Fulfillment center? Well, not exactly, but IKEA does address a lot of the household function concerns of urban dwellers. It does this with a nebulous generic form, a genealogy without pedigree muddled by global marketing and brand identity. IKEA could be identified as design living on a Walmart budget. Inquiries as to the nature of this design are met with hand waving and vague references to European styling or “that Scandinavian look”. Ostensibly one is to believe that IKEA is the successful progeny of a line threading back to the Bauhaus – you know, form and function, yadda, yadda. Contemporaneous with the Bauhaus, architects like Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier designed multi unit urban dwelling spaces, some possibly still in use as such. Word in the back corridors of Art History is that many of the later day residents of these designed living spaces retro fitted them with antique-y or traditional doors, cabinets, furnishings and old kitsch simulacra. Next generation functional household designers of the 1950’s spawned (amongst a plethora of other styles) the European or “Scandinavian” look that IKEA products hearken. Along with this echo of the 50’s, IKEA’s products integrate a nostalgic “hominess” that later residents of Le Corbusier’s and van der Rohe’s designed units preferred. That is to say, there is some L L Bean “cottage,” traditional, and “country” informality mixed in to the pastiche called IKEA design. But it is a ready made household function solution for the style dilemma of city dwellers with no heritage and even less uniformity of fashion/style. You can’t beat the price. Following in the footsteps of ancient Sears Roebuck, J C Penney, or original L L Bean, prices listed on the virtual catalogue are not, do not reflect the actual cost of an item (sort of the obverse of the suggested retail selling price that is actually always sold at a discount). IKEA does, however, have a growing number of brick and mortar, or rather steel span and sheet metal skin, retail outlets/warehouses where the price listed is the cash and carry cost. The marketing of these “stores” (so called as they are also restaurants) is rather unique and informs the attraction the brand has on young urban hipsters. The way of IKEA is only one way, literally. There is a one way path through the stores. Unlike a stroll down memory lane, this is a not-virtual stroll through each and every catalogue item offered, a real time (and space) celebration of stuff. Though an integral part of design within the last 50 years, modular furniture is conspicuously absent along this walk. This crack in the way informs much of the relationship between those who come to walk the way (and consume the offerings of the way) and the brand’s marketing. It also speaks volumes about the current culture of global capitalism. IKEA offers multiple offerings for whatever “desire” those walking the way may have. One doesn’t have to settle, but is able to find a “designer” response to whatever one needs. The gap generated by the lack of modular furniture reveals that as long as it is found along the way, it is a safe and more than acceptable expression of the urban dweller’s discriminatory taste. Modular (the LEGO like linking of small units to form larger or varied compositions, you know the stuff that ultimately results in software compatibility and systems being able to communicate with each other, etc.) invites considerations that may well lead off the IKEA path, something heretical to IKEA marketing. Does all this sound a bit religious? In “The Culture of the New Capitalism” (2006) Richard Sennett defines a contemporary up and coming individual as someone who “would get rich by thinking short term, developing his or her potential, and regretting nothing.” (so why speak of the Bauhaus?) The IKEA way fits right into this as any alternative, off the path consideration implicates some sort of long term thinking (or, gasp, identity), actualizing difference (through a wider and varied array of choice and selection), and referencing the history of objects, design and art (you remember, that Marxist material dialectic thing about ideas only being around because some material thing makes it so. But then, no regrets likewise means no memory). The poets may sing, the philosophers argue, and the teachers inspire that there is unlimited capability in each individual, that opportunities are created and actualized by individuals within any given moment, that all have the capacity to generate a world of multiple dimensions, colors, forms and shapes, yadda, yadda. And yet, for some reason, it is a preferred choice to make selections from a pre-established path, to make variations from selections deemed acceptable there, and to fill out the household with the safe “aura” of decisions made along the way. Is it any wonder that within a secular world defined by global capitalism a religious predisposition still maintains such an enormous presence?
The Don As Art
[this is a repost from April 2011]
Part of the noose that is knot this week is the Meredith Vieira/Don Trump extravaganza that took place on The Today Show, April 7th 2011. Poor Meredith was dumped on for being preoccupied with packing her golden parachute while the Trump grandstanded over a non issue. Hearing that an epitome of the American entrepreneurial spirit, vested casino owner, pillar of skyscraperdom, and presidential wannabe has doubts was like hearing a Catholic priest wannabe question her faith. Although not mentioned, Meredith’s interview hearkened memories of Katie Couric bamboozling Sarah Palin. By those standards, Vieira certainly came off as unprepared and unarmed. But she was none of the above.
