves.
Christianity begins to invest in their individuation and recognition of their interior lives. This alone may have stimulated the enormous technological advances that were made in the Middle Ages and which led to the industrial revolution that improved the quality of life globally.
For writers, the reference to child subjectivity is among the endless sources of inspiration and productivity. In childhood lie the endless treasures of Mnemosyne that feed their productivity and inspiration.
Picasso was one of those eternally child-like artists who delighted in representing his own playful imagination in nearly every work he produced.
A common depiction of the virtue of caritas, believed to be a gift from the Lord, the allegory of a crowned young woman with an infant at her breast, symbolized nurturing care for others. The fire emanating from her fingers symbolizes divine love and the flaming crown on her head divine rulership. In this allegorical figure, the virtue of love and of just rulership are combined into one. The painting was commissioned by the Florentine body that determined disputes among merchants, a public court of sorts that aspired to incorporate and embody Christian virtue.
On closer inspection, however, the flimsy comparative connections among the disparate parts that compose the allegory, don’t necessarily hold. A mother’s love for her suckling is instinctive, not virtuous. Virtue requires the overcoming of the flesh and it’s desires, whereas there is nothing more basically instinctive and of the flesh than a nursing breast’s attachment to its suckling and vice verse nothing is more instinctive than the child’s attachment to the breast. In fact, psychoanalysis teaches us that the psychic apparatus, the soul, begins to form through its mastery of the separation from the maternal breast. It is doubtful the instructions Moses received at Sinai and the kind of love — Caritas — Christ placed above all other commandments were of the carnal kind depicted in this allegory worshipped by merchants. What kind of love would encourage indulgence of the flesh and withhold the far more valuable experience of support during the phase of withdrawal and separation from the source of nourishment, the rupture in which the mental apparatus is born and “nurtured!” It is clear why those who made a living out of unbridled consumerism would worship this kind of mental regression and support its elevation to the level of virtue.
Shakespeare was among the first to contemplate this peculiar and contradictory condition of dawning modernity and its order of mercantile and banking rulership. The portrayal of Lady Macbeth as a woman who has given suck and is yet capable of plotting a cold-blooded murder is far from spurious. Though the Macbeths hail from rural Scotland, which was yet to join the new world order of bankers and merchants, their very backwardness proved a potent measuring tool of the damage the new order inflicted on old Christian virtue. Lady Macbeth is progressive by all critical accounts, and obviously well versed in the new mercantile symbolic order. She invokes the very image of the virtue of caritas even as she plots the murder of the old Christian King Duncan. Shakespeare was an allegorical thinker. His portraits are seldom simple individuals and always larger figures for the conditions of the times. His plays are prophetic allegorical sketches of the modern and postmodern condition of humanity, which is fettered by the order of banking and mercantilism that replaced the old rulership by the sacred body of a Christian head.
In true Christianity, the crown is worn by the child that was sacrificed in order to redeem the source of all sin, the flesh under the Edeitic curse of its instinctive desires. Only then does the mother receive her crown from Him. The mercantile allegory appears to reverse this process, also called the Second Creation, the “milk of human kindness,” and revert to the order of creation under original sin. When Lady Macbeth fears her husband’s weakness and calls him “too full of the milk of human kindness,” she is in fact referring to true Caritas, the kind that attaches to the Ghost returning from the grave, the Holy Ghost indwelling every Christian mind, which is both the source and true suckling on the breast of true Caritas. In the context of Lady Macbeth’s symbolic universe “the milk of human kindness” is precisely NOT the same as the real milk of the breast she has given, but the kind that causes a remorseful Macbeth to see the ghosts of his victims.
The regression of the modern world order to a time when murder was the end-all of existence and the Holy Ghost had not yet been manifested was effected by mercantilism, something the Bible does prophecy. Marxism is of the mercantile order of things as well, and though it purports to remedy the evils of mercantilism, in fact it cements them by merging the old monarchic power, the bureaucracy of the King, with the new power of the bank. Both are temporary developments that will perish and the true order of Christian Caritas will be restored.
On St. Anthony’s Feast Day I like to think of Flaubert & his ill-fated unfinished novel La Tentation de Saint-Antoine. Have mercy on us poets! As you sin & deposit the stroke of death in our common language, we struggle under the toll it takes on our ever mournful psyches. Love is our grace & salvation… Have mercy on us, your poor beasts of burden… Your nihilism shrinks our souls and our cross grows heavier… Have mercy on us wordsmiths, have grace so we may be relieved…
“Anthony: What Is the Point of All This? The Devil: There Is No Point!”, by Odilon Redon from his “The Temptation of Saint Anthony” series
Before I fell in love with your image, I heard its poetry: music that has found its destination in the labyrinth of mortal coil. You are word, then sound, then music, and only then image… and back again. Lost and found for all eternity. You slumber in me. Every morning I wake your image gently with a kiss💋
Sandro Botticelli, The Birth of Venus from the Sea, 1445
Surfer: I’m a simple man; my needs are very basic: give me the beach, the blue horizon, and a good wave and I am perfectly happy. I imagine natural men were not that different.
Priest: I believe you are simple, but you are mistaken about “natural man.” The very idea of “natural men” is a very complex cultural phenomenon that emerged and was refined over the past two centuries. Moreover your peaceful pasture, your beach and its blue horizon, are guarded by military and political might. Even more essential than military protection is the cultural and linguistic composition of your set of values, the freedom to choose them, and the peace needed to indulge them.
Surfer: But every man of every culture seems to appreciate what I love because it’s simple.
Priest: The concept of “natural man” is one of the most sophisticated and probably the most advanced cultural products. It sits on millennia of cultural development and certainly was not available to primitive men, who were anything but free to enjoy nature. To less civilised rudimentary societies nature is a monstrous and unpredictable enemy, not a bucolic idyll. The ability to perceive a violent wave or strong wind as anything other than a source of destruction and to control the fear it arouses is a highly refined psycho-cultural phenomenon.
Surfer: Then why is it so easy for people from less civilised parts of the world to appreciate and accept this lifestyle?
Priest: Once a product becomes available, it is easily consumed by all. Most consumers don’t ask if the product fits their culture and background. Like commercial images of instant aesthetics, which owe their appeal to an invisible, hidden production process, the numerous editing cuts and manufacturing stitches, superficial lifestyle features are easily copied and imitated, but they don’t change and don’t communicate with the more fundamental layers of the culture that receives them, remaining at best ornamental, primarily disposable, and at worst material for the stronger cultural elimination systems, scatological.
Surfer: Which is why you invoked political and military protection. My lifestyle is very precarious and likely only the most advanced cultural systems are able to protect it.
Surfer: Go on, I am intrigued now.
Priest: we may well be moving toward a political order that will no longer protect it for the same reason you were unable to appreciate the cultural significance of your seemingly simple lifestyle. The political, academic, and, unfortunately, clerical proletariat lacks knowledge of the production history and process of the culture they inherited. Contemporary systems of preserving and transmitting knowledge may well be condemning our common cultural background to scatological rabble. It won’t be long before your lifestyle is condemned and eliminated as insignificant to governing structures, just as romance and heterosexual love were devalued and eliminated from the cultural milieu. Simple bucolic lifestyles like yours have been associated with heterosexual love and romance since the inception of literary culture.
