Reality: as Scott Fitzgerald called it, ‘is a new world-material without being real’- something virtual that is not as it appears, but, nevertheless, still ‘is’’. It seems to be an intangible world, which yields neither to mental abstraction nor to physical prowess. And here, in this rejection of the pure mind, and also in the denial of the bulky material world, we might find the tools with which this ‘new world’ is forged. If this is so, and if, as Schopenhauer diagnosed, noumenon and phenomenon alone are not enough to enter this intangible fortress -then it must be the world of our creative faculties that allows us to discover ‘the subterranean passage, which, as if by treachery, places us all at once in the fortress that could not be taken by attack from without’. Yet, to understand this world of creativity, which is as intangible as it is plainly before our own eyes and ears, we need to turn straight back to what we thought rejected and ask: what is this illusive ‘inside’? We know: inside and outside becomes interchangeable as soon as a tipping point is reached. It is therefore futile to attach a clearly definable place to either. Nevertheless, we experience ‘inside’ as something in us. It is a profoundly personal experience – something we keep a secret at times and, at others, are eager to share. Where, then, is ‘inside’?
Socrates, through Plato, understands it as a state of mind – one could say a predisposition. He defines it as ‘wonderment’. But wonderment – which is how the Greek word ‘thaumasdein’ is commonly translated – has a multitude of meaning, depending on the case in which it appears. It can mean ‘to wonder’, ‘marvel’ or ‘to be astonished’. But if it appears in the so-called ‘cognate accusative’, it means: ‘to look on with wonder and amazement’, or, ‘to marvel at’. But it has also certain undertones, like: ‘to honour’, ‘admire’, and, most conspicuously: ‘to worship’.
It is well worth to stay with this definition for a moment longer. ‘Thaumadsein’ or wonderment allows two distinct possibilities: one leads inside our mind, the other leads outside into the world of physical objects. If we marvel, honour, admire or even worship, we have chosen a way inwards. But if we understand ‘wonderment’ as something towards which we direct our body with its senses (if we understand it in the ‘cognate accusative’ and look on with wonder and amazement) we have chosen the way outward. These two distinct possibilities are epitomized by two world-views and their respective incarnation: the mystic and the scientist.
But there is also another world-view: the artist. The artist exists, so it seems at least at first, somewhere in-between the mystic and the scientist. Art has to do with turning inwards – but it has also to do with the world of objects that exist outside of us.
To come closer to the artist let us first of all scrutinise one of these other incarnations of ‘wonderment’: the mystic.
Right from the beginning, the immense importance of the body becomes clear when we look at the mystic. He/she knows that access to reality is only possible via the body. But the body becomes something negative. The instinct of the mystic tells him/her that the body is the obstacle par excellence. It prevents the mental, or spiritual side from developing. This deep-rooted suspicion for anything corporal becomes strongest with the ascetic. To understand such hostility towards the physical world, we need to briefly look at a notorious aspect of the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer.
On the Suffering of the World
We are told that Schopenhauer is a pessimist. This is certainly justified, albeit not as commonly thought. Schopenhauer’s pessimism springs from a simple truth, namely that life is profoundly cruel. My reader, who has followed me up to here, is without doubt one of the comparatively few lucky individuals born into a relatively happy existence. ‘Happy’ does not mean that you have to be really happy. It just means that circumstances allow you to exist on a more or less adequate human level. But the vast majority of people do not share this luxury with you. You just need to think: how many people are, at this very moment you read this sentence, tortured, cruelly beaten to death, starved to death, frightened to death? How many endure, at this very moment, unspeakable physical or mental pain through serious illness or instabilities in their brain? Imagine all the secret torture chambers, concentration camps and gulags, where diligent torturers work their way systematically through the body of their victims, beginning with the fingernails and gradually reaching the genitalia. How many breathe their last breath under terrible pain at exactly this moment, when your eyes scan these words? How many innocent children are neglected, cruelly beaten, maimed or sexually abused. You might only have to go a few steps past your own home to find a house or a block of flats where, behind closed doors, the unspeakable is taking place just now. Now expand this to the remainder of creation, where one devours the other in order to survive. And now project this into the past and into the future and try to understand it as an ongoing process. Try to listen to all the screaming, groaning and moaning that fills every corner, every crevice of this world of ours. And try to listen to the haunting echoes that still reverberate from past sufferings. This is the world in which you live: an unspeakable torture chamber, beyond the wildest fantasies of a perverted mind – the seven circles of hell this side of the river Styx. Now, to top all this, make yourself aware that you yourself will end up not much better. You get older, weaker, become ill and ultimately die a very frightening and painful death. Now this might be labelled as pessimism, but in truth it is realism. Schopenhauer looks deep into the eyes of this monster we call existence or life and what he sees is an abyss of senseless striving: a perpetual churning out and a perpetual devouring.
