The Truman Show & The Death of God

Is it easier to live a Truth no other person holds, or to live a Lie every other has access to? This is the question The Truman Show hopes to answer.

A second question might be: why is Truman willing to give up a life of happiness at the cost of finding the ‘truth’ of Reality and Self?

The Truman Show is a film for/of the future. Twenty years later we ask: How has it held up? Either it is a work of unique prophecy or a sign of our times that we’ve been too involved with invoking, re-showing, re-living the past, we ended with ignoring, and no longer hoping for, the prospect of futurity itself. In other words, it is not so much Truman has been so able to accurately portray the future in which we live today, instead, it had conjured a deep enough desire such that its future, our present, wants nothing more than to live its future, our past. This is a nostalgia for (re)living the hope, expectation, and desire for futurity itself which now so dominantly and ubiquitously pervades contemporary culture today. As a result, what we’ve come to long for is not the progression of future itself, but of the feeling and excitement of futurity whilst remaining in the now. We don’t want to leave this wonderful timeline and as such, time only exists in a self-appointed loop. We are seemingly at the end of History whereby we can only play with its past. it wouldn’t be remiss to say we are living backward

What Truman also prophecizes is the obsession with blurring Reality and Truth with Fiction and Lies. This theme, in varying degrees, haunts most, if not every, production of TV, Film, Music, Contemporary Art, Literary production. This is a symptom, for palpably obvious reasons (as Fredric Jameson, Mark Fisher, and others show), of the conflatory entanglement of Capitalism and Culture — when cultural products prove successful is the prime reason for its imminent re-appropriation with the sole intent of acquiring capital. Money talks, Art shows.

Every cultural artefact thereby becomes enmeshed into a single and unified genre of dystopian science fiction even more so when artefacts become nothing but a deep reflection of our own economy without irony. Its as if Capital produce films just to let us know: ‘This is what we are going to do’. 


If the Authentic Life can be said to exist, it exists only as an idea of privacy — what I am free to do with my own body, my own space, is just an expression of who I really am. Yet in a society so pervaded with filming equipment — phones, computers, CCTV, cameras — with Truman’s life live-streamed 24/7, it’s questionable whether privacy really exists. Every moment of our lives is moderated through mediums of connectivity. But in some twist, can it not be said that Truman lives the only authentic life possible? Because if Authenticity is a mode of being situated outside or away from the flow of artificiality — and if Truman is this flow of artificiality embodied — there no longer exists for him such a boundary between authenticity and artificiality, reality and fraudery. Of course one might suggest he is only living a life of illusion — but to who? Certainly not himself. This means Authenticity is no longer defined by standards set for oneself, it is instead set and bound for you. We decide — the people, the society — the remit of what is or isn’t inauthentic and whether you do or do not live up to the expectations.

This is ultimately the illusion Truman himself falls into. For he had led himself to believe (or had been led to believe as the only alternative) that life outside the fake-city and through the black door lies an opportunity to be a body for which is your own and nobody else’s controlled at the expense of entertainment. And in some sense this is true, the only authentic life he is able to lead is one of suffering. How he chooses to react, deal with, respond to suffering can only be determined by him — he is free to suffer.

It might be facile to suggest authenticity itself is an illusion, but along with free will, it is a necessary illusion one can not live without. The true horror of Truman, it could be said, is every moment after the film ended. Because not only does Truman now have to completely overturn his beliefs and ideas, re-attune himself to the environment, sense things not sensed before, he also has to inevitably confront the consequence of the second wave of illusion – namely reality and the world of appearances itself (Not only this, but wouldn’t he merely exist as a celebrity? The life of a ‘normal guy’ is never an option).

God may be all seeing, all powerful, all knowing… but he ain’t perfect. The clumsiness of God (The Creator) in his set design, actor placement, eventually sparked wariness, insight, curiosity into Truman and seeded the fruits of Knowledge; and by doing so, abolished Truman’s innocence. In the fake-city, he was the only person to live a life that was not under threat of constant pressure to perform for the camera, for God. Presumably, the actors also had to live a total lie without the luxury of illusion.

Its as if the true believer is really only but a complete fabrication by God himself, even if he (the believer) is unaware of his existence. God makes it so that you don’t have to believe.

Believing is fictitious. 


Postscript: 

In 2017, Jim Carrey, after a hiatus from the media, came back to the spotlight only to be ridiculed, gaped at, and reduced to some weird residuum (if Hollywood isn’t weird enough) because he had been openly sharing and displaying his thoughts on his disorientation with Identity. A quick look through some of the more notable films of Jim Carrey and it becomes apparent that an unambiguous play with Identity is something they share — The Mask, Batman Forever, Liar Liar, The Truman Show, Man on the Moon, Grinch, Bruce Almighty, Jim and Andy. 

Jim Carrey is just another tragic symptom of the yet to be explored relation between comedy, depression, and identity.

