Beauty Will Save the World?

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Sciborg_S_Patel

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Beauty Will Save the World

Media levels everything down to the same neutral mass of stuff we call “information.” Each person is asked to navigate the seas of information according to the dictates of tastes and moods which are themselves influenced by the media machine. Thinkers such as Soren Kierkegaard and Walter Benjamin saw some of the implications of this “leveling process” long before they became as evident as they are now. But it was Gilles Deleuze, drawing on the work of William S. Burroughs, who perceived that in a true information society, the mode of domination shifts from the ideal of discipline to the ideal of control. In a society of control, the prime directive isn’t to punish those who transgress anymore, but to limit the possibilities of thought, feeling, and action in such way that real change feels absolutely impossible. And control is largely an aesthetic project
The shaman enters the priestly society of the ancient world and is called a prophet. She enters modern industrial society and is called an artist. From the shape-shifting sorcerer painted on the cavern wall to Mr. Tambourine Man jangling in the junk-sick morning, a single tradition flows—backwards, like an undertow beneath the tidal thrust of history. This tradition tears us out of the system of codified language and returns us to the dreaming depths where language first rose as the idiot stammerings of poetry. The shaman, the prophet, the artist: each knows the way lies not in the dry processes of logic but in the snaking courses of the heart. If art makes use of ideas, concepts, and opinions, it is only to subsume them in the realm of the senses, to push them to the knife-edge of lunacy where the primal chaos shows through the skin of objects, where all judgments are silenced and beauty, naked and terrible, is revealed.

Art doesn’t begin when you realize that you have something to say. It begins at the hour when there is nothing left to say, when everything has been said, when what must be said is unspeakable. Deleuze described the artist as a shapeshifter and a seer. He or she “has seen something in life that is too great, too unbearable also, and the mutual embrace of life with what threatens it.”* Art, in other words, is a way to the sacred. It places the aesthetic in the service of something that transcends instrumental reason. This is true of all great works, regardless of whether they deal with explicitly spiritual topics. There is infinitely more shamanism in Moby Dick, for instance, than in Avatar. The sacred doesn’t originate in the subject matter of a work so much as in the play of forces that its entire composition reveals: the whale and its whiteness, the visionary madness of Ahab, the oceanic nature of space and time. Whether we’re talking about a poem, a painting, or a song, the sacred comes through the configuration of tone, style, character, color, and intensity as well as content. It is the result of an encounter between a particular consciousness and a particular creation that breaks down the subject-object divide.
 
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