Why Has Critique Run out of Steam? From Matters of Fact to Matters of Concern. is an essay by Bruno Latour that appeared in Critical Inquiry 30, no 2 winter of 2005. Reading this in the light of the Vieira/Trump interview makes finding fault with Meredith totally off the mark. As Latour points out, the Don simply employed methodologies and strategies of critique that have been championed for their incisiveness and originality. These methods and strategies were a stable of the pedagogy molding and forming cultural workers for the 21st century, eventually becoming part and parcel of our culture. That we don’t like the message, or the bearer of the message is one thing, but we certainly are enamored with the process by which the message is being delivered. Besides, the message is irrelevant. The Don got media attention, created buzz, acquired political capital, and promoted his “Already Successful Celebrity” Apprentice show. Recently, after a Charlie Sheen performance, in a “how was the show?” man-on-the-street interview by a Columbus Ohio TV station, the attendee gushed with praise for what a genius of marketing and how brilliant a promoter Mr. Sheen was.
How many times have you been to a visual art showing where the artist “interrogated” some commonly held cultural notions or practices, “questioned” given interpretations of reality? (The interrogation’s response- “That is for the viewer to imagine.”) How many times have you left such an art show thinking “Anyone can ask the questions. It’s a little more difficult, and requires some commitment, to provide an answer.” How many times have you seen associations made, juxtapositions of total fabrication, inappropriateness and inaccuracy portrayed as Art, justified by their being meant to jar the viewer and startle them into considering alternate realities? How many issue related works of Art have you pondered that righteously “made the point” that something was questionable or wrong with regard the environment, “human rights”, global economics, genocide, etc. but left you totally irritated and frustrated because the artist exerted absolutely no imagination or creativity in seeing through their banal article of faith declaration and dared not present how it could/should/must be (all the trappings of critique without being critical)?
C’mon folks, we love this stuff. As Latour pointed out, we’ve embraced this critique so intimately that we’ve lost the ability (or commitment) to imagine otherwise, to articulate a definitive and determinate meaning.
Here are excerpts from a book review by Robin Adele Greeley that appeared in the Summer 2016 Critical Inquiry. The book is Art beyond itself: Anthropology for a Society without a Story Line by Nestor Garcia Canclini.
“Artistic practice, once object-based, is increasingly founded on contexts; artworks are being “inserted in the media, urban spaces, digital networks, and forms of social participation where aesthetic differences seem to dissolve”. This “de-defining” of art throws into question long-standing analytical concepts such as Pierre Bourdieu’s art field that still depend on some idea of national cultures and distinct spheres of aesthetic production or (at the other end of the scale) on postmodern nomadism with its illusion of a world without borders.”
“Our trouble in providing a cogent storyline for contemporary art, Garcia Canclini insists, is of a piece with our vacillations about how to confront a post 9/11, post-2008 world in which conventional categories no longer explain contemporary experience, economics and politics have become “an unconvincing display,” and coherent narratives founder on the “barely explicable ruins of what globalization has destroyed”. Yet it is precisely in contemporary art’s ability to capture this state of incoherence that Garcia Canclini situates its capacity to address our present condition.” [!]
“Garcia Canclini argues that what defines contemporary art’s persuasive power is its “imminence”: its ability to “[insinuate] what cannot be said,” to “[say] things without pronouncing them fully,” maintaining them inventively unsettled. Art’s imminence is “the place where we catch sight of things that are just at the point of occurring”; it produces a “zone of uncertainty…suited not so much for direct [political] action as for suggesting the power of what hangs in suspense”. Art’s ability to critically embody that constitutive indeterminacy is what allows it to confront the bewildering splintering of competing or unconnected narratives.” [we’ve seen this movie before]
“If, for Ranciere, art’s politics resides not in giving marginalized social groups a means of representation but in introducing between the work and the spectator the paradox of the unanticipated, then Garcia Canclini rethinks this model, giving light to art’s current postautonomous condition.” [Didn’t anticipate that one, did you?]
So, next time you encounter something (“just at the point of occurring”) labeled art that makes no sense (“in which conventional categories no longer explain contemporary experience”) and is totally incoherent, you’ll have a handle on how to articulate what it is you are looking at and its significant imminence. Or not. Either way you’ll be able to say “that’s art!”