 

toy story 4 — Love, Loss, Freedom, and Duty

Since it’s early uprising, Disney/Pixar has provided no shortage of producing propaganda, displaying dominant trends of ideology, and contributed to cultivating an immense aesthetic that can be seen through every doorway of consumer society — the signature style of the smooth and curvy, ergonomic, sparse, accommodable, timeless kitsch (and nor has it provided shortage of opportunity for critique, such as this). Yet since Disney is slowly consuming the rest of Hollywood like a parasitic Host feeding off of inadequate debris, it becomes apparent that such inevitable battles of Ideologies revolve around, and are spawned from, distinct organisms.

Toy Story 4 is Disney/Pixar’s latest installment and for me, it is a film I couldn’t not watch. I am forever indebted to watching whatever Toy Story, Monsters Inc, Star Wars, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles film Hollywood throws at me and they know it too. There are more than plenty of other films I can all too happily ignore. But, like putting stakes in the big entertainment business, I have invested too much time, energy, memory, experience, emotion watching them; and to suddenly not feels like one of personal failure. I am trapped in my own homespun personal guilt for which if I do not act upon, my past, my memories, my childhood, my history will be destroyed. This is the machinic entanglement of guilt, emotional dependence, well-being managerialism Hollywood is so perfect at capturing. It provides itself as a sick Oedipal situation to which it can only be myself, Father to my own Childhood Fantasy, that stands in the way between me and my ultimate desire for satisfaction and nourishment, the nostalgic Hollywood engine. I am committed in these instances to a temporal continuity.

TS4 shows us what its predecessors couldn’t: that death – literally and metaphorically –  is not the final solution. When confronted with abandonment, witness to being outgrown for the need or want of interaction and play, stricken with feelings of Loss, and for which no other carer is adequate, what else is there to do for the Toys if not to either let oneself be killed, fight for one’s own right as worthwhile and necessary, or commit suicide. It is obviously the attempt to infiltrate ones way back into the home and heart of Andy that preoccupies the third and fourth film. And it is Woody in particular — that hysterical, short-sighted, obsessive, naive optimist — who continuously prompts and pushes the direction of the collective forward into the clean grip of Andy’s hand; because it is Woody, ultimately, who is Andys Toy, and he will do anything he can, even if to drag and string along his comrades, to get himself back to providing the fulfillment of Andy. There’s no doubt Woody is the leader for which all actions subsequently revolve around his own wellbeing, even if Woody puts himself out of way for the greater good of keeping the O’ Mighty One happy. Andy is God.

TS4 is unambiguously a film about the fear of loss and freedom and the consequences thereof of taking it. The Toys were never free to begin with, we know that, except that they embody the neoliberal subjectivity whereby freedom comes not from being set loose from the constraints of some organized Body, but of being able to work itself. To be Free, ultimately, is to be free to Work — they are puppets, after all, and life as a puppet without being played is no life at all. Because it is Work which both defines who we are whilst allowing us to express who we think we are (only if done through the confines of working life). Yet TS4 flips this on its head. As the final conclusion of the film shows, to be Free is to be a Lost Toy, cut loose from the manipulating fingertips of children pulling their strings and playing them like puppets. Yet it is only a particular freedom that becomes available only after the Toys have adequately fulfilled their duty. The Duty of sustaining unconditional happiness to their Master, even if not through the interaction of their own. And it is for Woody, sided with Bo, who is no longer looked for, no longer needed, not only by his Master-Child but his fellow comrades as well.

In tandem with Woody’s self-effacing libidinal waning over Bo Peep and his failure to leave work, his duty, and run off with her, is Buzz who re-finds himself as the agent he’s always destined to be: a leader. There comes a point of belated self-reflectivity Buzz who begins to ponder the ‘inner voice’ of his engineered body. Curious about his voicebox, his inner voice, Buzz follows blindingly the pre-determined catchphrase-directions in hopes of discovering how or what it is he has to do. In some sense, this is true freedom no other Toy has yet been granted. After disastrous attempts in following his own word, the self-imposed word of the Master-Other for which he must obey and dutifully provide for, he thinks for himself. More importantly, he thinks alongside his pre-determined voice. This is a self-consciousness no other minor toy has yet to possess, for they are still condemned to follow blindly either their voicebox or the doxa of dutiful obedience.  And this is the true quality of a leader for which cannot be reduced either to being Lost or held hostage under the authoritative commands of the Other, but Free to act, to think, to revolutionize within the system.

The final scene and dialogue of TS4 show Woody and Bo Peep left alone, lost, in a carnival as the rest of the toys are in the back-window driving away. ‘Now Woody is a lost toy’. Replied with faux-profundity, ‘oh, he’s not lost’. This, we are meant to believe, is that in place of the loss of Andy and Bonnie, physically and emotionally, he has re-found love in Bo Peep. But what does this say about freedom? Woody is no longer obligated to make Andy, Bonnie, or Whoever happy but Bo. Yet Freedom for Lost Toys comes at the cost of enduring a life of escape, fight and flight survivalism against the dirty mitts of children who will come to eventually tear them apart.

