On Mimesis and Creativity.
Peter Joel Witkin - Photographer of the Bizarre.
"It is not enough to make noisy calls to halt moral degeneration; we must do something about it. Since present-day governments do not shoulder such 'religious' responsibilities, humanitarian and religious leaders must strengthen the existing civic, social, cultural, educational, and religious organizations to revive human and spiritual values. Where necessary we must create new organizations to achieve these goals."
H.H. the Dalai Lama.
Arnold Toynbee suggests that imitation is useful in setting in motion processes of social change:
"Mankind in the mass can only be set in motion towards a goal beyond itself by enlisting the faculty of mimesis, or imitation." Toynbee, p. 162.
Certainly we could find thousands of examples to illustrate this 'Mimesis' in History of Art, or Music for Example. The Art Museums of the world have storerooms full of works of mimesis, or imitation.
Mimesis, is merely 'Teaching by example'. With Governments involved in corruption on a massive scale, they certainly offer an example for the masses to follow in expressing themselves in whatever crimes are open to committed.
Creative genius, that extra-ordinary Uranian energy, in its purest manifestation, has always broken the cast and habits of Mimesis. .
. See the pseudomorphic form in Hans Jonas, The Gnostics, p. 36 - and Sir Arnold Toynbee, on Mimesis, p. 166, and Gurdjieff on 'newness' in 'Meetings with Remarkable Men'.
We must recognize the shape of the future:
I think, at present our duty is to arm ourselves with creative action. But before we can begin, we have to find the trigger from which this action can be fired. Its to do with the psychic residue of the past decades of repression - a great deal is bottled up without expression or outlet.
This actually brings one back to spiritual evolution and to compassion. Father forgive them, for they know NOT what they do, is a statement of vast significance. It says that Ignorance is the cause of our of our actions.
CREATIVITY. Fresh ideas. We need them - and Space to put these ideas into action. And in this creative action, we may have to give up some of our Egos' Territory.
The old 'Art has NOTHING to do with Politics' scam.
"The Shambhala teachings are founded on the premise that there is a basic human wisdom that can help to solve the world's problems. This wisdom does not belong to any one culture or religion, nor does it come only from the West or the East. Rather, it is a tradition of human warriorship that has existed in many cultures at many times throughout history."
Chogyam Trunpa Rinpoche.
"Each earth life is a day in God's Great School, and each pupil must return day after day, life after life, until every lesson this earth has to teach has been learned."
"As the Wheel of Life turns, all humans will reach the place where they will have to learn similar lessons."
"If the lesson of each spoke on the Medicine Wheel is learned, the lesson of the next spoke is made available."
Another version of this idea, is the injunction to complete all obligations before any new tasks are offered by life. Stasis in the psyche consists of encrustations that block the free flow of energy.
Again, the analogy has been use of Ice and Water. Heat is necessary to melt the water and thereby free the structure. [October 1996]
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Joel-Peter Witkin, born Brooklyn, 1939.
I first came across the work of Joel- Peter Witkin in an old AMOK catalogue, which still remains one of the most interesting mail-order catalogues in the Anglo-American speaking world. Later, a friend kindly sent me an article from the German Stern magazine, which reproduced some images, and I have treasured this article for years. A few years later, I was fortunate enough to see an entire retrospective exhibition of Witkin at Castello di Rivoli, on the outskirts of Turin.
The subject matter of Witkin's photographs, would make many a stomach churn: deformed bodies, hermaphrodites, dwarves, medical photographs of severed limbs, tortured and executed criminals, severe obesity, or anorexia, still life with pieces of animals, hooves, heads, etc. An entire range of mummified fetuses, masks, antique sadomasochistic equipment. Fist-fucking and bestiality. A veritable cornucopia of Hieronymous Bosch references. But here comes the crunch. Writing down the subjects of these tableaux the work of Witkin sounds obscene, to say the least. But what we actually see, is beyond the reality of label, and penetrates into a deeper, almost alchemical level. In fact, Witkin is an alchemist of the visual image, and his subject is the nigredo - the Plutonic state .
The extraordinary experience of viewing the originals, which cannot be compared with a reproduction in a book. Some of the works are large, and, thank goodness, not beneath glass. The surface texture is identical to that of a four-hundred year old painting. Well, one can classify this work as Gothic. There are aspects of Arcimboldo. Peter Greenaway obviously comes to mind - with the exception that with Witkin one can form an intimate relationship with the image. With Greenaway, the image is snatched away before one can drink in its full beauty.
