Tag Archives: being

The Being of Art

The same small handfull of themes and questions drive pretty much the entire content of this blog. While I have noticed that my ramblings on the theory of art have been by far the least read, I also have come to feel that they are the ones in which I have been able to express my concerns most clearly. Of course, even there, I find myself in a strangely paradoxical position.

I push the idea of art as pure surface. The apprehension of art is the apprehension of the self in apprehension. It’s a reflex. Art is art only in as much as it is perceived, and even then perceived in a fashion which allows it to function as art. Art sits, then, in a fundamental nothingness. Art is empty. The set of objects which we determine as art is necessarily an empty set. For art itself is not an object, but an object in perception perceived in such a way that art is brought into being.

I have spoken before that objects in perception are undoubtably objects. Having only our perceptions, all that we require for secure knowledge about objects is there continued coherent presentation within our perceptions. Art, however, does not present continually coherently, but flashes out and disappears from the object perceived. Art is an only occasionally present quality of objects. Art instead dwells in a kind of sympathetic perception towards art, not in the objects themselves.

I spoke previously of aesthetic arrest, of moments when the world perceives fails to align with our expectations so dramatically that it freezes us in perception. The artist, I then propose manipulates formal effects to produce such a freezing. The artist is the artist in act of producing an aesthetic reaction. The formal world produces, through chance formal relations, the necessary conditions for aesthetic arrest, the artist, recognizing those relations, skillfully manipulates them to produce the same result. Thus, the progression of art through human history: certain formal effects become institutionalized in the conception of art and over time saturate the societal expectation of art. Art is that which contains these particular elements.

For example, the Neoclassical Movement which dominated the French School prior to the emergence of Realism, Impressionism and the grand proliferation of movements which emerged during the end of the nineteenth century. Art was recognized as art only as long as it possessed the formal characteristics of Neoclassicism, spawning the Salon de Refusés. Certain artists began to feel that the formal elements of Neoclassicism so saturated the idea of art that they no longer necessarily produced the aesthetic reaction which truly elevates mere created form to art in the fullness of its meaning. The transformation of art through time marks the artists’ continual drive towards novelty.

The artist, purely devoted to art, seeks the queer, as previously discussed to turn perception back upon itself, hence art in the twentieth century’s continual obsession with Art History. Art twisted back into the history of its own ephemera in the endeavor to break the whole of its history back apart into moments of perception. What is Suprematism if not an attack on the idea of painting as art itself? The same can be said of Dadaism and sculpture. James Joyce is a novelist in as much as his novels are entirely unlike what preceded them, but reliant upon such precedents to function. The writing of Gertrude Stein is attacks the fundamentals of writing, but relies upon them at the same time.

So why my interest in art here? I am seeking to carve out realms of experience which are entirely related to the Subject, and reliant upon the Subject as Subject. Art seems to be the perfect example for discussing such realms. The being of art, I suggest, is particularly a kind of being in art. The Subject does not encounter art as art, but produces a mode of being in art through the apprehension of art in moments of aesthetic arrest. Art is undoubtably a made thing, it is tied back to the formal world, and yet the qualities which render it art are entirely distinct from the formal. The formal produces the necessary preconditions, but without the apprehension of the sympathetic Subject, the formal cannot produce art in the fullness of its meaning, merely the possibility of its being. The Being of Art is the The Being of the Subject in Art.

I believe that such realms of being, such as Being in Art, are vital to the understanding of the Subject and its relation to the world.

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I Am Not Born This Way

I have always hated the popular assertion that someone is born gay or straight, as if that is enough of a justification for one’s behavior. I understand the popularity of the phrase, being “born this way” allows people to side step the charge that they have a choice in the matter. When closed minded bigots yell at you for being gay, for acting gay, you respond that you were born that way, you don’t have a choice, you were made to be gay. But that’s really not true. I suppose the hidden attack in that position is that, “I was born gay, and you weren’t born Christian/Republican/Evil/a self-righteous prick, you learned that behavior.” Of course, that’s not true. We all learned to perform our sexualities as much as we learned to perform any other identity.

The issue at hand isn’t whether we are biologically determined to perform gayness, it’s whether we have the right the perform our sexuality as we choose. One could make a stronger claim that someone born into a religious family is born religious, since they would be raised from moment of birth in that frame. One isn’t born gay, by that reasoning, but becomes gay with the development of their sexuality: straight families spawn gay children.

That said, I knew from an early age that I was unlike the people around me. I knew that I was different. That was, to say the least, uncomfortable. But, I wasn’t gay. I didn’t know that I was gay until I was twelve or thirteen. What I felt before was a sense of alienation totally unconnected from my sexuality. I was a very intelligent, shy, emotional child. I thought too much and too quickly. Most of what I encountered didn’t make sense to me, nor could I understand why a lot of the adults in my life believed and said things that I could reason through and undermine as a seven year old. I was raised in a religious household, and yet I can at no time remember believing any of it. I quite emphatically remember my confusion at the way the people around me blindly repeated nonsense as if it were undoubtably true. Of course, I knew all the right words and all the answers, but it was more like playing make believe or something: rearranging words to make a kind of sense within a very particular frame. I knew the stories of Jesus and the apostles and all the prophets and their prophecies, but I think I had more faith in First Officer Spock. My burgeoning sexuality was just a coincidence.

