Saturday, May 15, 2010

Music As Eternal War

Music with Meaning

Ceaselessly the questions come to me - how will the world change the way it relates to its own art? When will it rediscover the power of artistic vision? Did it ever understand, on a large scale, on a mass scale, the potential of the artistic vision? Has art always been a struggle against the malice and blindness of the world? Is there music beyond the play of surfaces, music that cuts to the quick, that leaves scars, that excoriates, rips and tears, making the inner the outer, transforming, changing, dissolving orders and bringing others into being - a music of the emotions, a music of the passions? Is there, now, a music that has any meaning?

Because, for me, the realm and 'function' music has come to take on new forms in my mind - assuming new traditions of meaning, new dire messages - seen, perhaps, clearly for the first time...I glimpse it as only the scintillation of light upon the ocean's surface, the play of shadow, the whispering of the wind - as ephemera, in short, doomed to be ceaselessly repeated for eons in order to witness or call attention to the 'wonder of creation', as the surface itself, the mocking sound of mind being unable to penetrate beyond or beneath the surface fluctuations of appearance, or as appearance itself, through all of its myriad forms...because of this, and the search (which is desperation itself, perhaps as a misguided passion - but is the search for meaning then completely in error?) for something beyond this ephemera, this action of the wind over the waters, I have declared war on all appearances, all I have been taught to interpret, the methods and tools I have been given, the messages that lie, as they have lied for centuries, just beneath the skin of appearances, waiting for the intrepid adventurer who thinks that the archaeological evidence found in the texts and legends of ages (within culture and man, within history and reality) is being discovered for the first time...not knowing that they were planted there, by the unconscious if by nothing else - by our collective wills to flee from the darkness into an artificial light...

Planted, then, by our unwillingness to peer even further - as signposts reading: 'Here, and No Farther', 'Here Is the Meaning' - both as guides and warnings...

But all of this 'meaning', the 'messages' that the unconscious processes of art pass to us, the ways in which we are 'taught' to interpret them...these are all methods of cowardice, signs of other men's failures...when they are frightened by the depths they draw up, into the light, and speak of 'meaning'...

And we must learn to distrust our own unconscious processes, as they have been educated, already, under the tyranny of other men's minds: the lives of prior men, their history, their pale and shallow understandings, their fears, and their pitiful, cowardly histories...

All of the symbols the mind passes to me I invert and crucify, killing them slowly in order to perform exacting autopsies to divine the root and source of the poison within me, and I would burn away all of that inside me which bears the taint of other men, men who have come before me and spread their fears throughout life, throughout reality...fears that have come to give them their only meaning in life...

I believe meaning, in all of its forms, through its ceaseless permutations is:

1. Completely subjective, native to each individual mind, and unable to be communicated.

2. Eternally in flux, as the element and function of past experience (history) coming into contact with present reality (possibility), and the assimilation and 'ordering' that then transpires.

3. Often far beyond the grasp, even, of the individual. Who understands his own life, his own unconsciousness, his own motives?

Seen in this way, the 'meaning' of experienced events, associations, memories, connections (epiphanies), synchronicity, actions, etc. is at least twice-removed from the conscious mind: once because it is an undercurrent not always visible to the understanding, and then once again because we can not interpret these symbols of the unconscious that come to us...and then, when these 'passions', these 'feelings' that we feel we must express are passed into art, under the aegis of traditional creation (the accepted notions of artistic function), they are removed one more time from the understanding of our fellow men, because they can not, in any way, really interpret the messages that we, as artists, are striving to communicate. At the most we give them a bewildering range of new sensations or sense-experiences to feel, assimilate, and finally...completely misunderstand...

For meaning is the voice out of the whirlwind...

In other words, through art our unconscious symbols are transformed into the language of commonality - the language of human history, of 'shared experience' that we use in order to feel as if our subjective meanings are somehow transferable - they are bled, given this weak, pale form, and then transformed, once again, into the unconscious of the audience...who after witnessing them lose these symbols in the seas of their own unconscious selves...