The seeming horror of the subject is mitigated by the fact, that ultimately, what one is viewing partakes of natural processes. As in Peter Greenaways's 'A Z and Two Noughts', which I think is his finest film to date, the subject is putrefaction. Venus and Pluto, are the two code references to the magnificent textures. Plutonic, in the sense of the liminal. Witkin, again in the alchemical sense, is an artist working at the liminal fringes of what we consider to be beauty. To continue, once the subject matter, which in all cases, is dead centre in the field of vision) is processed - then the extra-ordinary textures start to emerge in the details. The textures, which practically make Witkin an alchemical genius, are achieved by chemical manipulations of the printing process itself, as the artist explained in the Video interview which was on show with the Exhibition. The sheer density and delicacy of these textures cannot be explained in words. One has to see the work. Though technically, in black and white, there are layers of the most subtle colour that defy identification. It is almost as if the work of Witkin is a homage to silver - so necessary in the development process. Bone, flesh, satin, silver - and above all, a representation of skin - which I have never seen displayed in all its magnificent erotic richness, since the pearl glazed skin of Peter Paul Rubens. In fact Witkin makes a reference to Rubens in his reworking of the Rubens painting of Helena Fourment.
There are also cross-references and re-workings of Canova, Goya, Velàzquez, through to Mirò, Bacon and Picasso. In fact, there is a very strong Dionysian element to the work of Witkin, in Satyr, for example, where I for one, could believe for a moment, that I was peering into an Arcadian landscape in mythological time. Then one notices the satyr is without arms, and the stumps are surrounded with Crowns of Thorns. A large dog by a tree to the right looks directly out at the viewer. There are sheep grazing in fields in the background. One can almost smell the goat-skin legs and the heat of the day. And this, it must be remembered - is all in so-called black and white!
The magnificent catalogue costs 58, 000 lira and is lavished illustrated with the highest quality of reproduction. A must, which I could not afford!
The German photographer, Wilhelm von Gloeden, homoerotic photographs of young Sicilian boys posing as pagan divinities.
In the last few weeks there has been a Retrospective of the work of Peter Greenaway at the Museo Nazionale di Cinema, including an opening-night lecture appearance by the director himself. (Sold-Out in advance, and by invitation Only!). I managed to return to Torino to catch the very last showing of the Retrospective of 'The Baby of Macon' - which I missed elsewhere. I also saw, recently at the same complex, 'Prospero's Books'. Just a few observations. Years and years ago, we managed to take out the very early films of Peter Greenaway from the Cape Town City Libraries Film Library - which was an outlet for the collection gathered by The Provincial Film Library under the very visionary collecting skills of Freddie Ogetrop. I have always been a fan of Greenaway and will remain one. But there is one piece of criticism that bothered me since viewing the above two films. It is this: so much excellent craft and design skill went into these productions - and in most cases - the camera rushes past these beautiful tableaux as if the camera-man has a bus to catch. I had this endless repeating desire to have my hand of a remote-control to be able to freeze-frame or put the images on extra-slow speed. Of course this is possible, seeing that most of the films of Greenaway are now available on video - but The Box can never, ever replace the extreme visual lavishness of the original print. Why this frenetic pace? The remarkable creative production of the two Dutch designers of these films, makes me wonder why there is not a bit more 'Still Life' . Perhaps I should invest in a collection of 'stills' from the films - so that one can drool over the images in comfort.
In fact Greenaway is not a master of Time. I personally preferred 'The Tempest' of Derek Jarman - which is a fine piece of work. Secondly, the sheer artificiality of Greenway's films is also getting on my nerves. We are watching 'filmed-theatre' - with the added delights of the lighting of Sasha Vierny. In fact the work of the great, late Andrei Tarkovsky has a great deal in common with the photographs of Witkin, because Tarkovsky, or his camera-team - 'interfere' with the film and create a astonishing range of celluloid tonalities, ranging from the hardest and diamond-clear black and white, through sepia and umber, to the most fecund colour that has ever been seen in contemporary cinema. And more positive, is that Tarkovsky films in the 'real-world' - his landscapes are as delicate as those of Titian - and the inspiration as he said in an interview in Italy, is also definitely classical.
