THE JUDGEMENT DAY UPDATE.
Have finished not with a bang, but a whimper. Studying and final bits of
course work falling into place has lead me to a horrendous yoga attendance,
all I've been able to do in that regard are small snatches in my room. On
the upside, some of that time went into writing a paper for my Christian
Ethics course (10 points!) on non-religious ethical systems (20 points!). On
the downside, however, I got paid last week (minus 100 points). I did a bit
of damage control though: went to Global Village, the store that sells
non-sweatshop, traditional crafts stuff from around the world, and got some
Venezuelan chimes and a Cambodian elephant for going home presents (now if
only I'd got that Tibetan flag ... a Vajrayana advance-to-go!).
Singing is spiritual, and on Saturday my A Capella group, the Jaywalkers,
did a recording. Only when you do a recording can you know how truly bad you
sound, and we sounded BAD. As one of us said, "we sucked ass." I think this
estimation is unfair though, it is more that we just rapidly disappeared up
our own arseholes. However, we sang, and through singing we achieved self
realization of how unworthy and imperfect we are as beings.
Humility is Divine.
Well, the competition is over. I have lived a semester of Transcendence
through by the ancient teachings, bolstered with a solid, exponentially
expanding Transhumanist outlook. More on this: I discovered a T-humanist
site (X-human.com) that argued that to become posthumans we must think in
terms of us ALREADY being posthumans - that to think of ourselves as humans
and to apply this label upon ourselves, creates barriers in itself to
achieving Transcendence (it's more complicated than that but I can't
remember the nuances of the argument. Something about it being hard for
children to grow up and act like adults as long as they thought of
themselves as children).
Given this, I'd like you to all know that I am now a posthuman. I promise
not to destroy your species or to make naughty alliances with the Machines,
but I do expect a little slack from time to time since I've got to go fight
the Mole Men now (bugger).
What's it like being a posthuman? Hard to say. I haven't sprouted any extra
limbs, and though I check every morning my skull isn't growing any larger
and I still have to shave. If I have to condense posthumanity down to any
single, salient, feature, then I would say it is the awareness that
everything that we are worrying about is very much a function of the cutting
edge philosophy, science, and tech, that no one else seems to be paying any
attention to (how many times this week have YOU thought about what we're
going to do when the machines are smart enough to run themselves?), so it's
important to be a part of that process if we are to have any control over
the form of the emerging, post human world.
And meditation. There's always the meditation.
Thank you for your votes. I await Judgement.
For my last update, I thought I'd share part of my Existentialism final.
"ůmay I ask whether anyone has ever accused an artist who has painted a picture of not having drawn his inspiration from rules set up a priori? Has anyone ever asked, "What painting ought he to make?" It is clearly understood that there is no definite painting to be made, that the artist is engaged in the making of his painting, and that the painting to be made is precisely the painting he will have made. It is clearly understood that there are no a priori aesthetic values, but that there are values which appear subsequently in the coherence of the painting, in the correspondence between what the artist intended and the result. Nobody can tell what the painting of tomorrow will look like. Painting can be judged only after it has once been made. What connection does that have with ethics? We are in the same creative situation. We never say that a work of art is arbitrary. When we speak of a canvass of Picasso, we never say that it is arbitrary; we understand quite well that he was making himself what he is at the very time he was painting, that the ensemble of his work is embodied in his life."
Sartre, Existentialism and Human Emotions, pp. 42-43.
Sartre is not the only one to liken living a life to creating a work of art. But this quote in particular lends itself to discussion from many points of view. This could be used in a critique of both communist use of art commercial use of it-there, the artist is only successful if he meets the a priori requirements set forth by his employers, and worse yet those requirements are social control. This could also be a valid point in criticizing a great deal of art being produced these days-often the artists themselves will open a gallery by saying how each piece is completely arbitrary. I liked this material, I let the brush go wherever it went, and though I suppose I'm responsible for it in that my name's on it, but whatever. In this case, we have a sort of quietism Sartre defends Existentialism against elsewhere in the book.
But none of this is to the point. This passage and similar notions in other works have provided me more than ammunition in critiques of art and politics or an excellent capsule description of Existentialism for people who ask what the class is about. It's no secret I've had difficulty with the fate of some of the characters in the works we've examined. I say "so what" when a character flying toward the bottom of the earth is enlightened or ask if there are existential stories that end in outwardly creative acts other than "The Plague."
But this metaphor has helped me bring some meaning to some of the most seemingly defeated characters we have run across this semester. The young man in "The Tunnel" does not really live until the train has plunged headlong into the abyss-"Now, for the first time, his glasses were gone and his eyes were wide open." But still, what value is this realization seconds before unstoppable doom? Pablo in "The Wall" does not escape by analyzing the situation or violent emotion, but by accepting the absurdity of it. His escape is almost accidental to his actions. And the end of "The Stranger" has been hard for me to reconcile with such an active philosophy, as Sartre maintains. "For all to be accomplished, for me to feel less lonely, all that remained to hope was that on the day of my execution there should be a huge crown of spectators and that they should greet me with howls of execration."
For all of these characters realization has come at a very dear price-they have realized they have authorship of their own lives (and accepted what they've written) the moment before they can no longer write. Many of the other stories have had stronger themes of confinement than freedom-the quarantined city of "The Plague," the main character's illness in "The Immoralist," the courts of "The Trial." Reading "Existentialism and Human Emotions," I would expect Existential literature to more express themes of overcoming illusory boundaries than being crushed by very real ones. Sartre never says we're free to fly like Superman if we choose to, but he breaks down barriers like custom, religion, and even very thoroughly thought out philosophies like that of Kant.
But here is where the artist metaphor comes in handy, at least for me. These characters often begin the stories not as artists but students fulfilling a distribution requirement with Painting I. They begin to see other students painting simply what they're told to-the Bob Ross technique-and they see other groups doing what they're doing simply for a grade in the course. But then they're given a challenging assignment-paint on a canvass impossibly small, or better yet one impossibly big. The other students flail about, complain, try to duplicate their last piece or do the same brush stroke again and again to no avail. But our artist simply begins painting. He makes mistakes but doesn't spend weeks trying to paint the sheet white and start over. He incorporates them into his work, he uses the incredibly small or ludicrously large boundaries as part of the piece, he makes the work his own. The piece, good or bad, becomes his. At this moment he is an artist.
But in some ways the metaphor does break down. When the artist completes a piece, he is free to start another. There is no guarantee that upon completion of a life, we will have another to create. This is very freeing for the artist-perhaps it would help to say our student's assignment is the final exam, but still, most artists assume there are other classes, or other canvasses, to come. But this is a challenge rather than a snag in the metaphor. The real challenge of living one's life as if it were a work of art is doing so despite there being no guarantees-more directly, because there are no guarantees.
This artist can not teach others how to become artists like him-he cannot be Bob Ross-and most likely won't sell thousands of paintings-he is not Thomas Kinkade. The most he can teach others is how to hold a brush, and there are probably others with better technique. But if someone else sees his work and realizes he can make his own, the piece has been useful-edifying and not restricting.
Now, take a look at all the karma I've consumed in the photo below.