Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Fifty-Million Dollar Question

June 27, 2015
This is the question I ask myself all the time. I tell stories. I can't help it. I think I would not tell stories if I could help it. I'd write but I would not tell stories. Is it okay to "make up" a story, or does it have to be the truth. I have been advised not to answer that question if asked and not to ask it of myself, as it is debilitating. But it is after all the fifty million dollar question. I don't care whether it is debilitating or not.

I have been thinking all day about what art is. It has nothing to do with data, everyday existential facts; these facts come from the multitude of sense impressions that contact or stimulate our senses as we go about our daily works. I've put this idea all kinds of different ways, and it seems to me a natural conviction. There are book length ways of thinking about data. What is the nature of data? How does it happen that one thing is unlike another thing? How for example do the edges of a color come into being and then cease being? What is being? What is error? Though you may think about these things all day it won't get you a cow or a barn to put your goats in.

I might not have ever said data has nothing to do with art. That is not what I mean. I mean the data in its simple "itness" has nothing to do with art. Before data can be prepared for art some of the confusions about perception have to be removed. That means that the dependence of the data on sense perception has to be reduced. Memory is an obvious way of doing that. Say we have moved out of one system of sense perception and moved into another. What we remember of the first system is now not in sense but in mind. In exchange for a loss of immediacy there is an increase in certainty. The all important question is now moot because it is unanswerable: did I see (or sense) right? If two people happened to be in the middle of the first scene, and because of the numerous inaccuracies in sense perception, one sees the scene differently than the other, they can debate it, but the debate is moot unless they both can somehow return into the same scene. I don't even know if that's possible in most situations, unless the courts can gather enough evidence, and then the courts tend to convict the poor and not the rich. In other words justice, for the most part, is what rich and powerful men say it is. Justice in law is by program. But art is different. Art cannot allow the lukewarm trepidations in a programmatic attitude. Still in memory the degree of certainty is increased simply because debate cannot be concluded. So why bother? In memory then itness is becoming prepared to be received into art.

If itness is prone to error and faults of various kinds, it looks like truth can come from anywhere, even when it is made up in order to fill in some holes in memory. But now what does the word truth mean?

Art must know itness is there in the data, but itness is merely art in the initial, subjective state. In order for this subject to be meaningful it must be transfered out of the subjective itness into the object; it must become objectified. I associate this process of objectification with common generalization which is everywhere and which often goes unquestioned no matter how inaccurate. There's a mystery about how exactly data becomes generalized and what happens to the usual ideas about truth when the process happens. Truth may or may not associate itself with simple data. But art does not work with the truth in the idea of perception, the raw data. It works with beauty which is a form of objectified data. How does the image of a chair become a clear and simple image of a chair with the characteristic four legs come to mind to a large number of people when the word chair is mentioned? Think of any noun: brick for example. If somebody says hand me a brick, you would know in general terms before you even looked for a brick what the brick looked like, and so you would look around and obtain it and hand it over. Simply, I believe, most chairs have four legs and bricks have a rectangular shape of a reddish color. The generalization that can create an object worthy of a word makes the object also worthy of art.

This is only the beginning of course. For instance, how one hands over the brick is included somehow in the set of data that the word brick conveys and is generalized from.

The other point I want to build on has to do with the phrase "made up". I have been advised to avoid answering questions about is it truth or is it made up. I could very easily ask, "But how can you make up something? And what does it mean?" But I'll try to explain what I think that phrase "made up" means. I think it comes from real life. In real life there is a notion called experience. When people talk about experience they use all kinds of different words. They may say, "When I get married and have children I will know more." A guitarist might say, "When I climb Rainier, I'll be a better man, then I'll play my guitar better." Drugs are also associated with increased or profound awareness even to the point of talking with God. These sorts of statements riddle the way people think about themselves and life. But what do these statements have in common? They are made up. They didn't happen, or they haven't happened yet. Even very intelligent and well educated people make up. They fill in holes in their reasoning by making up additional arguments. They may explain how they got to the airport this morning by providing transitional descriptions that make it easier to explain their present state of mind. These transitions, many of which are made up or exaggerated, happen all the time. In fact the set of truths that describe our days may contain so many made up transitions that truth and falsehood may be indifferent. If there are that many of them, how would you be able to tell them apart? And why would you want to, which is the reason you dream when you sleep.

The object of art is to make beauty. But considering all the generalizations necessary to make it, I would be doubtful that beauty depends on truth. Rather it depends on data that has been removed from the subjective and turned over to the objective.

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