Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Art In Pain


            Since the mid 1940s, the works of Francis Bacon have elicited a powerful emotional response from a disparate array of people.  The often raw and dark imagery depicted in his paintings has moved many admirers and detractors in ways that compel viewers to confront primordial aspects of the human condition en masse and within themselves.  Critical response and analysis has also been somewhat polarizing in regard to Bacon’s paintings being accepted as true works of representational art, or merely macabre and horrific kitsch.  Yet, however one’s mind chooses to be affected by Bacon’s oeuvre, the impact of his work is effective in that, as a whole, it challenges generalizations commonly accepted by a cultivated and conditioned culture.  Instead of gratuitous images of terror and sadness, Bacon has communicated these same ideas by committing himself to question his audience’s perceptions by employing bright colors, surrealistic shapes, and divergent statements within similar compositional orientations to make his work intelligible and empathetic to a diverse audience.  In lesser words, Bacon has achieved that most coveted of prizes in any creative endeavor, originality. 
            Although born in 1909 into a fairly well-known lineage that included the philosopher Sir Francis Bacon and familial ties to Lord Byron, the young Francis Bacon had a turbulent childhood and adolescence.  From an early age Bacon was known to have issues with gender identity.  He had often been caught dressing up in women’s clothes and embraced feminine mannerisms.  For these reasons, he didn’t have an affectionate relationship with either of his parents and was frequently the target of abuse from his father. Bacon himself infrequently conveyed his childhood as something, “that he had been ill-starred from the start by being born into a family which took no interest in him, and a social class in which he felt to be an outsider” (Peppiatt 3).  From his teenage years to his mid thirties, Bacon drifted first from the supervision of different family members, then to odd jobs throughout Western Europe, as well as delving into petty crime.  Early on he had a love for drawing which later helped him attain his first creatively fueled career as a rug and furniture designer.  It was during this time, in the early 1930s, that Bacon’s artistic talent was first recognized by others.  He began to get regular commissions on his paintings that, by the end of WWII, had provided him with a steady income and eventual commercial success. 
            Throughout the 1950s and ‘60s, Bacon became internationally renowned for his arresting scenes.  The paintings themselves became infamous and attracted curiosity both for the subject matter rendered and the man in front of the canvas that created it all.  This in turn made Bacon a celebrity in the art world and by 1985 an all encompassing career retrospective at London’s Tate Gallery was held with the director of the gallery, Alan Bowness declaring Bacon, “is surely the greatest living painter; no artist in our century has presented the human predicament with such insight and feeling” (Chilvers 45).  Praise and adulation aside, Bacon embraced his high status while dually living in the empirical torment he felt was necessary to channel genuine empathy.  In the early 1970s this empirical experience inspired him to document his grief by painting a series of triptychs (a single painting divided into three separate displays meant to be seen together as one complete work) that later came to be known loosely as “The Black Triptychs.”  Bacon’s forceful catalyst for this series was the unforeseen suicide of his partner and muse, George Dyer. 
            The first of the Black Triptychs was never titled but later came to be known as, Triptych – August 1972.  Beyond the piece being a triptych, the overall feel of the painting is symmetrical.  Although not perfectly aligned, each panel displays a lone figure in front of, or as in the middle panel, bisecting a doorway.  The backgrounds of all the doorways are black with grey frames and off-white colored walls on either side.  The floor in the foreground is a lighter shade of grey that fills the entire foreground in the center panel, while the floor in the right and left panels stops toward the lower ends and is overtaken by a black foreground that slopes downward from the sides toward the middle panel.  The imperfect symmetrical balance of these secondary characteristics may be due in part to Bacon’s liquid-like technique that he employed to paint common shapes in a unique way. 
            Undoubtedly, the centerpiece of each panel is the stark, almost naked man that initially draws the viewer’s attention.  This figure, is of course, Bacon’s representation of George Dyer.  Each panel depicts Dyer in a different state that conveys an absence of life.  These images in the triptych can also be interpreted as the lonesome scene of Dyer’s suicide in an empty Parisian hotel room in October, 1971.  Bacon adeptly informs his audience that Dyer was alone in every way imaginable.  All this lifelessness is telling of the soul numbing, suicidal depression that was carried out by the ingesting of massive amounts of alcohol and barbiturates.  As this was an actual event that happened in Bacon and Dyer’s hotel room while the artist was entertaining guests at a showing of his work at the Grand Palais in Paris, the overall experience of the piece is disquieting.  This tragedy without question, effectively shaped and haunted Francis Bacon for the rest of his life and subsequent work which prompted the late French philosopher, Jean Baudrillard to interpret meaning in the artist’s work as:
It is only as another illusion, one that would rediscover the possibility that colors, forms, light transform into each other, which would lead painting – and language as well – to something you can see in Bacon, for instance, even if these forms can be perfectly monstrous in his work (Baudrillard 58).
           
            In the first panel on the left end of the piece, Dyer sits without any implied motion in a chair.  He sits with one leg crossed over the other with his left arm and hand resting on the crossed leg.  Dyer’s eyes are closed and appears to be in a catatonic state that begs one to think of the point when the overdose of lethal substances are first taking effect.  The skin of the body is eerily colored in a cool, death-like purple that’s blended with a reddish hue which Bacon frequently used as skin tones in his paintings that somewhat resemble processed meat.  On one side of the chair, Dyer’s uncrossed leg fades into the floor in a calm, ghost-like way.  The other side shows a fluid-like substance flowing down the chair and onto the floor.  This may represent Dyer’s soul, or blood as it’s the same color as the red areas of his body.  The black background of the doorway envelopes most of Dyer’s torso and part of his neck.  To the audience, it can be seen as the black shroud of death pulling him in while all life is draining from his being.

