Chaosmos and the White Lodge (Third Note about Robert M. Pirsig)

When something has „quality“ it means it has „the right fit“, and when something is of very supreme quality it means it has even more than the right fit and/or it does so in an unexpected way – it is transcendent.

Based on an investigation of „classicism vs romaticism“ (and somehow mirroring Nietzsche´s Apollonian vs Dionysian principle and other juxtapositional stuff that may come to mind in this respect) Pirsig speaks of „static“ and „dynamic“ quality. Static quality refers to the quasi-conservative principle of form, dynamic quality to the transformation and extension of form. Dynamic quality is „the conceptually unknown“, or, as Pirsig scholar Northrop says, „the undifferentiated aesthetic continuum“. We may also call it ontological potential.

Indeed, everything in the cosmos is about establishing and transformation of forms (at least seen through our humble perspective). At the ultimate level what you will see is the chaosmos, the permanent interplay of form and its aleatoric transformation; the interplay of the static and the dynamic; the classic and the romantic; art, philosophy and science. I have from time to time explained it as having before my inner eye something rotating with many chambers, with one or some of it emerging, destined to give a new sense to the whole; or now many small squares and now suddenly a lightning shooting from the horizontal towards me, etc. It all happens very quickly and is elusive, forms falling apart to give place to new forms. And it is finally the end of vision. The highest artistic vision is to directly gaze into the chaosmos. Ultraintelligent poet Arthur Rimbaud reached such a level of vision, also Lautréamont and Büchner. Taken to this extreme, vision finally might evaporate and art becoming irrelevant (or whatever). Ultraintelligent engineer Nikola Tesla also liked to entertain himself with such visions before his inner eye (as tells Clifford M. Pickover´s Strange Brains and Genius).

Chaosmos is the synthetic vision of everything, of the whole. I have also spoken about the White Lodge. With the White Lodge I was somehow referring to a state in which you experience yourself after you have analytically figured it all out.  You experience that the space of knowledge isn´t anymore made of dialectics, oppositions and the like, it has all dissolved into a white light, or white space, with entitities that instantaneously affect you floating as a kind of a bit grey rippling alongside you. Brecht says intellectual superiority means being able to hold two contradictory concepts in the mind at the same time. I say it is about holding five or so concepts in the mind at the same time, so as that you finally see they may not be contradictory, instead they hold various versimilitudes and truth contents. If you see things that way and have established that kind of vision your mind is free and free to navigate through intellectual space, and your ego has evaporated as it is not tied anymore to any preference to any (ideological) (half-) truths.

Chaosmos and the White Lodge means that you see it all as well as that you permanently sort out things anew. It is not some self-sufficient state of enlightenment. It is progressive. It refers to infinity, and the vision of infinity, being fractal-like, as well as progress of knowledge being fractal-like (or semi/pseudofractal-like). Chaosmos refers to the synthetic, the White Lodge to the analytical; respectively that such distinctions have become superseded in the eye of the respective beholder.

Klara and Perla and an Inquiry into the Metaphysics of Quality (Second Note about Robert M. Pirsig)

When I studied at the University of Basel, in 2004/05, I was lucky to live in a funny house, not in a student living community. The person living next to me was Perla from Slovakia. I swore I shall never forget how at one of my first days in Basel I went home in the evening, after having a beer with a fellow student, and found Perla having a small party in her room. She was very responsive to alcohol, but in a cool way, she was very funny, laughing and joking all the time, dancing, singing, falling down at her room divider; at 2 in the morning she cooked me something to eat, even later I looked after her and found her pseudo-dancing in the staircase with a cool look on her face (I loved her saturated smile and her glassy eyes). She was a cool dancer, both elegant and gracious as well as flamboyant, and inspired me in this respect. Her girlfriend Zlata also was at the initial party, as well as Ian and Dave from upstairs, two roamers from England who earned money as street musicians. Back then, I also used to become somehow bizarre when I was drunk, but Perla topped me in this respect. Perla had quality and especially I liked her Slovakian accent. Should I have two daughters I will name then Klara and Perla (Klara was the name of my artist aunt). Pirsig named his second book Lila (with Lila being an example of dynamic quality, falling prey to insanity however, as she lacks the stabiliser that intellect provides).

Pirsig´s Metaphysics of Quality has not entered mainstream philosophy and many people who read Lila did not „understand“ it, or got a sense what Pirsig is actually up to. This also somehow accounts for me. Pirsig acknowledges that his refusal (or inability) to actually define quality may be the reason for the ignorance. That may be quite right, but the more general problem is that Pirsig´s Metaphysics of Quality can neither be verified not falsified. „Quality“ both refers to the consistency of something as well as to the way we perceive something based on how we resonate to it and therefore attribute a certain value to it, and that double nature (respectively that we don´t know whether „quality“ refers to anything outside our perception) establishes some kind of inner conflict within Pirsig´s metaphysics that is finally irresolvable.