Witkin, Jarman, Greenaway and Tarkovsky - we have to be thankful for the brilliant range of their creativity - in the midst of the American Rambo Industry. All three, in my opinion are continuing the transmission of cultural values that have deepened and enriched my experience. One wonders in what direction Tarkovsky and Jarman would have evolved were they alive. [October 1996]
Recently, I am entertaining doubts about MTV. At first I was impressed by the apparent freshness of the programmes, and the definite slant towards youth perspectives. But as is usual with such global media power, the Big Corporations are creeping in - as the titanic shifts in media ownership take place. I mean we are talking Mega-Bucks in terms of consumers here! So I look in vain for any Real Creativity - and I come to the conclusion that the cynical and rather destructive Beavis and Butthead just about sums up the political correctness of MTV. Over the European Summer Festivals we are treated to brief clipped interviews with the members of the Bands. One notices how Fashion (remember its relationship, etymologically to 'fascism') just does not exist anymore. Black, any non-colour in greys etc. is the Order of the Day. Why not actually settle for a Mao Style Military outfit - for that is just about what it boils down to? One group whose name and music I instantly forgot, and so will everyone else within a few months, had words of such profundity about there work: "We're just a band, doing what we're doing."
A group called Catherine Wheel, who confessed that we all have a "...self-destructive streak." "I'm on my way to hell..." are the words of the lyrics. Natch they were clad in Black from Top to Toe.
Then there is the 'Pulp Fiction' Phenomena - with MTV almost creating a Religion out of the movie. Such, are the Times, when as long as the title has the word 'Lethal' in it, it is considered marketable! Psychopaths and serial-killers, splatter-and-gore movies add to the arsenal of mid-90's intellectuals. Again, we have the Comic Book Violence of Batman, Tank Girl, Judge Dredd (with an aging S.S. again!)
After reading the shocking statistics of American involvement in global Military spending, it is no wonder that the Media should be in favour of Violence. On the lower end of the market - we have the endless Jean Claude Van Damme movies, which it will be remembered (unless we have already forgotten) were preceded by the Chuck Conners, Rambo Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Swartzeneger, etc.etc. The adoration of Military Hardware in these films amounts to an indecent exposure of the forces behind their economic production. [October 1996]
Basically, from what I can gather, there is no moral outrage from The Powers on the ethnic cleansing by the Serbs - because basically, Europe would like to ethnically cleanse its own Fortress by obviously less drastic means, but, at least by legislation's and draconian walls of steel at all European entry points.
The nuclear testing by Chirac and the French Military Establishment is no less outrageous than the action of the Serbs. The Bastille Days celebrations in Paris were completely sickening, with the streets of Paris lined with tanks and an assortment of Military metal on display. This kind of 'parade' is certainly out of fashion in the capitals of London, Washington and Moscow. I was also revolted to see Jean Michel Jarre 'doing his thing' at the Bastille Day Celebrations. If he had any credibility he would have not stooped so low to perform his musical tricks in the name of French Patriotism while the rest of the world was outraged at the French decision. [October 1996]
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'VOX CLAMANTIS NEL DESERTO'
Luke iii, 4.
Contemplations on Social Power and Prestige. How certain members of the species manage to obtain great material wealth, comfort and enormous social prestige - e.g. fame. What is fame? In one way, it does not necessarily mean that fame is linked to evolutionary peaks of humanity. Women are famous because of their beauty, their bodies, or their big breasts. They may be as empty as the proverbial tin drum. In contrast, other people are famous because of their contributions to culture, science, religion, e.g. Albert Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci, the Buddha. In some cases they were infamous during their lifetimes. recognition in many cases is posthumous.
Power Dressing. Power Breakfasts. Who decides Who Has Power? [21st April 1996]
We live in a society that is based on the use and abuse of power. Power, as a form, or process of controlled energy, naturally takes many forms.
A shocking indictment of contemporary civilization - and an overwhelming moral bankruptcy that lies at the roots of all our transactions. This is the heritage of capitalism -
What is the difference between co-operation and cannibalism? Co-operative cannibalism?
When a bank of resources are opened to public access - what happens? Individuals plunder these resources for their own personal profit instead of collective gain. Hegemony - everyone and everything is up for grabs.
Joseph Beuys was a Rose-Cross! The Red Cross!
We must respect the individuals in our society who are solitary workers. The desert fathers, anchorites, recluses, lone meditators, contribute to the welfare of humanity in hidden ways.
Likewise, the individualistic trend in culture, is to be honoured. But no human being should hide their light under a bush. DISPLAY is necessary. Exhibitionism is an archetypal function, as one little girl said: ‘Mommy, Mommy, look what I drawsed.
Mommy must look. Society must see. The critics must have material to rip to pieces,
AND THE LAST WAVE SHALL BE THE FIRST WAVE.
In a culture so dedicated to the repression of the psyche, seeing Peter Wier's film 'The Last Wave' is like having salt packed on open wounds.
