But for VAMPIRE AESTHETICS to truly seek the phenomenology of the future, it must penetrate The Sublime Barrier established by the scientific world-view.
The Sublime was popularized by Boileau’s translation of Longinus into French in 1674 and by Edmund Burke (1729-1797) who wrote A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful (1757). Its aim was to break through the control by the scientific worldview established in the 17th century. Two of the major “control freaks” of the time could not deal with the sublime and tried to stop the growing interest in it. Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1793) an English portrait painter and the first president of the Royal Academy in London in 1768 (and also the constant target of vituperation by mystical painter-poet William Blake (1757- 1827)) said in 1790: “The sublime in painting, as in poetry, so overpowers and takes possession of the whole mind that no room is left for attention to minute criticism” (which, of course, was his only artistic forte).
In the same year Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), that German philosopher of the ontology of doubt, came up with the one-liner, when he discovered that a new sensibility might be breaking into his personal intellectual fortress: “The sublime, it is an outrage on the human imagination.”
Those who tried to characterize the sublime agreed that it referred to the horror of infinite spatial extension, the sense of inhuman extraordinariness, and the grandeur and terror of nature in the raw—in other words what is meant by the emotion that goes beyond fear: DIVINE AWE.
The sublime helped launch the Romantic and Symbolist Movements in their individual assessments of the human personality and its motivations which is found without lies only in the subconscious: the will to, power, love, hate, lust, destroy and die. This is the revelation of the prophetic and it is, therefore, the extinction of the present.
ZOMBIE AESTHETICS, the mystical, is the expression of the relation of the spirit of the sacred. It is what cannot be named, limited, or known by the ordinary human consciousness, because it is prior to any distinction that can be made. As Plato implied in the Timaeus, the spirit or the godhead can emanate because it is distinct from the form of THE SAME, the form of THE DIFFERENT, and the form of THE EXISTENT. The spirit, therefore, unites the physical with the metaphysical, becoming with being. It is the horror of darkness, the wonder of light, the inevitable universal structure which is
manifested by the simultaneity of the real and the illusory.
A zombie is a dead person—or, more precisely, the soulless body of a dead person—that has been artificially brought back to life, usually through magic. Lacking the ingredient of consciousness, the zombie’s motions are undirected, mechanical, and robot like. By extension, living people who behave like unconscious automatons are sometimes referred to as zombies, like Elvis Presley (1935-1977) one year before his death or the current state of Michael Jackson (1958-) and, of course, the culturally ubiquitous Andy Warhol (1928-1987) for his whole life.
The term zombie seems to be derived from the name of the Python God of certain African tribes like those in Northern Angola, and it is similar to Pytho, the serpent killed by Apollo that produced, the Delphic Oracle. The Bantu language Kimbundu has a word NZÚMBE meaning ghost or the “walking dead,” or the spirit of the dead. Zombie could, therefore, be connected to ancestor worship and the boa constrictor. Wade Davis, an ethnobiologist, studied Haitian zombies and found that they were actually people who were given drugs that made them appear dead and then buried alive. They were given strong poison, usually as a powder in food, of Bufotoxin and Tetrodotoxin—similar to natural poisons such as Botox that are used in cosmetic surgery today. The victim who receives the potion experiences malaise, dizziness, and a tingling that soon becomes a total numbness. The person then suffers excessive salivating, sweating, headaches, and general weakness, both blood pressure and body temperature drop, and the pulse is quick and weak. This is followed by diarrhea and regurgitation. The victim then undergoes respiratory distress, until the entire body turns blue (Blue Man Group). Sometimes the body goes into wild twitches (Elvis Presley), after which it is totally paralyzed (Michael Jackson), and the person falls into a coma in which he or she appears to be dead (Andy Warhol).
Cosmogonic Historicity, Paul Laffoley, 17” x 27”, ink, letters on board, 1971
Exposure to an overdose of visual kitsch (the world of bad taste) can produce the same symptoms, such as in “Graceland,” “Neverland,” “Times Square,” “Las Vegas,” “Disneyland,” Vienna, Austria, and Switzerland.
The Symbolist Movement in art (1880-1910) (official birth September 18, 1886 in Paris, France) develops the use of kitsch to protect the mystical. The symbolists were concerned about decadence, memento mori, the concept of ruin, the fin-de-siècle, and history that runs backward as in the writings of Plato, Hesiod, and Hinduism. Completely opposing the optimistic progress of the 18th century, the symbolist viewed society as decadent; therefore, the criminal classes were the avant-garde. They defined themselves as guilty of crimes of which society had yet to conceive and expressed this idea in art forms that appeared decadent to society because society had yet to achieve this new level of decadence.