Pirsig dissolves „quality“ into something abstract, somehow resemblant to that what Schopenhauer did with „will“ when he put Will as the ontological foundation of everything. Remember how Nietzsche tried to make Schopenhauer look stupid when he said that there is no „will“ per se, but just a „will to something“ (leading him to think of the „Will to Power“ as the Ding an sich). We may think that Nietzsche´s argument does not destroy Schopenhauer, maybe not even affect him, for there may be an abstract „will“, as well as there may be an abstractum of quality (yet need not be). Schopenhauer´s metaphysics of a will per se, a self-referential strive of self-actualisation as the prime mover of everything (resemblant to Whitehead´s „creativity“), may be quite right, but, from a scientific point of view, deems us as primitive and unexplicative. The same thing may go for Pirsig´s Metaphysics of Quality.

As mentioned above, Pirsig´s Metaphysics of Quality can neither be verified nor falsified. That is not uncommon for metaphysics (and likely eventually necessary since science operates within our epistemological limits whereas metaphysics tries to grasp ontology beyond our epistemological limits), and Pirsig himself notes that the endeavour to construct a perfect metaphysics equals constructing a chess strategy where you always win (i.e. any argument in favor of your metaphysics will eventually get confronted with something that either proves it wrong, undecidable, state-dependent, etc. … therefore we have to hold on to a kind of ad hoc metaphysics (as also Whitehead says)) but Pirsig´s metaphysics seems a bit too elastic in this respect (although we have to take into account that a very potent metaphysics may just be kind of tautological and trivial and, since it operates at a very high level of abstraction, unexplicative).

The problem of Metaphysics of Quality is also that it is not a tautology but self-sufficient (respectively self-serving). Everything may be explained as a quality phenomenon as long as we do not know what „quality“ actually is and how it may affect us. Things that are full of shit may be taken lightly in this paradigm and explained away as that, via the butterfly effect or so, they do something good elsewhere. Pirsig accounts that different quality patterns (inorganic, biological, social, intellectual) may actually be at war with each other, refuting our perceptions of harmony and compensation in the cosmos, but he gives (and cannot give) no outline how they actually interact and what their (scientifically graspable) patterns of interactions are and can be. And while Pirsig is fond of anything of quality, both of his books are full of examples how actual and true quality or creativity is a rare thing in the world, and under constant threat, so that the world may rather not appear as a quality phenomenon but as a lack-of-quality phenomenon.

In his efforts to prove that a „metaphysics of quality“ is the most ancient metaphysics of all and an understanding that is established across times and across cultures Pirsig ruminates about whether quality relates to the Tao – or is the Tao – (he also makes comparisons to the concepts of American Indians as well as the Rig Vedaic wisdom of India), but his metaphysics is not as enigmatic as Taoism and therefore does not produce the same undertow, and although Pirsig´s Metaphysics of Quality may be Taoism at a higher level of clarity there is no actual stuff concerning spiritual transformation involved – as well as no moral code and no actual ethics. Metaphysics of Quality may implicate a higher level of awareness and tenderness we should cultivate in ourselves, but it does not implicate any guidelines of what we should actually do – and it does not rule out that a superintelligent replacement species based on AI will make the human race extinct … because, quality.

Pirsig says that the order of the world is, in itself, a moral order, and the notion that the order that makes the world is a moral order or that there is an inherent link between metaphysics and ethics (respectively that they are about one the same) is common among philosophers, i.e. gentlemen who strive to establish connection and have eminent constructive abilitities. Plato, the initiator of systematic philosophy, substantialised moral. Nietzsche, a kind of revenant of Plato, shattered systematisation and rightfully noted that philosophical buildings erected upon confidence in morals have all collapsed across the centuries and millenia. – It is ok to ground one´s metaphysics in an admiration of constructiveness, nevertheless substantialisation of constructiveness is problematic, and a nihilistic worldview is logically quite consistent as well, or the notion that „deep reality“ actually consists of an evil, malicious god, and that everything constructive, beautiful, ethical or full of quality is just there to fool us in making us strive for it in a vain attempt (as is the credo of sociopathic Iago in Otello or of the anti-heroes of de Sade).

However, it is still a mystery why the cosmos is a fine-tuned as it is, or why life and evolution came into being on our planet. These phenomena are highly unlikely. Of course that could be explained with our universe, and our planet, just being the lucky guys within an infinite amount of possibilities, but the mystery still remains – and maybe there is some kind of quality behind it as the source of selection.

And while Pirsig´s Metaphysics of Quality may be ? for a human, it might be an adequate metaphysics of someone who has achieved cosmic consciousness. In his valuable book Cosmic Consciousness: A Study in the Evolution of the Human Mind (1901) Robert Bucke says that what we commonly refer to as enlightenment or Satori refers to a universal experience across times and cultures: spiritual, intellectual and personal transformation of very advanced individuals to a state of „cosmic“ perception. Someone who has achieved it ceases to view the cosmos as dead and inorganic, but as spiritual and enlivened, with living beings rather being faint dots in a great living ocean; his behaviour is highly ethical; he is aware of his immortality; he is in suberb control of himself and his personality radiates harmony, dignity and grace. Individuals who have achieved cosmic consciousness include, according to Bucke: Buddha, Jesus, Lao Tse, Johannes vom Kreuz, Pascal, Shakespeare, Balzac, Dante, Ramakrishna, Whitman or Thoreau. The ways and fashions these individuals express their inner experience varies through time and through cultures in which they are, after all, embedded. So maybe the Metaphysics of Quality may be the (or: a plausible) metaphysics for someone who has achieved cosmic consiousness.