Love is the only thing that can set you free. Perhaps Freedom is only the struggle itself to be free — an antagonism between your desire and theirs.

 

 

Radical Unto Death – Tracey Emin’s ‘My Bed’ #1

A dinner party question: What is the most radical work of Art – Literature, Film, Music, Architecture, et al?

Firstly, what is meant by Radical? In short, it is when a thing is most unlike itself whilst still recognizably remaining so. In other words, it is the farthest point into its own non-existence leaving whatever trace or quality we know it by to recognize it as such. I also take radical to be the most stomach-churning, mind-numbing, thought-provoking, viscerally-unbearable thing. And to anyone’s ears, this might sound like a description of something deeply disturbing, horrifying and gory; an analogy to the spectacle of what has come to be known as horror, but that would be a mistake. Because whereas the attempt of Horror is to provide you with an Image that is irrevocably Outside, so unlike anything we’ve come to know as to be the epitome of conjuring a deep nausea. On the contrary, I say, the Radical is the thing that is most known to us, most familiar, most gone unseen, most me. And in this respect, it sits closer to feelings of uncanniness. A zombie is an artificial re-creation of what we think is the Human, yet the Un-Human is something deeply connected to what it means to be Human yet still not quite. The line between Non-Human and Un-Human is a concavity where the uncanny lives. It is to recognize oneself in the image of the other as something deeply not-me, yet-me. As we will come to see, the radical reveals a horrifically curious Truth only known to ourselves.

And so, what is it to Art? Well, Radical Art is not to radicalize and make uncanny those objects with which we consider to be Art, but Art itself. The question here is: What is an Artwork most farthest away from being Art yet still considered as such? 

There are certainly some worthwhile contenders (the irony here being that its even a thing to contend with..). But whats important about an era for which we have yet to escape its grasp – beginning with Duchamp’s infamous transgression of 1917, taken seriously into 60’s conceptualism and finally flourishing and stiffening with the 90’s YBA – is in what can be salvaged from a wreckage that is PoMo-Injected Contemporary Art if and, more importantly, for when we are to dispose of it? Nothing, really. But it would be unfair to suggest the wreckage itself, with all its mangled corpses of nostalgically re-engineered movements, isn’t worth something in and of itself as a study of Radicalism – in very much the same way we might study any kind of radicalism, be it surgically/cosmetic, commodities/design, and even violence/beliefs, without endorsing them.

Artworks under the siege of the Museum (which will be my focus) produced between the 60’s and now are examples of Art at its most radical, remaining for us today an apocalyptic vision, a glimpse towards the End of Art. And therein lies objects at their most radical, provocative, and severe always with a slyly smile as it voyeurs upon itself a steady decline towards its own non-existence.

Among others, John Cage’s 4’33, Piero Manzoni’s Artists’ Shit, Jeff Koons’ Made in Heaven, Damien Hirsts’ A Thousand Years are all notable works that come close to what I mean by Radical Art, yet the topic of this discussion focuses on Tracey Emin’s My Bed. 

What Emin has managed to achieve – not necessarily through creation but of the acceptance of an audience – is to provide something so unutterably common to the masses, so commonplace as to be invisible, so familiar as to be un-worthwhile, so close to our own lives and reeking with banality that it provokes within its spectators, its witness to tragedy and its voyeurism to somatic and fantastic traces of the erotic left over in the sheets, a ferocious jittery sensation of rage and anguish as to acknowledge that something so close to our hearts, our laurels, had even the slightest of capacity of making for itself wealth, fame, status. The content of the Bed is not important, any object would have worked; but the point is, to speculate, art for the non-artist is a thing out of their potential, out of their grips, reserved only for those who dine on themselves as artist; beyond themselves. Yet Emin has broken this social contract to what it means to be both Artist and Art. She presents, first of all, that art-making is not exclusive only to the ‘Artist’, and nor is Art reducible to its capacity for conceptual/technical brilliance. Emins’ bed shows that to be is to be Art – by presenting to an audience an object that lay in their back pockets, under their bottoms, under their noses. It also reveals another fact to art-making which is exclusive to the Artist; to be an Artist is to be a manager and provider of the spectacle and the Event. And it is the Event which gives rise to the status of the artobject. The creative potential thus revealed to the audience first and foremost resolves in a self-reflexive disgust – a guilty imagination. Its transgressive in the pure sense because it turns its problem back unto yourself – you become the thing that is most disgustful as the reflection of the image that provides it for you. You’ve let yourself down. One is felt to be a unfettered disappointment once realizing one has gotten up from their own bed, bright and early, traveled wide and far, paying for food/drink/transport/tickets, to climb all the way upstairs into a little room to just be presented with yet another bed except more valuable. We are presented here with the ontological inequality of beings.