            The figure in the right panel bears a close resemblance to the leftmost scene and helps to balance the work as a whole with the center panel serving as a pivot point.  However, subtle differences are apparent.  In contrast to the left panel, Dyer’s head appears to be moving in a downward motion.  It’s as if he is in the midst of falling asleep or dying.  Dyer’s torso and left arm are similarly draped in the darkness of the black doorway, while the skin of his neckline and the continuing border between black and skin that runs down his chest are made to look like a collar and jacket.  Here, death appears to have cut him in two pieces, or versions.  With the only other difference being that Dyer is wearing underwear, the image on the right roughly corresponds to the left panel in the orientation of Dyer’s position in the chair, as well as the fluid emanating from the body to the floor and crossed leg.          

            The center panel of the triptych is probably meant to be viewed as the focal point with the other two panels bookending the piece, thus directing the viewer’s attention toward the middle.  Also, the portrayal of George Dyer on the floor and halfway into the dark doorway suggests a chronological conclusion to Bacon’s narrative.  The most salient feature of this panel is Dyer’s lifeless body that’s finally collapsed from years of deterioration resulting from lifelong depression and his fatal decision to overdose.  The skin of the body is similarly colored as the representations are in the right and left panels, however more assertive highlights are painted in stark white, possibly to emphasize absolute death under the uncompromising light of a lonely hotel room.  The artist has painted a formless body where Dyer’s facial features and ligaments are depicted in an ambiguous way.  Bacon conveys this formlessness as total lifelessness in his former partner and artistic inspiration.  Additionally, the same fluid-like substance shown in the other panels is seen here collected in a pool derived from underneath the body.  The fluid is a brighter hue of purple than the other depictions that suggests the soul of dyer has left his body and now exists in a pool of pale blood.  Together, every panel encompasses and subtly suggests the nature of suicide.
   The overall nature of Triptych – August 1972, is unquestionably dark.  Although this term could be used to describe Bacon’s entire body of work as well as his style, this painting along with the other works in his series of Black Triptychs, serve as the artist’s personal requiem to George Dyer in the form of oil paints on a canvas.  While some may interpret Bacon’s use of his own pain into art as a disingenuous hijacking of his own, and thus his viewer’s emotions, the purity of evocation transcends these claims.  The resultant process of Bacon’s mourning has been translated into representational art that has directly communicated the emotions of the artist to those of his audience.  The painting is genuine, and evokes sadness, time, pain, love, and loss in a way that is intelligible to a vast amount of people.  These emotions conjured in the viewer’s response are an important aspect to the thorough efficacy of the artistic work.  It is not a passive experience, but an engaging one that both audience and artist participate in.  For all these distinct reasons, Triptych – August 1972 is a successful work of art

Baudrillard, Jean. The Conspiracy of Art. Semiotext(e), 2005 1st ed. 
van Alphen, Ernst. Francis Bacon and the Loss of Self. Reaktion books Limited, 1998 2nd ed.
Peppiatt, Michael Anatomy of an Enigma. Westview Press, 1996 1st ed.
Chilvers, Ian. The Oxford Dictionary of Art. Oxford University Press, 2004 3rd ed.
           
                      

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Behind Every Beautiful Thing, There’s Been Some Kind Of Pain

Upon his 1963 arrest and brief incarceration for participating in a parade without a permit, civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote an essay that came to be called, “Letter From Birmingham Jail.”  King was part of an organized, nonviolent demonstration that was designed to call attention to the fact that racial segregation was still being enforced de jure by Jim Crow laws nine years after the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional.  This open letter was directed at members of the local clergy that had accused him in print of advocating extremist measures that were, “unwise and untimely.”  While Dr. King’s essay is the result of one particular incident, the breadth of his words and philosophy communicates to a global audience.  His rational, impassioned response transcends the conditions under which it was written and effectively communicates his beliefs in human rights and ethics in a way that is universal and timeless.
            “Letter From Birmingham Jail” has five sections and begins with an introduction.  King starts his essay by addressing his “dear fellow clergymen” and establishes that he has been compelled to write a response to the statement that described his activities as, “unwise and untimely.”  King goes on to say that this statement by the clergymen is essentially the result of shallow thinking and that it is a “superficial kind of social analysis” of a much larger problem.  He acknowledges that these demonstrations were an “unfortunate” event, yet they were necessary to call attention to the underlying causes that produced the protest.  King points to the fact that, African Americans have been the tools of oppression in America for more than 340 years and echoes the sentiments of former 19th century British Prime Minister, William Ewart Gladstone in saying, “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”   
            In the second section of his letter “Civil Disobedience,” Dr. King first establishes and later elaborates on the notion of “unjust” and “just” laws.  He claims that it is not only necessary, but morally correct to break unjust laws.  King makes it clear that racial segregation is an unjust law that is the product of cultivated, human thought which isn’t in harmony with the law of God.  Further, he goes on to quote St. Thomas Aquinas: “An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law.”  King points to human fallibility as the cause of unjust laws and has no personal reservations about breaking them.  Expressing theologian Paul Tillich’s words, “sin is separation,” King professes that racial segregation is an “existential expression of man’s tragic separation, his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness.” In substantiating his moral obligation to civil disobedience, he reminds the reader that early Christians, defiant of unjust laws, faced torture and death by disobeying Roman law, as well as pointing out that Adolf Hitler’s actions in Germany were “legal” and finally, that our modern conceptions of academic freedom are due in part to Socrates’ civil disobedience.
            In the middle portion of the essay entitled “White Moderates,” Dr. King rallies against civil complacency.  Essentially, he affirms that the white moderate majority across the country are more of an impediment to human equality in their passivity than white supremacist organizations like the Ku Klux Klan.  He writes: 
I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality.  Actually, we who engage in nonviolent  direct action are not the creators of tension.  We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive.
King advocates that the time has come for people of all races and ethnicities in America to stop waiting, and demand constitutional and social justice for all people. 
            In “The Charge of Extremism” Dr. King furthers his stance against complacency by addressing Blacks of the South and Blacks in the middle-class.  The issue of the South, as King states, is that Blacks have become so oppressed by hatred and segregation, and in turn have been “drained of self-respect and a sense of ‘somebodiness’…”  In this view, the long years of oppression have become a clandestine tool to keep segregation alive by subjugation.  King goes on to implicate middle-class African Americans across the country by claiming that they have lost touch with their emboldened brethren through a “degree of academic and economic security” and have become aloof to the struggle of racial equality.  King also acknowledges that Black nationalist groups like the Nation of Islam are roadblocks to peace through their repudiation of Christianity, their fostering of “frustration over the continued existence of racial discrimination“ that can be improperly channeled into violence as well as non-critical thinking poisoned with hatred that has thus concluded, “the white man is an incorrigible devil.”  Later, King admits that he was at first, put off by the local clergymen identifying him as an extremist.  However, he embraces the distinction after he recalls that historically significant figures like, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, Martin Luther, and Jesus Christ had all been accused of extremism.
            Finally, in Dr. King’s “conclusion,” he thanks those that will read his long letter and see the need for justice.  King respectfully acknowledges his accusers and reiterates his message: 
Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities, and in some not-too-distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.