UPDATE 24/05/2017:

A Theory of Consciousness Can Help Build a Theory of Everything

Design Theory and a Changing Scientific Worldview

Huitzilopochtli and the Art of Motorcycle Maintainance (First Note about Robert M. Pirsig)

Longseller Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintainance was written by Robert M. Pirsig. Equipped with a 170 IQ young Robert enrolled at the university at age 14 only to get expelled a while afterwards as he found the scientist´s mindset inadequate, feeble and incomplete, which also led to mutual personal alienation (respectively animosity) between Pirsig and academia. People of very high IQ think in much larger patterns and especially if they are divergent thinkers they may get very confused since they have little idea what they actually see and envision and then they have to synthesize a lot to come up with a conclusive intellectual framework that works to their satisfaction (usually erected upon vast intellectual experience and life experience which they also intellectualise). As his assumed skyrocketing career as a scientist did not work out Pirsig became a kind of a drifter through life. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintainance was a kind of semi-fictionalised intellectual autobiography, half a novel, half a philosophical work. It got rejected by more than 100 publishers but became a huge, and lasting, success after it came out in 1974. The mixing up of „Eastern“ and „Western“ thought was unorthodox in academic philosophy then but hit a nerve in the later hippie era, respectively Pirsig´s investigation into the possibilities of expansion of the human mind and its possible failures could have been taken as a kind of intellectual resume of the initial spirit of 1968. In ZMM Pirsig voted for a metaphysics that has quality as its central value. In 1992 Pirsig published his second book (of similar fashion concerning genre mix), Lila; An Inquiry into Morals, in which Pirsig tried to solidify his original arguments, and he said that Lila is the more profound book than ZMM. Lila did not become a huge commercial success like ZMM. It is said you should read ZMM before you read Lila. I read Lila before I read ZMM (last year) because I was interested in WJ Sidis and in Lila Pirsig writes a bit about Sidis (I knew about Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintainance before but thought it to be a kind of introduction into Zen Buddhism for Westerners). In 1995 Pirsig gave a lecture Subjects, Objects, Datas and Values in which Pirisg tried to show that his Metaphysics of Quality was a coherent philosophical framework to interpret quantum mechanics. I read this lecture yesterday. Pirsig has long retired, in his (obviously) most recent interview in 2006 he said he does not read much anymore but still likes to sail. Despite the success of his books Pirsig´s Metaphysics of Quality has not entered mainstream philosophy so far.

More recently I also read Laura Ibarra Garcia´s Das Weltbild der Azteken, a book about the worldview and metaphysics of the ancient Aztecs. Marx says „Sein bestimmt das Bewusstsein“ (being determines consciousness) and that when we look at ancient cultures we look into our own past (and infancy, as we might add). Yet sensitivity to psychology is certainly not a strength of Marxism, respectively to the question how and why man creates and manipulates his world exactly the way he does. Jean Piaget on the other hand investigated the cognitive and psychological development and ontogenesis of the infant and how it relates to cultural development (with, on the other hand, being a bit lenient on how cultural norms massively predate the individual´s development). The infant tries to master objects and subjects which he initially views as unstable (with the possibility of neuroses and personality disorders as a cognitive and psychological result when the infant gets permanently frustrated by the outside world). As the infant gains some mastery over the objects and is happy to establish a friendly and constructive relationship to fellow humans he learns that he is able to manipulate and influence them, and vice versa. At this level the cognitive understanding of the infant is subjectivistic (i.e. reflects how he can manipulate the environment and how the environment will react to him is based on individual behaviour). In addition the infant is in a dyadic relationship with the mother, respectively in a relationship with the competent Other and he tends to view objects and his surroundings as enlivened, translating into an animistic worldview in very ancient societies where man cannot dominate nature very effectively (and therefore considers nature and animals and himself as a sort of equals). – The Aztecs were an ancient class society based on agriculture. Their origins were obscure and their original position obviously was very disadvantaged in regard to the culture and civilisation of the Toltecs over which they finally took over however. The Aztecs worshipped Gods, had a foundation myth involving a cultural hero, viewed the world as unstable and finally destined to fall apart again (alongside a kind of cyclical understanding of time), believed in life after death (with the individual´s fate in the afterlife however being largely determined by the circumstances of his death and not by his personal achievements or ethical behaviour) and they tried to master chaos through rites that implicated sophisticated method as well as devotion (so as to adress the Gods/the irrational forces of nature both intellectually as well as emotionally). Surrounded by uncertainty and lack of insight into the world the Aztects had a mythological worldview, which, instead of a logos, was grounded in a (more or less sophisticated) narrative. Although the higher points of Aztecian culture (e.g. architecture) required formal-operational knowledge the worldview of the Aztecs remained at the level of concrete-operational knowledge, i.e. they could manipulate objects but did/could not generate formal abstractions about that knowledge. Inside the horizon of an agrarian society human mindsets use to remain pre-logical and pre-scientific and subjetivistic. The ancient Greeks were the first to operate at the level of formal-operational knowledge and to have a scientific mindset which epistemologically however could not reflect itself at a meta-level. That came about with the Copernican revolutions in science, knowledge and philosophy in the early modern era (note that regardless of level of cultural evolution only the more (or most) intelligent individuals of the respective society carry the most advanced mindset with, for instance, many people still being superstitious or believing in esoterics in the most advanced societies today). As we live in a new axial age today it is likely that we will progress into new stages of cognitive development and metaphysics which may supersede the rationalist subject-object-dichotomy worldview of modernity, i.e. where a very competent subject exercises mastery over a rather dull and helpless object (which, as it turns out in the atomic age and the age of climate change, isn´t so helpless after all).

