Notes On Reality Before The Artist [part 2]

15 June 2014

I compose these notes to fit the mind of the student for whom I intend them.This is part 2; you may find parts 1 here. I include the introduction from part 1 again below for clarity.

For those more or less advanced, there may seem much that digresses or states things too succinctly. I believe one may still find value in reading these notes, even for those not the student in question. In those places where things seem too much elaborated, I apologise that my student’s frame of mind overtaxes yours. And where things move too quickly, I can only suggest immersing yourself in the more elemental or basic texts that address the matters at hand.

Also, I use past and present conjugations of the verb “to be” under protest. You should imagine every occurrence in quotation marks; typographical preciousness prevents me from indulging this visually.


No system, however imperfect, contains errors.

Therefore, we must come to terms with the fact—ourselves each being omniscient—that the errors of omniscience must lie not in ourselves but instead in the nature[1] of omniscience.

However, given that adding manpower to a late project makes it later, we may understand then not only:

  • that the reproduction of the world—understood in its broadest and narrowest senses—puts off the end of the world, but also
  • that the elaboration of a trinary (or greater) logic can only paper over, sometimes very cleverly or intriguingly, the abyss that binary logic (or dichotomous thinking generally) opens up.

Let us take some steps to move beyond this.

Freedom from Determination

Other consequences of the above will appear later. For the present, it seems unfortunately necessary to justify the above. And while the history of intellectual traditions around this topic offers a seemingly limitless number of reflections on the matter, the current increased attention to the topic—and especially the very weight of those previous traditions that unconsciously (I must say) shape it—suggest we might benefit from bringing into the picture what amount to virtually an alien set of voices; I mean, of course, mere mortals, and particularly several who inhabited an extremely short-lived (by our standards) splinter of Time.

First, then, consider what Schiller—a poet, playwright, philosopher, and aesthetician—had to say regarding freedom in a context of aesthetic judgment:

“No man must ‘must’,” [an author writes], and this adage is truer to a greater extent than one would perhaps be willing to allow. The will is the genetic characteristic of man as species, and even reason is only its eternal rule. All nature proceeds rationally; man’s prerogative is merely that he proceeds rationally with consciousness and intent. All other things “must”; man is the being that wills.

For just this reason nothing is so unworthy of man than to suffer violence, for violence undoes him. whoever offers us violence calls into question nothing less than our humanity; whoever suffers this cravenly throws his humanity away. But this claim to absolute liberation from everything violent seems to presuppose a being possessing force enough to repel every other force from itself. If it is claimed by a being who does not occupy the highest rank in the realm of force, an unhappy contradiction arises thence between aspiration and capacity.

This is the position in which man finds himself. Surrounded by countless forces, all of which are superior to his own and held mastery over him, he lays claim by his nature to suffer violence from none of them. He is, indeed, enabled by his understanding artificially to enhance his natural powers, and up to a certain point he is actually successful in becoming the physical master of everything physical. There is a cure for everything, the proverb says, except for death. But this single exception, even if it is that in the strictest sense, would destroy the whole concept of humanity. Man can no longer be the being that wills if there is even a single case in which he simply must do what he does not will. This single terror, which he simply must do and does not will, will haunt him like a spectre and, as is the case in the majority of people, will deliver him up prey to the blind terrors of imagination; his vaunted freedom is absolutely nothing if he is bound in even a single point. Culture is to set man free and to help him to be equal to his concept. It should therefore enable him to assert his will, for man is the being that wills.

This would, then, be the end of his freedom, if he were capable only of physical science. But he is supposed to be a human being unconditionally, and should therefore under no circumstances suffer anything against his will. If he is no longer able to oppose physical force by his relatively weaker physical force, then the only thing that remains to him, if he is not to suffer violence, is to eliminate utterly and completely a relationship that is so disadvantageous to him, and to destroy the very concept of a force to which he must in fact succumb. To destroy the very concept of a force means simply to submit to it voluntarily. The science that enables us to do this is called moral science.