Emin’s Bed is Art most unlike Art. Yet what difference is there from Duchamp’s Fountain?Because his piss-pot has nestled its way into history as to never be able to crawl its way out. It has been stylised by historicity and sentimentality. 

And it is because of Style that the Artists I mentioned above do not travel into the radical concavity that Emin does. I will now briefly explain why:

What could be more radical than John Cage providing Nothing itself? It does seem to be the very brink of self-destruction, except it doesn’t conform to the kind of radicality i’m referring to. Instead, in place of silence, it presents a background of transcendent mystical appearance’s which does exactly the opposite to the kind of radicalism I hoped to explore. Instead, like Emin’s Bed, of providing you not only with the image of your own discomfort, your own mortality, revealing an uncanny truth both eerie and enticing, Cage’s 4’33 takes you away from yourself into a kind of secular prayer. Ironically, one would think the moment of self-redemption would be in the form of empty silence disguised as prayer but the artifice of the Artistic Event capitalizes and stylises the process. It becomes then an in-genuine search for an experience of an experience.

Stylisation also looms over Koons with his large scale hyper-realist glam photographs with him and his then former pornstar ex-wife participating in display’s of overt sexual acts. Pure, unadulterated performances/spectacles of vivid organs coupled together. No eroticism, just bodies. Pornography. His images are alluring, fetishistic fantasies with which we wish to be drawn too without the repercussions of guiltily toying with taboo.

And if Koons’ Made in Heaven plays with the moralism of its audience, Hirst makes immoralism his work. It may be the first time any critic would decide its not a work of Art based on Ethics. And of course, Hirst is all style, all glam, pop, punk, rock & roll, death, mortality, religion/atheism/belief, ambiguity, vulgarity, excessiveness, factory production. Hes Capital C Capitalism. Now, A Thousand Years in my opinion is a good work. The only good work by Hirst, maybe. Yet the merit, in this context, to his other sculptures is in their re-imagination of the readymade. They’re are what I would call Post-Industrial readymades. Highly polished, factory made constructions that only have quality or artistic value solely in their looking good – in their ability to be made using lots of money. Hirst presents to us just what money can do!

To conclude, the uncanniness of art is not in its content (what artists provide us), but in its form (of where we are comfortable in saying this does not conform to art). Yet the content of Emin’s Bed is its Form. Its a direct disruption of what it means to be art that shakes our very understanding of it and our inability to make and organise meaning from. Unlike the stylisation of other works, it doesn’t take you anywhere, to some Other experience, other reality. It presents you with itself as your reality. Not only does it exist in the same symbolic universe as you, but that it has ontological priority over you – for why else would your bed be at home and this one here? The uncanniness to this radicalism of art reveals a Truth within ourselves, a truth for which we yet do not know. Maybe a temporary symbolic emptiness or angst. Much like the feeling of Anxiety as presented by Heidegger resulting from not feeling at home in the world. The anxiety we will as response to radical things is in the not feeling at home with oneself. Again, its presents the uneasiness as belonging to you! The object of the uncanny is thus only a mirror to the unfamiliarity of ourselves, the un-recognisability of our bodies, the mystery of the riddles to our deep unconscious.

If Art is escapism then Emin doesn’t set you free.

 

What is Creativity, and, can AI be an Artist? – A response to Sean Dorrance Kelly

Scrolling through the #Aesthetic tag on Twitter I came across a link to an article titled: “A Philosopher argues that an AI can’t be an Artist”. Despite the click-baity “you’ll never know what this guy has to say…” title, I nonetheless still clicked because I disagree so vehemently to the idea that its not possible for AI to be an Artist – and more specifically, whether it can be creative. And sure enough, that is what this post will be about; dissecting and picking apart what creativity really means and unearth why people such as Sean The Philosopher here seems so deeply intent on preserving that quality solely for humans.

The preliminary point i’d like to make is despite my acceptance to the idea that AI can be artistically creative doesn’t mean I think AI, up until this point, has been so or is. For example, the article opens with the iconic image of recent years a ‘painting’ created by AI algorithms called GANs by Parisian art collective Obvious and despite its flatness characteristic of all digital art trying to emulate or replace painting, it looks like a baby-faced Rembrandt self portrait created from a free-to-play App painted with a chubby finger. Yet quite obviously, my sympathy lies in not what it has created but the remarkable creative act itself.

What’s most suspect about the article is the self-quoting epigram used to begin with: “Creativity is, and always will be, a human endeavor”. Throughout history there have been attempts at distinguishing the uniqueness of humanity to the rest of the universe and this strikes me as adding to that tradition. It smells of a passive-aggressive quasi-essentialist argument for what it means to be Human by resorting to the only thing that’s left for us, Art and Creativity. And any attempt via either Animal Psychology or growing developments in Artificial Intelligence will only further diminish the image of what little uniqueness we have. In fact, Sean further reveals his insecurities in the very last paragraph; for, “If we allow ourselves to slip in this way, to treat machine “creativity” as a substitute for our own, then machines will indeed come to seem incomprehensibly superior to us”.