26th October 1997
I recently had a visitor in Cape Town who had a twelve year Jesuit education in Spain. He was very interested in things esoteric and spiritual - but the minute I mentioned Jung, he shot back with a very ferocious reaction that "He was not interested in Jung at all". Yet, as time went by, it became very apparent that things were not all well on his various home fronts. In fact, his particular psychological problems became clearly apparent to view - conspiracy theories, ecological destruction, the grief of the suffering of the masses the world over. I did not have the heart to point out to him, that this titanic suffering, as he so graphically described it, was not alleviated by even a single drop, by the sufferings of Jesus Christ on the Cross - an glaring disparity that he was obviously not even slightly conscious of. In fact he was not even slightly conscious at all. In fact, the sufferings on the Cross of his own Unconsciousness, was the site in which these millions were tortured and decimated by the Multinationals of the World. This is not to deny for one second that diabolical plots are afoot on a global scale by the powers of monopoly capitalism. But it is another thing altogether to use the external agony as a screen on which to project flagellated images of one’s own inner deficiencies.
In fact, as facts are gathered, and mulled over as empirically as possible - it seems that even more sufferings have been created in history, by individuals of great power who have projected their neurotic tendencies on an external enemy and thus unleashed genocidal wars.
The Inquisition, from a point of view of Jungian Social Psychology, if such a science exists - could be said to be an institutional paranoia, to extricate the horrors of the unconscious by murdering and burning and banning the exterior enemy. Perhaps this would lead, logically, to the Catholic Church’s implication in the nightmare of heroin industry and the Mafia in the late 20th Century. Where else could Christianity go - except into the darkness regions of Pluto’s Kingdom? And seeing that it has neither the strength nor the will to cleanse the Augean stables - the process will continue, hopefully until complete fossilization occurs, the common lot of religions that refuse to change with the times, and one may add, that of individuals. The social aspects of this process were most brilliantly commented upon by Sir Arnold Toynbee.
From the practical aspect, I would suggest one has to clarify the above discrepancies, and lay bare the fundamental drives of the individual pain as related to the pain of the great whole. Certainly one feels helpless in the face of the enormity of the situation, the titanic qualities of which, emasculate us, from any action whatsoever.
And that is exactly the point - in that it seems we fill ours days with agonizing over global warming and the destruction of the rain forests, but do nothing about it, because we feel so disempowered. And yet, if you analyze the situation on a micro level - you find that there is still plenty of scope for action which is being completely ignored, of which again, we are completely unconscious. Like the time when I attended a Committee Meeting of a very ego-enflated Ecological Group. To my question as to whether anyone in the group recycled their waste matter into organic and inorganic, there was a stunned silence. And in the density of this silence, we also find the point made by the late Krishnamurti, about how people who protested for World Peace, were not actually speaking to their parents. The Micro and the Macro again.
I am not making any sort of value judgement - but a society that rewards a cow cut in half and preserved in formaldehyde - speaks more about Mad Cow Disease than Art for Arts Sake. Artists ostracized for their political belief’s. Cranach and Luther, The Beham Brothers and the Peasants Revolt. Different to Titian who lived in wealth and moved in Imperial and aristocratic circles - or the Vatican sponsored artists such as Carracci who was painting the Dionysian ecstasies of the Palazzo Farnese at the very moment that Giordano Bruno was being burnt at the stake on Piazza Campo dei Fiori - a few blocks away.
Also, we should not put down artists who "do" flowers in vases, still life's or pastoral landscapes. Boucher too - was painting his Arcadian fantasies for French Royalty, on the very edge of the French Revolution. He stands poles part from the textures and context of Daumier or the Oriental lust in the dust of Delacroix.
Wildly divergent creative sites co-exist, co-habitate in fertile social soils. And indeed, this should be encouraged.
THE WALT DISNEY DESTRUCTION OF CULTURE.
I recently read the Arabian Nights, (the Penguin Classics Edition) and found it a most moving and enriching experience. At about the same time I also saw the Walt Disney animated version - and thought it was vulgar and aggressive in the extreme.
THE VISION OF THE SIXTIES
If we return to the Sixties, I think there was a genuine optimism that arose - now 30 years later, the children of the children of the Sixties, are being born. Many of my friends are grandparents. And yet some of the values have been maintained irrespective of a negative media onslaught.
I know it is totally unfashionable, but I cannot see any way forward for humanity without socialism.
The bottom line - how to create a social structure, an engineered system. So much damage and rupturing.
TWO points to be researched from an old note:
The stored up energy/ social transformation. Art? Culture is outside the social form, BUT can be the main transmitter. What did I mean by this? See: Toynbee Vol.9, p. 48.
Do drawings/ variations on Breughel's Death Paintings.