But it is this language of art, the methods and 'accepted symbols' of the translation of the unconscious into art, that I hate with a passion...this weak, worm form, the product of other men - dead men, or men still living who live without courage, the construction of shallow natures coming into contact with a reality that terrified them, the heritage and tradition of a sense-language and methodology of 'interpretation' that is trapped, permanently it seems, in the past...

Why can't we create our own symbols? Why not begin a new tradition, or destroy all the older ones? Why must we feel as if we were born too late, eternally trying to catch up to the constructions of men who have passed into the darkness they feared so much? Why must we use their language of interpretation and understanding - that dead, poisonous method of 'understanding' our own unconsciousnesses - in our own art?

I appeal to the artists who read this as individuals...I do not propose a group effort, a movement, a new society...I do not want to hear of your compromises, of your weakness, of your suffering...I say: kill the hand of society that grasps your heart, withdraw into yourselves, do not come near me, do not attempt to 'understand' me...and of your own questions? I must become silence itself. As an artist, I will create silence.

Moreover, the function of artists in society that we have been given, as a tradition - no matter how 'degrading', simple, painful, or supposedly 'divine' - why continue with this? What has society given us that we must destroy our own lives in order to express its internal sickness? I refuse to reflect society, I turn away from it in disgust...I refuse, also, the interpretations it would put on my turning away...

But, again, it is this Apollonian language of art that suffocates me, I feel these dead artists all around me, I feel their hands around my neck, their dead fingers pulling at mine as I attempt the creation of my own world...my art must have the meaning that I give it or it is useless...

For all that has come before - what of it? How does it live for us here, now, in the present? And all the ways in which we understand our own lives as artists, our own methods and madness, our own desires, our striving for an absolute in expression, the worlds we want to bring into being, the language of music that we use, the traditions of composition, the ways we manipulate our listeners - and thus, also, ourselves - and the paths that we take in order to make our own minds react to our music, and so summon up certain moods, emotions, feelings, atmospheres, memories - that whole pattern of evocation, of necromancy (making dead forms speak), of summoning...where does it come from? How have we learned it? And why, when we strike out on our own and divine new patterns of expression and/or composition, must it be shown to other men? And also - when it is then shown to them, why can they immediately 'think' or 'feel' something about it, almost effortlessly, as if when we are in the wildest deserts of our own personal understanding, gathering information, emotions, and memories to transcribe into art, there is always a shadow with us - the notion and presentiment of this later translation, the ghost of this dead language, the thought that what we gather, even in ourselves, must somehow be able to transform itself into something understood by all? How can we search for meaning when we carry, deep into our own unconsciousness, this shadow-self, this double, the essence and concentration of 'the other man, all men' that obstructs what we can see? If I only find in myself what I can 'communicate' to other people, what have I really seen? Nothing but pale reflections of the world around me...which is to say: absolutely nothing of meaning.

It is because of this that I say: destroy this shadow, relinquish your hold on the rope that ties you to other people, to 'society' as an abstraction (the tie that binds), and do not attempt to communicate anything at all in your art...you will save yourself the anguish of Sisyphus, that avatar and icon of superfluousness...create only for yourself, and the personal will 'become' universal...not because what we have inside each of us is somehow 'universal' in itself, but because a completely subjective and personal work of art will fight, at every step, the 'correct interpretations' people place on it, and it is only when everyone, everywhere in the world, misunderstand a work of art (and misunderstand it in the most glorious fashion, when it inspires them to ruminate/philosophize endlessly on their own misunderstandings, and create new art in turn) that it becomes universal...universal works of art are those creations that have never been explained.

And so, returning to my original theme, it is this Apollonian order of art, this idea of music having accepted methods of expression, intepretation, communication, and meaning, that I declare eternal war against. How could I do otherwise? Because of the way I am constructed, because of my own personal nature and the 'nature' of all individuals - taking into account their creative function, their relation to their own unconsciousness - it is utterly useless to do otherwise...that is, not only is it degrading and counter-productive to assume an Apollonian order of art and to respond to the world as if such a thing truly existed, but it's also nearly impossible for an artist to take upon himself the function of responding to his own internal promptings using the language or abstractions of society, of the 'outside' - his mind would not accept it, the images, symbols, sounds, thoughts, phrases, and 'meanings' put forth would not correspond with the artist's personal sense of reality or internal integrity, and the resulting 'art' would be useless for him. Indeed I would say that as art serves a function for an artist's society, it is proportionally less meaningful for him...that is, as it takes on the language of his society, as it expresses itself through the modes, forms, and functions then current in the 'common' or 'popular' understanding, it ceases to correspond to his own personal, subjective heirarchy of meaning...it has 'gone out of the artist' and now takes on the hypocritical, meaningless, absurd status of an icon or monolith that 'communicates to all' while it in fact means nothing to anyone who views it...