Pirsig, as a very advanced individual nowadays, somehow eclectically developed a metaphysics designed to supersede the modern rationalist metaphysics that is centered about how (abstract) subjects relate to (abstract) objects. Unhappy with the scientific approach but confused about how to grasp things instead he began to ruminate about how quality is something that would define entities (not as an accident but as substance). Some entities obviously have higher quality than others, and while the perception of quality is to some degree in the eye of the beholder, true quality refers to something that is inherent in the object and independent of subjective perception. Pirsig then says that quality is an event that happens when subject and object interfere and relate to each other, potentially both changing the object as well as the subject. He then says that quality is the more profound reality than both object and subject – without, however, defining what quality, taken at this level of abstraction, actually is (making a virtue out of necessity he stipulates quality as undefineable, which then of course makes his entire framework inherently wobbly). Instead he approaches quality from several perspectives and, for instance, says that interactions between animate as well as inanimate things perform in this and that fashion because they value certain interactions over others. He concludes that the entire physical world is based on morals and that natural law is also an expression of (some) morals (of constructiveness). Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintainance refers to a quality relationship being inherently at work when we do „Western“ „analytic“ shit (perception of quality rather is something synthetic) and the Buddha being present in it all alike – that is to say Pirsig refutes purely „analytical, Western“ approach as it is cutting off many aspects from the relationship under investigation as well as the „Eastern“ quasi-meditative mindset as it remains unprogressive, static and self-sufficient when relying solely on itself. He differentiates between static and dynamic quality with the static giving form and the dynamic providing change and progress (and he often elaborates how both the agents of static quality and dynamic quality need each other but also often are very hostile towards each other (and, as he somehow forgets to mention, may transform into each other with the former dynamics becoming dogmatic and the like)). Likewise, according to Pirsig the world composes of inorganic, biological, social and intellectual quality patterns and they´re an expression of an evolution to ever higher patterns of quality (therefore also often at war with each other). Pirsig´s metaphysics is a kind of processural and evolutionary metaphysics of a universe striving to reach ever higher levels of quality.

As far as I am concerned, when I was 11 or so we used to have fun in a weekly group meeting of friends – yes, those were actually good times! At one occasion we were playing ping pong and I accidentally shot the ball in Helli´s balls. He humoristically dramatized the pain, and I said Scheiß Eierspeise („fucking scrambled eggs“) as a comment to the pseudo-malheur. Helli found this so funny that he nearly fell down. So I used Scheiß Eierspeis as a salutation and a code for our community and further investigated what Scheiß Eierspeis could all be about and what secrets it could contain. I then founded a movement and wrote a manifesto at age 15 or so in which I declared that everything is Scheiß Eierspeise, respectively that Scheiß Eierspeise is the mutual quality all things share and have in common. In doing so I tried to establish some kind of community and collegiality between things and a kind of universal nexus, a premium quality of everything. Although it was intented to be a joke the manifesto also contained serious intellectual/scientific ruminations and later in life it came to my mind that it was actually a kind of „theory of everything“. (Trying to come up with a „theory of everything“ is a common endeavour among hyperintelligent youngsters as I later found out, but I did not know that then, as I did not know much about philosophy and shit back then and was quite stupid in many respects). – Maybe I should look after my manifesto and tell you something about it; maybe I should revitalise the Scheiß Eierspeise movement and elaborate on the framework, it could actually be the thing, yet for the moment mankind does not seem to be ripe and mature enough for this level of analysis and integration, respectively to take the responsibilities involved. While Pirsig called himself Phaidros later I called myself Yorick.

(The abovementioned William James Sidis was the person with probably the highest IQ ever recorded, likely well over 200, but much of his biography and his achievements remains clouded and obscure, triggering speculation about whether the man with the highest IQ on Earth is just doomed to be the ultimate reject on Earth. I want to write a note with reference to Sidis, titled The Transbodhidharma, somewhere in the future.)


Inside the Wire

The Wire is held to be the greatest TV series of all time by some. An approval as ultimate as that would be a matter of taste, nevertheless The Wire depicts the human game at an epic scale and it does so more or less flawlessly. It is a grand achievement and can be compared to a classic novel series, Balzac´s Comédie humaine comes to mind, although The Wire is better than many of Balzac´s works. Revolving around drug trade and drug related crime in the city of Baltimore as the ultimate nexus The Wire depicts different institutions and social realms and their relationship to law enforcement in the five seasons of the series (illegal drug trade in season 1, the seaport system and trade unions in season 2, the city government and bureaucracy in season 3, the school system in season 4 and the media in season 5). It is a police/crime series as well as a social drama as well as it illuminates how things actually work (and is, in this respect, infotainment). The main interest of the series is to depict how individuals are formed by institutions and how individuals try to maneuver themselves through institutions for the better or the worse, for the greater good or for self promotion, for trying to improve their institutions or blow them up (with usually the anonymous institutition being the stronger one, swallowing, eating and digesting the individual – unless the individual is able to make career, which is a main endeavour/obsession of most of the characters). The main message I got is how policies and almost everything that happens in the human realm is the result of a compromise or a countertrade between different endeavours or between different logics in an effectively heterogenous world. Kissinger says that people usually do not understand politics as politics, in reality, means the choice between two evils. That is, somehow, a permanent message of The Wire; that the actual problems are dilemmas in nature, i.e. they cannot actually be solved just managed in a more or less clever and effective way.