Now here is the sore swelling, the ‘sickness unto death’ in the psyche of the ascetic. The ascetic becomes sick by looking at the ‘thing-ness’ of creation. He is revolted by the senseless coming and going of life, disgusted by the nauseating manifestations of life: its excrement, blood, slime and the repulsive copulation between all life forms with no other aim but to continue a senseless and frighteningly unappetizing cycle of being born and dying. And at this moment, the ascetic discovers the source of everything evil: it is right with him; it is the flesh of his own body! It is this very body, with its urges and its instincts, which allow this gratuitous force to prevail and continue with a mindless act of creating and destructing. And now, understanding all this, not only with his mind, but also with his heart and soul, the ascetic draws the consequences: he bars nature from taking its course by refusing to offer his own body! The only power this sinister force has over him is through his body and its sexual urges. It is here where danger skulks and where he might play into the hands of nature, the will or evolution, or however you like to name it. It is also here where he can deny any form of access. Once this access is denied, nature has no power over him any more. But to deny the body its sexuality is a Herculean task. The ascetic has to begin by neglecting his body. He has to starve it, chastise it and finally weaken it so much, that no hold is given to the forces that create and destroy. But even this is not enough to deny sexuality. We know from concentration camps that the emaciated and tortured body is still able to produce this last drop of sperm or this last ovum, which carries life over into a new body. It needs something else to be a successful ascetic. It needs the belief that the material world is nothing but a phantom – a kind of curtain behind which the real world lies hidden. This world – a spiritual world – is the natural home of the ascetic. And once the body is identified as the curtain that separates him from this world, the ascetic takes unending care to diminish its density, to macerate it and to dissipate its ‘thing-ness’ until it allows the other world to shine through the last remaining threads of its once dense bodily fabric. Only this longing for a hidden, spiritual world and the consequences the ascetic draws from his longing can overcome the power of life, nature and evolution. Only this can break the vicious circle of creation and destruction and make room for him to enter nirvana.
Now whilst we leave the ascetic to slowly dissolve into nirvana, we need to look at a close relative of his: the mystic. This bizarre tourist of the limbic system can be easily identified through Socrates’ definition of ‘wonderment’. He or she qualifies for the translation of: to honour, admire, and to worship. What is honoured or worshipped is something in the mind of the mystic. In a curious inversion of the ‘cognate accusative’ the mystic turns something outward reaching (to marvel at or to look on with wonder and amazement) into his own psyche. This act of focusing inward is called intentionality.
Why, we might ask, do we need to focus our senses outward on external objects? Is there any truth to be found in them? We know that physical objects can only be experienced. This makes them anyway into mental things. Could it be that ‘mental phenomena’, therefore, are sufficient and do not need external objects? In this case, the mind can be once more directed onto the mind and ‘pure mind’, unencumbered by material objects which will be experienced. Intentionality, as proposed by the 19th century philosopher and psychologist Franz Brentano means exactly this. According to Brentano, every mental phenomenon, every psychological act has content and is directed at an object. But the object towards which the mind is directed is not a real object, like stones, trees or houses – it is an object of the mind. These mental objects are, according to Brentano, ‘the believed’ or ‘the desired’, which he also calls ‘intentional inexistence’ to indicate the status of the objects of thought in the mind as opposed to ‘physical phenomena’.