Surfer: Paul and Virginia, Daphnis and Chloe, Arcadia…
Priest: You know your literary history.
Surfer: Yes, I’ve devoured some university knowledge.
Priest: Then you know the sea wasn’t always a pretty site. Even to ancient Europeans it was just a means to an end and a dangerous business involving every thinkable monster and feminine treachery?
Surfer: I’ve heard of it yes, the Odyssey, Dido and Aeneas, and so forth.
Priest: It all began with the cultivation of natural spaces in Christian Europe. Renaissance art was obsessed with the sea. It is not surprising that at the time the British maritime empire was born, when America and the new world were discovered and developed, continental artists turned their eyes to the sea to define the standards of artistic beauty that dominate aesthetics to this day. Alongside the highest achievement in language, the Shakespearean canon of dramatic works, the Renaissance was also the time that established the visual idiom of modern aesthetic sensibilities.
Surfer: I don’t know about history, but just as I speak English I consider the sea my homeland.
Priest: The two are not unrelated. Britain remains the one and only maritime power in the world as we know it. The German Hansa was an equally successful achievement, but it didn’t survive intra-European rivalries and lost to the Swedes. Hence the English language has a great deal to do with the development of the marine aesthetics that dominate your worldview. Since the British isles were the first great maritime power, the oceans assumed a central position in the psycho-historical development of the Western imagination. In Italian art especially the sea became an icon of visual experience. The ancient Greco-Roman myth of the birth of the goddess of love Venus from the sea was revived in the context of global trade that involved predominantly Western European merchant ships. What you enjoy today and take for granted, even natural, isn’t natural at all, but has a long and complicated cultural history.
Surfer: That may be interesting, but doesn’t do much for me.
Priest: You said the sea is your homeland.
Surfer: It is.
Priest: But the sea is no homeland, no land at all!
Surfer: We surfers aren’t really into history and politics. We have no homeland. We are everywhere.
Priest: That’s what I’m trying to explain to you. You have a homeland, the old maritime powers that mapped the world. You inherited their cultural makeup. What you call awesome isn’t simply awesome naturally. It has a cultural history. And yet, you are right, you have no land-based homeland, only maritime culture.
Surfer: That may well be, but I’m not interested.
Priest: You are closer to our Lord than any man living on land.
Surfer: How so?
Priest: Like I said, Italian artists of the Renaissance revived some dead and forgotten Greco-Roman myths to compete with the pagan background of world trade partners, but the centrality of love and its association with world waters in the Western psycho-historical imagination has a different origin. Love is a Christian concept and virtue. Water is the element of baptism: the second birth and first sacrament of Christian worship. The sacrament of baptism represents the renunciation and crucifixion of earthly being. Everything in nature is perishable and mute. The profane is lacking in light. It is mute and dumb, unreflected. It lacks the intelligence of the Holy Ghost. The reborn, or born again, those who receive the baptism also receive the light through their second birth from the water, from the sea in a sense. Your understanding of your element is profane, but the origin of its valuation is definitely not profane.
Surfer: I carry light? You mean “salt of the earth,” that sort of thing?
Priest: Not directly, not unless you’ve been touched by God’s grace! You do know something that land creatures don’t. It’s your advantage. Like our Lord and his followers you have no earthly home to lay your head. The wave is your pillow, the cloud your blanket.
Surfer: All I know is how to ride a wave. I’m no figure of enlightenment. Nor do I wish to be anyone’s guide or model.
Priest: No, but you are a figure of baptism. You have the existential experience necessary to understand the message of our Lord.
Surfer: But I don’t have the message.
Priest: You are fertile ground for it.
Surfer: Base earth! A profane being.
Priest: No, you have a special, sacred relationship to beauty. You can see beauty at its inception. That is rare. It lends you grace and continual rebirth. Before birth and after re-birth, beauty appears in its pure form, the highest form of life.
Surfer: Like the unborn? Or the undead? Zombies, vampires, ghosts… Hollywood creatures?
Priest: You sneer, but yes. Transitional states of being are also eternal states. These two forms of life, the unborn and the undead, come closest to the purity of the medium of creation, the Word.
Surfer: Because the unborn lives in water?
Priest: Water is the perfect embodied metaphor for the Word, yes. The beauty of the unborn is greater than empirical beauty, because it represents a different state of being. The concept of unborn life and the Christian notion of the interior as sole temple of the Lord are very similar. The Virgin Mary receives the Holy Ghost and forms the Saviour in the interior temple of the mind? Word before flesh, spirit before matter. Christian experience takes place exclusively in the feminine realm of love, grace, and beauty. It is the only female religion. It softened and domesticated the sea and the furious wilderness.
Surfer: In love we are conceived, love we are, and to love we return. In its purity love contains the stuff all beauty is made of, primal beauty.
Priest: Like I said, you are a natural born philosopher!
Surfer: You must be joking.
Priest: You dwell in the no-land of the source of life, you know betweenness, you understand the impossibility of representing empirical beauty, because you feel it in inexplicable ways. And your sense of love is superbly refined.
Surfer: Words fail me.
Priest: You feel the impossibility of speaking the whole truth about what you know deeply; often words fail you when you try to tell others why you chase the waves; yet you know exactly what beauty is, you feel love to the core of your fear, and you sense its infinite power. Only love has the power to bring you back.
Surfer: The wave is different every day; how can you explain something that has so many shapes and that changes so often? Sometimes the fear just swallows everything.
Priest: You understand the impossibility of finitude, yet you fear it at every moment. You know every breath could be your last. You thrive on defeating finitude. You overcome your fear and your trembling every day, because you know love like Mary did. You go in only to come back a different person, transformed to the core. You thrive on change.
Surfer: No, I fear the elements, but I don’t fear change. I can’t afford to fear change. I have to stay on top of a constantly shifting ground. I can’t let it get the better or me. Change is inevitable. You have to think quickly on the water and go with whatever comes your way. If you are bent on carrying out the routine you learned yesterday, you are out of luck. You have to think fast and react faster.
Priest: I know, you live at the edge of human instinct. Instead of repressing, you chase and explore it. Instead of practicing learned habits, you adapt to untapped, slumbering human instincts. Instead of mastering natural forces, you seek to unleash them. You run the blade of human experience and redraw the boundaries of instinct, feeling out its limits as you go. In land-based cultures equestrians and falconers were valued very highly for their cultural achievement, because they support the cultivation of instinct. Maritime powers developed new forms of instinct design. Surfing is a key practice that developed in the context of oceanic exploration & conquest.
Surfer: I’m not too deeply learned.