Some (like Stephen King) said The Wire depicts human hell. In some instances that is about true, in general the situation is purgatory-like, although personal achievement or endeavour and what people want is frequently out of sync with what people get and how they are rewarded. The intelligence of the series lies, among other things, in depicting how both their endeavours and their rewards may be seen as just and fair from one perspective (e.g. the individual or the ethical perspective) and unjust and unfair from another (e.g. the institutional or the juridical perspective). There are few happy endings and resolutions in the individual storylines (which is uncommon for a TV series or movie), however there usually are organic developments and life trajectories (without much change in personality and character of the individuals however). Truly outstanding (or likeable) characters are few, if any, although most of them have their positive qualities and talents; the series does a great job at displaying the individualities of the characters and one is able to empathise with them, and after all even many of the gangsters don´t even actually seem that bad. The series does a good job at establishing not only various but truly individual perspectives – and it is actually magical how well and organic the performances are by the actors who were to a considerable degree not very prominent: all the characters appear incredibly real and convincing. The nexus, however, is „the game“ and „the corner“ that will „always remain the corner“, with individual humans only populating and being around the corner for a while until they get displaced by other individuals. In one of the more depressing scenes the death of Omar, the most idiosyncratic character of the series, is depicted as to not cause much interest or affection (yet however people trying to excel each other at inventing grotesque fairy tales about the circumstances of his death after a while); likewise as the infidel and unreliable McNulty gets told by his spouse Beadie that family may be the only one who actually cares when you are gone (McNulty, an assumingly terrible husband, is divorced from a wife that often exaggerates and is egoistic and he has two sons who don´t show exaggerated individuality). It is a „cold world“ in which we are living, as is effectively said on more than one occasion. The series starts with a police hunt on the criminal Barksdale organisation which displays a dangerousness and lethality hitherto unknown in Baltimore only to be, after it gets destroyed, replaced by the even more sinister Stanfield organisation (with a probable return to a more casual state of affairs in the Baltimore drug scene after the Stanfield organisation gets blown up). Yet the big wheel keeps on turning and it is almost meditative how the great flow is depicted by The Wire.

The creator of The Wire, David Simon, had a long experience with the drug scene and the law enforcement in Baltimore (and a vast perceptivity) which finally cumilated into the wisdom of the series. Jimmy McNulty, more or less the cental character of the series, is a portrayal of a cop who is not actually out there to help people or to empathise with victims of crime but to be able to feel intellectually superior to the criminals he is chasing (which, according to Simon, is not so uncommon among the personnel of law enforcement). McNulty is the most capable detective, but he is loathed by superiors for frequnently being disloyal and egoistic (although he always has a point (which usually carries a higher truth) in his soloistic maneuvers), and because of his pride and apparant shallowness in other psychological respects he is a failure in private (a notorious womanizer and alcoholic who does not seem to have true friends). Female officer Kima also has a rather wobbly private life, however that is because she likes the (inherently dangerous) occupation and she is a more balanced character (there is an indication that she likes to play the tough cop when she rather needlessly beats a drug dealer in one of the first episodes but such a suggestion of imbalance isn´t prominent later in the series); Kima is also one of the more complex and likeable characters. The elderly Lester Freamon is the most intelligent and wise officer of the team, despite his laid-back demeanour a kind of intellectual alter ego of McNulty who also has frequent trouble with authority. It is satisfactory to watch that he gets hot and sensible Shardenne as a spouse and they obviously live a harmonious relationship. Carver and Hauk are a kind of Laurel & Hardy team with Carver obviously becoming a good officer and Hauk degenerating into becoming an employee for Maurice Levy, the amoral lawyer for Baltimore´s drug kingpins (that Levy is jewish is not an antisemitic stereotype but due to the fact that many of those lawyers for Baltimore´s drug dealers are jewish, says Simon (himself jewish)). When, in an obvious attempt by superiors to sabotage the investigations against the Barksdale organisation, the special unit deliberately consists of especially lazy and incompetent officers at the beginning of the series Pryzbylewski is portrayed as brutal and stupid (and probably racist) but he soon proves his value as a code breaker and puzzle solver as well as a nice and unassuming guy who rather likes to work behind the scenes as he is too nervous (or so) for acting in the streets – which tragically proves true as he accidentally kills a fellow officer and then leaves the police and becomes a devoted maths teacher at the school for Baltimore´s troubled youth. Bunk is the firmest figure of the series as he is morally concerned (but not naive) and seems to be able to connect to everything and all the different realms without losing himself. Daniels also is one of the more ethical as well as effective officers who may be willing to sacrifice some of his career (and also his marriage) but gets overcompensated when he becomes useful for superiors – only to find out that as a police chief he would have to engage in unethical activities to please his political superiors (e.g. manipulating statistics) which causes him to resign and become a lawyer. The cholerical Rawls is depicted quite as devoid of personality as he maneuvers through the ranks and spills down the pressure that is exerted on him by higher ranks – a creature of the hierarchy.