Sean is right when he says, “creativity is not just novelty. A toddler at the piano may hit a novel sequence of notes, but they’re not, in any meaningful sense, creative”. This illustrates an important distinction lying within creativity – the doing and being. Although not creative, the Toddler hitting the piano is nonetheless acting creatively – participating in creativity.

Sean then continues to say creativity is historically bounded; a community has to accept them as creative. And goes on to consider the ways in which AI will be predicted to eventually surpass human intelligence in becoming “super intelligent”. And as a result, ponders whether just like intelligence, will creativity – a subset of intelligence – too succumb to be over taken by something super creative? His answer is an unabashed “no”. But why? Because “to say otherwise is to misunderstand both what human beings are and what our creativity amounts to”. Can it be fair to say that, for Sean, to be human is to be creative?

He even goes on to nearly undermine his own argument by saying that it is “entirely possible” that AI will be so vastly superior anything they do we will “naturally” attribute creativity to them. Yet for Sean, it would be the denigration of the human for bestowing the machine with creative gifts rather than acknowledging the gift itself. And further, despite being “entirely possible”, it is “mythmaking” to speculate about the wondrous things AI can do without a “reasoned argument” for technological possibilities. It seems then fruitless at this point to continue, since we both agree that AI at this moment in time has yet to showcase the capacity of the kind of creativity we would like it to have. But let’s move forward.

Sean starts to provide the meat to his boney sketch of creativity. Regarding Music, why someone like Schoenburg is a creative innovator is not only because he is able to provide a new vision of the future through his work but because the people/audience are accurately able to decipher this work into a correct interpretation. And yet, if the creative genius of Schoenberg was only posthumously and communally discovered, how and in what ways are we to verify the ‘correct’ interpretation? A retroactively constituted creativity. The point here for Sean is simply that there can be no correct interpretation to the vision of the Artist if the Artist has no vision to begin with because it is not human. Reasons being that any greatness or creativity that may come from AI is more to do with the fact that it has been appropriately programmed to do so – following some “arbitrary act or algorithmic formalism” – and can thus not accept it as vision.

Although I agree in some respect, my contention lays more with how he defines creativity as an act of vision in the first place that must be acknowledged in the manner in which it was conceived. And to my mind, this is an argument for a kind of intentionalism. That creativity lies in what the creator visioned or intended and must be known as such. The simplest argument I have against it is that even the Artist themself does not know the kind of vision or intention which their work fully assumes. Or put differently, the work and experience the Artist does produces always exceeds and goes beyond the boundary of what they originally intended. Thus it is really only arbitrary and one additional factors among many others that we include the artist into the way we go about interpreting the work. Intentionalism ignores the external aspect to the creative production itself. An Artist don’t intend the way politics are going, the way economy is playing out, or what society is like, and the attitude they have therein; they can only peripherally respond to it and be apart of it. She would have to assume God-like status to be able to accurately manipulate every aspect of Life to properly achieve a vision that can be responded to. As Graham Harman likes to say, the reality of the object withdraws from the surface level qualities which are perceptively attached to it.

Its unsurprising Sean would use Music or Mathematics as examples because they are easiest to defend authorial intent. Composition in a way becomes a word used to justify any act of creativity which curates and exhibits a body of work that is created out of an assemblage that have yet to been previously curated. To Compose music or a painting or a film etc is to creatively and inventively curate/organise/ pre-existing materials in a way that has not been achieved previously. Creativity begins with innovation. It might be even to suggest that the Director of a film is not the sole individual to provide a creative work. There are hundreds of people collaborating that goes into producing a film. Yet would it be crazy or mad to suggest even that even non-human objects too also contribute to the effectiveness of the creative vision that cannot so easily be attributable to the individual alone even if that person is a pianist? That, despite one’s efforts in tuning the piano to one’s liking, adjusting the stall, and playing with a nice open room, there are additional elements that are actively contributing, affecting, how the music is playing out and how it is responded to. Just in the way the weather and humidity can change causing one’s fingers to swell, even stiffen, and so too the keys. Or if it is played at night which allows Phantom of the Opera to be that much more influencing emotionally. Or even in the very attitude of the Pianist herself which is affected by the daily rituals of life. The point to this speculative understanding of what it means to be a creative experience is that there is whole ensemble of affects that contribute to the way any work plays out, a whole vocabulary to the artwork that isn’t solely attributed to the inner grammar of the artist, which means Intentions has to contend with this very issue.

