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Zerzan and Gebser on Art

by Jack Suss

image:Zerzan & Gebser on Art.Jack Suss.jpg

Jonathan D. "Jack" Suss, a/k/a Stubby Knuckles, is a hard-working creative loafer in secluded semi-retirement from a string of seemingly unconnected jobs. Currently he is a doctoral candidate in Humanities involved in excavating the notion of law/ legal culture/ the Western legal tradition and its relation to civilization and the natural world, using structures of mind theory to scrutinize its genesis, nature, purpose, relevancy, development and future. He is also a tireless poet-fighter against the "glare" of consensual reality and culture trance, though often believing he is doomed to live the scruffy life of a bluesman. He bemoans the decline of the authentic and agitates for the demise of TV bumperoo/techno-soul-snatching and a return to primitive simplicities.

Part of training sight to appreciate the objects of culture was the accompanying repression of immediacy in an intellectual sense: reality was removed in favor of merely aesthetic experience. Art anesthetizes the sense organs and removes the natural world from their purview. This reproduces culture, which can never compensate for the disability... Art turns the subject into object, into symbol... Art provided the medium of conceptual transformation by which the individual was separated from nature and dominated, at the deepest level, socially. Art's ability to symbolize and direct human emotion accomplished both ends. What we were led to accept as necessity, in order to keep ourselves oriented in nature and society, was at base the invention of the symbolic world, the Fall of Man.

John Zerzan, "The Case Against Art," Elements of Refusal (CAL Press Paleo Editions: Columbia, MO, 2nd Rev. Ed., 1999: 63-72)

1)To what extent is the irruption of time found in painting? 2) To what extent is there an emergent supersession of dualism? and, 3) To what extent does it have an arational and hence aperspectival character?... "Nature is not at the surface but in the depths, and colors are an expression of this depth at the surface; they surge up from the roots of the world." [quoting Cezanne] ...These "roots of the world," invisible to the mere eye, the "secret structure of things" - they have been brought to perception by Picasso and other artists of our epoch... All of these aperspectival inceptions clearly show the arationality of modern painting. Even partial regressions, such as those of the first "Abstractionists," Expressionists and Surrealists who strove to overcome three-dimensionality primarily from the psychic, lead beyond the irrational and the rational, as is apparent in the late work of Klee and even in Kandinsky.

Jean Gebser, Ever-Present Origin (Ohio University Press: Athens, Ohio, Eng. trans. 1985: 470-487, orig. pub. 1949 and 1953)

Is art a disservice to humanity and the world? (John Zerzan) Can art herald a new, integral structure of mind, thus benefiting humanity and the world by aiding and abetting its unfolding? (Jean Gebser) Do the answers to these questions about art's function and effect depend on one's "ontological location"? (just where one is at, with regard to the nature of being and the nature of reality).

I think the answers to all of the above is a resounding yes - yes - and once again, yes! But wait a minute. Aren't my first two questions mutually exclusive? - yes, but not when qualified by an affirmative answer to the third question. In fact, if we answer "yes" to the third question aren't we admitting that the nature of being, reality and the inter-relationship between the two, are as elastic as each person's micro-perception of his or her self (being) and his or her macro-picture of the world about us (reality)?

What if we answer "no" to the third question. This causes difficulty. I suppose, if we answer negatively, we can be of two possible minds: either, 1) we believe that there is only one reality wherein one's "being" can be thought of as equivalent to the state of simply being alive with some general modicum of awareness, or 2) that no matter what our "ontological location" there remains only one affirmative, mutually exclusive answer to one or the other of the first two questions.

Who cares? Maybe you answered "no" to both of the first two questions. Maybe you felt these questions were moot, even stupid. Why ask why? Just do it. Drink, exercise, produce and appreciate art. Why not buy a condo too? People build condos, people buy condos, and why? Again, why ask why? Just do it. Make art in your studio condo - make it a live-in. Be an artist or visit an artist there. There's the artist, doing art. To what effect? Don't ask. Behold the affect: poor and struggling, starving, in-his-cups, paint-on-clothes, creative, maverick, non-conformist, subversive - oh the artist's role! Sell, oh artist - go to the marketplace of broken dreams; sell yourself; participate in the rummage sale amid the pact of the withdrawn selves; hold your head high, for you are not-of-the-mundane. What's this? Someone's buying?

Hobnob with the power elite, the buyers of art. Mate me! Nurse me! You may hate them. No matter. Network. Forever hate it, but learn to abide it - socialize. Build a clientele for your work, your vision. Do they like your style? Technique? Personality? Who cares?

Meanwhile, deep in the bush, an anarcho-primitivist lurks and wanders about. A gurgling brook, damp earth, a soft warmth on the face, the zest of clean air, pine needles - passing by unnoticed on a deer trail, by a cliff face now, under the canopy of oaks up ahead, senses sharpened. He remembers art and wonders how ludicrous it would be to see landscape paintings hanging on the trees, or worse - gobs of color on canvass! He smiles. He's in communion with the real thing - no symbols, no representations needed.

They had always been close, but his sister had elected to stay in the city. She was born sketching the world around her. Great expectations turned slowly into realized dreams. How content was she to create her lyrical pieces! And how fortunate that, early on, the right people were drawn to them. They protected her; gave her a refuge from that city of mechanized routine. They also envied her. Seemingly oblivious, she simply worked away in a kind of timelessness - on her art, on researching life, the world. Also a bit of a theorist-philosopher, her works were insightful, focused and free; beholden to no one, not her ego, nor any ideology. They said she was "ahead of her time," astounding the critics. Yes, she was certainly making an impression.

She published, writing:

Genuine art, we might say, is simply human creation that does not stifle the nonhuman element but, rather, allows whatever is Other in the materials to continue to live and breathe. Genuine artistry, in this sense, does not impose a wholly external form upon some ostensibly "inert" matter, but rather allows the form to emerge from the participation and reciprocity between the artist and the materials, whether these materials be stones, or pigments, or spoken words. Thus understood, art is really a cooperative endeavor, a work of cocreation in which the dynamism and power of earth-born materials is honored and respected. In return for this respect, these materials contribute their more-than-human resonance's to human culture.

(borrowed, i.e., quoted from David Abram, The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World (Vintage Books, NY, 1996: 278 n. 22.)

Final query after reading the foregoing:

Decide for yourself whether there are innumerable ways of being and as many realities. Whether or not there are, just what is the nature of your being and reality? Answer that first before you take a stand on art's function and effect. Embrace and advocate art, despise and discourage art - or even be indifferent. But whatever your reaction, consider this: Do we lust after the very things that oppress us if we participate in culture and civilization, those bringers of art? Or, if we don't participate - how do we not participate? Can we not?

We wish all of you happiness and success!