D´Angelo Barksdale calls his subordinate dealer Wallace a good guy who, „unlike the other niggers“, has a heart and since both have some moral sense they prove as to frail as to effectively be gangsters – they meet their tragic end not as they break out of their criminal organisation but as they get liquitated as potentially untrustworthy by the superiors of the organisation. D´Angelo is probably the most tragic example of an individual who had become a gangster not by his own choice or because he is particularly bad and draws satisfaction out of what he is doing but because he was born into a family who runs a criminal organisation as a family enterprise with the individual family member´s worth being reflected in how much he is useful to this organisation. His uncle Avon, the head of the Barksdale organisation, is the offspring of a criminal and his brutally criminal ways rather seem to be a lifestyle to him he is accustomed to and the killings he orders a matter of ruthless professionialism – it is difficult to decipher how much psychopathological pleasure and narcissistic gratification he  may receive from upkeeping his image as a fearsome drug kingpin including a notorious womanizer or whether he just acts as a professional gangster inside a fiece battle of competition. When it is effectively too late and his organisation about to be blown up he however ruminates whether the approach of his partner Stringer Bell (to become businessmen not anymore directly involved with the drug trade on „the corner“) wouldn´t have been the more intelligent one. Stringer Bell is one of the most noteworthy characters of the series, a cerebral gangster who in his spare time studies business administration at the university (and recceives good grades and is obviously well liked by his professors with whom he intellectually conversates) and who wants the Barksdale organisation to finally engage in normal business and to buy political influence. Nevertheless he is as ruthless as Avon, he orders the murder of D´Angelo and finally betrays Avon whose gangster style he increasingly sees as dangerous and so (accidentally) blows the Barksdale organisation up – while at the same time he is betrayed by his „brother“ Avon and gets killed by Omar and Brother Mouzone whom he betrayed before – an almost Shakespearean end to the Barksdale organisation which collapses over itself (the fearsome hitman Brother Mouzone, who obviously belongs to the Muslim brotherhood and reads Harper´s magazine is also one oft he more remarkable characters of the series). Marlo Stanfield who starts a war with the Barksdale organisation is a young gangster who is primarily driven by lust for power and who is quite expressionless in most other respects. All he strives for is „wearing the crown“ and he is even more ruhtless in ordering killings for minor reasons than Avon. Proposition Joe embodies the „reason of state“ among the Baltimore drug dealers. Like most other dealers he simply wants to sell his drugs and refrains from brutality. Nevertheless he is clever at manipulating situations to his own advantage. A friendly fat uncle who officially repairs radios and watches he is almost a highly likeable character. He meets his end as he gets betrayed by his own nephew to Marlo who wants to take over Joe´s drug supply line via the organisation of the Greek and to take revenge for Joe´s accidental collusion with Omar. Omar Little is the most idiosyncratic (and, actually, a bit strange) character of the series. He lives by robbing other drug dealers (and, occasionally, giving away drugs to junkies for free) making him a bit a Robin Hood-like character. He is highly intelligent, fearless and feared by other drug dealers, homosexual and even seems to possess superhuman qualities and pain tolerance. Nevertheless he gets killed by 12 year old Kenard in the end, the probably most sinister and sociopathic character of the series (next to female/tomboy killer Snoop).

You have bad mothers in The Wire, like drug addicted Raylene who lets her husband living with her despite he had been sexually abusive towards his children in the past or De`Londa who becomes furious over her son Namond as he proves incompetent as a drug dealer. You have weak family ties, not only illustrated in the Barksdale family where they (sexually) betray each other but also in the case of McNulty. Chris Partlow, Marlo´s primary enforcer, on the other hand seems to be devoted to his family, despite he has the highest body count of all he cannot stand being spared from his family for a longer time (he gets desperate because of this when he is on the run from Omar) and he also displays geniune care for his subordinates. If he wasn´t a killer Chris also comes in as an example of being a somehow nice guy as well as a ruthless criminal. In the end he goes to prison for life after being assured by Marlo that his family will be taken care of. One of the more astonishing (and uncanny) scenes of the series is to see how little the gangsters seem to care about being thrown into prison for many years or for the rest of their lives, contrasting and effectively destroying their assumed struggle for a good life which made them criminals in the first place. The seaport workers (occasionally or more systematically) engage in petty crime, their trade union, led by Walter Sobotka, is forced to support the criminal activities of the organisation of „the Greek“ as they need to collect money for their political struggle in order to survive as the seaport is under threat from environmental legislation, prestige projects to use the territory for other purposes and, most of all, technological progress rendering more and more traditional jobs obsolete. It is depicted how Sobotka and his trade union (as an epitome for American labour) are alone in their struggle with nobody showing interest or affection for their concerns. The second season sets in as the trade union gets into a struggle for the approval of the church with the police, an actually petty feud which however causes officer Stan Valchek to react furiously on a personal level and, despite that, professional as he tries to investigate obvious criminal activities of the union. The Greek, an unassuming elderly gentleman, heads a criminal organisation which engages in various criminal activities from drug trade and smuggling to human trafficking. According to David Simon the Greek is an embodiement of unfettered capitalism, using and abusing American labour indirectly for the purpose of enrichment. The second ignition for season 2 is 13 young women from Eastern Europe found dead in a container in which they were shipped to become sex workers in America. Tommy Carcetti who is quick to run for major and, then, for governor, is an opaque figure and it is difficult to distinguish whether his actions as a politician are motivated from pushing his career or promoting the common good. As the series continues, Carcetti gets more and more swallowed by career motivations and what originally could be held as emanations of rhetoric talent sounds more and more unbearable as stereotypical and disposable statements of a career politician. One of the most memorable scenes of the series is when it is disussed in the city council about who is responsible for the dire financial situation and no one is willing to accept any responsibility. Dire straits is also the condition for the local newspaper which gets sandwiched between depleting funds and capitalist diktat from above making its editors turning a blind eye on unethical and sensationalist journalism in order to attract attention and secure their position (they finally get the Pulitzer Prize which they hope makes them more immune but it is foreseeable that the obvious flaws will sooner or later be uncovered). The most uncanny season is the fourth which depicts the situation at public schools for the children of the black lower class. The children are brutal, refuse to learn anything that is not of practical use for their future in the streets and, in most cases, obviously don´t even understand content that is more abstract (which is quite common among humans yet in that case comes in a more undisguised fashion). Nevertheless Pryzbylewski becomes a devoted teacher who cares for his pupils. Academics from the university try to set up programs to improve their situation but they eventually fail, not least to lack of funding (with the academics regarded as unworldly and quixotic by the police and Dr. Parenti, the sociologist being a bit a colourless figure who however is at least exited about how the scientific community will applaud his findings after the program got terminated).