Priest: Why do you think people admire you? They feel your mastery of instinct is superior and that’s a sign of advanced intelligence. Manifest human knowledge is very limited. The sum of our entire scientific know-how makes up less than one percent of material reality and the sum of our encyclopaedic knowledge less than one percent of our referential reality. Unbound the human mind is infinite, versatile and very prolific. One of the main functions of Christian faith is to unlock the mind and to open it to new dimensions of experience, to help it get accustomed to change just as you have to adapt to your constantly changing environment. Your craft is not learned, you learn it anew every day.
Surfer: That’s true. I can’t repeat a single run twice; every day is a new experience. But tell me, if the mind is infinite, why do we find it chained and belittled everywhere we look? Is it to satisfy what infinitely inferior knowledge considers necessity?
Priest: Sadly, yes.
Surfer: And infinity guarantees beauty? Is that why we love the undead, all the losses we couldn’t let go of?
Priest: We don’t understand infinity, or to be correct, simple infinity is all we understand. No given moment understands itself as finite, rather it perceives itself as infinite, but once it is gone and replaced, it can only return to a secondary infinity. It’s no longer simply unaware of its finitude, but it has overcome it. The infinite time of the undead is the origin of sacred love.
Surfer: We are all bound to earth by the same gentle fetters of beauty’s bounty. Otherwise we’d be committing suicide as soon as we are born. Existence is a terrible burden.
Priest: Yes and no. Existence is terrible in most belief systems, including the ancient Greek, but in Christian thought only what is capable of love and of being loved exists. Beauty is being, beauty is truth. Beauty that binds is earthly, but heavenly beauty sets us free.
Surfer: You mean naked beauty! The nakedness of the sea.
Priest: You don’t know it, but your foreknowledge of beauty, the very precondition of your passion, is instinct that has been educated, refined, and painstakingly cultivated through the ages by sacramental culture. There is nothing natural in naked beauty, though as in the Greek myth and in Botticelli’s painting, it is born from the sea. Rebirth before birth. Naked beauty suffers a sea change before it comes into existence.
Warhol, Detail of Botticelli’s Birth of Venus
Earthly beauty is clothed in human knowledge and rank, but the beauty you speak of when you speak of the sea is naked and it is absolutely superior. The Renaissance masters were able to render these truths in their visual idiom, like Titian’s “Sacred and Profane Love,” for example.
Titian, 1613, Sacred and Profane Love
Earthly love is clothed and sits at one end of the sepulchre. Her sacred counterpart is naked and sits at the other end of the tomb. The clothed beauty represents our love of earthly pleasures and our bourn identities, but the sacred one represents the unborn and the undead, pre-birth, re-birth, and after death. Naked beauty represents the soul, which is filled with the spirit of infinity. We can only grasp it in its relation to earthly beauty, the tomb, and the elements surrounding her: earth under her bare feet, water and clouds behind her, incense and air above, and the simmering fire in the censer. Earthly beauty, on the other hand, is surrounded by her attributes: the luxurious shadows of a leafy shelter, her fashionable dress, and the burg on the hill, symbol of prestige, rank, power, and wealth.
Surfer: If they represent different forms of life and temporality, before and after birth and rebirth, why are they sitting on a tomb? Are love and beauty ultimately related to death?
Priest: Yes, love and beauty are never containable in simple temporal structures, because they exceed them; they don’t just exist and don’t simply cease to exist, but rather serve as frames for death. Beauty contains the passage between states of existence and temporalities. One could say it is the very necessity to defeat death that calls them into existence.
Surfer: Is that why this tomb is also a fountain?
Surfer: Because death like the sea is a source of naked love and sacred beauty?
Priest: If by source we understand something that undergoes transformation, yes. The origin is never fixed, never constant. Like water and the sea, a source — the origin — is in constant motion. There is no stable origin because it is the substance of mutability itself, a gate between states of existence. Likewise death is never final. Life and death are not opposed, but rather transitional states. Much like sleep death is a state that must be surmounted, transformed, and completed before life can spring eternal.
Surfer: So it’s not so much that death is the fountain of life, but that beauty and love spring from the triumph over it, transforming the sepulchre into a fountain of living waters?
Surfer: Not only are love and beauty not bound to the laws of time on earth, but their power consists in the triumph over time and over the powers of earthly authority.
Surfer: But profane love appears to be on the side of earthly authority.
Priest: Yes, there is a relationship between the two Beauties that mirrors the relationship between the first and the second Eve, Adam’s companion and the mother of Christ, Mary. Profane beauty is perishable, yet it becomes a source of sacred beauty after death. This is why the allegorical figure for profane love is looking away from the fountain and the figure representing sacred love gazes deep into it. Profane beauty knows no death and no mourning, whereas her sacred counterpart dwells on the remains in the tomb, which also contains the fountain of life. One cannot be represented without the other.
Surfer: Titian was a devout Catholic and painted almost exclusively religious material, didn’t he?
Priest: Yes, the iconography for this execution of a very philosophical visual reflection on love and beauty goes back to the image of the two angels who greeted the Magdalen at each end of the Empty Tomb.
Surfer: The Resurrection?
Schedone, Two Marys at the Tomb 1613
Surfer: It appears this is another transitional phase, like being on the water, like surfing the waves.
Priest: Indeed. Death is a transitional phase and so is most of life. We live out what is conceived during phases of transition. What’s significant here is Jesus’s commandment to the Magdalen: do not touch me before I have gone to the Father (https://designwithin.net/2016/08/12/work-of-marriage/). The period is 40 days, but this number is merely symbolic, not instructive. It refers to the period of mourning, during which time the bereaved practice abstinence from material satisfaction that involves the dead. Much like the time when unborn life forms in the mind and body of the mother, the period of mourning shapes what remains of the dead, the departed, and the distant, which becomes the fountain of life. The arts evolved as practices of mourning. All forms of art from painting and poetry to dance and music are elaborate mourning processes. The taboo on the dead isn’t simply neurotic, as Freud thought, but a very healthy process of sublimation, the psychic fabric of all cultural achievement. (please see https://designwithin.net/2016/04/22/sublimation-immaterial-self-design/)
Surfer: Is this why sacramental culture is organised around mourning, ordering the remains?
Rogier van der Weyden, The Seven Sacraments, 1450
Priest: Absolutely. The Sacraments order the transitional phases of human life from birth, through baptism, confirmation, communion, to marriage, confession, sickness and death. Transitional times are times of mourning, because a certain presence and reality are lost only to be replaced by their memory through the practice of abstinence. The cross is at the center of these transitions as the point of eternal return of the same. Perishable profane beauty does not return to dust and is not lost forever, but is transformed into sacred beauty, which is born in mourning. The resurrection angels Christians traditionally place on tombs and crypts personify sacred beauty, which in Titian’s painting is represented by the naked allegorical figure for Sacred Love. Yet there is nothing morbid about this focus on mourning. To the contrary, it is the source of life’s exuberance, the richness of experience, its infinite affirmation and ephemeral beauty.
Surfer: So ultimately the source of my delight, my homeland, the sea and the wave, is not the natural sea nor the natural body, but the cross, its memory data bank produced by the sacramental culture that has taught me sentience?
Priest: I envy you.
