Warhol Bergman as Nun
Aesthetics and Politics
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.
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.
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.