To be more precise, I could say: because the work of art now tries to mean everything to each person who views or experiences it, and strives to take on this objective level of meaning, it loses it capability to transfer subjective meaning to any one individual - and thus it loses all meaning whatsoever. Can there be truly be objective meaning - something that is the same for all people? Absolutely not...until we all share the same mind, the same experiences, the same history...

This Apollonian order of art that seeks to impose 'rational' structures of interpretation on man's creative instinct - what is it, really? What function does it serve when allied with an aesthetic science? All of the 'investigations' that men have made into aesthetics and the 'meaning' of art through the years, from Aristotle to Santayana, what does it mean from the viewpoint of the artist? Have they raised the consciousness of society when contemplating the role of the artist - his life, struggles, destiny, his meaning within society, etc.? Have they brought about a change in the way society views the artistic 'process' or how it measures the 'value' of art? Do artists now have a new resource of aesthetic/critical language to 'explain' their own internal mechanisms, or a fountain of critical theory to apply to their own internal investigations?

What the Apollonian order assumes, at the very beginning, a priori, and as something to be taken as given, as already proven, is that artists, when reaching inside for their own particular subjective expression, all end by expressing the universal. Subjective becomes objective, through the medium of art. Men, says the Apollonian, are all linked by a common thread, by a shared meaning that is valid for all experience, and as each man penetrates closer to his own personal world of meaning, his own natural view of life - his own pure nature, he ends by expressing what is inside every man. Apollonian aesthetic theory rests on the assumption, a priori again, that there is such a thing as shared 'human nature', and that this 'nature', though very mysterious, intensely nebulous, almost 'invisible', can be approached and studied through art. This is a grave fallacy and, as I have shown above, completely superfluous. To assume that there is a 'human nature' that we all share is to assume that objective meaning, a level of meaning outside and above ourselves or own interpretations of reality, must exist...from what I have said so far, and from your own personal experience, you must see the error here in proposing the existence of such a thing...truly: if there was an 'objective' level of meaning in art, a faculty and set of elements that is universal and set in stone for all time, as eternally indivisible from our own natures as individuals, I don't see the purpose of considering myself to be an individual at all. What's the purpose of personal expression as an artist when all you can attempt to 'transcribe' (from the personal unconsciousness to symbol to reality in form) is the relation of the universal - that is, something we all have inside ourselves anyway? To assume that there is an objective level of meaning in art is tantamount (in effect, and when considered in terms of its results) to assuming, as I did at this begining of this article, that all art is completely subjective, and that no real communication (an essential transfer of ideas, with meaning intact) is possible. Either way, what we come across is a scenario where the artist is removed from the sphere of relation, and his powers of affecting the minds, emotions, and personal histories of his audience are taken away from him. I know for a fact that there is not an objective level of meaning in art because, for the most part, I do not understand the work of other artists at all - that is, their art says nothing to me. I know what it is supposed to say, I know what others have said it means to them, I know the full history of its interpretation and how it has appeared in the lives of various men as a symbol or object that crystallizes their unconscious processes, but when I experience it, I feel nothing...it disappears into my unconscious, the well of dreams, without a ripple, without a sound. Tell me, if there was an objective level of meaning - one, indivisible truth - why do we all feel so lonely as individuals? Why is it impossible to ever truly understand each other? Why is it so difficult to communicate what moves us at our cores, at the center of our beings? It is not because there is one truth behind the light, beneath all of existence, that we have either become alienated from (which the Christian notion of the Fall, the exile from the Godhead, is an expression of) or have not been able to glimpse or grasp, but because this one truth, this 'human nature', this 'God', this 'meaning', never, in fact, existed at all...

U. Amtey
Early morning, December 10, 2000