Since a symbol suggested the presence of the numinous and transcendent utopic space, it had to be protected by nested shells of visual kitsch as deliberate lies so that society at large cannot reduce the symbol’s power to the level of marketing cliche which has been done to so much of contemporary culture.
There are five semiotic levels or shells surrounding the sacred content of a symbol:
- The lowest level is THE SIGN: This is information by convention, like a made up code, game or system or an advertising campaign. The viewer of the sign feels completely empowered and epistemically active and the content of the sign is passive.
- The nest level is THE INDEX: This is information by symptom. There is something real out there but all we have are its tracks or its forensic indications of existence. The knower is a bit more passive and that which is a bit more active.
- A still higher level is THE ICON: This is the actual depicting of the structure of the content of the symbol. The knower and that which is known are equal in power.
- The next to last level is THE ARCHETYPE: This semiotic concept was made famous by the psychologist Carl Gustav Jung (1975-1961), in Basel, Switzerland (Switzerland is, of course, a high-kitsch area on the planet).
- The Archetype tips the scales in favor of the epistemic power of the content of the symbol and moves from subjective to the objective. Jung declared the journey of the soul which he called Heilsweg as the burning
of the unconscious contents into an indivdual’s consciousness. Because the archetypes were shown to be the same throughout history and in all cultures, he felt he had demonstrated the existence of a collective unconscious that affected both waking and dreaming life.
- The innermost level or shell is THE OBJECTIVE SYMBOL of the sacred or divine essence experienced as pure numinousity. Here the kitsch barrier has been penetrated and the epistemic relation between the knower and that which is known is inversed. The knower has become has become like a zombie—totally passive—and the knowledge goes beyond the objective into the realm of total, complete, active, power, the aspect of which the knower can not voluntarily avoid, as the desire to know is now absolutely satisfied.
In Canto 33 (lines 109-120) of II Paradiso (the third canticle of The Divine Comedy), the poet Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) presents the beatific vision (the direct knowledge of God) in just such a manner:
Not that within THE LIVING LIGHT there was more than a sole aspect of the divine
which is what IT has always been,
yet as I learned to see more, and THE POWER OF VISION GREW IN ME, that single aspect,
AS I CHANGED, SEEMED TO ME TO CHANGE ITSELF.
Within its depthless clarity of substance,
I saw the great light shine into three circles
in the three clear colors bound in one same space; the first seemed to reflect the next like a rainbow equally breathed forth by the other two.
It is the extinction of the present.
- Both LeCorbusier and Fuller were developing their most creative ideas prior to the publication of Le Phenoméne Humain and therefore, emphasized only part of Teilhard’s vision of utopic space. From 1920-1925 LeCorbusier
with his partner Amedée Ozenfant the painter (1886-1966) started a magazine called L’Espirit Nouveau. The contributions became influential texts—a heady brew of technology, messianic slogans proclaiming the supposed moral and hygienic virtues of the architectural language of the “Golden Section” and lessons derived from antiquity that found many devotees. In his writings LeCorbusier defined architecture as a play of masses brought together by light, and advocated that buildings should be practically constructed as a modern machine, an idea derived from the futurist architect Antonio Sant’ ‘Elia (1888-1916), complete with rational planning, and capable of being erected using mass-produced components. What Le Corbusier took from utopic space was absolute personal freedom for his style and individual buildings, but for his urban design projects like La Ville Radieuse (The Radiant City) his misinterpretetation of the concept of the conventicle was the metaphor as a beehive for people.
In the 1920s he anticipated the political structures of the combination of fascism and socialism which characterized the 1930s. In fact during the early 1940s after the Nazis invaded France, LeCorbusier, whose architectural commissions began to dry up, found it easy to compromise his political convictions and accepted jobs from the collaborationist Vichy government.
Jane Butzner Jacobs (1916-), who began her career as a critic for Architectural Forum in 1952, started to attack the dogma of heroic modernism especially the rules set forth by the CIAM (Congrès Internationaux D’Architecture Moderne) dominated first by the Bauhaus and then by LeCorbusier. The CIAM lasted from 1928 to 1959. Jacobs claimed that the CIAM was killing cities, especially American cities where there was enough money to put “urban renewal” projects into practice. These projects often resembled cemetery headstones uniformly laid out on carpets of grass. The most famous project was by Minoru Yamasaki (1912-1986), an American architect of Japanese descent. He built public housing in St. Louis, Missouri—the infamous Pruitt-Igoe scheme, from 1950-1958. As architect and critic Charles Jencks wrote in 1977, when HUD (The Office of Housing and Urban Development) blew up the Pruitt-Igoe on July 15, 1972 at 3:32PM Post-Modernism began, and Modernism died.