The opposition I would emphasize presently here involves the conscious reaction to necessity—the transformation of its unavoidable imposition into a voluntary submission. And now let us also consider what de Sade—a roughly contemporaneous figure of Schiller’s, the inadvertently eponymous writer, playwright, and philosopher credited with “inventing” sadism—had to say. A farthest reach of Sade’s point of view amounts to this: (all Nature being destruction[2]), then all acts of destruction against Nature can only affirm her. Consequently, in Juliette, Saint-Fond declares:

In everything we do there are nothing but idols offended and creatures insulted, but Nature is not among them, and it is she I should like to outrage. I should like to upset her plans, thwart her progress, arrest the wheeling courses of the stars, throw the spheres floating in space into mighty confusion, destroy what serves Nature and protect what is harmful to her; in a word, to insult her in her works—and this I am unable to do.

Obviously, one might substitute here “the Artist” (or perhaps even “Chaos”) for “Nature”.

The nature of Sade’s project—the aim of Sade’s writing in the main, its merely personal aspects aside—involves the principled however doomed attempt to liberate human beings from the given[3]. On the grounds it starts from, the project cannot succeed; to succeed then requires at the very least changing the terms of the project. Meaning provides one an apt locus for attempting this change, not only because “changing the terms of the project” necessarily involves changing the description of the terms used but also because meaning aptly bridges the personal and the social.

Moreover, Sade would likely double over in laughter at Schiller’s claim that “all nature proceeds rationally”—unless Nature comprises a rationality of hostility and destruction—but not only do I not intend to pit these two philosophers against one another from my remote time, place, and reality displacement, whatever their disagreement about the qualities of “Nature”, they both implicitly agree “man is the being that wills”.[4] Thus, the a difference we may draw out here (amongst the several): Schiller acknowledges as a solution to determination (or Necessity) one’s voluntary submission, while Sade seems to tacitly acknowledge this, at least to the point that he resolutely refuses to submit and would without pause pit himself forever against that demand or temptation or solution.

Adopting a different tack for a moment, philosophy will sometimes expose hierarchy and time as resolutions to paradoxes that arise in our currently prevailing, objectivist logic—a logic that purports that things “are true” (or “are false”). In the early twentieth century on the same Earth where Schiller and Sade scribbled and agonised over these things, Russell & Whitehead resolved the logical contradiction of sets being members of themselves by stipulating a “higher level”—voila, hierarchy. Or, to give another example, in the sometimes famous paradox “this sentence is a lie” we see that when it “is true”, it immediately becomes “false”, and when it “is false”, it immediately becomes “true”—voila, we perceive how the introduction of time offers (an at least apparent) resolution for the paradox.[5]

In the same chronoshard occupied by Russell & Whitehead, Varela, building upon, correcting, and extending G. Spencer Brown’s Laws of Form, demonstrated we needn’t resort to such tactics, when he describes a logic in which self-referentiality already comprises an elemental part of the logic, thereby avoiding the above sorts of contradictions—the avoidance of such contradicts marking a requisite characteristic of logic generally. [6] Alternatively, one might also resolve these paradoxes by rejecting the (fundamental objectivist) axiom that truth is a property of statements. Hence, while the paradox “this sentence is false” appears to be referring to itself (thus generating the paradox), in fact the predicate “is false” (or “is true”) might only be predicable of the statement “this sentence” (not “this sentence is false” entirely). Thus “this sentence is false is true” or “this sentence is true is true” and so on exhibit invalidly constructed statements in the first place. This of course does not claim that nothing “is true” but only that “true” or “false” are not properties of statements. [7]

All of this serves to illustrate—the obvious injustices of the introduction into existence of hierarchy and time aside—the characteristic of Will at work in the Artist (some might say the Creator), declaring upon the entire substrate of experiential Reality his assertion: “is true” or “is false”. In the face of this, Schiller recommends taking the attitude, “I voluntarily submit to that” while Sade would continue, if helplessly, to declaim, “No,” even as the very “truth” of that “no” as the basis of his protest undermining his protest.