I think when people remember feeling alienated as children, they tend to elide it with other traumas. Sadly, in contemporary society, one’s sexual development is a severe trauma for a lot of people. One’s sexuality suddenly leaps back and invades all the queerness, all the awkwardness, all the alienation that one has felt. People aren’t willing to simply be other, to be really basically queer, it was their gayness all along, hiding and showing itself just long enough to make other people uncomfortable, but not revealing itself fully until… well, trauma.

I am not gay because I was born this way. My birth in no way relieves me of responsibility. I am queer because I have embraced that as a part of myself and act accordingly. I own my queerness, I live in my queerness. Had I so decided, I could have owned my religious upbringing, I could have made that the whole of my being, and today I woud be living a very different life as a Jehovah’s Witness. I didn’t make that choice. I had every right to, but I chose something else. I chose to live my life as I saw fit. I chose to make sense of the world and of myself for myself. We all make choices, and that’s the right that needs to be defended.

I am not born this way, I am this way because I chose to be this way. I have worked long and hard to make myself into the man I am today, and I am fully aware of the missteps and struggles along the way, all of which make me even prouder of the times when I have succeeded. I am not born this way because I take full responsibility for being who I am. I worked with the resources I had to transform myself into someone who, despite my shortcomings, I am quite proud to be.

We all need to be able to say that we are who we are by choice, and know deep inside of ourselves that this is true. That’s the right we fight for. Not the right to be what we were born to be, but the right to be what we make of ourselves.

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Through the Subject

Rather than launching into a very long digression, which I already partially engaged in, to be fair, within the massive project that is Toward a New Ontology, I have decided to take a moment here to explicate further my conception of being in relation to objects and the Subject. In as much as I wear my influences on my sleeve, I should state that these ideas are heavily influenced by Phenomenology (no one is surprised), in particular my recent reading of Heidegger’s Being and Time as well as Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception. That said, I do think that I am veering wildly from their intended readings, particular in my metaphysical/ontological focus.

For the sake of clarity, here I will refer to the Subject on in the singular, though I by no means am making claims to an idealized Subject, such as a deity. The singular capitalized Subject is meant to refer to all singular instantiations of the Subject in their singularity. In as much as all subjects, as discrete entities, share sets of relatable characteristics which define and guarantee their subjectivity, the Subject is used to refer to that set of instantiated qualities. Therefore, the Subject is emphatically instantiated and does not refer to idealized form. It is used to describe a collective set, with the intention of maintaining emphasis on the singular units within that set.

Previously, I claimed that objects are not with the same intensity as the Subject is. Allow me to explain myself, I hope, more clearly. Objects certainly and indubitably exist. While it is true that all knowledge we possess of objects is subjective, is filtered through our senses and reasoning, we are forced, by the nature of our subjectivity to accept the presence of objects discrete of our subjectivity. Of course, the precise nature of objects need not necessarily correspond to our impressions of them. All that is required of objects for us to have assured knowledge of their presence is that, regardless of their private natures, they continue to impact upon our consciousness in coherent fashions. Therefore, we have knowledge of objects because our perceptions of them are such that they present consistently and coherently. Objects are known in as much as they present a network formal relations which we are able to process and comprehend.

Now, the presence of objects must be of a nature different from the presence of the Subject. Only the Subject is capable, as previously mentioned, of the reflexive actions of perceptions, that is to say only the Subject is simultaneously aware of itself and the World. It is not required of objects that they be aware of either. Indeed, it is not, I believe, controversial to claim that objects lack interiority. By this I do not mean that objects lack interior spaces, merely that they lack internal conscious states. Consciousness, in general, demands an interior, a presence withdrawn from the World, wherein only consciousness abides. I would argue that consciousness demands both interior and exterior, for it appears to be incoherent to claim that an object, possessing no exterior awareness, could be filled interiorly with consciousness, as then, lacking true exterior, the consciousness would have no interior space, either. If consciousness is withdrawn from the World, the presence of the World is vital for the necessary retreat of consciousness to its private demesne.

That which perceives must have an interior to perceive against, it must have a portion of itself discrete from the world for perception to penetrate. Objects lack such an interior. Of course, objects still interact, they merely have no consciousness of such interaction. Object relations are governed by formal properties according to the natures of the objects in relation. Indeed, this is the way in which we recognize objects are emphatically present. Objects will always relate to each other in coherent, consistent fashions. Inter-object relations come, then, to describe a complex set of formal relations which govern the actions of objects across a network. The complexity of actions within that network is determined by the number of objects in relation and their discrete natures in relation to each other. It is as a result of the formal coherence of the object network, and the formal nature of objects that we are guaranteed their continued coherent impact upon our consciousness.