I have often written of
"...the possibility that one of the main seeding grounds of the Vajrayana in the West is through Arts/ Culture - though later, some doubt grew in my mind. "
"But why do you have to see the Vajrayana as solely within the cultural orbit of Tibetan Buddhism in general, and the country Tibet in particular?
"Yes, there has been a shift in emphasis over the years from involvement and dedication to one Transmission Lineage, to a wider awareness that, as the old saying goes, "One never knows when one meets as Angel unawares."
Which is to say...?
"That not all the initiates need necessary appear on Lotus Thrones or brocade robes, or wearing the ash and mud of the sadhu, or UFO’s, or fabulous channeled messages. Now, perhaps, I would say that Art and Culture, though one and the same, are a vehicle through which the Work can proceed, but not necessarily controlled by any one Lineage. "
This was one of the main reasons for founding the Pax Cultura Project - and later Indlovu - beyond reason, the vision was of a seeding ground that is Tantric in its purest form. We have to create new cultural forms, new arts born so to speak, from the glittering jewels of the Divine mother. Or as Tai Situ Rinpoche says:
"Magnificent Images will be Born."
"Our highest duty as human beings is to search out a means whereby beings may be freed from all kinds of unsatisfactory experience and suffering."
H.H. Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama.
"In the beginners mind there are many possibilities...in the experts there are few."
Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Roshi.
A great deal of humility is called for when dealing with the Teachings. In a relative sense one can only speak from experience.
My plan is to introduce the 'grammar' of Tantric Art - to gloss over a generalized tour of the material - and then to take one example - Light it as a Highlight - containing within its microscopic structure, enormous areas of information. This example is the SKULL.
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We must find someone, or if necessary, some abstract factor, to blame for these ills. Blame-ism will always shift the responsibility on to the 'other'. Mass hysteria can be easily whipped up -
Now, it does not take one a great deal of effort to understand the Jungian idea of Projection. That which we remain unconscious of, we project onto the 'other' and place the blame there. Then we can destroy the other - annihilate it, and the problem will be resolved. But of course, empirical fact points in the other direction. But then, irrationality is a quality of mass hysteria, and it can be clothed in the garb of social justice, of political correctness, and can even receive judicial blessing.
We do not have to have a vivid imagination to see the horrific images of Nagasaki, Buchenwald, Hiroshima, children deformed from atomic experiments in the Pacific, or Russia - the slaughterhouses of the world.
Who do we blame, not for these images, which are well and truly buried in the present hegemony of the Image. Who do we blame, for the actual human suffering which they represent?
According to our ancestral iconography, the Goat has always been associated with images of Evil, with the Devil, with Satan. Yet we now know, the goat is Saturn in Capricorn, the Devil is the old pagan God Pan, or even the Great God Dionysus - and that the animal, as a sentient being, does not actually deserve the scorn heaped upon it.
In other words, we have demonized the goat, the Force of Nature, which it symbolizes.
The question of Evil - is fraught with ancient and profoundly difficult problems. It is easy enough to say that our particular culture, is drenched with the thick mud of dualism. Again, seen in a psychological sense, this dualism leads to a social schizophrenia - to bombings and flag burnings, and eventually murder in the name of an ideology, any ideology or creed - as each of the great religions presently has its hands well and truly drenched in human blood. Not to mention the blood of other species.
Not, as a Buddhist, that I can even vaguely subscribe to the Doctrine of Dualism, or as it is known in esoteric circles, the Great heresy of Separateness, sometimes, even as a fantasy of inner imaginal forces, I entertain the following scenario.
It seems, from the evidence, that there is a force on the planet at the moment, that is only intent on destroying the Earth, on destroying Life Itself. The evidence is overwhelming and basically ignored by the Media. i.e. Television, the Press etc. Which brings one to the logical conclusion, that the Media, is controlled by this very Force of Evil - and therefore silences any critical material on its actions.
Now if we look at something like a science fiction script - a text, or a novel - we have similar ideas, for example in 'The Fifth Element' of Luc Besson, The Dark-Light dichotomy in the 'Star Wars' Trilogy; the struggle between two cosmic Empires for control of the Earth in Doris Lessing's brilliant 'Shikasta' quartet of novels, and no end of evil aliens up to no good, as in for example, 'The Arrival' [manipulation of the earth's temperature.] To this we could add The X Files phenomenon, and its spin-offs, and the entire Alien Abduction industry, not to mention Roswell.
From one of the deepest layers of our collective mythology, we have this dualistic struggle between the forces of Light and the Forces of Darkness in the ancient Iranian religion of Zoroastrianism.
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