Priest: Because you feel what I know deeply. I spend my days in reading and prayer, but my body is weary, my sleep uneasy, my wine tastes bitter. The profound recognition of what I only read about is given to you. One of your days on the waves is more powerful and more persuasive than a full year of my liturgies.
Surfer: I wouldn’t know it if it weren’t for you. All I have is the nakedness of the sea.
Priest: The contemporary idea and ideal of beauty is body-based. We think it’s natural and spontaneous because we neither see the process of its production nor the history of its valuation, which goes back to our Lord Jesus. Sure the Greeks and Romans had beautiful bodies, but their beauty was purely external and passed on from generation to generation without feeling, bypassing the interior and its crypt. Christ taught us to internalize love. To the Greeks love and beauty are the same, but in Christian thought Beauty is profane, Love is sacred. In Christ beauty can change, develop, and deviate from classical proportions. In Christ beauty receives eternity, the human interior, and the infinity of the sea.
Surfer: The editing cuts and technological stitches that produce contemporary images of beauty have to be seamless and invisible to create the idea of natural, naked beauty. But that’s not what you mean by “naked.” I understand that now.
Priest: Naked beauty is transitional, immaterial. It exists between states of being and inherits the unborn dreams from the past recorded and transmitted in works of art, which is why they are so precious to our faith. Real pieces of art and technology endure beyond the constraints of the times of their performance. They carry the invisible, concealed but powerful creativity of being. Naked or sacred beauty is the origin of all art and of everything that keeps us in love with life on earth. You feel it in the moment when you undo your existence on the water and re-emerge reborn, undead… You love like no other creature on earth; your love is ferocious because it knows its precious transience. It carries the memory of our finest instincts. Heather Brown, Lady Slide, contemporary
Art and politics have never had an easy relationship, because their goals are fundamentally at odds with each other. Political establishments strive to reach and universalize philosophical standards in the domains they govern, despite or even in opposition to Biblical teachings. Art by definition exceeds human and technological standards to enrich existence with new realities and new creation. Since its essence is the act of creation, art survives and attains victory over time and eternity only by fulfilling the living Word of the Creator, who is a triple agent: Father God, Christ the Son on the Cross, and the Holy Ghost dwelling in His children.
Though the separation of Church and State also divorced art from politics and art from the Church, the era of mass technologization complicated the role of politics in art production. It ushered in two totalitarian models of governance, which continue to vie for power over nations and the world. Their power lies entirely in the centralisation of the media outlets controlling human communication: mass print, TV, radio, all mass technological formats. The two totalitarian systems that dominated the politics of the twentieth century, communism and fascism, also dominated the greater part of art production, which is why we have so much bad but expensive art in circulation. Liberal Marxism, which sometimes goes by “communism” sometimes by “national socialism,” commissions art as propaganda tool, subordinating art and science to ideology. This liberal practice is known as politicization of art. Fascism, the conservative form of Marxism, on the other hand, uses existing art forms and standards from the past belatedly to hide the Marxist roots of its autocratic ideology. This practice of de-contextualizing and appropriating past formats and standards is also known as aestheticization of politics.
Technological advances in communication media aided the standardization of both practices of political design, the aestheticization of politics by conservative Marxists and the politicization of art by liberal Marxists. The new media like photography, film, radio, TV, and mass print allowed for an extreme centralisation of human communication, which created the totalitarian formats of twentieth century governments. The most violent and destructive century in human history showcased human inability to come to terms with its newly gained technological powers. Freud optimistically termed modern man a “prosthetic god,” which anticipated the absolutist point of view instrumental science and government still use to legitimize and steer the politics of a globalized power grid.
The personal computer and the internet are changing this reality rapidly by allowing not only for feedback from previously silenced, subaltern media consumers but for their active participation as co-producers. This reset of the technological era is yet to find resonance in politics. The 2016 US election announced a new political era that will inevitably hark back to pre- or early-modern times when the individual mattered and rulers had distinct human personalities. The free American voter, unburdened by totalitarian ideology, entrusted President Trump with the power to coin the new political standard that will reflect our new technological reality. That this development happened in the United States is no accident, as will be elaborated below.
The new technological reality requires a new political model, but since the past century largely blocked artistic development free of political slogans, we are lacking the symbolic means of articulating the new political reality. The likelihood that the US will once again lead by developing a new political idiom is very high as the country just launched an unprecedented political experiment. The “new” idiom cannot but uphold the only existing American ethical standard, which is profoundly influenced by Biblical teachings.
Turn of 21st Century America: The Great Ennui
The tedium and ennui that has plagued art production, collection, and marketing in the US is almost entirely due to the extreme unilateral politicization of American culture over the past two decades. The demand for clear collectivist political messages reduced art and science production to the simple calculus of political shorthand that stunted linguistic development, and with it quality art production. But before we can move on, we will have to clarify the structure of our social bond, which lies in communication. The bedrock of communication was and remains human language.
Rumoured mistress of Baudelaire, dazzling poet who chronicled modernity and its symptoms
Language and Art
The Eleatics, the oldest known philosophical school in Western civilization, insisted that nothing ever changes, because the laws of the physical universe and of human communication, never change. The civilization that gave birth to this belief became extinct and was replaced by a social order based on Biblical teachings. It has unfortunately once again become the standard foundational belief of our contemporary global science. Since the Renaissance Western thinkers have been gradually distancing themselves from the Bible in favour of ancient Greece, once again dooming European civilization to extinction. The truth of the matter is that ancient Greece had no knowledge of the human interior and hence a very limited understanding of language, which is the central concern of the New Testament. The liberation of the Word was announced with the Cross and the Resurrection.
In evolutionary terms, since it is our unfortunate scientific standard, the development of language takes place in the historical work of poetry. Poetry is the non-communicative, non-utilitarian form of writing, a kind of laboratory or incubator of what will become reality. The primary function of poetry is to advance language and to expand the mental capacities of linguistic being. The three modes of linguistic being are love/charity, communication, and art, as Paul writes in Corinthians.
In I Corinthians 13-14 Paul writes about the conditions, task, and purpose of charity, communication, and individual artistic talent. Charity or love is the first condition holding the social bond in place. It is conditioned and formatted by the individual relationship to God, whose love is unconditional, that is, unearned, by grace. Genuine love can neither be legislated, commanded nor calculated. Every individual pursues its course in absolutely unique fashion through his relationship to God. It is only in reference to Love (Latin Caritas) that Paul is able to render the purpose and order of human communication. In other words, in the beginning was Love (Caritas: Charity).
Sigmund Freud discovered a similar truth in his very un-biblical pseudo-scientific exploration of language. He recognized the healing properties of personal language, its life-and-death dispensing power. Freud linked physical symptoms and ailments to erroneous intra-psychic linguistic structures that impede the human capacity for love and every other social and biological function. Though most of his followers unfortunately focused on sex and sexuality, Freud, an atheist Jew who nevertheless and in spite of himself carries the intellectual DNA of Old Testamentary principles, was able to perceive what the New Testament had already revealed to followers of Christ: the power of the word and the power of love. Since Freud was unable to articulate his astounding observations as Biblical standards and principles that had nourished two millennia of Christian civilization, his science was doomed and has even fallen in disrepute today, despite its many brilliant followers.
