November 05, 2011

On Art, Sacrifice, Ecstasy, and Love

[I presented this at the &Now Conference in UC San Diego on Oct 15 as part of the "No Future" panel. Also posted here at Montevidayo.]  

20,000 kg is approximately 44,092 pounds.

How many bags is that?

A few weeks ago, poet Tenzing Rigdol stole this much dirt from Tibet and flew it to Dharamsala in India, where over 80,000 Tibetans live in exile. Was this an act of desperation. Was this an act of art. Was this an act of love. 

At the Mandeville Special Collections Library yesterday, I opened one of Alice Notley’s journals at random, and this was the first thing I read: “Love … is a great spirit, Socrates.”

“Love,” Bataille wrote, “expresses a need for sacrifice.” You could lose yourself in love. In the 16th century, Meera drank poison out of her love for Krishna. Before her, Christ “eagerly endure[d] wounds, even death itself”: so as to serve the beloved, according to Erasmus. Erasmus also concluded that Christ’s torment itself makes him lovable, an object of desire. The erotic nature of sacrificial pain has been especially apparent to mystics, who are themselves made (like Frankenstein’s monster) out of an extravagance of love.

Sri Ramakrishna

Of course, love’s sacrifice is a gift, an offering.

Stuart Sovatsky writes, “…to not share love with others is to be deprived of sharing one’s essential nature with others and experiencing oneself thus[ly].”

I turn to Deleuze+Guattari for guidance and an occult offering—I am partial in my reading: “...the point where the assemblage changes, where the assemblage of love is superseded by an artistic assemblage...”. Or how about vice versa.

Art must be stunned by love. This is my mandate to art, and also a reminder to the self the shadow the artist. Only when art succumbs to love, is overcome with love; only when art gives itself to love and to loving: all that it is making and maiming and unmaking and snuffing out and birthing and repairing: only at that point of ecstatic, entranced, rapturous, extravagant love, does art start weeping, streaming tears and blood and shit and data and time and space all over its body—its face.

Extravagant joy and grief look pretty much alike. Death is the most sincere and extravagant form of love.

Love and art, being interchangeable, have been used by mystics throughout the ages to induce transpersonal awareness. Alejandro Jodorowsky writes about his first meeting with Pachita, a Mexican sorceress whom he later assisted in her healing practice, where she asks him to read a poem that causes her to go into trance. H., a former psychiatric patient David Lukoff has written about, was summoned into madness when, in his own words, “various lines of verse began to filter into my mind”: by concentrating on the poem he wrote, H. “catapult[ed]” himself into what he called his “Mental Odyssey”. In Sufism, the term “mast” is used for those incapable of functioning normally in the everyday world: they are the god-intoxicated, the ones overcome with love for god.

Ecstatic writing itself, a shamanic act, kills the author, the egoic 'I', and this encounter gives 'birth' to a queer time: which lacks both a past and a future, which folds into itself, which resists linearity and consensus, where there is no hope—only consciousness, which can be conflated with space. This fetal art carries the impress of traumas and pleasures from its own perinatal rite of passage, and becomes a fatally transformative site for the reader who encounters it. As Kathy Acker put it, “If writing cannot and writing must change things, I thought to myself, logically of course, writing will change things magically.”

Ecstatic writing is a kind of channeling, and this is not a new idea so I won’t spend too much time on it except to remind you that the new Nobel Prize winner, Tomas Tranströmer, claimed to have actually become an insect in the woods, and that Hannah Weiner claimed to have actually seen words. Must we bifurcate the concepts and artifacts of shapeshifting and clairvoyance and mediumship from their live or archived experiences? Or can we go beyond the musty Cartesian splitting of mind and matter?

The ecstatic, the mystical, the parapsychological, the occult, the surreal—they all exceed legitimacy, locality, and reality, and can therefore only be understood as hallucinations, as kitsch, as gossip, as dubious, as degenerate, as generative. Art produced in or through or possessed by these states—para-art, shadowy art—is rightly disparaged, at least questionable: after all, we are talking of possession, a sort of hacking, a communication maybe of messages maybe of noise (depending on the hacker’s ethics and objectives), a mediation at the end of which the words, signs, codes that come through may destroy meaning or life as it has existed so far.

As possessions are wont to be, art can be compulsive. Of course, traditional neurology can only classify this compulsive creativity as a disorder, locating it in biology, in the brain. But if we live in a world which is living, where matter is conscious (as suggested by recent research say in astrobiology + theorized by certain cosmologies), then the conceptual category of, for instance, so-called hypergraphia should be discarded.

According to Mircea Eliade, shamans believe that every creation is an irruption of the sacred.

Regular Lucas

“The gods create out of an excess of power, an overflow of energy.” The new science of structured energetics offers slant support to the idea that art, that writing, is a structure of energy, and could be alive. Didn’t Wittgenstein say languages are “forms of life”? If it is alive, then art is not only of the animal, of the body, but art has a body. In her talk yesterday, Bhanu Kapil mentioned wanting to make sentences with nerves. Leslie Scalapino, in a letter to Alice Notley, talked about “the word as the tissue of your species’ soul”.

Bodies, especially moving bodies, carry knowledges and capacities for experience and expression very different from the mind, especially the mind as conceptualized by the dualistic Western paradigm. The mind cannot completely know the body. Kimerer LaMothe talks about the action of the dancing body (rather than its textuality) contributing to the study of religion.

The body of art is the movement of art, and is also the medium that allows flows, intensities, and artaudian particles to circulate or pass through. It is the Deleuzian Body Without Organs. Deleuze lists the following among bodies that have had “enough of organs and [want] to slough them off, or [lose] them”: the hypochondriac body, the paranoid body, the schizo body, the drugged body, the masochist body. But then he writes, “Why such a dreary parade of sucked-dry, catatonicized, vitrified, sewn-up bodies, when the BwO is also full of gaiety, ecstasy, and dance? ... Is it really so sad and dangerous to be fed up with seeing with your eyes, breathing with your lungs, swallowing with your mouth, talking with your tongue, thinking with your brain, having an anus and larynx, head and legs? Why not walk on your head, sing with your sinuses, see through your skin, breathe with your belly: the simple Thing, the Entity, the full Body, the stationary Voyage, Anorexia, cutaneous Vision, Yoga, Krishna, Love, Experimentation.”

The BwO, the ecstatic body, is a body aware of nonduality, merged with the beloved, a hologram of the universe. In and as an ecstatic body, radically queer, always exceeding, now is art.