Despite being suspenseful and exiting and, at its core, a great crime series, despite being informative, epic and pandemonium-like and despite high critical acclaim The Wire was a moderate success in commercial terms and proved a bit too complex for a larger audience. At the same time The Wire was popular all across the political spectrum as liberals, conservatives, Christians, Marxists, etc. were able to draw out something that seems to confirm their worldview. Simon however strongly opposes ideological dogma, according to him the main endeavour of the series was to show the complexity of the city, demanding a complex and multidimensional understanding of problems in order to effectively cope with them. Despite his strong standing against asocial neoliberal capitalism (Simon says the dimension of collective responsibility has become refuted, even viewed upon as obscene in nowadays America – the question of individual and collective responsibility in the makeup of a good society is something we accidentally just had in the note about Michael Neder) The Wire isn´t so openly and outspokenly critical towards neoliberalism in the end (maybe because the producers did not want to effectively polarise and repel the more conservative audience). The Wire does not tell why Balitmore became such a dangerous place (or why crime rates fell in many American (inner) cities in the later 1990s, excluding Baltimore) or why you have drug abuse in any Western city but usually not such high levels of crime as you have in many American cities. The Wire is, in the end, an overly pessimistic series. – But the big wheel keeps on turning, and as for now good night, po-pos. Good night, fiends. Good night, hoppers. Good night, hustlers. Good night, scammers. Good night to everybody. Good night to one and all.

Update about Notes about Art and Artists

So my project about writing about art and artists has become more extended while I still haven´t written the notes about Bacon, Freud, Auerbach or the abstract expressionists, etc. Well, they´re soon to come, maybe gonna concentrate on notes about artists/painters this year and about music next year while doing other stuff as well of course.

Heinrich Füssli: Aphorismen über die Kunst

„Die Wirklichkeit steckt voller Enttäuschungen für den, dessen Freudenquellen im Elysium der Phantasie entspringen.“

„Der hat Kraft, Würde und Feuer, der dem Nichtssagenden Bedeutung einzuhauchen vermag.“

„Alle Handlungen und Gebärden von Kindern sind anmutig, weil sie der Fülle des Augenblickes unmittelbar entspringen – der Affektiertheit bar und frei von aller Verstellung.“

„Viele Schönheiten in der Kunst entstehen durch Zufall und werden durch Wahl beibehalten.“

„In einer metaphysisch-symbolischen Komposition, die zahlreiche Einzelheiten umfasst, können viele statt einer gesetzmäßigen Verteilung der gegebenen Elemente nichts als fragmentarische Zersplitterung erkennen.“

„Die Mittelmäßigkeit erledigt ihre Unternehmungen schlecht und recht und frohlockt; der Mann von Talent gratuliert sich zum Erfolg seiner Bemühungen; das Genie allein trauert über unerfüllte Erwartungen.“

Francesco Hayez and Domenico Induno

If we switch back to the Biedermeier era again let us proudly present Francesco Hayez as the leading painter of that time in Italy. Hayez melted the ideals of classicism with the sentimentality of romanticism. He was a historical painter yet relied on Renaissance style in an endeavour to give Italy a new and self-conscious identity. In the spirit of Risorgimento he was a democratic painter. He was heavily ideologically involved with the unification of Italy and the shaking off of the Hapsburg rule and expressed his melancholy about the failure of legitimate nationalist attempts in powerful paintings. On the internet it says: „Corrado Ricci describes him as starting as a classicist but then evolving to a style of emotional tumult“ – but unfortunately I was not able to further discover what emotional tumult would mean, in the history of art (Ricci´s Art in Northern Italy is from 1911). The expression of emotional tumult in Hayez` paintings, however, is obvious and Stendhal said about him: „rien moins que le premier peintre vivant“, „l´expression des personnages est vivre et profonde, on sent que ce peintre a de l´ame“, „m´apprend quelque chose de nouveau sur le passions qu`il peint“.