Gustav Klimt, Beethovenfries (Detail): Poesie
Poetry is the Highest Form of Charity
The mystery Paul calls “speaking in tongues” is the gift of poetry, which, he interprets as the way the individual communicates with God. Paul encourages every Christian to be a poet and bear witness to the mysteries revealed in poetic language. In fact, poetry is the only form of personal communication with God. But this form of communication is not intended for others, for interpersonal and group communication cannot grasp the mysteries of individual poetry, which is the stuff love is made of; it glitters, dazzles, entertains, it stirs poetic and charitable impulses, but does not edify, does not instruct, and cannot console the sick and brokenhearted.
Poetry awakens love or charity, through which, Paul continues, we worship and strive to edify, instruct, and console others. Paul counsels that “prophecy” is a gift greater than poetry, because the latter establishes the individual, but the former edifies the Church. At the same time, Paul subordinates both poetry and prophecy to Love, which is the only commandment or non-commandment in the Christian gospel. Since poetry is the highest form of Love, prophecy too must follow its precedence. Submitting to external formats and philosophical standards, as totalitarian politics demanded, is a direct violation of the only Christian commandment, which is love. Respect and acknowledgement of one’s individual means of communication with God, the singular poetic idiom, is the kernel of communicating philosophical standards. This is why the development of fine literature was only possible in Christian civilisation.
The ability to communicate the Word of God clearly in a language everyone understands to build them up, to help them understand Christ’s teachings, and to sooth mental suffering is what Paul calls “prophecy.” Paul was not familiar with the rich and sophisticated poetic traditions that were developed in Rome and that continued to develop later in history. Though much scholarship has been devoted to his Greek philosophical and cultural background, in the Biblical source itself there is little support for these theories. Paul did not make much use of the ancient traditions. His phenomenological horizon is exclusively Jewish and the substance of his teachings from the epistles concern exclusively revelations from the spirit and the apostolic testaments.
Had Paul made use of Roman literary arts at all, he would have been able to name poetry among the edifying forms of communication, because poetry is the highest expression and only teacher of Love. Moreover, the ancient world did not recognize individual poetry the way we do today, but only poetry that serves the memory of the nation and the politics of the Roman empire. This is why Paul refers to the immaculate communication between God and the individual as “speaking in tongues.”
Poetry does not necessarily make its message fully legible to all, at least not until it is interpreted through the available language of Christ’s teachings. Individual poetry that has reached the stage of prophecy becomes common currency in the Church. I am not referring to physical churches and ethnocentric rituals, but to the immaculate communion of Saints, which transcends all boundaries between human institutions, languages, political bodies, and historical nations, to make up the greater body of the One Church and its multilingual heritage/memory. Historically there is only one church which embodies this principle and this is the Catholic Church, but this is another topic. Though most modern poets are considered secular, after the Middle Ages, all poetry written in the languages of the Bible, that is, all languages that received and were transformed fundamentally by Biblical teachings, represents an interpretation of the Bible.
Schubert’s musical poetic interpretation of literary sources successfully prefigured the bards of the twentieth century whose sovereign patron is the individual consumer. The British roots of American Pop Culture remain palpable in its formatting as royal service addressed to one sovereign subject, which in the unique US American democracy became every consumer/customer. The new totalitarian models of mass communication that were introduced in the US in the mid-90s are deeply dissonant with American cultural standards, which reach back to the quality pursued in Catholic European formats that designed the very foundations of the British Crown and the Church before the dawn of modernity. These formats are still making up a large unseen part of our reality.
Poetry and Prophecy in the Ancient World
In the ancient Greco-Roman system poetry and prophecy have very different meanings and purpose. Poetry is a group memory technique and prophecy concerns a very specific fate: the fulfilment of the law of the Greek city-state. The private world of the individual and the family are considered a threat to the social order and subjected to psychological trial and formatting in the public rituals of tragic spectacle. A comparative analysis of poetry and prophecy in the Biblical and the Greco-Roman contexts affords a panoramic view of the psychological function of the two modes of linguistic being. The poetic function is born in the absolute originality of human experience, which can never be shared with the community in its entirety, but provides the social glue of genuine charity/love and the material for new knowledge as well as the foundation for technological innovation. The prophetic function, on the other hand, is subordinated to the communication systems. The latter are not static. The agent driving their state of constant flux and development is the difference poetry makes in normal language use. The difference becomes the future standard of reality birthed in language.
Art between Poetry and Prophecy
Art is a form of poetry insofar as it uses common visual language to communicate solitary experience, but it is only prophetic when it inspires poetry. The concept is neither as relative nor as undecidable as contemporary art theory, largely based on visual advances of the nineteenth century, proposes. Art’s historical determinants are well documented. Their lifespan contains the limited historical horizon of artistic reference. Art is held within the two bookends of our literary civilization: the Bible and the Archive. New or creative thought has one birthplace, language, and this is doubly true for visual art. Art refers itself to language or it is doomed to extinction. The bureaucratization of language limits the possibilities for visual expansion, yet the formulas and theories of art are contained within the literary archive. In the modern setting, the structure gives birth to the content, but the only the content can reflect on the structure and birth new structures. Failing Biblical reference, modern art is doomed to tautology.
Literary Art Theory: Goethe’s Modern Standard
The literary standards of the past centuries articulated much of the essence of what later became the technical norms of the new media. In other words, the formats of modern literature allowed for the elaboration not of content, but of the future structures of communication. The best documented and most prolific philosopher and chronicler of modernity who left us an invaluable encyclopaedia of the deepest secrets of the modern mind and the modus operandi of its charity or love, J. W. Goethe, defined art as the delicate balance between state of the art technological sophistication, which is historically limited and destined for obsolescence, and the fine arts, which master and exceed it until they reach the status of new technical norm. The state of the art norm is the zenith after which a technique is doomed to decline and become obsolete. This model only applies to modern art and is derived from the modern philosophy of history, which perceives the movement of time, transience itself, as its absolute reality principle.
Goethe articulates the main principle of modern art theory: its absolute dependence on technical being. Of course to him technique was still the technical mastery required to create masterpieces, a function that would be completely colonized by the new media. The postmodern update to Goethe’s formula would position art at the difference or remainder from technical sophistication that not only becomes the next new shiny gadget you had to have for Christmas, as Goethe’s formula correctly predicts, but also enters the canon of imperishable human creation. The Christian harvest of Greco-Roman fine arts and philosophy laid the foundations of this canon and continued to develop it in the historical good works of the Church. This makes the Biblical standards the structural containers of all human works. Other pagan European and a number of non-European legacies were preserved from extinction in the same manner as the Greco-Roman heritage by their re-interpretation and archivization by the works of the Church. The formats of Biblical Christianity are the only structural means of preservation that maintain human works as living applied standards.