People used to write long texts. They were called letters. The exchange between reader and writer happened mechanically, over distance and time. Twitter, Instagram, I phones changed all that. Today I froze 21 packages of sugar snap peas, planted back in March. Back in March, a fluke occurred of 70 degree weather, pre-mature summer. This, after an exceptionally mild winter where my bee colony losses were likewise exceptional – around 15% instead of the previous years’ 40 – 60%. So the bees all responded as though it was late spring instead of early. Queenie laid a lot of eggs, obliged by the colony itself which was exceptionally strong after a southern U S winter. But wait, the plot thickens as we had freezes in April which killed off a lot of what would have been flowering. Enter May with overcrowded hives and little resources in the environment (remember the freeze?). So everyone decided that an overcrowded hive in the midst of scarce resources called for the reproduction of more of the species (a logical solution, never conceptualized by humans as they reproduce). So it has been a swarmy time from late April through early June. Some context from the political desk. Though most still imagine farms and markets as quaint places where bumpkins gather or toil, in actuality they are more akin to the New York stock exchange. Yes, that is a market which at one time belonged to Dow Jones, (GOK owns it now – gawd only knows who owns it now). Ditto for today’s marketing of farm produce. To sell means to belong (and adhere to the regime of standards, investments and acumen). It was once attractive to produce honey in that it could be marketed without restrictions like apples. Today, both are inspected, detected and rejected unless they meet rigid market requirements (posited by the owners of the market, who else?). But I digress. A plethora of riches, one would be wrong to assume, all these swarms gathered, all these hives surviving the mild winter – in theory producing the riches of a bumper crop of honey. But wait, unless you belong and your operation is detected, inspected and rejected, not so. And so it was for the last six weeks. Like a sailor sailing close to the wind, it was an adrenaline rush to understand what is taking place within the environmental milieu called nature and to run with it, gathering swarms of bees, making new bees (through nucs generated by all the queen cells produced) and providing space for the honey to be deposited. Wrong. Without belonging it was nothing but experience. As Andy Warhol famously said “Good art is good business” (or was it “Good business is good art.”?). Without the marketing, it was all akin to scaling El Capitan at Yosemite without the requisite Nike sponsorship that LeBron assumes as totally natural. Indeed, most athletes assume sponsorship as totally natural, part of the enterprise (ever check out a NASCAR driver?). So it has all come to a low roar now that the need to reproduce has subsided and I have kept up with the flow and have healthy hives. But alas, I kept up a little too close. I got too close to the wonderful rhythm usually called nature, when one “lives” (understands, sees, feels) what is taking place all around one. In one respect it is terrible in that one loses one’s being, one’s identity, and only functions because that is what is required, what is called for. On another hand it is quite the rush in that one senses, one “knows” what is coming down and can respond accordingly. Yet all the same, as Warhol pointed out, it is not much good unless one can make business of it. And that’s the gist of this missive, that there is so much more, so much vital expenditure and commitment that doesn’t involve capitalist requirements, and that it all goes by the way for reasons of capitalist economics. How much of this is truly vital for the evolution of the species, to adapt to what lies ahead, and is being denigrated and negated for the expediency of the market? And how much of this is simply a romantic sojourn?