* * *

Upon reflection, Dr. King’s open letter is the product of a rational, highly educated, and communicative individual.  He is passionate, yet well tempered, and never does he let his emotional pleas dwindle into self-pity or spite.  King addresses his audience of eight clergymen in a tone that is distinct and declarative.  He uses the narrative second-person “you” to great effect.  The rhetoric is clear and linguistically sound, and provides a platform in which King can not only speak directly to his accusers, but speak to a wider public audience. 
King’s argument is immediately powerful.  It’s presented in a way that is rationalistically difficult to contend with or ignore.  In his “introduction,” King uses empirical reasoning to justify the struggle for independence:  “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”  Such a statement explains the plight of Blacks in America by drawing on historical evidence to support his argument.  Immediately thereafter, he employs a priori reasoning to weakly support the argument given by a population that considers him a radical, even though as King implies later in the letter, they might agree with the concept of human equality but disapprove of his methods:  “Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say ‘Wait’.”  This tactic quietly undermines the views of fair-weather supporters of civil rights, and solidifies King’s argument once more. 
Dr. King emphasizes and elicits an emotional response by constructing a philosophical dialogue for his readers.  He tells of his “tongue twisted” concocted words when he attempts to explain to his six-year-old daughter as to why she can’t go to an advertised public amusement park because the powers that be don’t allow “colored children.”  He writes of a scenario in which he uses the pronoun “you” as a character that he indirectly implores his audience to inhabit for the purposes of empathy: 
…when you take a cross-country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading ‘white’ and ‘colored’; when your first name becomes ‘nigger,’ [and] your middle name becomes ‘boy’…
Elsewhere, King uses a similar dialogue with the pronoun “he” when he installs the reader into an observational perspective.  King writes that “he” as the “American Negro” yearns for freedom as a “birthright” and is restrained by the “zeitgeist” of American society.  King applies this form of philosophic dialogue successfully in the same way that Plato used it in his Socratic dialogues and more recently, Ralph Ellison used internal dialogues to showcase a Black man’s quest for identity in his novel, Invisible Man
            Overall, Dr. King’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail” is a document that has come to be revered as a reasonable and dignified argument in favor of equal rights for all people of America.  The philosophic approaches applied within the essay are thoughtful and respectful to his contemporaries of all inclinations, and help to further justify the cause for equality.  King’s essay is still relevant today in modern America, where equal rights are still not granted to everyone.  Yet, when looking back on history as a way to look forward, the letter offers hope to people that have been subject to any form of prejudice and discrimination.    

I took my title from a lyric of Bob Dylan's in his song, "Not Dark Yet."  

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Sunday, March 18, 2012

So Long This Life Together Goes

Now the Earth is starting to shake
When the sleep in night reaches for us
These days just sink to the ends of oceans
And I feel the wave coming


So long this life has gone
Together now in one
So long this life has gone
And this night will be your home

This place of knowing is slipping through

From the water that weathers the ground
Sirius will set in an endless pull
And I see the tide moving

So long this life has gone
Together now in one
So long this life has gone
And this life has let you go

Now in drunken dreams of the father
So long lost in your impact

So long this life together goes
Undertow pulls a darkness in


So long this life has gone
Together now in one
So long this life has gone
On and on, in every setting sun


Friday, February 3, 2012

Applications Of The Four Noble Truths In Buddhism And Taoism

In the Buddhist religion, there exists a group of principles known as the Four Noble Truths. In order the truths are:

1.
Life is suffering.
2. Suffering is caused by desire.
3. Suffering is not permanent and can be eradicated.
4. By following the Eightfold Path, a release from suffering can occur.
With these principles firmly established a Buddhist practitioner can begin and later maintain their journey to nirvana, or freedom from suffering. The Truths serve as guidelines when applied to Buddhism as well as important and useful precepts when applied to other religions, most notably Taoism.

Within the Buddhist religion, the Four Noble Truths are considered to be one of the first teachings of the founder of Buddhism, Siddatha Gautama. The Buddha taught these truths after a period of disenchantment with the Caste system of India and Hinduism, and later led to a time of self discovery that he eventually called the Middle Way. It has been speculated whether these truths were in fact taught by the Buddha to his followers, or that his disciples created them. Regardless of the origination, the Four Noble Truths are an absolutely fundamental staple of the Theravada Buddhist perspective.

The first Noble Truth; “Life is suffering (Dukkha)” establishes that suffering is part of the human condition and that humans are born into suffering. There is no way around this condition and the journey to nirvana begins with the acceptance that suffering is a certainty in life.

The second Noble Truth; “Suffering is caused by Craving (Tanba)” gives a reason as to why there is such a state as suffering. At the root of this condition of suffering is our human bond and connection to desire. Humans long for companionship, seek happiness from and because of others, crave a spiritual purpose, mourn the death of people and the end of relationships. All of these can be manifested as projections of desire. The Buddha teaches us to let go of our desires and our attachments to inanimate and conscious entities. Once this suffering has been acknowledged and hence pursue its elimination, one is on the path to nirvana.
The third Noble Truth; “The extinction of Craving (Nirvana)” maintains that once our desires, cravings, and suffering are absent, we can achieve nirvana. This truth is the reinforcement that actualizes this state of nirvana. It is the resulting effect of enlightenment as an end to suffering and thus, an end to the cycle of rebirth found in Buddhism. It’s important to point out that to see nirvana as a happy end to a spiritual journey, is to miss the meaning and in essence, give in to the desire of wanting to reach nirvana. The Buddha taught that nirvana is the elimination of craving and not a place one reaches after the cycle of rebirth ends.