The Nation Bearing the Technical Standard
The birth of the USA as a nation at the height of the modern age and concurrently with the most significant technological boom in history determined the peculiar features of its identity. Unlike any other national group, the origin of US American identity is deeply intertwined with the technical media, not with tribal heritage or native traditions. Americans do not identify with land and blood, ethnicity, or heroic epics as European nations for example do. Naturally these narratives exist and persist in some form in American culture as well, but they are not structurally essential to the American identity, and function rather as Baroque ornaments. The latter render entire histories and tragic narratives in miniature allegorical compressions that serve as warnings of the perils of creaturely existence.
Because they are not bound to blood-and-earth epic narratives, Americans were free to embrace the Biblical “epic” as its deepest core and identity, while simultaneously rooting their existence in technical standards already developed by European Christianity. The constitution represents one of these formats, an unsurpassed instructions manual for governing. The United States were the nation chosen to spread the Word through the new technical means and norms. With this responsibility, however, also comes a challenge and a temptation, namely the temptation to use technical superiority and know-how to dominate others and risk their rise against Christianity and/or Jewish heritage.
Contemporary art cannot but refer itself to the American standard, precisely because the history of American identity is also the autobiography of the technical media. The twin birth of the nation and the era of mass technology meant that the US would have to bear the moral responsibility of technological being. In the twentieth century America came to embody the applied norms of the world, which is the only real power it possesses to this day. In pre-modern Europe the technical standard was largely developed and upheld by the Catholic Church, but the Great Schism of 1054 and then the Reformation significantly weakened the Church’s investment in techne and the banner was passed on to the United States, where technology became the birthplace of a nation.
It is not so much US politics and military power that have bestowed on the American nation the scepter of world rulership, but the essence of its being, which is technology. Americans and non-Americans alike are required to master the standard in the applied arts the US continues to push forward, develop, and uphold in order to project its being in the world. America is not an imperial power, for its influence is not in the political realm, but a technological power, which enables as it challenges itself and others to grow with the historical progression of time and its technical standards. Because of its linguistic heritage, the US is also deeply rooted in the formats of British Royal culture, which in a democracy were transferred onto individual members of the American family. Until the 1990s, however, the American group never placed itself above the individual, just as the crown was never subordinate to the group. The import of European totalitarian models of mass communication changed this fundamental American feature of group formation. It is up to the American individuals to reclaim the structures of a British-American linguistic being and allow its cultural forms to continue to develop historically. It is hardly in the interest of any nation or culture of the world to stunt the development of any cultural-linguistic body, and especially one with a rich literary tradition such as English.
The significant weakening of American formats in the last couple of decades manifested itself as extreme politicisation of the country, which invested all of its resources in political power and dreams of world domination while abandoning its own technical standards in favour of setting foreign political benchmarks. The 2016 election clearly decried this development and exposed a deep-seated discontent with the political direction of the country. This is neither surprising nor unnatural, since the nation that was founded by the technological media was suddenly pressed in the service of outdated power-structures hailing from the European continent, namely Marx’s unfortunate misinterpretation of modern industrial relations as heirs of ancient power structures like imperial Roman rule and master-slave rule.
What technology enabled in fact was a complete emancipation from ancient imperial power structures. Marx, following Hegel’s Napoleonic system, unfortunately re-routed industrial relations in the old thought patterns and initiated a very destructive political theatre, which undermined American technology-based democracy, that is, a democracy that is structured less by ideas and more by the means and models of applied communication in the hands of private persons. Since traditionally America was settled by devout Christians escaping religious persecution in Europe, the standard of communication has always been Biblically measured, that is, structured by Biblically prescribed forms of human relations and communication.
If the energy of the 2016 election maintains its strength, and by all signs and indications it is gaining rather than losing momentum, we can expect a rebirth of the American standard in applied art. Political activism will likely wane among true artists, for whom the relationship to the medium is of far greater psychological value than the relationship to power and community, and art will once again seek its poetic and prophetic idiom as it did during the decades when it reflected and re-created technical media output in the works of the Pop Art movement. Pop was caught dead in its tracks by the lesser works of political activism motivated by crudely articulated political identities, not by a profound, authentic, and deeply personal investment in the medium. Art will again offer the human response to technical being from the very depths of its charitable-libidinal, not political-narcissistic identity.
— Warhol The Factory
After the Flirt with Totalitarian Politics
Language is already absorbing the shock of propaganda violence perpetrated by the political class over the past two decades by breaking it down into ironic ready-mades for the pop culture idiom. President Trump, in whom the American nation placed its trust unanimously, will likely be the first American president to influence art profoundly by re-prioritising the protection of the Christian faith and by restoring the Biblical foundations of the nation that bears the standard of technology.
When the Visigothic ruler Receswinth offered a crown, an attribute of governance, as a votive object, now housed in Madrid, he set a precedent in the world that has been unbroken to this day, namely the promise-become-reality that any ruler who protects the Christian faith will be granted enormous grace, influence, and historical staying power. The European monarchies were not successful and did not achieve the highest level of sophistication in culture, science, and technology by the sheer power of their political structure nor by theocratic despotism, but by the sheer grace of God. His protection is guaranteed to any ruler, monarchic or constitutional, who embraces and guards the freedoms afforded by the Christian faith and acts in the best conscience of its teachings. Monarchies that failed to protect the faith like Byzantium, the Balkan medieval kingdoms, and most recently Austria, and fell to non-Christian — mostly Islamic — rulers and dictators, were doomed for varying periods of time to cultural stagnation and near-extinction.
In 2016 the American people voted for Christ and for the preservation of their civilisation. We can expect a rebirth of self-reflexive, intelligent Christian art, personal testaments fashioned after the highest standards of technological design. Left alone and de-politicised, technology — not political ideological, financial, economic, or medical systems — will dictate the new “political” reality in the world. For a man is not created to eat and sleep alone, but thrives and survives through communication, what Paul called “poetry and prophecy.”
The role President Trump is expected to play on the historical political stage is to protect the Christian faith and to liberate the pure standard of applied art from the need to serve earthly political powers, making it available to individual citizens, enterprises, and individual nations. Freeing the Word of the totalitarian formats of the twentieth century and once again allowing art to become prophecy will inevitably unleash the power of poetry to awaken love and charity in the hearts of worldwide humanity. The technical standard, unlike the current narcissistic norms of identity politics dominating the art and media world, will push language to make a qualitative evolutionary leap. Rather than lord it over a diminished and instrumentally reduced humanity, the “prosthetic god” will liberate the English language from the political formats of totalitarian rule, and give private persons and individual nations once again the opportunity to enrich human experience with their unique and beautiful presence.