Better Living Through Criticism by A. O. Scott came out this year (2016). Criticism is a worthwhile activity that Scott certainly has the chops for. The book expands upon the role criticism plays, mainly within the arts and culture purview. A major contribution Scott makes is to re-remind us that criticism is the stepchild of any relationship. Pan briefly, dear reader, to a New Yorker style cartoon of two pigs feeding their faces at the trough of an industrial ag operation. One says to the other: “The lighting could be better in here.” And so it goes with criticism – it is an enhancement to the relationship or activity at hand. Scott likewise enjoins that criticism is an extension of art itself, an enhancement or even an embellishment. He traces much of the history of western European criticism. With that history comes the heavy reliance on argument, and the binary elements of form/content, nature/nurture, etc. (for every tit, a tat). He fails to break free of this. One senses that Scott “knows” there is something else to criticism but his historical expertise with western European thought inhibits such articulation. He touches on it when he promotes criticism as being a constituent component of art itself, part of quality. The Stalinist era Soviet literary scholar and critic Mikhail Bakhtin took an analogous tact by positing criticism as a necessary aid to understanding. The artist, along with the viewer/reader/audience, is “incomplete” in their knowledge or understanding of the activity or relationship at hand. The created work, within the process of becoming sensible, makes certain demands, revealing certain aspects of the author or artist. In becoming sentient, it articulates qualities the artist or author hasn’t considered – restrictions, agendas, outcomes, consequences, etc. (almost like Galatea and Pygmalion or Pinocchio). The artists as well as the viewers are likewise “incomplete” in their knowledge or understanding of themselves/each other. There is a segment of ourselves that we cannot see/appreciate/grasp. Yet others see it readily (for they stand outside the person). We rely on them to inform us. Academics term this “dialogical criticism” (involving more than one, a dialogue form) and students all remember the “more than one” part without noting the “incomplete” part. Scott likewise misses this characteristic of not only the works to be critiqued, but of those experiencing and engaged in the activity critiqued (why so much criticism centers on theater and cinema). Completion is the unspoken basic assumption underlying most western European “conceptual” definition, be it art, science, economics, etc. (if it’s conceptual, it’s complete). In a recently aired (4-24-16) Le Show interview with Harry Shearer, economist James Galbraith spoke about the inability of mainstream economists/policy makers to recognize this assumption. Criticism is disconcerting because, by its very being, it calls attention to this incompleteness. To cut to the chase (as this is a “quick” critic critique), does the lighting contribute to the repast or is it of no consequence – the consumption of swill being complete in itself?
For the Associated Press, Wilson Ring and Jill Colvin report on presidential wannabe Donald Trump’s latest campaign promotion in Burlington. Vermont (Protesters interrupt Trump Vermont rally despite screening, 1-8-16). The national media has focused on location and the number of folks who lined up (“Thousands of people stood in line for hours waiting to get into the Burlington event after the campaign distributed 20,000 free tickets to the Flynn Center for the Performing Art, which has just 1,400 seats.”). No one seemed to focus on the actual name of the space, Flynn Center for the Performing Arts, nor the last part of the name, Performing Arts. D. Trump has been labeled a huckster, a P.T. Barnum, a Wild Bill Cody for his use of the stage, social media, and traditional media. Recently, many sources are analyzing campaign expenditure on advertising, noting that traditional TV ads are still king, with most of the other “lesser” candidates on the slate spending heavily to try to stay relevant. Trump has only begun to advertise within this framework. It appears that Donnie Trump is truly ahead of the pack, not only in terms of the polls, but in understanding the aesthetic of today’s culture. Jacques Ranciere may have theorized about the politics of aesthetics (the traditional take on culture as pertaining to art – architecture, dance, visual arts, music, etc.) as well as the aesthetics of politics (how politics is done) but Donnie Trump actually employs it. He may be one of the first to understand, through utilization, the effectiveness and viability of performance art. Within politics, this is a staple of South American democracies. In the US, it has been neglected primarily through regulation of the constitutional right to assembly (designated protest sites removed from the source of contention and debate). Mr. Trump has utilized the power of performance art to run a campaign without reliance on advertising. With the Burlington event we have his campaign manipulating the populace in order to produce the art (20,000 tickets for a 1,400 seat venue. Apparently Donnie has no regard for fire code). The ticket holders show up, forming a line, creating a news event. Like with open carry gun laws, it is impossible to tell which of the ticket holders in line are the good guys, and which are the bad (for or against the Trump candidacy). As with the performance art of the visual arts, no advertising expenditure created a spectacle, a sensation, an event or happening, whichever you prefer. In crass art terms – he got the message out. Performance art has a long, involved and rich history in American art dating back to Allan Kaprow’s Happenings in NYC (amongst others). Now it has finally entered the lexicon of America’s political aesthetic. Unfortunately, for most of the American public, it is a novelty that doesn’t have a name.