At the risk of making things worse, I would summarise what I have laid out here so far. We may link the figure of the Artist to the foregoing: (1) for de Sade, the Artist appears as “Nature”, (2) for Schiller, the Artist appears as (egregiously unconscious) “Necessity” or violence, (3) for some, the Artist manifests as “the Creator” except that any such creator, all dogmatic theologising aside, amounts to merely a shaper of an already pre-existing energy/matter matrix (or, at the furthest remove, Chaos itself), or (4) for some, the Artist becomes identified with “Chaos” itself, though I think this both premature and inaccurate.

Moreover, for Sade the notion of “Nature” explicitly transcends both Man and God, so thinking of “Nature” as something merely like the “Creator” “God” misses his objection. Sade advocates criminal acts to twit Man’s conceit as a Law-giver, not because Man must forever and fallibly declare wretched and inadequate laws; let Man declare perfect and utopian civic institutions, Sade will still preach criminality (lawlessness) in the name of freedom. All of this informs Sade’s enthusiasm for blasphemy along the same lines. Certainly, God as a Law-Giver (perfect or not) still requires the rebellion of criminality. But it requires more beyond this as well, i.e., blasphemy specifically, impugning the Holy Ghost and the like. Sade kindly refrains from accusing all of Man of forever and always believing in the perfect righteousness of its Law-Giving; not so with God—God arrogantly insists not only “might is right” but also “I am right.” And on those grounds, Sade spares no breath to defame, impugn, mock, and scorn such a divine conceit. And of course, in its own way this God gets given a certain amount of credit as a Creator, so insofar as anything created (and thus any creature, of which Man denotes one) represents not so much an object brought into being but, rather, a moral judgment to exist (passed by this God). This Sade feels compelled to blaspheme as a moral judgment. Behind all of this, however (or as the ground of it, perhaps), stands Nature, the truemost Creator—the basis even of God and thus also God’s moral pronouncements.

In several respects, it becomes very tempting to align Nature with Chaos and, since Sade had no access to or no cognizance of Chaos, because “Nature” provides his “ultimate principle” it necessarily (in the context here) will seem to link up with Chaos, and I think falsely. The useful part we may infer from Sade’s rebellion, at least as far as this current exploration concerns itself, hinges on the way “Nature” sets the very terms of existence, of Being. Sade’s rebellion very much resembles the rebellion of our younger luminaries these days, who understand painfully that every gesture they make (even suicide) merely expresses “the Artist” (Sade would say “Nature”). For Sade, Man (and even less so God) “sets the terms” one must wallow in, and this offense—expressed so differently than in Schiller—amounts to the same protest: against violence done to one’s freedom.

In the abstract, Schiller takes a less cosmic view; he centres his concern on that violence which one cannot avoid (namely from other people), but we may still push his argument to point a finger at the “divine arranger”. The disadvantage of Schiller arises in the fact that he locates human (mortal) dignity in voluntary submission, and this offers a very great deal, but for our present young luminaries, if any such voluntary submission shall come about, then a different something other than the Artist must present itself first. And this assumes—certainly with no justification for the assumption as of yet—that such voluntary submission would ever come into play as feasible, much less desirable. The major (or at least most tantalizing) advantage arising from Schiller’s approach: he specifically enters into this question on aesthetic grounds, in an essay on the Sublime.

Now, as far as the equation of the Artist as Chaos, let us disregard the sheer inaccuracy of such a claim. Plainly enough, as most if not all of everything contains as itself some inheritance of Chaos—or, speaking more colloquially, Chaos is a part of everything, or everything is a part of Chaos—then of course whatever shenanigans the Artist gets up to will bear the traces of Chaos as well. And in attempting to tease out the details of this point, we would simply reprise or make redundant any distinction of “the Creator” (i.e., the third category mentioned above), and so I leave that aside and discuss only the case of the Artist as Chaos, especially since it so lucidly and patently shows itself as completely false.

