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The Persistence of Misery…at Wheat and Tares

July 16, 2011

The Persistence of Misery

Over at Wheat and Tares is my latest article, Creativity as a Transcendent Act. I probably say this about every other article of mine at W&T, but this one feels like my best piece of writing yet. (I will just be torn to pieces if there aren’t any responses to it ūüė¶ ).

I’ve meant to write this post for a long time (I allude to it at the bottom of this post from two months ago), but I never got around to it until I read two posts that motivated me to post this. One was JS Allen’s fantastic post about a time in his life when he became severally mental impaired¬†and how his subjective experiences themselves changed (and in fact, how his recollection of the event now has analytical details that would have been impossible for him to have during the experience.) The second was John Gustav-Wrathall’s analogy on grace, and particularly of how certain experiences can completely blind you to other experiences near and dear to you.

As I usually like to do here, I want to provide a companion or supplement article to the main story over at Wheat and Tares.

The first thing I want to say that I didn’t even get to touch upon in the other article is the name of the painting. This is actually quite accidental, but when I caught this, I decided that I would go with it. The reason is because, as you might have alluded from the story, I didn’t even know what the painting was about for most of the time I was painting it. I didn’t have a name until quite late in the process.

Our artist mentor, J. Vincent Scarpace (he paints fish, as I mentioned) said something once to me that turned out to be exactly right. I don’t remember the exact quote, but the gist was: sometimes an artist isn’t finished with a work until he knows what its title must be.

In this case, The Persistence of Misery¬†came about along with my process of writing the artist sidebar. It is, if you haven’t realized it, a play on the painting title, The Persistence of Memory. For a while, I tried to research to see whether Dali meant anything comparable to what I was trying to convey with my message, because I didn’t want the allusion to seem trite. Since there were some very different opinions about the meaning of that piece, I stopped caring quickly. I thought about naming the piece in Spanish to continue the allusion (La persistencia de la miseria…or something like that), but I decided against that because most people don’t know/care that Dali was Spanish Catalan.

The second thing, however, that I want to say, is a general intuition I suspect about God. As I’ve mentioned at Young Stranger, some of my issues with John’s works (even though I love his blog and one time, I went through and read all¬†the archives [that’s not too creepy, is it?]) is in the fact that I feel he overgeneralizes his (quite extraordinary) experiences. So he writes that if we wait (during times of a sense of separation from the Spirit), then we will eventually feel the Spirit again.

Again? Again?

And he describes the spirit in terms of positive things. The “loving, peaceful presence of the Holy Spirit.”

I don’t necessarily have qualms with that. I don’t have qualms about a sense of feeling whole or complete.


…my general intuition, unlike what I suppose most Mormons would (or should) believe, is that the Spirit won’t necessarily be good feelings and peace and love and sunshine. It seems to me to be a very real possibility that God’s ways are, as they say, not our ways, and that as a result, we may find God utterly despicable and vile because of our own foreignness and separation from his ways. So it seems to me that belief isn’t something voluntarily chosen; we have to be shocked into finding something persuasive and compelling about God.

That’s not happened to me yet. I’m not really holding my breath either. But it seems like that would be quite a bit more conceivable than my trying to “work” toward it.

This leads me to a quotation from Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri that seems wholly relevant to my experience with The Persistence of Misery¬†(if it can indeed be an instance of creativity becoming a transcendent act) and to spiritual ideas in general:

Yes, yes, we’ve all heard the philosophers babble about “oneness “being “beautiful” and “holy”. ¬†But let me tell you that {this} kind¬†of oneness certainly isn’t pretty, and if you’re not careful it¬†will scare the bejeezus out of you.

— Anonymous Lab Technician,
MorganLink 3DVision Live Interview

Perhaps the mechanics of the Spirit are a bit different than the mechanics of a singularity reactor, but it turns out creativity certainly can be pretty traumatizing.

  1. I figure you’ll actually read through this comment, so I’ll write it. =p

    There are a couple thinkers that come to mind when it comes to how art works, and who I view are foundational. The first is Martin Heidegger and his The Origin of the Work of Art. He agrees that there is something outside the artist that brings the art into being. But he doesn’t really consider the process a transcendence, a muse, or a relationship with a spirit or diety (he was an atheist). It was more of a general process that occurs in which there’s a relationship between human beings (who perceive themselves in time) and things that couldn’t care less about time. Things (like rocks, a painting, a conglomeration of ideas) are without consciousness and form until we give it to them, and for Heidegger consciousness has to do with being in time as a singuality. Human beings are of a particular sort of consciousness because they perceive themselves as being in time, as compared to say, a deer, that is conscious but doesn’t have a sense of its own life and death on a time scale (although, plenty of people are also in this boat).

    Basically, art/construction/creativity happens when things that don’t care about time are brought into the world of those who care about time through our process of interaction with them. Quantum physics appears to work the same way. I’m sure you’ve heard of Heisenburg’s Uncertainty Principle in which, at a very small scale, it’s impossible to know the location of a particle and also it’s movement because the act of observation affects the movement; there’s no way to stand outside the universe and observe it ahistorically. Similarly, there’s no way to know a work of art until it’s been created. One can shape something to precise specifications (say, a bookshelf), but the thing doesn’t exist as such until it’s been constructed and perceived.

    The second thinker I think of is Walter Benjamin and his The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, which has to do with how things are severed from their contexts in the modern era and turned into “art” (among other topics). An urn could’ve had practical value when in use, but severed from its context, it has exhibition value and is “art.” Paintings were once used to capture reality, or at least the painter’s sense of it, but now photography is used so that paintings have become “art.” And he talks about happens when art is perceived by a large group compared to having localized use.

    Anyway, there’s a lot more to all this, of course, and I don’t remember 1/50th of it. I’m pretty removed from this kind of stuff nowadays, but I do like to remind myself of it so I don’t forget it.

    Derrida took up these topics and applied them to the act of writing and phenomemon of authorship, in which stories “write themselves,” characters speak on their own, and why texts become their interpretations rather than their intended meanings. It’s the same basic process of pulling things into the foreground that were already there and have always already been there, but we’re too finite to notice.

  2. Alan,

    Thanks for the comment (of course!)

    I find the two writers you mention and their thoughts interesting. First, I’ve definitely gotten responses from around (not at W&T, where the discussion has been quite muted and polite, I guess) raging that this is nothing like transcendence, and the operating definitions we agreed upon for it are not worthy of the word…so I can see how people might not cal it that. As for Heidegger in particular, even with analogies to the uncertainty principles, I can’t really quite figure out how what he describes would lead one to feel there is something outside the artist that brings the art into being.

    As for Benjamin, I guess I can see what he’s saying, but still, it doesn’t seem to capture what I’m thinking of.

    What you say of Derrida’s writing seems to be closest, but I still can’t really comprehend how this happens.

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