What Might Prophetic Art Look Like
Here is an example of prophetic art from Europe at the turn of the twentieth century (in the live version the colours are luminous and the forms reverberating, a truly masterful execution of “presence”):
Paul Klee Allegorical Figure
Swiss painter Klee was one of the prophetic artists of high modernity whose keen perception captured profound substrata of the structural linguistic reality of human existence. Reducing an allegorical figure to its self-referential aesthetic category, allegory as such, and truncating it into structural splinters prophesied the fragmentation of the human psyche through technological mass formats in the politically red twentieth century, which not only emptied human experience of its interior, but delivered the human psyche to nearly total control by the centralised organs of communication. In traditional allegories, the figure represents sin and temptation, which, as Christ testifies (Mark 7), are born in the interior and cannot be legislated from without by forbidding certain goods or by prescribing certain behaviours or medical and psychiatric treatments. The truncated psyche is unable to integrate its parts and becomes a conglomerate of fragments produced by the very structure of sin and death. It is in a state of interminable mourning over its lost possibility for integration.
Thankfully technology evolved and the Personal Computer once again allowed the individual to re-integrate the broken pieces of the twentieth century psyche and re-gain independence and prepotence over its design and expression. The political formats, as always, will follow the technological formats, because the latter are not beholden to any single political power, but are independently driven by the Living Word of living communication.
What prophetic works the artists of today and tomorrow might produce is infinitely variable and impossible to predict, but two coordinates are certain: technical standard and prophecy. The new masterpieces, for there is no doubt after the 2016 election artists on both sides of the Atlantic will return to the masterpiece, which preceded and will succeed the political formatting of the twentieth century, will first, measure up to the most sophisticated techniques available in the chosen medium and second, they will engage in prophecy. In other words, technical standard and prophecy are the two constants we can expect from the future of art.
The future, whatever it may hold, is announced by the Holy Spirit that inhabits the interior worlds of poets, visual, verbal, or both, who have opened their minds and hearts to receive Christ’s message, not in an abstract, empty or purely private form, but as a charitable acceptance of the will of the people. As the old saying goes, vox populi vox dei. The task is not only to deliver the future, but also to preserve even the most tainted and most severely repressed technical legacy, like that of the twentieth century, as a living archive that can enjoy continuation and future life. Klee’s shimmering, vibrant figure is a wonderful example of the prophetic masterpiece that changed reality. It endures because it dazzles and prophecies with startling buoyancy despite the deadly weight of its content.
The journal Narrative Paths just published an interview with Prof. Timm about iCulture therapy: http://www.ljfrank.com/archives/922.
About the journal and the interlocutor, L.J. Frank:
The journal offers an experimental platform for literary and artistic curiosity searching for innovative narrative and symbolic paths of engaging the market, technology and especially online blogging.
L.J. Frank’s novels explore the inner world through fictional characters placed in remote worlds and confronted with the inexplicable need to break through external, authoritarian barriers to communication that prevent them not only from expressing what they perceive as real, but from believing in the very existence of their subjective truth.
His artwork has developed an indigenous idiom that likewise communicates the inner experience of color. They represent the many facets of what appears to be the familiar, intimate setting of an unspeakable, breathless relationship to undefined objects through the medium that communicates their presence, color. These are not paintings in the traditional sense, but rather documents of a movement of color that speak the kind of groaning prayers the Bible teaches us to recognise when words fail to articulate our needs.
Another interesting art sale, closing tomorrow, offers a collection of objects that address the same needs: https://www.artnet.com/auctions/all-artworks/
Andy Warhol (American, 1928–1987)
Grace Kelly, 1984
Lot ID: 118477
Pop art is likewise distanced from the traditional media it engages, paint and sculpture, among others. Painting is not exactly painting when it doesn’t serve the function of representing a three-dimensional object on a two-dimensional medium. Rather, as in L.J. Frank’s paintings, it performs a relationship to something that is deeply personal, not necessarily unique, but dwelling between available objects. Pop art showcases internal objects.
Much like color in L.J. Frank’s paintings, the instantly recognisable pop object becomes a vehicle of a journey within. The familiar “icons” serve as railroads, flight trajectories or infrastructure facilitating the transport of the internal object to the market. The exercise of creating, curating, and consuming pop art becomes a living practice of birthing a new indigenous idiom that in the long run serves a more profound articulation of inner reality. Pop art is elaborate prayer. Yet, unless it is contained and included in the living language of Christian experience, it will remain inexplicable to the future, its meaning will perish like that of the Egyptian hieroglyphs.
What some prayers articulate through groans and splashes of color, others spell out in state-of-the-art communication practice. The prayers of humanity are vast, intensely beautiful, varied, and valuable for the languages and idioms of the future.
Today we celebrate the 267th birthday of the most profound modern poet, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. He is perhaps the foundational figure of our explorations of the interior, since his oeuvre opened the door to articulating the interior publicly. His work is the bridge from Shakespeare’s inexhaustible psychological savvy, which he gained through linguistic mastery, to Sigmund Freud’s attempt to systematize inner experience quasi-scientifically and psychologically.
Goethe captured the hearts of prominent women of the upper classes; his poetry was profoundly shaped by voices that would have remained otherwise silent; their rich interiors live on in his work
It could be argued that with Goethe women gained access to the public sphere, not as prostitutes, as the case had been before the modern age, but as co-creators and co-designers of its culture and aesthetics. Goethe’s deep lifelong friendships with women like Katerina von Klettenberg, a pious Christian he commemorated in the chapter “The Beautiful Soul” of his Shakespearean novel “Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship,” to Charlotte von Stein, whom he loved passionately and who taught him the habits and morals of courtly society, to Bettina von Arnim, his stormy relationships actively shaped the basic tenets of modern literary culture. It could be argued that women have exercised no greater influence on the design of the modern world than through Goethe’s enormous and to this day unsurpassed legacy and influence on literature.
I will dedicate a separate post on the legacy of modern German literature, its culture of self-reflection, and aesthetic of interior design, but suffice to say at this point that Goethe was the founding father of the modern literary tradition as a profoundly subjective experience. It is safe to say the service Literary E-Spa provides, its endeavour to educate an engaged literary audience in the arts and design of individual interiors, and quest to shape more sophisticated religious, cultural and consumer practices would be impossible without Goethe. We owe him our grateful hearts today, even as we contemplate the contemporary relevance of his crowning work “Faust.”
Goethe with Charlotte von Stein; garden conversations were a sophisticated courtly social art form of practicing philosophy and theology; Eissler’s faithfully Freudian study of the relationship has offered many clues not only to Goethe and his work, but to the modern subject in general (http://www.kensandersbooks.com/shop/rarebooks/43075.html)
Goethe’s crowning masterpiece is “The Tragedy of Dr. Faust,” a long two-part dramatic poem based on medieval allegorical material, much like Shakespeare’s own plays, and a chillingly prophetic abstraction of the political future of modernity. Goethe worked on this drama his entire life. He began composing it at 18 and finished it in his 70s shortly before his death.
