IS THE OLD MATERIAL/SPIRITUAL DIVIDE LEGIT?

Painting of Boxing

Yes it is.

And here’s why.

In thinking generally about anything–and all creative thinking is general thinking–it is always better to think in dualities.

If the universe has a fundamental building block, it is a duality. The One doesn’t exist.

The universe begins with two, and whenever we ponder philosophically about anything, a duality naturally makes itself manifest.

So it isn’t the material/spiritual issue that’s so important as the duality itself.

This helps us solve the greatest mystery, by the way: why is there something and not nothing? As we notice, that question itself is a duality.  Once we’ve got a choice, we’re on the way to not having nothing. The duality, or choice, is the primitive, pre-existing thing.

So let us examine this material/spiritual duality as simply as possible, with confidence we are on the right track, in a general, creative way.

As simply as we try to look at it, however, we find the very nature of dual thinking performs the unexpected.

To keep things as simple as possible, so that our pondering does not get sidetracked, let’s call ‘material’ a thing and ‘spiritual’ the feeling about that thing.

Now look what happens: since we cannot experience a thing without having a feeling about that thing, the duality of ‘thing/feeling about thing’ collapses into ‘feeling about thing.’

One side of our duality, ‘thing,’ has vanished, and yet look: ‘feeling about a thing,’ the remaining side of the duality, is a duality, just more compressed, since thing and feeling are not divided, but attached–‘feeling about a thing’ is feeling and thing existing together apparently as one.

Or is it one?

It is a duality to ponder the One; duality is inescapable.

Why fight it then?

Love someone completely.  Obey the Two.

Increase your wisdom and understanding: empathize with the other side.  Enlightenment is the Two, not the One.

On vacation this week, and enjoying leisurely conversation with family, typical left-leaning Americans, concerned with the destruction of the planet, I had the pleasure to roam Sunapee, New Hampshire’s annual craft fare with them and observe the strange beauty of sculpture and clothing and furniture and hand-made jewelry and woodworking and ceramic and brass and glass work, the gamut of art work in general—and it happened to co-exist briefly in my mind with what is considered odious: its opposite, the burning of fossil fuels, the activity now considered villainous.

The art work is the spiritual materialized.  Energy finding its rest in the material work of art.

The work of oil and coal companies is material turned into energy.

As human beings, we are both: we are a work of art, a material manifestation of interest and beauty.

We also are burning with energy and because of this burning, we will die.

No wonder oil companies are both antithetical to art and a metaphor for death.

From oil barons to oil states, the last 200 years have burned brightly with wealth and inequity, and energy realities have made us aware of human mortality bound to a limited planet.

But to live, we must burn fuel, we must turn the fuel into energy.

And to be artists, we must do the opposite: somehow arrest energy in the art piece.

This goes a long way to explaining the great rift in our nation today between the ‘artistic liberal’ and the ‘big oil conservative.’

But this duality does not need to explain anything.  It was just a pleasant rumination as I moved among the craft pieces arranged in booths with the craftspeople forced to sell their wares (quite expensive, they were) like businessmen.

Dualistic thinking is always surprising.  As soon as a duality is established, it is in its nature to collapse, but this energy is what generates more thinking and makes the dualistic enterprise so profitable, as long as we don’t get impatient with all the collapsing.  We need to stick with it.  It is a lovely way to allow the mind to move along.

It was a beautiful day at the crafts fare, both cloudy and sunny.  I found myself looking at a ceramic piece, its shape, its color, and imagining it in my home and guests coming into my home and how would it speak to them.  I noticed that I was often attracted immediately by the unusual bright colors of a ceramic piece; but then I would examine it more closely: is this too gaudy?  Is this me?

Judgment is spiritual—the thing itself is not spiritual.

The New Critics insisted a poem worked like a clock; they would examine a poem as if it were a pure object.

The New Critics believed True Criticism should look only at ‘the poem, ignoring the biography of the poet and the poem’s effect on the reader.

The New Critics made the fatal mistake of ignoring duality as they viewed the poem as a singular, self-contained product.

But can we know a light bulb (the poem)—without studying its light source (the poet), or the light which it produces? (the reader).

The fanatic and the purist, who disdain the constantly evolving duality (Socratic dialogue) resemble the professor who resents the ‘wrong’ kinds of questions, the questions that undermine his singular belief system.

There has been some controversy in the poetry world, lately, on the topic of “Conceptualist Poetry.”  Is it just a fraud?  From what we have been saying, it is easy to notice that “Conceptualist Poetry” is not conceptualist at all.  Like any art product, it is conceptual poetry’s material result that matters: conceptualist poetry, like any art, is a thing whose spiritual (or conceptualist)  dimension depends on what an audience feels about it.

Clever enough to guess right away what a conceptualist poem is, I look at a conceptualist poem and feel nothing.

What shall I feel about Kenneth Goldsmith’s rusty bucket?

It is safe to safe to say a conceptualist poem lacks a conceptual/spiritual/intellectual element.

It is the art product which produces no feeling at all.

It may as well be burned—like a piece of coal.

2 Comments

  1. Don Fox said,

    August 13, 2013 at 6:06 am

    If we regarded a poem as words on paper, of course it can be burned. But if the words become lodged in the minds of poet and reader, it attains a life beyond the printed page. This trilogy becomes more stable as more readers record it. It may live as long as the poetry of Homer or Lucretius. Duality is but a temporary phenomenon in this process. Nature knows the network has more staying power. Let your mind dwell on that structure; it offers the closest we may come to immortality.

  2. thomasbrady said,

    August 14, 2013 at 11:55 pm

    Don,

    I agree with you.. The structure of three is more stable, certainly, than the duality I am pushing in my piece.

    However, if I may just point out:

    The work and its readers—that’s a duality. You say “in the minds of the poet,” but isn’t the poet a “reader?” Or, part of the poem? The work is what survives, not the poet. So I don’t really see three in your example, but two.

    Yes, there is a trilogy in writer > poem > reader, but it can quickly be reduced to poet/poem > reader, a duality. Or poet > poem/reader.

    Think of it this way:

    Take a whole, and divide it in half.

    Now you have a duality: the two halves, but, the ghost of the whole which lives in the two halves is your ‘third,’ your trilogy—which is really a duality!

    And in this simple mathematical example perhaps we have the mystery of the “Holy Ghost.” Father, one half, Son, the other half, the Holy Ghost, the ‘ghost’ of the whole—“split” into two halves to create Two.

    Tom


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