Archives for category: Buddhism

Kandinsky

Last night I heard a reference to Gesamtkunstwerk on the PBS Idea Channel available on YouTube. This morning The Globe and Mail contained an article by Russell Smith that referenced the same thing. I always enjoy a good coincidence, a pleasure I share with André Breton. I recommend his book Nadja. It elicits an aesthetic appreciation of coincidence, and once you’ve developed the habit of noticing such things, there’s a world of accidental art to be explored. Breton was an arrogant bastard, but I like him in spite of his faults.

The problem is, if you begin to suspect a real connection within a coincidence, its beauty begins to drain out. I’m not talking about the one world, all and everything, cosmic consciousness, clear light, nirvana kind of connection. That’s a whole different, perfect beauty. That doesn’t drain anywhere, it’s already there. I’m talking about causality, which ruins everything.

So it may be the case that the idea of the Gesamtkunstwerk is fashionable right now, and as a fashion victim, I’m also trying to write about it. Wagner is associated with the idea, but let’s consider Wassily Kandinsky, author of Concerning the Spiritual in Art (1910), who was somewhat of a Theosophist, a synesthete, and the painter of the world’s first abstract, or non-objective painting in 1910.

From the very beginning there were various understandings of ‘abstract art’. It was something spiritual for Kandinsky and Mondrian, but formal, and a touch political, for Malevich and Tatlin. Today the term seems totally empty and its only reference is historical. Nonetheless, I’m surprised that I didn’t encounter anything written about the centenary of this event. It would have been fun to read.

This is where I would build a case for some kind of non-coincidental connection between synesthesia, or the desire for it, and the Gesamtkunstwerk. But I really don’t feel like it. I don’t sense any worthwhile aha in a conclusion

It’s claimed that Richard Feynman, Franz Liszt, and Vladimir Nabokov also lived with synesthesia. That might be interesting, then again, I don’t think so. It’s not a good coincidence.

Image: Wassily Kandinsky, untitled, watercolour, 188 x 196 cm., 1910, collection of Paris, Musee National Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou. As far as I know, this is the first abstract painting in the Western tradition.

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1908

My name is Steve, and I don’t exist in the way that the English language would lead me to believe.

I’m made up of numerous little Steves who take turns in the driver’s seat. There’s the Steve who wants to drink vast quantities of wine and beer. There’s the Steve who wants to smoke a cigar, although these first two are pretty close to one and the same guy.

There’s the Steve who loves art and has actually swooned in the presence of a painting, the one who wants to make art just as good, the one who thinks that would be an awful lot of work so it would be best to start it later, the one who finds physics and philosophy very interesting, the one who loves his family and friends, the one who resents obligations and responsibilities, the one who thinks his taste in clothes is indisputably the best, and for all the right reasons, the one who worries about the environment, and the one who believes that there is only one Steve. This last one also rides shotgun with all the others. These are some of my nafs.

Carl Jung would call the nafs complexes, an idea he shared with Freud. Jung also stressed that complexes are merely heuristics – believing in their independent existence won’t help the situation.

As far as I know, the Sufis see the nafs mostly as unworthy, carnal aspects of the ego, but there’s probably a lot more to it than that. Nonetheless, the unworthy ones are certainly the most obvious. The nafs I disapprove of in myself are by far the easiest ones to see as not actually being me.

But naturally enough, I’m prone to find the most flattering explanation to be the one that is most probably true. This is simply a function of Armstrong’s Bin. Who doesn’t want to think of themselves as a curious, artistic, responsible, loving person. That’s a lot better than being a vain, resentful, procrastinating substance abuser.

If I were to see all my proclivities as not me, I would find that there is nothing left. There is also a threatened little Steve who thinks that’s frightening. This one is standing in the way of progress.

It seems that my accomplishments are, in a way, the achievements of a termite colony. As my grandmother used to say, “Fancy that”.

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