Friday, May 27, 2016

The Artist Of What Is Not There

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- Have you seen your friend? The one that got kicked out of school?
- Not for a while.
- Meet anyone new?
- A fellow from San Francisco, early this morning waiting for Starbucks to open. I invited him to share the single table. He said he had come to L.A. for the movie business "like everyone else". He'd had some trouble, a long story. I said, let's hear it. He wasn't willing. He wanted to hear about me. He asked:

- You look like Chomsky. Do you teach?
- I'm not an academic. I help people with English sometimes. What do you think of Chomsky?
- I'm obsessed with him. I've seen every video of him on YouTube.
- Do you think he has had any political effect in his half century of writing books and public speaking?
- No. What about you?
- No.
- Why not?
- Do you like to talk, just not like to talk about yourself?
- Why do you ask?
- We're at the beginning of a long conversation. I don't want to drag anyone along with me who doesn't want to come.
-  It's 4:30 in the morning. I've got a few minutes to hear about Chomsky. What's your background, anyway?
- As I said I'm not an academic.
- What did you study?
- Philosophy.
- Ah.
- What's that mean?
- Nothing. About Chomsky?
- He's written over a hundred books. Videos of the public lectures he's been giving for decades have millions of views. He answers every email he receives. I've written to him myself.
- You have? What did he say?*
- He revealed his limitations.
- Which are?
- The same as his fellow but much younger activist Michael Moore whose movies are seen by tens of millions, whose web site is visited by millions of people every day.
- And those limitations are?
- I don't know if I can tell you.
- Why not?
- Because the answer I'll give is about confidences passed between people and all I know about you is you are unwilling to confide in me.
- I'll tell you about myself some other time if there is some other time. What time is it, by the way?
- A couple minutes after four thirty.
- When you wrote to Chomsky you felt he didn't confide in you either? You know, he probably was answering emails from hundreds of others at the same time.
- Two things about Chomsky and Moore: they are political artists, and they are millionaires.
- They're hypocrites? They put on a show and are well paid for it?
- Apparently they're sincere. I mean their art finds its reward in their privates lives.
- What's wrong with that?
- Both Chomsky and Moore believe times are getting better: we have a black president with a middle name out of Islamic history, we have homosexual marriage, feminism. Plans to extend again the Canadian oil pipeline were defeated. This despite deepening economic slavery they both talk a lot about.
- They think the political success we've achieved should be able to deal with the economic failure.
- Do you think they're right?
- What do you think?
- I think they don't know anything about it. They've never studied the question.
- What question?
- How we talk about the world changes the world, or fails to. And this has to do with finding reward for political talk in private life.
- Instead of where? In public life?
- In knowledge. I've been reading lately about Da Vinci. He believed art had to be balanced with science, technique with knowledge.**
- He must have had a private life too.
- Sure. But he took his art in a direction that brought knowledge, and knowledge he believed brought with it love.
- How?
- By representing what he did not see. By representing theories. If he was an artist of politics, like Chomsky or Moore, he'd depict how economics and politics affect each other. Instead he worked on what interested him. He drew pictures of stormy skies in which can be seen in detail rain in lines, wind in vortexes, clouds of spray in a way we can't actually see together: we need to focus on the different elements of lines, cloud, vortex separately. He did the same when he drew the heart and included spiral turbulence of blood flow he'd seen so much of in nature and suggested building a glass model of the heart to test. He famously painted pictures of people in which the expression of personality, like the drawn vortex flows in the heart or stormy sky, stuns us with its complexity and completeness.
- Mona Lisa's smile.
- Yes. He drew and painted what was there, but wasn't there to be seen. He drew and painted knowledge, a theory to be tested.
- And Moore and Chomsky, being happy and rich, go back to private life instead of taking their art to the next level of testable knowledge. That's interesting. I'll think about it. But how do you know they aren't already doing what you ask? They make a lot of practical proposals, organized resistance, etc.
- Da Vinci can answer that too. Art was to be balanced by knowledge, which brings love. Art without knowledge we can identify by its lack of love. We see lack of love by seeing a world that is unlike Da Vinci's depictions of stormy skies, hearts pumping blood in vortexes, human figures glowing with personality. In each of these examples what we see isn't really there, hasn't really been seen there. Da Vinci saw the parts in succession. He depicted reality like on a sketch pad in which different attempts, angles and sections are included. The boundaries between the different parts are meaningless. The views are as it were overlaid one on the other as in a wash. That's how knowledge of the world made of art looks. The world made for us by our art not reaching knowledge looks absolutely different. Everything in it has a boundary separating it from others. That boundary is composed of nothingness, a blank; without that nothing being there we wouldn't be able to separate one thing from another.
- Da Vinci thought all this?
- He did, believe it or not. It's in his notebooks. The world made by our art that is not led into knowledge is a world of facts swimming in a sea of nothingness. It is ugly. It is meaningless. It says nothing to us. It is without wholeness. It is without love. And, this is what I've been getting at: we communicate not by throwing the isolated objects we make at each other but in the collective act of testing our knowledge.***

- That's it?
- The San Franciscan left.
- Do you think he understood you?
- Can I practice what Da Vinci preached and he himself practiced better than anyone who ever lived? Have I an art of talking that makes its way into knowledge? You tell me. Was it beautiful or not? Is that a smile I see on your face?

P.S. "We have already rejected any idea of a frontal attack. Mind cannot withstand matter (brute force) in open battle. It is rather a question of perceiving clearly and without prejudice what are the forces that are at work in the world and out of whose interaction tomorrow must come to be; and then, calmly, without indignation, by a kind of mental ju-jitsu that is ours by virtue of intelligence, of modifying, correcting, polluting, deflecting, corrupting, eroding, outflanking . . . inspiring what we might call the invisible insurrection. It will come on the mass of men, if it comes at all, not as something they have voted for, fought for, but like the changing season; they will find themselves in and stimulated by the situation consciously at last to recreate it within and without as their own." (A Revolutionary Proposal: Invisible Insurrection of a Million Minds - Alexander Trocchi)

Further Reading:
The Technology Of Good
Machines & Consciousness
* Noam Chomsky & Mental Things
** "He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast." "I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do." (Da Vinci)
*** "Love is the offspring of knowledge; the passion of love grows in proportion to the certainty of knowledge." (Da Vinci).