It is perhaps a forgotten or simply ignored fact that Pentecost, the birthday of the Church, Bride of Christ, concludes a period of mourning.
The Church and the Second Creation
The yearly celebration of Pentecost marks the cyclical return of the moment the Holy Ghost descends on the apostles and all present and subsequent followers, enabling them to participate in the will and intelligence of the Lord. This is an unprecedented event in the history of the faith and in the history of humanity. It initiated a new order of things and marked the beginning of the Second Creation, which succeeds the first creation, which fell and became subject to sin and the law. The Second Creation is free of sin and the law. The story of its genesis sheds light on the nature of its substance and the substance of its freedom from sin.
Manifest History and Spirituality
To grasp the superb design of the Biblical testament and its truth, we would be best served by abandoning the idea of mere spirituality, soothsaying stories, and superstitious religious ideas in general. Spirituality and religion that don’t interpret the material dimension, nor organize it into a system of values, historic teleology, and manifest reality aren’t worth anything. A system of thought and values like the Judeo-Christian one, which has commanded world events over the last five thousand years isn’t mere superstition, religion, or spirituality. But to grasp the power of its bequest we would do best to position it in its proper temporal, material and historical context as the text itself defines it.
The event of the descent of the spirit takes place exactly forty nine days after the Crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ.
Mourning between Tradition and Modern Psychoanalysis
Traditionally, the official mourning period is forty days. Though the number may be symbolic, it’s also concrete in the division of the year into weeks, which still follows the first seven days of creation, and the annual recurrence of the mourning period after Easter. Prescriptive rules about mourning aren’t there to force neurotics to perform compulsive acts of whaling and mourning, as Freud and anthropologists disdainfully believed, but an important period for the group and individual mental organization.
During the period of mourning the mind engages in highly productive activities and generates an imago that from then on will dominate the libidinal life of the mourner and organize their perceived environment. When he was more reflective and less anthropologically fashionable, Freud observed a period of latency (non-manifest psychological processes that are imperceptible but active at a fundamental level) in the wake of mourning that endows the entire world of the mourner with meaning.
In the individual development of the human psyche, this is the period following the dissolution of the Oedipal complex, when the child accepts the limits to its sexuality, namely that the mother and father are debarred from providing sexual satisfaction and with them, all representatives of the child’s own sex. This is a crucial moment in the development of the psyche, since without it the child will fail to build necessary emotional attachments to its environment and may be threatened with mental degenerative diseases. The child must learn that sexual satisfaction is only provided by an appropriate object in the future and for the specific purpose of producing an heir like him or herself.
The latency period, as Freud called it, is a mourning period that lasts several years until the psyche matures enough to seek love objects outside the family. It begins when the child accomplishes the important task of giving up instinctual satisfaction and renouncing its parents as sexual objects. This important period builds the entire world of the individual and imbues it with its specific and quite unique characteristics. Every future experience the individual gains will refer to this bedrock of reality. The future partner will likely be chosen from a similar symbolic order.
What is true for the individual is also true for large epochal and historical formations and phenomena. Pentecost likewise commemorates the establishment and continual growth of both the Church and every individual follower of Christ as a creature of mourning. The Second Creation is ex maeroris.
The prototype for this event in the Old Testament is the conception, birth, and life of Samuel the King-Maker. Anna conceives literally “ex multitudine doloris et maeroris” foreshadowing the Immaculate Conception, the Second Creation, and the birth of the Church from a period of mourning. As with the founding event of Pentecost, the task of mourning is the conception of a King-maker, a divinely appointed figure endowed with power over the kings and kingdoms of the earth. Taken at its most abstract, this power echoes the centrality of the world the child psyche erects in the wake of its renunciation of instinctive satisfaction. From the founding event of Pentecost onward, historical, political, and discursive power will derive from the act of renouncing the body of the first creation and its instinctual needs, symbolically represented by the Crucifix.
Pentecost: The Mourning Period from the Crucifixion to the Birth of the Church
The Holy Ghost is likewise a product of the work of mourning. Christ’s apostles and followers, especially the women, his mother, her sister, and the Magdalen, engage in the work of mourning during the forty days following the Crucifixion. It is important that His nearest accomplish the work, not strangers. Love, libidinal currency, is the driving psychological reality principle of the process. Mourning is intimately related to love. It is the response of the bereaved psyche to the death of the beloved.
Death is not simply absence. Those who depart on long journeys are also absent, but not dead. Death takes away our agency in the world, which is why the mourning period is so important for the preservation and curation of human remains. The mourning period isn’t just a superstitious ritual, but a crucial period during which the dead continue to have agency through the bereaved they have left behind.