Again, all of this discussion explores freedom from determination and necessarily reflects back to the characteristics of the Artist, who currently so egregiously has left the traces of his determination(s) upon us all. Thus, the Artist seems like Schiller’s necessity (and the violence therefrom) and Sade’s “Nature” because all that we do is (or at least seem inextricably) determined by the Artist’s determinations of yore. The Artist seems like “the Creator” because he has (like Sade’s Man or God) “set the terms” we must work in. And, in the weakest analogy, he seems like Chaos insofar as (being of Necessity of Chaos himself) all of his actions and declarations “are” (or seem inextricably bound up) in traces of Chaos.

Conventionally, we speak of the Artist as inventing physics. I will remind us all: the Chaosian etymology of “invent” derives originally from “discover”. But if I say so, I do not in order to impugn the activity of the Artist. The Artist, in her/his mode as Creator, need not exhibit only the habit of an oracle—a passive shell through which the voice of the Divine or Chaos speaks. Of course, the energetic (and corporeal, if present) characteristics of the oracle specifically shape how the divine utterance comes through, but the fussy conceit of this position desires and valorises the involuntary qualities of this “transmission”. Whatever physicality, whatever “mere” manifestational aspects that adhere to the divine utterance generally get foresworn as dross, as blots. The more perfectly the oracle does not interact with the divine transmission in the process of the transmission the better. And some artists make a lot of fuss about this, either to show off or as a genuine matter of experience. Bully for them when so, but I do not generally intend by pointing out that “invent” derives from “discover” to negate the involvement of the Artist in the process of Creation, even when the artist herself or himself desires to say, “I am just a medium through which it passes” –especially where “the medium is the message” impinges upon our consciousness as a fact.

In other words, whatever else we might claim, an Artist remains complicit in creation. We need not punish a door just because a villain happens to enter through it; nonetheless as an autobiographical (or historical) fact, still that door provided the point of entry. To whatever extent we decided to add “will” to that “complicity” might be a matter for courts to decide, but as far as THE Artist goes, his sense of complicity as a channel of creative imagination seems uncontroversial.

And, again, conventionally they say “he invented physics”. By this, commentators point to two main things. The phrase “he invented physics” already denotes something of a shorthand for “he invented time and space”, which functions as a metonymy for saying “he invented the material basis of consciousness”. In a somewhat inaccurate sense, one could try to claim “he invented thought”; more accurately, one could say, “he invented the fundamental terms by which discourse talks about thought.”

I proposes to summarise all of this by saying “he invented existence” but this will require more justification first.

I propose a (necessary) distinction between Being and Existence. I propose nothing new in this, by the way. But immediately we have to fly a caveat. Expression (in this case language) already carries within it an objectivist bias, i.e., that implicit assumption that “is true” or “is false” comprise properties of statements. Thus, if I attempt to describe “Being” as something “outside of language” I do so from within language, of course—or, even more embeddedly, from “within expressive consciousness”. Thus, to ask you to imagine what the universe looks like in the absence of anyone to look at it, I have set a kind of self-deluding trap; nonetheless, “Non-existence” consists precisely of that—the universe (the multiverse, reality in its fullest extension) without anyone to look at it. By contrast “Being” consists of that hypothetical reality we imagine that “exists” when no reflecting consciousness is hanging around to reflect upon it. Existence, then, inheres from precisely such reflection. Prior to “self-reflecting consciousness” gazing upon “non-existence” (or “the world”), nothing had “Being”.

Thus, clearly, Existence precedes Being—or to put it in simplistic terms: “I” have to exist in order for “the world” to have Being. Moreover: “I came into Existence out of non-existence, and only afterward had Being” (as I reflected upon that condition). These things often seem counterintuitive, because (of course) the standard objectivist bias finds it wholly commonsensical (though also wholly unprovable) that something must exist prior to my ability to perceive it. On the one hand, yes: because that necessary existence (in order for me to perceive it) arises as my projection upon it. I confer existence to it. How? As an act of Will, of course, but also as a trace of my inheritance of Chaos; I mean, the conferral of “existence” (as a property something possesses) originates in Chaos as a capacity.