The fourth Noble Truth; “The Eightfold Path of the Middle Way” articulates the means to which freedom from suffering can be reached. By following the Middle Way, or the center point between personal excess and personal disallowance as well as adhering to the Eightfold Path like the Buddha did, one can attain nirvana. The steps in sequence and meaning in the Eightfold Path are as follows:

1. Correct belief.
2. Correct aspiration.
3. Correct speech.
4. Correct conduct.
5. Correct livelihood.
6. Correct endeavor.
7. Correct mindfulness.
8. Correct meditation.

Further, the Eightfold Path is assembled into sub groupings which are;
· Steps 1 and 2 as wisdom.
· Steps 3 through 5 as ethical conduct.
· Steps 6 through 8 as mental development.

Taken as a whole, the Eightfold Path can be viewed as detailed instructions that are to be followed singularly and personally with no outside help to rely on. The Buddha had said on his deathbed, “work out your own liberation.” This clearly implies the personal aspect of devotion that is required to follow the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path.

When looked at outside the perspectives of Buddhism, the Truths can be viewed as a guide to casually or seriously live by. The Truths could be followed concretely by religious ascetics, or nonchalantly by people that don’t adhere to any religion. The Truths could fit into a “lifestyle” or “way of life” for people that are not Buddhist, but of another religion entirely. Taoism is one example of a way of living that the Four Noble Truths could fit into and within.
The Tao in Taoism (“Taoism” is the Western spelling of Daoism) is everything in the cosmos including humanity. Expressed through the yin and yang forces, the positive and negative work together to create an ultimate balance within the universe. In Taoism the phrase, wu wei, means “nonpurposiveness” or “inaction.” This term is an important and vital part of Taoism that elucidates to live without desire and to have no ambitions is to live an existence that is in harmony with the Tao. As suffering is a born trait in Buddhism, disharmony is present inside of all of us because we are born unknowing of the Tao and need to be awakened. Once the awakening has occurred, harmony with the Tao is possible, that is to say, harmony with everything is achieved.

The concepts of harmony and disharmony in Taoism are very similar to suffering from desire and reaching nirvana in the Four Noble Truths. If we resist the flow of the Tao, we live in a disharmonious state. Similarly in Buddhism, if we succumb to our desires we suffer. It is only when we accept and let go of our connections to passions, people, material objects, etc. that we can begin to live an enlightened existence in Buddhism. This is manifested in Taoism as resistance to the Tao. When we have attained harmony with the Tao, we are in essence letting go of the emotions and unruly states that oppose the flow of the Tao. By relieving ourselves from worldly and unworldly attachments such as physical possessions and emotional bonds, we awaken to the natural flow of the Tao. Specifically, the first Noble Truth that tells us suffering is born into life, corresponds to the need in Taoism to be awakened to who we really are and to acknowledge the presence of the Tao as well as our relationship to it. The second Noble Truth that states, desire is the cause of suffering, applies to Taoism in the form of unknowingly leading a complex life that constantly is in opposition to the Tao. This opposition results from our attachments and the overly complex nature in which humans live their lives. The third Noble Truth that says, relief from suffering is possible, ties into Taoism as a realization of our place in the Tao. Basically this means that once we accept ourselves as components of the Tao, only then can we begin to live in a harmonious state. Lastly, the fourth Noble Truth which tells us to personally follow the Eightfold Path of the Middle Way, coincides with the “letting go” in Taoism to relieve oneself of disharmony. The liberation of suffering to nirvana through the Middle Way in Buddhism is similar to the term wu wei in Taoism. By living in a simple fashion and not polluting the human mind with desires and attachments is to be one with the Tao. The Middle Way also stresses that, to become enlightened is to not live in extremes, such as luxury or poverty - that becomes borderline starvation - but to live in a common ground or happy medium that is the middle. This concept shares the commonality in Taoism of the so called person that, “achieves without achieving” by living in the present moment without regard to past, future, or disharmonious attachments and feelings. This is to say that, by living in the present and leading a simple life, that’s only concern is to maintain harmony with everything, is to be one with the Tao.
Clearly, there are many similarities between Buddhism and Taoism. The similarities discussed here are different manifestations of reaching a harmonious state with slightly differing paths. While the Four Noble Truths provide a detailed way in which to personally reach an enlightened state, Taoism provides a like concept in its own version of letting go and simplifying oneself to realize and exist with the Tao. Certainly the Four Noble Truths are unique to Buddhism, but looked at outside of its parent religion, the Truths can definitely be applied with precision to Taoism.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Religious Texts in Hinduism and Judaism

Central to the religions of Hinduism and Judaism are texts that have become sacred within the confines of each religious practice. The Rig-Vedas and the Upanishads are regarded as two of the most important documents in Hinduism. Similarly, the Tanakh in Judaism is a compilation of texts that provide a fundamental basis for the Jewish religion. The importance of the written word in these three texts to their respective religions and the culture of their adherents, is paramount to the history, perseverance, and future of both religions.

The importance of the Rig-Vedas in Hinduism which literally means “the Veda of verse and praise” is significant in that the hymns and poems contained within are one of the first examples of a culture that preserved its accumulated knowledge by recording it in words. These texts in the form of written words were first recorded from about 1500 B.C.E. to 400 C.E. and are still recited by Hindu priests and worshippers in the present age. As one text out of a four part collection of works called the Vedas, the Rig-Vedas as an ancient document have come to function as a fundamental grounding in the spiritual nature of the Hindu concept of Brahman. Through history and repetition of the written words within, these hymns and poems to various Hindu gods symbolize the all encompassing nature of Brahman in that the materialism of the world is an illusion (maya) and the spiritual reality of Brahman is everything and the only truth that exists.