Christ appears numerous times to the eleven disciples and to the women teaching them how to build the Church as they begin to draw multitudes. It is in the wake of his death that they learn to act on His behalf and to enact His will and legacy in the world. We participate in their work as we return to this crucial period cyclically.
The nine days from His Ascension to Pentecost add the week of Second Creation ex maeroris, which is two days longer than the 7 days of original creation because they include the day of Crucifixion and of the Black Sabbath, during which Christ descends to the realm of the dead to gather the heathens and non-believers He grants salvation.
On Sunday of Easter, when Christ appears to the Magdalen and commands her not to touch him, the work of the Second Creation, from mourning, that is, in the physical absence of His agency, begins. A lack of agency characterizes the Second Creation. It is a work of love and mourning. This is why I claim that Christianity is the religion of mourning. Mortification of the flesh is an essential part of the faith.
Consciousness of Mediated Reality
This is a decisive moment in the history of human civilization, when we begin to explore mediated reality, the materially manifest dimension of distance and the distant and their ability to remain active in the world through our love. Now we understand why the commandment to love is the highest. It participates in the work of mourning that enacts the will of the absent dead. It is different from following the commandments of the dead in that it is voluntary work of love, charity. The work of mourning is essential in the arts of mastering spacial and temporal distance.
Mourning isn’t merely a response to the death of someone near, but can be triggered by any kind of loss that takes away agency. It is a process of mortification of the immediate needs of the flesh, a separation from the instinctual body that repeats the original process of the birth and formation of the psyche in the course of individuation that takes place between mother, father & child.
Renunciation and the Bride
The renunciation of instinct is a kind of sublation of it and not a direct repression. When we renounce instinct, we don’t abandon it, but to the contrary, we bring it to work on behalf of the higher bidding of immaterial love in mourning.
The Church is called the Bride of Christ. The concluding event of the Bible and the final book of Revelations is the Marriage of the Lamb to the Body of the Church, the body of saints united in holy communion. The divine comedy reenacts the events of a human lifetime. As man is made in the image of God, so is his biography a copy of the divine biography or history as we know it.
Human development requires the child abandon and renounce its instinctual bond to the parents and replace it with the marriage partner. The frame for the choice of marriage partner, which guarantees a healthy covenantal relationship, is constructed during the latency period of mourning. That is the period we are in historically in relation to the Church and Her Bridegroom. History itself is a period of latency that culminates in the union and covenantal relationship to the Lord.
We are never more alone nor more vulnerable than at the times we mourn the loss of someone we love. The devastating event that deprives us of the beloved forces a thorough reorganization of our reality principle and re-creates the world we inhabit from within.
Love is intimately related to our ability to mourn. The first object of love we encounter is formed in the process of mourning: it is what remains after we have mastered our separation from the maternal body. The infant doesn’t know that the mother will return and thus experiences the first deprivation of her presence as a traumatic event. The moment mother leaves the room and leaves the infant alone is baby’s first encounter with death. The fact that she returns cannot erase the horror the infant has experienced in the meantime and this terrifying memory becomes part of the maternal imago, the first and to some degree the only love object in a given lifetime. Every subsequent love object as well as the placeholder of self-love will assume the basic contours of the maternal imago, which becomes the solid kernel of our individuality. The basic task of every culture is to master, frame, and cultivate the consequences of this originating event, which can also be called the birth of the human psyche or mind.
The kernel of our being is paradoxical. It receives its form in the process of mourning, the series of emotional and ideitic responses to the absence of the maternal body. Yet, because its dissolution would entail the disintegration of the entire psychic apparatus, the kernel remains intact and absolutely unmournable for the duration of our lifetime. It contains the memory bank of the mechanisms that form the basic structure of the individual mind. We develop these mechanisms to cope with the trauma of separation from the maternal body. They become the central framework for our being in the world, the structure of our attachment to the world, and are absolutely unique to every individual.
How does this paradoxical kernel maintain its integrity while initiating countless periods of processing loss? The introduction of the third person, the father, in the mother-child dyad initiates a secondary mourning process. The father represents the law and the conscious symbolic order of language. The foundational structure of secondary mourning is rooted in the individual patterns of the primary mechanisms, which remain unchangeable throughout our lifetime, but it also produces our conscience and consciousness, giving the mourning period its distinct meaning in the cultural symbolic order we inhabit. Thus, though the basic kernel of being remains rooted in the culture of the mother, the law of the father allows us to share it with others, to give it expression, and to design it according to the laws of the cultural-symbolic system we inhabit.
Love and Death
The love and death instincts are intimately intertwined from the very beginnings of our mental life. Our ability to attach to objects and environments outside the self is predicated on our mastery of the stage of mourning. This truth was buried in the mythology of ancient classical cultures, both Greek and Jewish.