After reading The Road To Character by David Brooks (2015) this essay response would not be contained. Mr. Brooks associates character with morality, and (for Mr. Brooks) morality implicates repression. In 2013 The Philosophy Of Dreams by Christophe Turcke was published. Mr. Turcke is catalyzed by Freud’s connection of dreams with repression (as manifestation, enactment, return, etc.) Turcke takes this as a vestigial remnant of the primitive psyche, akin to the human skeleton’s “tail bone” (coccyx). For human primitives trauma was frequent, baffling and totally beyond control. Turcke hypothesizes sacrifice as the primitive response to occurrences of trauma and the ensuing PTSD. Sacrifice in turn creates its own localized and limited kind of trauma, analogous to the bloodletting Brooks describes as being perpetrated on the young Samuel Johnson which was intended to cure while inflicting what was considered to be “minor” damage. For Turcke, repression became part of the evolution of the human psyche in terms of coping with trauma, and the trauma of sacrifice that evolved. After arguing for this, and referencing the discomfort produced not only by trauma and sacrifice but also repression, Turcke links the development/evolution of western culture with repression. For Turcke, Modernity’s entry through Romanticism’s portal of reflexivity spawned the desire and belief that humans could be free of repression. Turcke considers this belief (and the capacities that ensued) to have facilitated the innovations (technical, organizational, economic and ideological) that produced the culture of Big Me which Brooks alludes to. Big Me negates repression through automation (“hi tech”) that provides memory, does the hard work of number crunching, research, enables instantaneous communication (both linguistic and data as well as physical relocation), etc. This may or may not be a Copernican Revolution, though it took the Roman Catholic Church 400 years to admit that Galileo was not immoral. Morality may not be rock solid, fundamental, immutable as the offspring of Plato and Abraham may have us believe. On page 208 Brooks writes a brief segment entitled Humble Ambition in order to “recapitulate the Augustinian process”. It is curious to note that substituting the word “dark matter” for “God” doesn’t significantly alter the meaning of this segment, and is just as consistent. Here’s the end summation utilizing the substitution: “The genius of this conception is that as people become more dependent on dark matter, their capacity for ambition and action increases. Dependency doesn’t breed passivity; it breeds energy and accomplishment.” The God of Abraham and Plato may have been unfathomable majesty, ultimate virtue. The God of the Renaissance/Reformation may have become a patriarch, a father figure. Of the 19th -20th century, a Daddy Warbucks personality morphed with the Law. Morality, what it is to be moral, may likewise evolve along with the human psyche and the knowledge of God. Pre Samuel Johnson, in Bakhtin’s World of Rabelais, homelessness was not an issue. The Industrial Revolution of Johnson’s time methodically drove people from their “homes”. In the world in which most of Brooks’ “characters” formed their morality, the production of food was a challenge, an uncertainty. Today, distribution and waste underlie hunger, not production. Juxtaposing The Philosophy Of Dreams with The Road To Character leads one to justifiably question whether sacrifice and its accompanying repression are integral to morality, being moral. If morality evolves, then perhaps active goodwill and mindfulness (the antithesis of repression), located within the “outside”, external elements of the bifurcation Brooks employs (such as social organizations and institutions), are more important and on the rise. If morality doesn’t evolve, then we can only anticipate a return of the repressed.
This is a short review/commentary of A Philosophy Of Emptiness by Gay Watson (2014). Early on Watson points out that she presents only a marginally academic work. This would be in keeping with the subject matter given that in the analytic tradition it would be difficult, if not impossible, to account for emptiness. Gay also describes this as lack, nothing, openness, the void, etc. Watson does a great job at attempting to suture western and eastern forays into this gap between priorities. In the end one is convinced that there is more than just the lily pads upon which the frog jumps. There is also the inky stillness in between. Although not an academic exegesis, Watson does favor a certain bent or partiality which sets the tone for the entirety. Inattention to this personal preference may account for one of the “gaps” of her study. Nowhere is mention made of one of the great TV comedies of the late 20th century. It is almost legendary that Jerry Seinfeld originally pitched his idea for a show as a comedy about nothing. Watson traces western culture’s interest in emptiness through to the end of the middle ages/start of the renaissance. She claims that accounts of lack, emptiness, nothing, etc. ceased and then reappeared with the Romantic of the 19th century. Had she not been so focused on a preference for the “great” thinkers’ accounts of emptiness, lack, etc. she may have been charmed to discover that emptiness, nothing, etc. is likewise found with the popular, like Seinfeld. According to Ranciere’s version of art history and the representative regime, dominant during this period when the “greats” did not focus on nothing, what was portrayed/communicated within art needed to be appropriate to the subject matter represented (a king was magnificent and detailed, a pauper just a quick sketch). As has been pointed out by many art historians/theoreticians, during the Romantic 19th century (when the “greats” once again took an interest in the void) landscape painting came into its own as representation, subject matter. Previously it had appeared only as background to some specific representation of a person, event, etc. If one follows Ranciere’s thinking, what was not the subject of a representative work would have been considered as nothing. So the background of pre-Romantic works would have been a “nothing”, much like Seinfeld’s hit show. Indeed, one finds this inky darkness in the background of artists such as Rembrandt or Caravaggio. So it is that many current historians/theoreticians are studying what was not the focus or priority of art (or great thinking) during the period that Watson claims emptiness vacated western culture. Cervantes’ Don Quixote could, in theory, be likened to a story about nothing! Another aspect that Watson did not consider (at all) was the many anecdotal accounts of the exchange between novitiates and the newly enlightened. These are found in both the Chinese Chan tradition and Japanese Zen. The novices are in awe and wonder of the achievement by the just enlightened monk. They ask the monk what it is like. “No different” is the reply. The author of A Philosophy Of Emptiness would do well to heed this. The tone of her account is very much liberal and progressive. One is left with the sense that learning to appreciate, include, allow for, etc. emptiness, openness, nothing is liberating; that somehow it will make a difference. This quest for liberation and a commitment to what the “greats” had to say about it does make all this out to be somewhat akin to Don Quixote, a comedy about nothing.