The Upanishads furthers the interpretation of Brahman by documenting the concept of a supreme reality from which all other reality exists, and that Brahman is totality, eternal, infinite, and unknowable to the human mind. The work details the structure of Brahman by establishing that ananda (utter bliss), sat (reality itself), and chit (pure consciousness) are pieces of the whole nature of reality. Literally translated as, “to sit near by” the phrase is meant to allude to a spiritual teacher instructing a pupil on the floor. The Upanishads function as a philosophical volume that relies upon written text to store and teach knowledge in Hinduism.

In Judaism, the Tanakh or Hebrew Bible is a historical text that documents the history and plight of the Jewish people. Also recorded within are covenants or contracts that serve as a pact with God that as William Young states, “sometimes the covenant is a promise made by God; on other occasions the covenant includes specific stipulations for the people of Israel to follow”. Time in the written works of Judaism and all Abrahamic religions, is linear and firmly established in a rational way that puts special importance on humanity’s role as a force to shape and create history. The Tanakh is a foundation that has been written down over time to preserve the ideas, philosophies, covenants, and history of Judaism for future study and reference.

The overall belief structure of Hinduism and Judaism contrast sharply when looked at on a large scale. The polytheistic nature of Hinduism compared with a monotheistic Judaism. Beyond the obvious differences in religious practice and philosophy, the two belief systems share a commonality when the written word is taken into account as a means to store information. Both religions have used the medium of writing to document the history and structure of religious practices throughout the ages. However, the Rig-Vedas, Upanishads, and Tanakh contrast in regard to their respective contents and views of reality. In the Hindu texts, the focus is on a spiritual reality that is all encompassing and unknowable to human capacity. As the one and only truth that exists, Brahman is everything as well as a spiritual reality that functions as an impersonal force that unifies everything known and unknown. It is human attachment and ignorance to the spiritual that causes a perceived separation in reality and perpetual illusions that are interpreted through the filter of a human mind. Of course, this warped human sense of reality is contained inside the spiritual reality of everything as well. Ultimately the spiritual nature of the content of these Hindu concepts are recorded in written form for reference and study. In the Jewish view of reality, the Tanakh and the contracts contained within are a more physical and material way of experiencing human reality. When contrasted with the texts of Hinduism, the Jewish reality is one of history, time scales (as in beginnings and endings) and the Hebrew God (Yahweh) existing beyond and outside human reality. Jews adhere to their traditions through the fundamental interpretation of the Tanakh in a material and literal sense of histories and covenants. Potentially enlightened Hindus eventually come to know reality in a spiritual sense that has no boundaries or separation in human existence with multiple gods. Everything is Brahman; gods and humans exist within Brahman through a spiritual perspective. The commonality in the two religions is the written word as documentation, but each faith uses their recorded writings in starkly different ways of interpretation and execution.

Possible problems to these contrasts, could include the notion of the written word as being essentially the same in both religions in its function as language that is used to communicate the philosophies of each practice. While this is most certainly true, language in the form of writing in this sense, is a means or way of communicating vastly different concepts. This is secondary to the information contained within the structure of human communication through the knowledge that is imbued in these diverse religious texts.

The Rig-Vedas and Upanishads offer religious knowledge in the form of poems, hymns, and detailed explanations of the spiritual reality of Brahman. All are important facets to the Hindu religion, and all exist in knowledge as language in written communication. The Tanakh is similar in its use of writing to establish and explain concepts within the religion. It differs from its Hindu counterpart, in its establishment of a material rather than spiritual reality. That is to say that, the Jewish God lies outside of human reality and historical events in Jewish history are of special importance to the human role in shaping the religion. All three religious texts are essential and influential to the establishment and continuing faith of their parent religions.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Purgatory - A Short Story


“Diane, all I’m saying is, I need you to be a little more likable.”

“Wait, what?”

“Likeable. You know what I mean. Everyone knows what I mean. I don’t know how many times today I’ve heard you talking to clients with that attitude of yours. That curt, robotic attitude talk. It’s getting a little old around here and I just–”

“Ya know, I don’t know what you mean! I do my job well and treat people with respect. And if you want me to start acting like a bubbly air headed–”

“That is not what I’m saying. You know–”

“It’s called professionalism Don! And I–”

“Okay, okay. Diane, please. Just calm down and listen for a second. Okay?”

She turned her head the other way, huffed, clicked her tongue and screwed her face into a middle aged vice grip that was becoming a familiar feeling. She knew it. She knew if she could see herself now from a distance of 25 years ago, she would be repulsed.

Diane turned back, crossed her arms and waited.

“Alright, all I’m asking is for you to be a little more friendly with people. Okay? I’m not trying to attack your professionalism or anything, I just need you to make an extra effort here.”

A few seconds of tense quiet. They were locked in a stare. One of pitying aggressiveness and the other of contempt. She barely heard him speak.

“Look, no one is doubting the job you do. You’re the best office manager we’ve had in years, but with that comes a degree of affability with people. Okay? And instead of barking platitudes to not only our clients, but to your own coworkers – can you just add a little human touch to things? Hmm? It’s a big part of being professional. In this day and age people don’t want to walk into an office that’s run by a drill sergeant, they want a comforting experience, especially our clients. People have enough negativity in their lives, alright? They don’t need more of it in the workplace, they don’t need it period. And I’m not asking you to baby people, I’m just asking you to be, well, nicer. That’s it. Okay? Can you just put a little more feeling in your work, a little more smile? Life’s too short, ya know. It’s too short to be, uh, angry or whatever have you. I’m not saying you’re angry, I’m just saying even if you are, you could, uh well, benefit from a lighter approach that, well, I think you know what I’m saying.”

He left while she was in the ladies room. At the sink she heard his cell ring and keys jangling as he walked down the hallway passing. In the mirror she smirked and frowned; typical corporate cocksucker. He saw the exit opportunity and acted.