- In 1952 John Clellon Holmes wrote a book called Go (which was reissued in 1959 under the title The Beat Boys). It was the first indication of the Beat sensibility. During this early period Hollywood film stars such as James
Dean (I Am Immortal), Montgomery Clift (More Sensitive than a Broadway Playwright), or Marlon (The Wild One) Brando were shown on the silver screen through a gossamer veil of gayness to help promote the sensibility to suburban America by means of appealing to the developing libidos of preadolescent females. Later the real edge of the Beat Generation was honed by poets such as Allen Ginsberg who became famous overnight at his first reading of Howl: Part / at the Six Gallery on October 13, 1955 in San Francisco. Ginsberg’s poetry mates such as Gregory Corso offered many works (but his most revealing was Marriage-the Happy Birthday of Death, 1960), or Laurence Ferlinghetti who published his poems Pictures of the Gone World in 1955 for $0.75 as the first title in The City Lights “Pocket Poems” editions.
But it was the novelists of the period, in the popular imagination, who became the sine qua non of the Beat Generation. William S. Burroughs served up Junkie in 1953 and Naked Lunch in 1957 and of course, the reigning prince of the Beats, the bad boy drunk from Lowell, Massachusetts, Jack Kerouac, whose second novel On The Road, while published late in the game-September 5, 1957—took the media over like a big, bad, belated, blitzkrieg. His face was seen all over the power pop magazines of the 1950s: Time, Life, Look, Colliers, with a greater frequency than Elvis or Jackson Pollock. To the general public, the autumn of 1957 was the beginning of the Beat Generation. What added to the sense of America’s cultural helplessness was the fact that 30 days after the novel (October 4, 1957), the first of a series of Soviet—Earth orbiting satellites—Sputnik I—was launched, and the first battle of the Cold-War (1945-1990) was won and not by the US. In Russian the word “sputnik” means “traveling companion” or the translation of the world “poputchik” meaning “fellow traveler”: one that sympathizes with and often furthers the ideals and program of an organized group (as the Communist Party) without membership in the group of regular participation in its activities. A steel sphere 23 inches in diameter and weighing 185 lbs. containing a simple radio transmitter—the symbol of Soviet propaganda in space cast a pall over the United States and caused every young person of the time to assess the death karma we had created by dropping “Little Boy” on Hiroshima Japan August 6, 1945 at 8:15AM. Three days later, August 9, Nagasaki was also eliminated from the world atlas. The assessment entered the American lexicon as “Beatnik.” America had its own Hiroshima of pride.
Love Song, courtesy Joe Coleman
Exorcism, Alchemy, Mysticism, all of these things exist in my work, but only in the most practical and instinctual sense of a very personal need. Many of these concerns are apparent at the first encounter with one of my paintings. My portraits are dissections of a soul. The paintings are tombs that contain the things that define a life. At the center the fragile bone and flesh and the clothing. Around the center you will find objects important to this life. The homes that held and expressed this life. Important friends and family. Defining events. Dreams. The thoughts and words expressed by and about this being. All presented on the surface with equal importance.
From a distance, the painting has a direct confrontation with the viewer; full of information. If the viewer comes closer more information is revealed. The more one looks the more is revealed. If the viewer uses a magnifying lens or the special lenses I used to paint it, microscopic images are revealed, not just textures but tiny, minute scenes related to the subject.
Some of the detail is buried underneath the painted surface. For example I have spent many hours researching and painting an historical figure’s pocket watch and then paint the pocket over it.
This process is enacted without sketching the composition beforehand. I complete a square inch at a time, starting at any point, letting the painting slowly reveal itself to me. I am intensely researching the subject and as information is filtered through me and onto the painting’s surface it creates a densely woven narrative pattern. Pattern is the only order I trust. I care only about the detail, the composition is unimportant. It will reveal itself.
Exorcism, Alchemy, Mysticism, all of these things exist in my work, but only in the most practical and instinctual sense of a very personal need.
With magnified lenses used by jewelers and a one-hair brush I submerge into a microscopic world. I build sets, stitch costumes, and act out all of the parts. I become the person I am painting; perhaps like method acting, maybe it’s what is called “the assumption of the God form” in occult books. But it is the way in which I can conjure a soul.