Shortly after the last post (The Philosophy Of Dreams) serendipity found me overhearing a radio interview. It was a doctor/psychiatrist/researcher (Dr. Rachel Yehuda speaking with Krista Tippett “On Being” NPR). The doctor said something along the lines of people say they are a changed person after a trauma. And in a way they are. Although genetically they are unchanged (DNA), how their genes interact changes noticeably (what On Being describes as epigenetics – “genes can be turned on and off and expressed differently through changes in environment and behavior”). Originally from Cleveland, Dr. Yehuda returned to study the holocaust survivors she grew up amongst and their offspring. She discovered epigenetic changes within the offspring that expressed the original survivor’s disposition. Studies done of pregnant women who survived 911 found the changed interactions carried over to their infants. These studies would support Turcke’s assessment of the physiological connection of the experience of trauma and the psyche. People don’t “bounce back” but rather replay under changed conditions. A different consideration was expressed with a more recent interview (David Freudberg’s “Humankind” NPR). A writer named William Powers, former staff writer for the Washington Post, was making the rounds for the release of his new book “Hamlet’s Blackberry”. He said self-contradictory things that he wasn’t aware he was mouthing (in light of Turcke’s insights). Powers repeatedly advocated for a digital Sabbath, a time set aside for shutting down the screens so folks can reflect, do the “homework” (Turcke references Benjamin as saying was needed in the age of technical reproduction), refresh and restore their “persons” (in terms of experience). One proposal was from Friday through Sunday, etc. Powers claims large corporations have recognized this need and already are implementing such policies (he referenced Intel as being one). Powers glibly says that people need to rediscover this space (of reflection, homework, replay – what Turcke bases as foundational to the ability of the psyche to defer and repress, an ability developed over millennia that made human culture possible). The vast majority of current college students starting back in a couple of weeks will have been born during the Clinton presidency. All will have grown up with the concentrated distraction Turcke describes as becoming increasingly pervasive, directly or indirectly, cultivated or initiated on their own. What Powers said sounds comforting (that we can draw upon a time of experience that is non-digital). He references a bunch of his favorite philosophers, saying enthusiastically “we need to remember” that ultimately this is about us, who we are, etc. Hearing this, these same students, who have never known a time of non-digital experience, will immediately reach for their ever present smart phones. If Powers says “we need to remember” something, they will look it up on their phone. This existence of a function or work of the psyche being done better by a machine than the humans who created it is what makes for the radical change in culture and the de-evolution of human psychology that Turcke writes of. To remember is to recall. Plato’s Socrates considered knowledge already present, to be a function of recognition, recall, replay much as the way memory operates, which presumes a functioning repression or deferral. All of which a machine can now do faster and more efficiently. This underscores what Turcke points out, that what took millennia to achieve can be undone within the next hundred years.