The main character is a suicidal scholar who avails himself of the legal and scientific apparatus of the modern age, allegorically represented by Mephistopheles, to become not only young again and engage in a tragic romance with the pretty, innocent village girl Gretchen, only to abandon her to a cruel fate of single motherhood and eventually prison and death, but also to become the supreme global ruler of all nations and design an infallible totalitarian social system that provides for the basic needs of all constituents. Naturally his plan of solving the world’s problems once and for all fails. Faust is condemned to hell for all eternity. This is the end of the medieval story of the Dr. Faustus. Goethe, however, adds a twist and grants the scholar-statesman grace and mercy by bringing Gretchen’s ghost back to mourn his passing and thus preserve his memory and legacy from the flames of hell. It is the ultimate tale of Christian grace, bringing the loving and forgiving victim back to embrace and save her ravisher.
If we consider the fact that modern German scholarship did develop the global bureaucratic system that keeps trying to seize control of the world, first through National Socialism, then again with the USSR, and now with globalism, is it perhaps time to let Gretchen rest in peace? Could Goethe not have foreseen the destruction of his own legacy if we are unable to let Gretchen rest and monumentalize her modern legacy in order to move on?
The dramatic poem is very rich and superbly executed. You will find the entire repertoire of American pop culture contained in its allegorical tableaus and fantastical visual-poetic language. We will explore it together with the help of Heidegger and Freud’s interpretive tools, in the specific contexts of contemporary art available on the net and in galleries, but feel free to familiarise yourself with the text now, if you haven’t done so already: http://www.iowagrandmaster.org/Books%20in%20pdf/Faust.pdf
classical dichotomy of divine beauty and earthly passion
Pure Classicism: Divine Beauty Conquers Earthly Passion
Jose De Ribeira’s 1637 masterpiece Apollo and Marsyas depicts the commencement of the satyr’s flaying by the classical god of beauty and the arts. The painting illuminates an ancient myth about the power of art as it contemplates self-reflexively the function of art in the re-creation of humanity. The Renaissance re-framing of mythic material alters the meaning of a scene of torture and carnal ritual sacrifice fundamentally. An unbridgeable cultural gap separates it from its organic context.
Our reception of Ribeiro’s work removes it from the origin even further and re-inscribes it in a new aesthetic system. Yet a kernel of the myth remains and it has to do with the immediacy of the passions. Ribeiro’s rendition easily rivals the slasher and splatter images hardening contemporary aesthetics. Its gory depiction of a bloodied piece of Marsyas’s torn skin most recently prompted a Twitter commentary by Sotovoce @MP27: “…si’ come quando Marsia traesti dalla vagina delle member sue.” Translation: as if Marsyas brought forth a vagina from his limbs.
Myths, like fiction and self-reflexive art, reveal structural psychological realities that would otherwise remain buried in the common systems of signification and circulation. It has been widely contested that, like King Oedipus, who committed the crimes of patricide and incest not knowing who his parents are and did cruel penance for his offences, Marsyas too did not deserve the brutal sentence of death by flaying.
Nietzsche discovered the origin of tragedy in satyric revelry
The satyr was famed for the incomparable music he composed on the autos, Athena’s abandoned flute. Apollo, god of beauty and perfection, offended by a rivalry he could neither master nor surpass, engaged the satyr in an unfair contest that would condemn the creature to a cruel death.
The original cultural system of values the tale reflects is the basic aesthetic of classicist naturalism. Nietzsche was a devout follower and went as far as to claim that life is so horrible, it is only worth living as an aesthetic phenomenon (Birth of Tragedy). In classical aesthetics, forms and shapes that copy the paragons of nature dutifully are objectively beautiful and perfect. Everyone must emulate them to be virtuous, existence justified.
The subjective world of the satyric revelers who were famed for indulging their wild passions in drunken orgies in the wilderness was not granted human form. Satyrs are only half-human half-bestial in the mythological system of Greco-Roman antiquity.
Peter Paul Rubens’s study of a satyr
Nietzsche’s grand discovery and most profound insight was the recognition of drunken satyric revelry as the main item on the tragic menu of ritual sacrifice. Nietzsche felt the passions that moved dithyrambic poetry and claimed the origin of the beautiful proportions and mathematical precision of tragedy for Dionysus, the god of all satyrs.
The dualistic aesthetics represented by the Janus head of Apollo and Dionysus dominated all classicist movements from the Renaissance onwards. Their major flaw is the sacrificial mindset they indulge by insisting that the flayed skin of individuality and interiority is simply discarded, relegated to nothingness, sacrificed at the altar of natural beauty and mathematical perfection.
As Hegel recognized in his reading of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” the Christian world differs from its pagan heritage, including the Greco-Roman, in that it recognized the impossibility of nothingness. Killing an enemy does not make it go away. Banquo’s ghost returns to haunt Macbeth’s feasts.
the ecstasy of music transcends the woes of passion
Because its reality principle recognised, valorised, and included condemned passions as such, Christianity developed musical annotation. The only system designed for the preservation of music in turn allowed for the development of polyphonic recitals, then symphonies and eventually opera. By contrast, no Greek music survives. We will never hear the sound of antiquity. Only the voice of nature remains.
Apollonian perfection tortures the subjective dimension into submission to the laws of the created universe. Some strands of biblical thought have developed a parallel belief, the doctrine of creationism which is coextensive with the absolutism of science. Creationism declares all creatures holy, yet leaves no room for human creation.
Current global health systems are likewise dominated by the scientific-creationist doctrine, which views the body as purely natural and creaturely and does not take into account the vast systems of manmade cultural articulation that participate in the establishment of health and wellbeing. Culturally displaced human individuals suffer enormous health damages, currently unacknowledged by the barbaric administration of global migration.
Caravaggio recognised his own passions as reflexive of the ghostly sickness of the satyrs’ aberrant aesthetics; 1593 Self-Portrait as Sick Bacchus
Biblical Twist: Symptom blossoms into Beauty
Christian thought introduced the value of the symptom and the value of difference as co-creator or re-creator of the world. Hence, Christian art not only produced a vast treasury of masterpieces but also preserved the sublime legacy of Greco-Roman antiquity.
Interiority could not develop in the classical world because, like Marsyas, its aberrant outward form was continually flayed by the demands of Apollonian perfection. It never entered the systems of circulation. As the Twitter user cited above correctly diagnosed, the interior is profoundly feminine, because it exists in the spaces between the natural units measuring systemic reality.
Feminine love saves the beast in the folk-tale. Beauty’s love endows the Beast with the magnificent shapes of human proportions. But feminine love itself is of the beastly nature of the passions, the central symptom on display in the classical arts of tragic poetry.
As Heidegger recognised in “The Question of Technology” and “The Origin of the Work of Art” (http://users.clas.ufl.edu/burt/filmphilology/heideggerworkofart.pdf), poetry is the engine of invisible reality, the fundamental tapestry of love. Our little lives are rounded not so much with sleep but with poetry. Caravaggio’s depictions of suffering saints emerging from pitch black darkness put the human body in all its passionate creaturely glory on display for the first time in the Christian history of art. Ribeiro’s reinterpretation of the flaying of Marsyas borrowed the poetic idiom of Caravaggio’s profoundly Christian aesthetics, thus re-inscribing the satyr in the feminine position of the saint who bears his suffering patiently in not so silent complicity with the passion of the Christ. The rest is music.