There are some other examples concerning games, physics and science (Harvard professor alert!) that I don’t feel necessary to attack because I don’t think they are worthwhile. But please, see for yourself. See Link Below: 

I could suggest that the difference in conceiving Creativity is a difference of degree and not kind. Because I agree wholeheartedly with Sean when he says, “Creativity is one of the defining features of human beings. The capacity for genuine creativity, the kind of creativity that updates our understanding of the nature of being, that changes the way we understand what it is to be beautiful or good or true—that capacity is at the ground of what it is to be human”. To reiterate, creativity is what introduces us into conceptualizing and interacting with what is the seemingly familiar as the unfamiliar. And what is more familiar to us than ourselves? Creativity is to take ourselves outside ourselves. To enjoy an experience we don’t think we own. And yet nothing to me suggests AI or anything else for that matter is not capable of producing those kinds of moments.

Creativity for me thus far is defined in three terms: What it is, what it does, what it achieves.

What it is is innovation. What it does is self-other. What it achieves is elicit an experience that transcends the situation of the interaction between subject and object and is marked by an ability to create a metaphoric experience that cannot be reduced to down to either the object or concept alone – a kind of dualism. The Artwork is a self-othering object because it takes you away from the literal evaluation of it yet cannot be fully eradicated – nor be replaced without changing – by the metaphor which it summons. It is neither object (self) or Metaphor (other), but the necessary connection that combines and constitutes the experience via their connection. Artworks don’t exist in vacuums. They are objects situated in context-specific environments that influence the effect of the work. We must contend with the environment an artobject is produced in and the way it is produced in order to fully assess its being.

Thinking Horrifically – A Vicintiy of Horror

I think a lot about the horror and suffering of the world, from the minute and seemingly trivial up to the all-encompassing and overwhelming — Ironically, it is these two extreme ends on a horrific spectrum that we lost sight of. Too small and we disregard or deem unworthy of being named, such as losing money, falling over, being disorganized etc, and/or too big it seems to resist such a naming, such as ecological disaster, political corruption and even ones own future self.

The inability of seeing beyond the confines of a median horror out towards the periphery of inner-self and outer-life, what we name as the experience of horror is that which is – quite literally – in our very local vicinity. For instance, depending on the severity of injury, we regard and thus associate horror based on the length of impact such an injury has on our future – how it effects our ‘local’ foreseeable future self. Or, of being aware that we are in close proximity to an outside horror, such as stabbings in your neighborhood. Its because of this short-sightedness that it becomes much easier to care for these local horrors than it is too acknowledge the wars going on in other countries, the emotional anguish of strangers, or the deep depths of our own unconscious or future self (e.g. smoking), and finally the ultimate horror that will effect us all yet seemingly none is ecological disaster – a too grand of an object to contemplate and thus tackle oneself let alone think about. It is a horror so sever that it breaches its own boundaries as to escape the very confines of what can be considered terrifying.

This post is not about the horrors of the world as such, as it it a personal rumination on horror and how effectual thinking horrifically – that is, in terms of locality (a nearness to us) – can be useful to the way we think and act in this world.

                                                                   —————

As it ought to be known, I don’t like watching horror films – or more precisely, I find myself too easily susceptible to strong feelings of sadness that I reduce all interactions to a minimum. Nor any material that readily presents itself as content uneasy for light viewing, such as the bite-sized clips naughtily posted on obscure facebook pages of tortured animals, fights between people on derelict streets, the terror that overcomes individual people of all ages – unnecessary cries of toddlers, children that are lost, adults losing someone, old people forgetting themselves. Or even watching the news or listening to talks told reminiscently. Of course, one should be aware of the suffering of others as to allow empathy to flow, responsibility to take place and care to take action, but it is not that by not watching these videos I attempt at avoiding responsibility and effectively caring for, and building relations with, others. Or relieve myself of guilty feelings by pretending pain doesn’t exist.

But it is paradoxically the nature of ‘enjoying’ the experience of emerging oneself in horror (films) that nonetheless separates us from a real horror to contemplate and explore and tackle or live alongside. It is this that one invariably loses sight of the horror that occurs on base level, at the very local vicinity of day to day, moment to moment micro-actions that have and leads to much larger longer lasting consequences. All Horror is necessarily mediated through imagery, with each level of mediation taking us further and further away, presenting to us a caricature, ideal, type, etc., from the acute reality of horror one needs to not only take seriously, but acknowledge such contemplation of micro-horrors are worth taking seriously.

Horror is reassuring.

It seems oxymoronic to suggest Horror is reassuring. That it soothes us and prevents our being fearful and scared, consoling and comforting us by presenting to us that which we might most be fearful of, mediated through imagery/films/books. But it is this mediation between us and them, our reality and that reality, that allows us to displace or defer the sense of fear we feel by transcribing it onto a different reality altogether. Wherein, I’m not so much as scared by my reality as I am of/for yours. Intuitively, this suggests an added ability to empathize for a reality that is not our own, except, as I have previously remarked, this mediation or displacement between realities is what disables us from every actually coming to experience the true horrors of an others experience. Reassurance to me means a reminder of what goes on and what could go on. It sets itself up as a marker of terror, providing us the tools of how to feel and when to feel it like a big brother – a quality with which does exist in art.