Christophe Turcke’s The Philosophy Of Dreams (2013) tackles the age old mind/body problem head on (no pun intended) only within the parameters of a very systematic approach founded on Freud’s The Interpretation Of Dreams. The mind is that of the human psyche which Turcke expands to include all its manifestations, social and cultural. The body is neurological, founded on the nervous system and its operation, from the most primitive organism to the most advanced – the human whose physiology incorporates the largest brain proportionately. Originally Freud determined a relationship of dreams with sex. The end of the great war (WWI) found returning veterans reliving their horror in repetitive dreams. Freud recognized this and reassessed his interpretation to consider this traumatic repetition compulsion. For Freud Dreams likewise were a manifestation for what he considered to be the vestiges of primitive thought process. Turcke seizes on this, hence The Philosophy Of Dreams. Language, visual art, architecture, etc. are evidence of a developed psyche and culture. No empirical evidence exists of how primitive humans, Neanderthals, pre- homo sapiens, etc. did anything (the Foreword is subtitled the Early Stone Age in Us). In the tradition of European speculative philosophy/reasoning Turcke meticulously considers the evolution of the psyche and its evidentiary culture, from “pre” to contemporary, in three chapters entitled Dreams, Drives, and Words. Within these three chapters contemporary culture is practically not. It, however, is the focus of the Afterword: High-Tech Dreamtime. My inadequate synopsis fails to convey the complexity of this book intended to weave traumatic repetition into an integral part of the functioning of the psyche and the consequent development of culture. Students of contemporary culture would benefit from a full reading. Some lack within the work begs to be addressed. Turcke’s presentation is very authoritative with frequent use of “it cannot be denied”, or “it cannot be otherwise”, or “is conclusive that…”, etc. No physical evidence can be produced to substantiate such reasoning (lacking a “way back machine”, Lucy’s bones tell us little of her thought process, went to the prom, etc. That is, had a social existence/non-existence). Turcke’s position of authority lies with his speculative reasoning much as that of economists since Adam Smith. And we all know how well that has gone. Which brings out a basic unsubstantiated assumption (of that very reasoning) critical to the entire work – that early, early humans/pre-humans were social. Turcke criticizes early cultural history assumptions based on current practices but never considers his own propensity. Perhaps early humans/pre-humans were not necessarily social but solitary, each for themselves like bears or groundhogs. If this is considered, much of what he reasons from falls apart (the centrality of human sacrifice as trauma repeated compulsively). To go from the solitary to the social is no small feat in itself for the evolving psyche. For Turcke an organism recoils from unpleasantness encountered in the environment. The unpleasantness is detected through a stimulus experience. Humans, being the most sensitive in terms of nervous system development, continuously must process and dispose of/deal with countless stimuli, internally as well as externally generated. This results in the working behavior of the human psyche, accounting for the exceptional significance of traumatic repetition compulsion (instead of recoil, there is replay). The brain has to “do” something with all this stimulus, get rid of it or diminish it, integrate it (stimulus flight). Turcke’s description of the brain’s synaptic activity is practically analogous to one of sex at the cellular level, in terms of ejaculation and reception (a Freudian slip?). Freud himself maintained the primacy of the sexual within dreams even after his traumatic repetition assessment. Turcke finds fault with this but himself fails to consider the relationship of sex to the development of the social. He simply assumes social cohesiveness without establishing physiological ties. No account is given of what makes for the development of the solitary to the social. His model of an organism’s neural activity in response to outside stimulus limits, displaces, or denies any physiological link to the source of that stimulus within its environment, i.e. what is not the organism itself (outside the organism proper). Standing within the vicinity of a robin’s nest or near a mother grizzly and her cubs reveals a quite different scenario. The behavior of these creatures will yield a response quite different than that of an isolated robin on the lawn or a bear splashing for salmon. The former response to the stimulus of the close proximity of an other is in terms of a threat to something outside the organism proper, something which is not a physiological part of the organism itself, attached to its neural circuitry. The latter would be along the lines of what Turcke bases his reasoning on re: individual psyche assessment of stimulus from outside the organism. The threat to the “social” of nest or cubs argues for a response connection not restricted by the organism’s inherent physiological make up itself but to a link to something greater, outside itself that it considers part of itself or itself to be part of (so the robin feigns injury to distract, the bear charges). This would account for Freud’s insistence on the primacy of the sexual as a “pre” of the social, facilitating the psyche’s evolution from solitary to social. This would, however, disrupt Turcke’s account of traumatic repetition as central to the development of thought and culture (the raison d’etre of “human sacrifice”). The Philosophy Of Dreams provides invaluable insights and reasoning for much that affects the contemporary though some of the omissions and assumptions show there is more to the story than an authoritative account. A like exposition could theoretically be made for euphoric repetition compulsion (if there is such a thing) and its workings within the parameters of why pre-humans turned over rocks in search of…, and otherwise interacted with their environment as well as migrated for a “better life”. How would they know “better” was possible if it wasn’t a repetition compulsion?