|Burning Man 2010: dragon tail, pirate flag, mountains, and dust. There's a LOT going on here.|
And what happened was that I found so many references to ancient Greece in my daily life I felt a little scared. I felt scared knowing that I had just been cruising through a visual media culture that made references I didn't know before, because that meant that the academic culture I was entering was going to make a thousand times more. And of course, it did.
Skip ahead some years later, to a very similar feeling that happened when I read Nabokov's Lolita for the first time. I read the novel very soon after I'd been first introduced to Derrida, and there was a sort of dizzying effect to Nabokov's text as I felt I could fall inside each page, and this was a physical sensation that never stopped after I taught the book 8 times, because Derrida had told me I was already bleeding in through the spaces between the words.
I am back in grad school, attending seminars with extremely smart abstract thinkers, finding myself awash in visual imagery and idiosyncratic connections that sometimes enhance the discourse and at other times make it jumbled and clunky. Tonight I watched a Miyazaki film called "Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind" for a class I'm taking on anime--and really, the way anime can be seen as a portal to a new relation to technology a la Heidegger. And I was heartened by the fact that someone out there has a brain that moves in lateral, brightly colored directions like mine.
If that meant nothing to you, know this: I cried many times during the film, as connections came slamming through me: this is America, this is the global political body, this is the demonized dream of environmentalism, this is the problem of the ivory tower, this is Anthony, this is my old cat Boots and my new adopted cat Bembo, this is me, this is the unbelievably beautiful piece of visual art that somehow got enough people and money behind it to get MADE. And I fell into the movie in the same way I fall into a page. And the depth of these connections, the allusions I felt moving backward (the film was made in 1984, but visually seemed to reference Burning Man 2010 and Star Wars: the Clone Wars), the sheer weight of connectivity I don't understand because I haven't, still haven't read enough books or seen enough film was almost too much.
I know that for some people, in fact, it IS too much. They give up and watch TV without thinking about what that TV might be referencing. They give up and do all kinds of things, with the general theme of ignorance, indifference, or disinterest. This is the condition that most troubles people who worry about "the postmodern." But for me, those glimpses into the rampant allusive-ness of the world are like a drug. I want to see more. I want to trace them. I don't pretend I'll find origins, really, but I want to find swarms and packs and pockets and concentric circles of connection. I want to peel off and paste on layer after layer of the collage.
At the Getty last weekend for my Mom's birthday, I looked at ancient Greek art that I'd studied at some point at Reed. I saw a bust I recognized from a book cover. I read and remembered, vaguely, certain customs, names of gods and goddesses, and as we strolled out into the garden, I tried to figure out why the Koi in the pond "worked" with everything else. Pure aesthetics? Some reference in Ovid? Some cultural exchange between the Greeks and elsewhere that I don't know about? The questions are pleasurable. They're worthwhile. They feel like practicing piano or going for a run--I may not get an instant return on this hour, but if I keep it up, someday I'll have a moment when that little "click" will turn over, that flush of recognition, and I'll grab the arm of the person I'm with and crazily try to explain it. Eventually, one day, I'll get a piece memorized, I'll notice a new shapeliness to my calves, I'll read something new and feel I can love it more because I understand that it is a piece of homage to another book I already love.
I'm pretty sure I'm not arguing art for art's sake, although it may seem that way. What ultimately drives this desire and pleasure is a humanist passion: the more connectivity I can discuss, the more I can show, the more others can feel, the less distanced and dehumanized and disembodied we will be together. I actually believe this is possible, as a life-praxis, not just an academic exercise.
The biggest barrier to it is the ego. Wanting to feel like I already know what someone is going to say or show to me. Wanting to feel that triumph in argument, wanting to above all not lose face in front of people whose admiration I crave. When I am able to stop seeing through the ego-lens, I don't become a relativist or a confused little baby lost in the fog. I become even more convinced that creative moments of connection, collaboration, and realization of creative impulse is the way out. The way through, the way in, the way toward a moment in which the Dragon (spirit-body), the Pirate (the people's power to resist and organize), the Mountain (wisdom), and the Dust (the everyday made extraordinary) not only coexist in a lucky photo, but ARE together in my body and my body of work.