Back at the reception desk she rolled the phones to the night assistant and started to organize client payment plans that had been filled out over the last week or so. Afternoon sun was blazing through the window. The time change felt odd, like she was late for something. She worked faster. She wanted to be away from this place. Roger would probably be home before her and start dinner. Potatoes and chicken, or tuna salad sandwiches with corn or something. Can’t cook for shit. Didn’t matter, his kid would eat anything just like any 16 year-old boy should. She knew he was a mostly decent father if nothing else. He tried to have somewhat of a relationship with the kid no matter what would be spit back in his face – resilience, he did have. Diane loved him for this. For the energy he brought to the household, the attitude of impervious will when things weren’t right, the bullet riddled sheen of his demeanor that he wore with hard earned wisdom. In ways she was envious.

Finished, checked her email a last time and proceeded to shut down the computer. Grabbed her purse and took out her cell, checked for messages and turned the ringer back on. Diane cleaned off her desk, got up and made sure the filing cabinets were locked. She was pretty sure she was the last one there but wanted to check the office anyway. She started walking down the main hallway while reading a text from Roger, “be home late tonite luv u.” As she turned a corner her arm caught the edge of a framed picture knocking it off the wall. “Shit.” The glass shattered when it hit the floor. For a few seconds she just stared at it and wondered what to do. The thing definitely didn’t warrant saving. The sort of exceptionally generalized scene of tranquility that populates office-scapes across America. Country hills with birds and trees, in soft and light pastels with a gold lined border, a brass frame, and semi-opaque frosted glass. It’s purpose was to take up wall space and not to be looked at for more than a few passing seconds, in fact, this was the longest time she had ever looked at it. She took her blazer off, threw it on a chair and pulled her hair back while she walked toward the bathroom for some paper towels. Rolling up her sleeves, she started picking the large chunks of glass out of the carpet and what was left of the frame. It had to be fixed she thought. She would pay for it and have it back here by Monday. It had to be done and she would take care of it.


Regular customers called him Khan and he hated it. A joke, a compliment, a pejorative, didn’t matter because his broad smile and business sense said it was okay. Sometimes he played along telling people that he used to be a wrestler in Ulaanbaatar and “could fuck many people’s shit up.” This would always make ‘em laugh or smile or want to start another conversation about how they too wrestled back in the service or high school, and he would usually nod and pray for it to end with another customer coming up to the counter. They had no idea.

The electronic door chime rang, he turned away from the game on TV and said, “hello” to the newbies walking in. Saying nothing they walked past him and looked. Back to the game, the announcer’s voices mixed with the chatter of the boys in the isle. On a chair, arms crossed he looked from the corner of his eyes. He could tell they were making fun of him and his accent. Dumb-asses. Moronic dumb-asses. He thought, Speak three and a half languages, can write in three entirely different alphabets, and they make fun of my accent. No idea. Everything given to them. Watched and listened. Eyes shifting back and forth from the game to the dumb-asses to the camera monitor above the cigarette racks to the convex mirror in the corner by the coolers. Door chime, the front door; Hector came up to the counter.

“Que pasa amigo?”

“Ah you know. Tired.”

“Ah yes, but Friday it is my friend.”

Kahn reached up and grabbed a pack of Camels, turned and took a pint of Ancient Age off the shelf.

“Nothing but shit.” Hector shook his head while fishing money from his pocket. “Gotta work tomorrow and Sunday. Never, never ends.”

“Pinche vatos.” He collected the bills and change. Put everything in a bag, smiled and said, “you have your Friday night at least amigo. They have not yet taken this away.”

“They try. So far I’ve been able to say no, but with things as they are, who knows how long I ought to keep that up. Oh, and it’s better to say ‘gabacho’ my friend, Mr. Khan.”

He laughed hard. Little closer to three and a half and another half of a language. “Gracias! And take care buddy.”

Hector waved. “Yep.”

He was suspicious. The dumb-asses were standing a little too close together in an isle that he couldn’t quite see. Whispers, laughs, frequently punctuated by “dude” and “fuck,” they looked intently between the shelves and him. He thought of the baseball bat and unregistered pistol under the counter. He thought of hurting them if they tried to steal or hold the store up. It’d happened before and he knew what to do. He watched.

“Help you two find anything?”

They both looked up. Looked at him for a few long seconds and one of them said, “nah, we good.”

Dip-shits. Get the fuck outta my store. Go back to your silver spoon fed lives. He sighed, crossed his arms and turned his eyes back to the game and began to think of his lawn. It had come close to 90 today and he knew his yard had been taking a beating all day. Ever since Vince quit three and a half weeks ago, Khan had been pulling double shifts, and not surprisingly the long monotonous hours had led his mind into places well worn and places that were just about off the map. He knew that even though he’d watered in the morning, he’d have to water tonight as well when he got home around one o’clock. It’d be hard because he was already tired enough to sleep for a few days, but his lawn depended on it, not to mention his reputation on the block as some kind of Asian yard master of feng shui that his liked and not so liked neighbors had bestowed upon him. He dreamed of a sprinkler system. He began to think ‘if only’ thoughts of programmable stations, vari-speed heads, underground soaker hoses; all presumably visiting his synapses from his lawnmaintence.com wish list. All this while basketball was being played and kids were stealing from him.

Khan took out a pair of glasses and a cigarette from his shirt pocket and began to stare. He lit it and slammed the lighter onto the counter in a way that shouted clearly and aggressively that he was not to be fucked with. The two looked up and saw a middle aged, pudgy Mongolian with a round sweat shined head glaring at them through a fog of smoke emanating from wide nostrils. Confusion for a few seconds turned to giggles and smirks. White boys. Without interrupting his stare he stood up from the bar stool and fumbled his right hand underneath the counter for the pistol. Take something! Give me a reason. He wouldn’t kill because he knew there were the so called, “fates worse than death. A bullet shattered kneecap, paralysis, the blasting of genitals off, and maybe while they suffered on the floor he would lock and bar the front door, run to the back, get the gas can on top of the emergency generator and the fire extinguisher next to it, run back, douse ‘em and flick his cigarette into the puddle of gasoline and blood. Just like the Hollywood movies. And then of course he’d spray the fire retardant so they wouldn’t die and wait for the cops to take him downtown where he’d gleefully confess. Try me. Do it. He clicked off the safety and felt for the trigger. Do it.