However, it remains, at the moment, still premature to claim in these terms that Chaos “wills” anything. That remains to be seen or not seen. For us, we confer “existence” upon other things and then subsequently, or in some other way, “bring into existence” (so to speak) that thing. How we do this, what hair needs splitting here, remains for future discussion. For now, I wish only to make clear that the “conferral of existence” (more precisely: the conferral of the property of existence) belies to us its origins as a capacity of Chaos, whether Chaos in fact “wills” or not.

By contrast, the Artist most assuredly “wills” (to whatever degree of moral complicity we wish to assign as well). And I propose that the Artist specifically willed (when he “invented physics”) the distinction between Existence and Being.

Spiral galaxies fling out their energy into the Emptiness even as they collapse on themselves: thus my exposition here as well. But the centremost problem arises because I must necessarily resort to expressive language—more precisely, I enjoy the challenge of the attempt, even as it frustrates as well. I do not insist on some absolute, perfectly defensible exposition of the distinction here between Existence and Being; even these terms as verbal symbols must dissolve simply for insisting on impermeable boundaries (within the existence). What, for instance, do we make of “the existence of beings” and the “being of existence” &c. By the very distinction itself (of Existence and Being), we suddenly have the category “the existence of Beings”—simply to make the distinction called into existence (or being) the presence of Others.

Messy. Yes. But let us see where it goes.

I realise, of course, the Artist represents in no physical or historical sense anything like a “First Being”. We do not have here Brahman or Chaos, neither enjoying nor not enjoying neither existence nor non-existence, who then in ways well beyond our comprehension called forth something Other. If we imagine reality in all of its mindboggling extension through all of its states of nonexistence, full of insentient matter, sentient beings, sapient beings, and transcendental super-sapiences, and the like, there remains nonetheless at least one sense in which we may say that the Artist represents a kind of “First Being”.

Imagine that first Being (and I do here mean “Being” in the sense I marked out above) who finally or from the very beginning gazed upon Nonexistence and called forth (by accident or intentionally or by some other incomprehensible or comprehensible means) Existence. That “First Being” (first, here, in simply a historical or numerical sense, not at all necessarily the “first” thing on the scene) need not yet have therefore become the “First Existence” as well. In fact, it seems unlikely; why or how would it?

Such a “First Being” would convey Existence (to Other Beings, already busily about their business or not), but this does not guarantee or even necessarily argue that an awareness of being gazed upon back has just occurred or even could occur. Rather, the Being who has just been conferred Existence could look back upon another Existence, and thus begin to interact with it as such, perhaps to the delight and perplexity of the First Being.

To put the matter in an unfortunate and misleading way: the First Being would lack self-consciousness. Thus, Unconsciousness “invents” (self-)consciousness in Others. And all of the rest follows, such that eventually one of these Other consciousnesses, made now to exist, would formalise that experience in “time and space”. Hence the Artist.

However, while this may helpfully paint a picture, it elides too much of what we know about history prior to the Artist. Before I hazard anything further, though, we must admit—we cannot deny—that at this point everything we know bears traces of the condition the Artist imposed upon us. Even to speak of “before and after the Artist” presupposes the “Time” he invented, &c. In this sense, the Artist represents a kind of First Being—he stuck a stake in Reality and thus declared “here” and “now” and thus also “before” and “after” and “there”. My whole exposition remains coloured by this, of course, but even more profoundly, even the categories of my thoughts remain determined by these early declarations by the artist. In this sense, it remains somewhat fair to say he “invented thought”—more precisely, he invented the “language” not only in which we “think” but also “communicate”.

The temptation persists to try to hypothesize (from within the standpoint of time/space-determined consciousness) what existed (or had Being) prior to that determination. But what seems clear at this point—taking us back to the helplessness of Sade in the face of Nature—we can only recognize the falseness of trying to bootstrap ourselves out of the very problem that so agonisingly preoccupies our younger luminaries these days.