Again, Horror is always necessarily mediated through some artistic medium with the goal of allowing us to acknowledge such horrors in the first place. But my problem is that mediation is only the beginning, what it misses or what we miss from it is the awareness to an all too true unseen reality of horror that are dismissed, ignored or unworthy based on the grandiloquence of Horror that mediates in the first place. Not unseen as undocumented, but as not worthy of contemplation because it doesn’t conform to any horrific ideals. If Ecological disaster strays from our imagination as not being horrific, so too does the other end of the spectrum with the minute and seemingly trivial. The exaggeration of Horror paradoxically only cares for the means in-between the two ends of sizable horrors – from the tiny to large. This is to say that another task for Horror is to really bring it back down to reality, not focus solely on the very local and instantaneous horror that can happen but on the slow undulating unsexy horror that exists from mental health to climate change.

Like the somewhat insincere attempt to console your friend in hopes of getting them to stop crying, avoiding any attempt to help aid the cause of the crying, conversely then, horror is the insincere friend who wants for you to only cry about the subjects for which horror deems worthy of contemplation – the very local, effectual, visceral and instantaneous and filmic horrors –  and not the real underlying and overlying problems.

When speaking about believing, Zizek says it is not that we don’t believe – when for instance we say “I Love You” –  but that we believe too much. It is not that we don’t believe in the effects of saying I Love You that by not saying it we save ourselves any quarrel or burden, but that we in fact believe in it too much and its effect. We believe “absolutely” in the power of saying I Love You that any deferral or reluctance for saying it doesn’t risk the inevitable consequences of doing so. And this in some ways, about belief, is what we do when we watch a horror film. One could happily say to themselves that what they are watching is not real, that the character of the killer clown or groups of zombies isn’t real, that we don’t believe in it. But, apart from believing literally in killer clowns and zombies themselves, we do in fact believe in a kind of ‘monster’, and as such, because we believe so absolutely, we reside ourselves to the comfort of watching these imagined monsters mediated via the screens of horror films as to not allow ourselves to fall trap to the real horror of our everyday reality. That horror films literally provide a caricature and face of a monster so deeply disturbing we would rather go outright an watch it, full frontal, – as if we were the ones in control of our own sense of being scared – than be witness and victim to the true horror of the faceless unknown that is not meditated but totally real and in out periphery. We believe in monsters so much as to only confront them on our own terms. We create superstitions as to make them real, relieving us of the doubt that we don’t know of what were most afraid of (Yet how can we be scared of that which we don’t know we’re scared of?). One could say that, calling mummy or daddy to check underneath your bed at night, or in the wardrobe, is a way of creating for yourself an image of an monster that which you don’t actually believe, but nonetheless are still frightened of as the feeling of being scared itself has to be pointed towards something, yet this something is always in a local vicinity to one self as that which is outside our own reality can be quite easily dismissed. The parent then is the mediation between the child and the monster, for when the parent says nothing’s there, you continue to sleep, except that its not being there is really not a sign of its non-existence as it is more a process of being scared through something (the parent), of confronting through someone, as to alleviate any feeling of personal horror. As such, a mediation could thereby be seen as a horror for a spectacle that is quite literally dispelled and dissipated, dispersing and diluting the power of horror over its audience. Paradoxically, the child wants to prove its own disbelief. By getting its parent to check what the child already doesn’t believe is to confirm for the child that which doesn’t already exist. A parent confirms what you already believe, or not believe in. The imagination of the monster is as real for the child (and us) as the monster itself.

“Scratching an itch that doesn’t exist – thereby bringing it into existence” — Timothy Morton

This is what I mean when I say horror is reassuring. Media provides us with the scapegoat of reality, as we all know, as to not confront it head on. Of course one could say that horror films are a horrific reality in and of themselves, but I’m not talking about the realness of horror as I am the impracticality of mediation when it comes to understanding what is also really horrific – our everyday micro-actions and those action within – and contributing to – a far larger macro-horror (world). Taking cue from art, we need to quite literally give a face to the faceless monster, bring about its existence in out imagination as to dispel with it. In order to overcome the fear of Horror, what one needs is to think Horrifically.

Unkempt Thoughts — Act I

Among the few truly influential and attitude re-adjusting books I have read, E.M. Cioran’s debut book On The Heights of Despair (Written at age 22, similar to when I first read it, aged 21), is certainly one of them. Although this will not be a review of either the book or pessimism in general (although those will certainly feature in the near future), but a presentation of the unedited and unrefined notes scribbled within the empty spaces of the pages themselves – and in this way, such a direct and affected response to Cioran via these notes can be taken as a review itself, except not from any post-reading contemplation but an immediate reaction. Also, not every note made was necessarily a direct response to the text but an additional rumination using the framework with which I had indulged myself in through reading such a text.