She had cut her hand pretty good. Right in the center of the palm and by the time it was noticed Diane was already on the road. Blood on the steering wheel, keys, stick shift, blouse. So wrapped up in everything, she hadn’t felt a pain until she saw her face with a few strands of hair caked into a mix of blood and makeup on her forehead and right temple. She reached for some kleenexes to wipe her face and eventually found the source. She wadded up the tissues into the core of a tight fist.

She drove erratic, like she had almost nothing to lose. Now the pain was intense. She breathed like she couldn’t get enough air, she was sweating, losing blood, and felt like it. She rummaged through her bloodied purse for cigarettes and a lighter while halfway navigating the road. The late afternoon sun was at a position of maximum intensity and annoyance that obscured the view through a pitted and dirty windshield. Inhaling the smoke calmed and satisfied her in the same way that eating after a prolonged hunger feels. Her hand didn’t throb as hard and she stopped caring about the bleeding. Driving down the road in an old rundown part of town, she passed liquor stores, pawn shops, ethnic restaurants, and read signs advertising programs for inner city youth at risk, lawyers with corny nicknames in parentheses, and property hocking realtors that dangled dreamy promises to the gullible impoverished masses below. The sun had finally set and city lights were sporadically turning on. Diane rolled down her window and felt the evening air. She came to a red light where there was a man holding a cardboard sign that read, “Spaceship broken. Need money for parts. Anything helps. God Bless.” She smirked and marveled at the homeless man’s joke. They made eye contact. She turned away and felt for some change in her purse. Found a quarter and turned back to the bum and saw that he was still staring at her. She flipped the coin in his direction and it hit the sidewalk in front of him. He nodded his thanks and slowly bent down to pick it up. Light turned green, she put it in first, and flicked her cigarette out the window.

Her car felt like a purgatory. The necessary middle ground between destinations that was completely neutral. It was her sanctuary of reflection and pause. Within her protected vehicle of neutrality, she embraced the dirty and eclectic city around her. Pushing through it all like a cultural drill bit. A parade going by in all directions. She was not at ease. She needed a drink. Rather, she wanted a drink but knew that she shouldn’t tempt her desire. The struggles of yesteryear came to a head. She was born with it. It was part of her. Knew it well, and knew that her younger na├»ve self was genuinely happier when the longing desire was satisfied. It made her smile. She would dance in sweaty morasses of sensuality and light to pulsing rhythms until dawn. Drink herself into a painless body that the endless ecstasy and sex couldn’t hurt anymore. In corners of doorways with the shaft of a pen and a broken light bulb. A bump in the bathroom stall. Stamps and pills on her tongue. All of it a lifetime ago. The hard truth that she had been happier navigating the ride into mysterious territory and letting the reigns go. The manic flights of energy and bliss shot so high that she wouldn’t feel the eventual gravity of Earth and body pulling her back. Down and past the point of origin until she found herself docile, yet angry with a glass of mid-grade cabernet and a television. Once she admitted that her unbreakable vessel was far from the stronghold she’d always imagined, Diane handed over the keys to empirical wisdom and sitting groups of weary types in circles.

She saw the illuminated red sign that said, Liquor. Pulled into the rutted out parking lot and turned off the car. She sat in the muffled noise of the city and waited. Not in thought, but in a catatonic state of worn out monotony and disgust.


The Russians had always been the lesser of two evils. They had imposed their language and political ideologies into the general zeitgeist of a soft, post-war generation. And this was just the way things were to the young. Long enough to seem natural, yet to the elders, it was recent enough to remember the uncertain joys of independence from China while simultaneously retreating to the refuge of the Soviet bloc. Once older, he remembered feeling small. A small human insect wedged between two bloated giants. When the Sino-Soviet split climaxed, Khan in secondary school, became one of the many young nationalists that exploited and used the opportunity between their quarrelsome gatekeepers to further a renewed Mongolian national character. They were The Young Turks of their sparsely populated land. He pushed the notion of political independence and cultural identity as far as his comrades would let a spry young man attain. He remembered feeling a certain winner’s pride from witnessing a turnaround in people to genuine hope. It was fleeting, but good. Something that could never be taken away. Then Nixon started grooming Mao, and he and his formerly strong countrymen felt betrayed by the West. Like a discarded item in a pawn shop selling far below any kind of value, it all decayed into whimsical hubris. The California of his Hollywood dreams had exchanged him for new photo ops and a posturing political dog show. Even worse, when the 1980s became the newest theatre of Cold War tension, the West never even acknowledged Mongolia as part of the oppressed bloc. It was all Eastern Europe and the plights of Slavs, Hungarians, Romanians. In fact, Khan came to believe that America’s view of the “East” abruptly stopped somewhere in the longitudes of the Ukrainian wheat fields. His homeland of nomadic warriors of the Asian Steppe and former global empire, became circus style wrestling matches and weekend horse archer’s tournaments. He was angry. And his anger carried him through his young adulthood as he continued to fight the good fight as a defiant and then ostracized police officer, to later finishing his academic studies to practice law. Gradually the weathering of age, family, and wisdom dulled his vitality and found himself settling for a variety of acceptance. With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the lawlessness that ensued, he cashed in and bought his way to the West. Yet, the America of his adolescence did not exist. He thought that, it too had become worn with age and abuse. A crabby king that wielded intense power, and grand illusions. No longer a lawyer, Khan became a cab driver, a dry cleaning technician, an Asian and Mexican line cook, and finally a liquor store owner. He now lived in the middle latitudes, middle age, and middle ground. A veteran of experience; he had adjusted accordingly.