The mystic is in pursuit of ‘intentional inexistence’. In attempting this, the mystic does something similar to our ‘mental violinists’ (chapter 4). He/she eliminates vital aspects of the human world and falls directly into the unbounded labyrinth of the subconscious brain with its memory banks, time lapses and other automatic procedures. But, contrary to the violinists, who are chained to the real world by an instrument that shows them quite ruthlessly any inconsistency in their mental state (by sounding badly), the mystic is not hampered by such profane materials. His world is spiritual. But the mystic does also not ‘fall’ into the world of the mind, as a dreamer might do. This would be too passive an undertaking. On the contrary, it is a conscious act – a ‘leap of faith’ that turns the mystic into a spiritual being. And the very fact that a leap into this evolutionary induced navigation system had been performed as a conscious act of will convinces the mystic of the reality of what takes place here. This state of mind expresses itself often in utterances, prophecy and oracles. If the brain, in addition, is exhausted by too much meditation and inward looking, and the body weakened by starvation, then these experiences can be extremely strong. As we know today, there are parts in the brain, which, if stimulated by some electrodes, produce religious ecstasy. Not unlike under the influence of drugs, what is experienced by the inward journey of the mystic appears then as absolutely real.
But what distinguishes an artist from a mystic? There is no doubt that the internal artistic world, which could be roughly circumscribed as ‘intentional inexistence’, plays an important role in the creation of a work of art. Without the experience of a rich inner artistic landscape no art could emerge. Here is certainly a point where artist and mystic look eye to eye. But unlike the mystic, this brush with mental phenomena remains just an inner state for the artist. The raison d’être of art lies not primarily in its mental content, but in how this content is infused into the world of physical objects. And at this moment, when thought and matter influence each other and participate in the creation of what we recognize as art, the hermetically closed world of the limbic system, which keeps us locked inside its time lapses and impenetrable electrochemical operations, is wide open. The opening, however, appears via the body. And here, precisely where the body takes on a supremely creative role, does the artist part from the mystic and joins forces with the scientist, who is in pursuit of something tantalizingly similar.
 See chapter 5
 Plato’s Socrates speaks of a youth who, ‘…when he first experiences this wonderment, is delighted, and fancies that he has discovered a treasure-trove of ingenuity. In the enthusiasm of his joy he leaves no stone, or rather no thought unturned. – (Plato, Philebus)
 One million children are identified as abused in the USA per annum. This is roughly 2 children per minute, every minute, day and night. If one uses the same scale of child abuse over the entire world (6 billion people) then one child is abused every second, day and night. But, as we all know, this is just a very conservative estimate. The truth is surely more horrific. Also, the cruelty and perversion with which these poor victims are abused is beyond the fantasy of a ‘normal’ person. If we add natural causes, like famine, mental disturbances, illness – and manmade disasters, like wars, you get an inkling of how much just the youngest of us suffer.
Read the chapters of the book:
- The Ladies of Bundanon – Chapter 1
- Is The Earth Flat? – Chapter 2
- Turning up late to your own funeral – Chapter 3
- The Performer in the Stages of Rigor Mortis – Chapter 4
- Breathing dreams like air – Chapter 5
- The Celluloid Soldier – Chapter 6
- The missing leg – Chapter 7
- The mindless brain and the Sea Squirt – Chapter 8
- Your body is the enemy – Chapter 9
- Conclusion of Part One – Chapter 10
- The Magic Eye – Chapter 11
- A new world-material without being real – Chapter 12
- The artist’s longing – Chapter 13
- Ink to Paper – Chapter 14
- A portent black squiggle – Chapter 15
- The Sunflowers – Chapter 16
- God is Gay – Chapter 17
- Extra Science – Chapter 18
- The Aleph – Chapter 19
- Chained chaos, broken forms – Chapter 20
- Matter and Memory – Chapter 21
- A Leibnizian Universe? – Chapter 22