The myth of Cupid and Psyche, recorded most thoroughly in Apuleius’s “Golden Ass,” anticipates the psychology of mourning in the formation of libidinal attachments. Psyche, the breath of life, soul or kernel of being, awakens to love and life by the very agent of her demise, Cupid, who was sent by his mother to destroy Psyche. Instead of piercing her with his arrow, however, Cupid scratches himself and falls in love with her. Their union is symbolic of the birth of the soul in a union that is dangerously close to death.
Likewise, the virgin Mary experiences the visitation of angel Gabriel as the moment her soul awakens to eternal life as she conceives the Redeemer.
The Gospel revealed a dimension of human experience that is perhaps the most exalted and sublime, but also the most surreal and unreachable with the instrumental means of collecting, organizing and recording human knowledge. Since the expulsion from Eden we have known that human science is bound to the created world, but the human mind, heart, and soul will forever exceed and precede mere knowledge of the created world, no matter how powerful, technologically magical, and complex it may be.
Whether an individual confesses Christ or not, the principles intimated in the Gospel inadvertently and inevitably organize the unconscious layers of their psychic life. Faith is a means of making intra-psychic reality conscious and a practice of cultivating awareness of inner experience, while also developing empathy for the same in others. Knowing one’s inner world and allowing the same in others is essential to developing authentic morality predicated on the sanctuary of private life. Just as the external world has its measures and laws, so inner reality has its own commandments and imperatives, as Leibniz, encouraged in his faith by his patronesses, the royal dames of the House of Hanover, also wrote:
“Quid mirum, noscere mundum si possunt homines; quibus est et mundus in ipsis, exemplumque Dei quisque est sub imagine parva.” (Theodicy) “No wonder humans possess knowledge of the universe, being made in God’s own image and carrying the world inside them” (my translation)
Long before psychoanalysis, the Gospel stipulated the absolute primacy of love as the ultimate reality principle. Christ left us the final commandment, to love the next one as oneself, which fulfills the law and the remaining commandments. Likewise, when Freud linked the unconscious layers of psychic reality to libidinal reality, he essentially subordinated the law of existence to love. If love is not to be reduced to hypocrisy, empty protocol, and Pavlov-dog style external behavioural norm, however, it must reflect psychic reality. The problem with the Freudian approach is that since Christian love remained repressed and off limits to him, he could only conceive of the currency of libido as unsublimated raw sexuality, which remains under the sign of the moral law, not under the sign of love.
The final commandment teaches us to transform animalistic sexual attraction, the currency of love in creaturely existence, into the cultural ligatures that bind us to one another, neighbour to neighbour. In fact, many have testified to the vastly increased power of love when it is banned from carnal, animalistic consummation. The most basic concept in psychoanalysis and the vehicle of the therapeutic process is the libidinal attachment to the therapist known as transferential love, which to remain therapeutic and to enable the internalization of genuine morality and the re-organization of a failed and diseased moral stage of development must remain unconsummated. Sublimated sexuality, that is sexuality that is debarred from its carnal aim, is the very substance of what we call passion. The catechism preaches mortification of the flesh and its raw sexuality not to punish, as Freud imagined the moral law, but to enable greater love and greater passions, to scale the heights of the human spirit.
As an atheist working in the medical sciences at the time when materialism and calculus were crowned absolute rulers of being, time, and reality, displaced from the Christian context in which they originated, and forcibly re-routed in the failed materialist systems of a dead civilization, the classical Greco-Roman world, Freud was both aware and ashamed of the Biblical dimension of his inner experience. He called it the unconscious and dedicated his life to the singular obsession of articulating his deeply repressed knowledge of Christ through a dubious pseudo-science of natural sexuality. As a Jew he had an intimation of the teachings of the Gospel and understood instinctively the primacy of love. He struggled to explain it as libidinal energy in order to conform to the rigid, absolute materialism of the scientificity of his era. The pseudo-scientific and pseudo-psychological term libido served to disguise the Christian love he was obliged to repress and deny within himself.
Perhaps Freud was nowhere more blatantly and alarmingly confronted with the reality of the world he held imprisoned within than in the encounter with his most famous patient, the Christian aristocrat and exile Sergei P, whose case provided the most prolific psychoanalytic material in existence. Not only did some of the most productive concepts originate in Wolfman’s vocabulary, but post-Freudian analysis dedicated entire libraries to his case. Because it is as much Sergei’s case as it is Freud’s own, it continues to occupy psychoanalytic minds and attract new disciples to this day. In Sergei Freud recognized the repressions carried out not by some imaginary child raised in the Christian faith, but his own mental prison in the world of scientific publishing.
The next post will address some the most fruitful concept that emerged in the context of Wolfman’s analysis, THE PRIMAL SCENE, in its relation to visual expression, fashion and the visual arts.
The Wolf Man on Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/selfmadehero/wolfman
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.
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?