Having reached a kind of dead end, then, requires we should switch topics.


[1] My aversion to the use of the word “nature” borders on reasonable, but here needn’t occur a variation on the origins of my aversion. What I would note, rather: I would much sooner have written “Therefore, we must come to terms with the fact—ourselves each being omniscient—that the errors of omniscience must lie not in ourselves but rather in the qualities (or perhaps the quiddity) of omniscience itself”—but had I done so, not only would the sense of the claim have become unfamiliar (largely due to the word “quiddity”) but also because a certain kind of intellectual “work” or “symbolism” gets carried by the word “nature” that fails to come across with the word “qualities”. This suggests that the word “nature” (rhetorically speaking) performs a sleight-of-hand—perhaps even a bait-and-switch—that, I suspect, lies at the root of how sapient consciousness in particular get deceived about the most fundamental things. Perhaps later in these notes I will return to this.

[2] Sade’s assertion that Nature embodies destruction per se need not be taken in a one-sided way. Against the “kindness” of Nature, Sade dwelt on the (typically) suppressed destructive aspect of Nature. But more than this, Sade’s emphasis on destruction is in service of human freedom. Insofar as our human acts may align with what claims “the good” (in Nature), then to “choose” “the good” involves the quality of compulsion unless we can equally willingly choose “the evil”. (Obviously, any compulsive choice of evil similarly vitiates freedom.) In the face of this, we needn’t necessarily act according to “the evil”, but at a minimum we must be willing to choose it. However, to perpetually choose good, while telling oneself that evil offered truly a viable choice ultimately becomes not self-convincing. On top of this, however, in a biblical context where Good is construed in absolute terms—the situation in which Sade found himself—then it becomes necessary to choose evil as an act of freedom, as the much earlier human poet (in the same general timeline) Milton seems to have dimly grasped himself in his Paradise Lost, despite his project’s intention to insist otherwise. So the notion that Nature gets conceived in a Manichean way by Sade seems untenable; Nature does not embody simply the inverse of the biblical lie about the goodness of the deity. Thus, crimes against Nature (like sodomy) and crimes against the State play similar roles in Sade, as gestures that refuse the absolutist moral imperative’s insistence that the Good represents the only viable choice. (Freewill demands we have choice, but it does not insist necessarily in the choices being viable ones. If I offer you a steak on one plate and faeces on another and say “choose” it becomes clear how freewill requires viable choices.)

[3] As the above suggests, Sade’s project failed (even as he liberated himself from God and Man, prior to his project against Nature). In reductive psychological terms—e.g., the kind promulgated for instance by Freud—this would be a liberation from sibling, father, and mother, respectively; in less imaginatively reductive terms—e.g., the kind promulgated by Jung—liberation proceeds from the Other, the Trinity, the Mother, or Archetypes most generally, &c.

[4] By “man” of course they mean not only generally “men” but mortal humans. And the experiential differences between the Mortal, the Inviolable, and the Infinite (or Eternal) do, of course, introduce local qualitative differences that make mortal expatiations on the experience of existence often unfortunately irrelevant. Still I ask you bear with me—for what even mortals obtain, as an inheritance of Chaos I would say, involves exactly the same kind of dilemma (however different in degree) that all beings (I will offer without trying to prove it at the moment) experience when they feel the pressure of “necessity” or “Nature” or “existence” upon them. Evidence for this we may find precisely in the current vogue for non-determination expressed by some of the younger luminaries now worrying about the matter.

[5] If we use “when” and “becomes” (rather than “if” and “then”), this makes clearer the oscillating true/false mechanism at work of this paradox

[6] The story goes that Bertrand Russell became aware of Varela’s work and thanked him for doing away with the necessity Russell had resorted to years prior, since he had never liked it as a solution.

[7] Saying this obviously leaves dangling any number of threads, but they cannot be pursued here in detail.

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