She thought of the broken picture, the glass, then Roger and decided she didn’t care. He’d be worried later. Worried that something might’ve happened to her. He would ponder things and wait. Make her dinner and wait. Watch the game, read the paper, check his email, and wait. Eventually he might call the police. He was efficient like that. Responsible. An operator might tell him that he had to wait 48 hours in order to file a missing person report and he would dutifully raise hell. An abduction, a suicide made to look like an accident, a tragic murder, a disappearance. She sat in the middle of her thinking. She knew something. She was scared. It swept over her entire body. Fear of nothing – no thing, non thing. Without. None. Non-. Nowhere in empty space. Nonexistence. Nothing.

The boys had pocketed one 750ml bottle of Vodka each into their enormous baggy trousers. This is what he saw. He felt his jaw tighten. His thoughts, his life; all racing to somewhere. They were re-stoned after having just woken from a long afternoon’s couch coma with what remained of the half empty bags of Cheetos on their chests and diverse gamer apparatus strewn about. Black hoodies, bloodshot eyes, and fluorescent crumbs on their exterior, he saw them as perfect representatives of a certain kind of stereotypical American teenager. Normally he would silently laugh and admire the vapid stupidity and arrogance of these kids. But now they were stealing things that belonged to him. Taking things that weren’t given to them. They had been born with everything and raised in utter banality, and now they sought relief in petty crime. He knew this as he watched them in his store. Sweat was running down into his eyes while he exhaled miniature clouds of tobacco smoke that rose to the ceiling. He slowly pulled the gun out from under the counter and waited with an intensity. The sounds of the air conditioner and television commercials. Heart was hitting hard, while his hands and arms met to aim the pistol. He focused through one eye and lined up the sight – right in the middle. One boy looked up in the direction of the gun pointing liquor store clerk. His mouth opened. He went pale and now truly looked like a child. Then the other. And dumbfounded by fear, the first kid started to say something when the door chime rang, cutting him off.


End



Shameless Plug: If you liked this story, you might also like an earlier one I did found here. If not, you'd probably hate it more, and then wonder why you're reading this shit.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

KWA

Like the brave Dadaists of yesteryear, KWA sculpts and experiments with modern media to express his artistic and political philosophies. In fact, KWA’s commonality with Dada is, art as a kind of anti-art. In more words, a defiant affirmation of originality often posed as a question, in so being that the artistic tools used for creation are traditional, but the context in which the work is placed gives the idea of the art in question a new and sometimes unique meaning. In this way, the art of KWA resembles the visual work of Marcel Duchamp and Andy Warhol. In the case of Duchamp, works were created with found objects like a urinal or bicycle wheel. Likewise, KWA employs the mediums of modern media to communicate his critiques of certain media and philosophies. Both in his samples of orations by speakers and the ambient soundscapes that were created with everyday vehicles of transmission i.e. frequencies used in satellite, radio, and television communications. In the case of Warhol, the means and idea of the artwork are the art, not the work itself. In the way that Warhol evoked the commodification of art by commodifying his art, KWA communicates his work through the same vessels that the propagandists he opposes are communicated through i.e. the internet, CDs, Mp3s, speakers, stereos. All this of course, lends itself to be simultaneously analyzed, experienced, and judged by the listener in which the work is presented.

“Neurillogikal” serves as a general introduction to what the next 55 minutes will sonically contain. Droning low frequencies mixed with higher band sounds that swirl and oscillate within the stereo spectrum. The combined effect is like that of a Rothko painting, where shapes and colors, blend and fade into a cohesive and unified whole. Here, the blurry drone rotates, while crisp higher pitched sounds move in outer revolutions about a listener’s center. This track is a sound collage that has a sinister yet meditative effect, that perhaps alludes to the passivity needed on the part of the television viewer to effectively be communicated to. As a title, “Neurillogikal” is a curious portmanteau that implies divergent meanings within itself; neuro, as in relation to the brain, logic, illogic, illness, and a protrusive “k” used in the same hardline Germanic way that Kafka applied it.

As “Neurillogikal” tempers the listener’s senses, “AldouHux” rides within the same auditory channels as its predecessor, albeit with some added samples of humans speaking. In fact, the two pieces work in the same fashion that the latter’s namesake wrote of in Brave New World. Recall that, Aldous Huxley portrayed a utopian society that existed in passive happiness. The indoctrinated (Huxley termed it, hypnopaedically conditioned) population sought the dumbed-down passivity required to live, because life without passivity was no life to live. This, and Walter Lippmann’s phrase, “the manufacture of consent” come to mind when listening to this piece.

On “The 300”, KWA expounds on the notions of world government and generalized paranoia. This track is also an example of the way in which KWA evokes his message. Judiciously, as a cooperation between himself and the sampled speakers featured on the CD. KWA provides the backdrop and mood, and the speakers provide the content. He nobly credits all of them in the liner notes with additional sources cited for more information. The intended cumulative effect is to better communicate the topics in the sampled oratories with the aid of audio scores, in the same fashion that movie soundtracks enhance emotional responses from an audience.

By the time the listener finds their way to the beginning of the last track, “Venetian Casino”, they will have a general idea as to what they’ll experience. The track is essentially a continuation of the previous two. A sampled speaker talks of discontenting situations that are interposed and supported with musical renderings. “Venetian Casino” is the point in which the art either sells itself, or fails completely. If the audience is open minded to the kind of artistic expression KWA practices, then the polarizing nature of the work will either inspire or annoy. This is the bottom line when any kind of experimental art is put forth to be experienced.

KWA makes music in a world that will not recognize it as that. However, the discerning audience member and possible fan will understand that such an indictment of music is ridiculous, and hitherto realize the constrained notions of what music is. With all the sounds available to humanity, only a few small specialized groups of timbres are used to make, and in turn, experience musical expression. A shame for sure, but artists like KWA will always exist beyond the outskirts of orthodoxy, offering a welcome alternative to the accepted paradigms of thought and expression. This is music that will have to be doggedly pursued by avid connoisseurs of experimentation and will only succeed if the listener wants it to.