Now, the presence of objects is not the same, I argue, as their true being. How is it that presence is distinguished from being? Being rests upon awareness. The confusion and complexity emerges from the simple fact that our entire conception of being rests upon our awareness of it. We are aware of our being, and being so aware are also aware of the being of other things. This entire action, the action of being, is fully embedded with the fascinating reflex of conscious awareness. Indeed, the action of being is embedded by its nature within the Subject. Being is an emergent property of the Subject just as the Subject is emergent, that is to say transcendent, of objects. Objects, incapable of awareness, are incapable of being. Any being which is ascribed to an object is ascribed outside of itself, being is not a property possessed of objects themselves. It is merely that our awareness of being makes incoherent the assertion that objects are not, when, in truth objects are through our awareness of being distinct from ourselves in the manifold of the interior/exterior divide necessary for conscious awareness. The intensity of being is dispersed through the conscious awareness of the Subject into the World. Thus, objects persist, amongst themselves, bound by their formal network. Only the emergence of the Subject, with its fully realized capacity for being is capable of bringing being into the World around it. Being, as an active state, is instantiated with the Subject.

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Towards a New Ontology, Part 2

So, then, having outlined the necessary conditions for its instantiation, what is the Subject? Simply put, the Subject is that mode of being which is reflexively self-aware and, so being, is emphatically engaged with the act of being at all points in its existence. One could claim that objects, which lack awareness of any sort, be in the most basic and fundamental sense. However, I would interject what may in fact be a radical reworking of the the verb, and suggest that being, in its most fully empowered sense, requires the Subject to actuate it.

Now, let us examine being. To be, without conjugation, is more than the state of mere existence, which I suggest objects possess. Objects do not be in the same sense as Subjects, they merely exist, subsist, or persist, but they have no active participation in the act. Objects are passive to the state of being, whereas Subjects are at all moments actively engaged in it. Therefore, being itself when applied to the Subject is modulated always into an active, perpetually refreshing state. The Subject is caught up in being by its nature in such a way that it must be constantly aware and interacting with its being. All action of the Subject is an effect of its own awareness of its being in a fundamental way. Objects lack this awareness, and so lack this direct engagement with being. Objects are bound up in a set of formal relations which determine all potential effects between all objects within a network, and so objects appear in being in a relatable fashion, yet are not possessed of being, meaning here both made full of being and possessing it as a manipulatable quality. Indeed, the Subject, I argue, is embedded within a strange reflex of being, both made of it and capturing it. The Subject is in such a way that being is altered by its presence. Being itself is enriched and fulfilled by the presence of the Subject. Being is realized in the Subject: no mere object can bring about the state of being.

I argue, thence, that the Subject is by its nature transcendent. What is transcendence? Well, now I must digress. I have always flexed against traditions which aim towards transcendence as a spiritual state, because such traditions universally fail to define transcendence in a way that leads the practitioner towards a recognizable goal. Transcendence is always something lost in the horizon, or else possessed only by the elect few, the transcendent masters (be they corporeal or ghostly), and never by the layman (unless they be a martyr or a saint, and then they must be dead to be so recognized). Now, I do not mean to say that one should not seek growth and expansion within one’s spiritual pursuit, merely that transcendence is something entirely different. The Subject, fully realized, must by its nature transcend the realm of objects. Indeed, the Subject, by becoming Subject has its basis entirely within transcendence. The Subject has, by brining itself into being, fundamentally altered its state of existence and has made itself transcend from object to Subject. The Subject is transcendent in as much as it is a Subject. To aim toward transcendence is to aim toward the most basic act of the Subject, the act which the Subject realizes fully upon its transformation into Subject.

I feel, now, like we are capable of addressing a question which should have arisen already. Why is a new ontology necessary? It is my belief that prior attempts to explain the creation of the World have always subjugated being to artifacts. By this I mean that attempts to explain being have reduced to an effect, a by product of other forces, of God, of Science. Rarely has the question of being itself been addressed, especially in a spiritual sense. God, Science, all these artifacts are secondary to being, and I do mean the enriched being of the Subject, and not primary forces. Only being itself is full enough to bring about the world, before which there was nothing, as there must have been, as something requires a something to notice it. Prior to being, there is no mechanism of creation. Being is not subjugating: nothing is declined in its presence. Being enriches and fills: it creates.

Is the Subject, then, being? No, the Subject is of being, and being is of the Subject, but they are not reducible to the same thing. Thus, objects are, in the minimal sense of the word, yet their being is made into being by the presence of the Subject. Being washes over and permeates, it transcends. There is an important difference, here, between extension and intensity. All things, objects and Subjects, possess extension. Everything extends through space, everything which exists exists dimensionally. Therefore, in extension, all things have equal ontological weight. Within pure extension, there is no greater value assigned to any thing, purely spatial relations govern all. The barest possibly meaning of being relates to pure extension. Intensity, however, incorporates much more into the meaning of being. Intensity relates to the powers of discrete beings. The Subject possesses greater intensity through its reflexive relation to being itself than objects. The intensity of the Subject, then, in relation to being grants it greater ontological weight than mere objects. The Subject is capable of being in a fashion which empowers it over the mere persistence of objects. Only the Subject can be in the fullness of the state of being, reflexively awash in being and being.

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