On a side note, because I made just as many notes as did Cioran, I will make a few separate publications that allow for ease of digestion.


 

— I would hate to think that I am perfect, and I would hate to think that others think I think I am perfect. But one of the troubles of Being is that we cannot know whether we are deluding ourselves or not. Like anybody, I’d like to think I’m not deluding myself, and if I’m not, well then I’m pretty damn perfect if you ask me.

— If there are possible absolutes, we are not one of them. On the spectrum of all possible worlds, all possible words have failed because of us. We are the cause for their failure, a median on the spectrum of non-existence. How can you know of anything if living a reality is just being alive in a world of either absolute good or evil? Such lack of conscious comes from a world where you don’t know you are not. We are the truly pessimistic world because we know of a world wholly better than ours. A world that doesn’t exist and yet can never cease from existing. An impossible. The paradox of the worst kind of suffering is not enduring absolute suffering, the worst pain imaginable, even though such suffering goes unthought as one can never know of anything except pain, and thus wouldn’t know themselves to be enduring anything but living a life as if nothing else was known, but, with the taste of hope this world offers coupled with the sense of freedom from pain.

— This world can be described as: Life is the emergency we must attend to

— What’s more cynical, sadomasochistic, and ironic than trying to make something out of living knowing such horror?

— All great and revelatory ideas bore from pessimism, its the only reason we do anything. Become radical, think differently. Because we ignore, refuse and rebel against ourselves and the normalities of the world. We fight it. But all radicality must soon come to an end with its own inevitable collapse. Until we regress once more, indefinitely! A fight for and against ourselves!

— Life lived is nothing but contradictions, opposites and partial truths all places along a spectrum.

— How torturous sleep would be if the night went over in a blink of an eye. The nights begun and I’m already beginning to feel the pain.

— Teaching others to suffer is on the spectrum of criminality, facing its counterpart of the gruesomely and torturous knife crime. Slicing at the flesh exposing the innards. Stabbing, one would hope, by anything other than the rusty blunt blade, skewering, fragmenting, severing each vital organ as it jaggedly punctures through. Wishful thinking is hoping the blade remains inside us as to not reveal our absence and bleed out. To allow the metal in becoming as much apart of us as any other ligament. Its metal re-filling the gaps where flesh and self once was, only to be removed again leaving us with a physical and emotional hole, an emptiness in need of filling with life. We cannot teach suffering no more than we can teach knife crime or even suicide. We can only teach through the history of suffering, through acts and recitals. Suffering need not be voluntarily shown as it makes itself present anyhow. Teaching through noticing, of oneself and others. Connecting, relieving selfishness.

— What does one do when given money in a way that one is unable to return, to then find themselves having to return or owe the so called gift-giver in investments of small sums that may or may not equal the gift received for the rest of ones life? Just as how we are gifted life, forced into a world. Life gives us life. But unlike that of anything outside ourselves, we cannot return it. We cannot return to a place once before, to be unborn from life. And to commit suicide is to do oneself an injustice! We are thus left to live in obedience, sometimes slavery, towards nature giving back that which we never asked for.

— Should we care for the unborn? The wish to be born to fight the necessity of ever having been born! If only one had the option to be born. I don’t wish to be unborn, just unborn.

— I suffer at a greater intensity so others don’t have to. I feel it too, but it is the greatest of selfish acts one can do in feeling comfort knowing other feel a similar, if not greater, or even worse, suffering than our own. But it is through such selflessness that we wish to recreate what we have experienced, to also suffer at a greater intensity so others don’t have to, and so on, indefinitely, until we are all equally suffering and suffering equally.

— The sad paradox of anti-natalism is the hope that those who make the decision not to reproduce, ought to be the ones reproducing.

— Just look how disgustingly privileged I am, alive but never living. How selfish must I be to have a life others die for. I am deeply sorry. I feel a duty of care to live and carry on living the lives of all those who lost theirs.

— I don’t feel this emptiness so many others proclaim to feel. It is, in fact, a feeling of fullness, of nothing else being able to quench my first, feed my hunger, pleasure my appetites. It is in this sense that I am in fact empty of all things to come, all that I long for. I don’t wish to dine on what I once had, provisional pleasures. I have a fetish for the new, not the long lasting beauty but the ephemeral pretty. A longing to be able to turn myself back on and repeat a pleasure, forever fresh. For otherwise they turn sour and bitter, regurgitated.

— There’s no surprise the sad man sleeps throughout the day becoming restless at night. Sleep being a quasi-suicide, a trial of death. We cannot know of such people because they are no where to be seen. Away during the day in a dreamt up coma.