Francesco Hayez and his women

Domenico Induno was a pupil of Hayez and they had an intimate and warm relationship. In his more mature paintings the brushwork is more raw and seemingly spontaneous, his paintings seem somehow internally tattered and give quite an immediate sense of emotional tumult, convulsions, stress or despair in his characters and scenes. His paintings are rather suggestive than descriptive. Domenico Induno also was an adherent of Risorgimento (and his powerful Melancholy we have encountered in the Biedermeier exhibition) and became also critical towards society in post-unification Italy (The Return of the Wounded Soldier, indicating a strenuous past but also a bleak future for ordinaty Italians). Towards the end of his life his paintings became gloomy and melancholic.

Domenico Induno

Domenico Induno also had a younger brother, Gerolamo, who also was a painter who did some fairly cool stuff (which, however, was not shown at our Is That Biedermeier? exhibition).

Michael Neder, Hillbilly Elegies, Murderous Children, the Question about a Good Society

If again we remember the Biedermeier era in Austria Micheal Neder comes to mind as a peculiar figure. He was born in Oberdöbling, then a suburb of Vienna, as a son to a shoemaker. Neither his father nor his stepmother treated him particularly well. Despite that he remained the most loyal portraitist of the lives and times of the common people and the lower classes. His talent as an artist was discovered when he went to school, he was sent to the academy and started a semi-successful career as a painter (Waldmüller, for instance, did not hold Neder in high esteem although he was well respected by others). Unsure about the solidity of his talent and whether it could earn him a living he abandoned art and became a shoemaker himself for a while and returned as a more mature painter to the art scene again some years later. For the rest of his life he remained a truthful portraitist of ordinary folks – craftsmen, peasants, maids, proletarians, etc. He depicted their sorrows, the monotony and repetetiveness of their lives, their occasionally empty eyes, as well as their joys, their innocence, their festivities or them becoming philosophers in their own right when sitting together with a beer. It is correct that Neder does not come in with the grandezza and majesty of the other renowned artists of this time, Waldmüller, Amerling, Danhauser and the like, his art was no Gedanken/Ideenkunst either but stemmed out of sentiment. There are no indications that Neder got heavily influenced by the intellectual life of this time, in a sympathetic way he stubbornly remained true to his vision. Although he of course mastered academic painting he deliberately remained „naive“ most of the time as the most adequate fashion to depict what he wanted to depict. That makes up for his special place in the history of Austrian art. He was an honest artist and his work radiates honesty.

Michael Neder´s humble beginnings and the torment he underwent as a child may, on this occasion, be associated with an article I read a while ago about the lives and times of the so-called white trash population in America, largely unknown territory for me before, so that I also read J.D. Vance´s book Hillbilly Elegy the article refers to (the other book I could not get so easily so far). Hillbilly Elegy is an illuminating and sympathetic book and helps you to better understand people and view them with some sympathy even if they are, effectively, broken. It effectively raises epistemological and sociopsychological questions as the hillbillies and the white poor in America are effective reality deniers, which serves the hygienic function of not effectively having to confront their misery but is dysfunctional in not offering them any help to find any way out of it. Deindustrialisation is one thing but the other thing is that, contrary to wide held opinion, there are plenty of jobs for these people which they cannot take for utter lack of discipline and manners. Contrary to his opinion, and the opinion generally held by the hillbillies (and others), J.D. found out that politicians usually DO care for their people and try to improve their lives, the problem is rather that, among humans, there are limits to what you can achieve with them (there are, of course, also voices who diss J.D., yet of course also they have to be handeled with some care). I would also like to help people and improve everyone´s life but I don´t know how to do it effectively. As it seems to me social problems are rather not the problem caused by a system but by a general culture and mentality among a people. And as it seems to me the people most intelligent at solving their problems are (among Western Europeans) the Swiss. I think the key to a good society is that there is a keen sense of individual responsibilities as well as a collective responsibility. The Swiss have both, due to Calvinism a „protestant ethics“ of capitalism and individual responsibility and due to the history of their defensive battles, where they had to stand, as different peoples/Kantone themselves united against foreign powers, notably the Hapsburg Empire, they have a strong sense of collective responsibility (and, as they were equal footmen who triumphed collectively over the aristocratic knights, a strong sense of egalitarity). See that the formation of a benign culture is contingent, and few people/s have the luck to get born in a supreme culture. I have to dive into this complex of thoughts deeper and will do so in the future.

Another story of outcast humanity is the case of „Child from Hell“ Mary Bell which attracted my attention via my Sociopathic Children Facebook group. In 1968 Mary Bell from Newcastle, England, strangled 4 year old Martin Brown shortly before her eleventh birthday, tried to murder the little sister of her friend Norma a little later and then, together with Norma, murdered and mutilated 3 year old Brian Howe. She (and Norma) boasted with what she/they did, cynically insulted family members of the dead boys and at the same time tried to confess to the police, one letter of confession they signed with Fanny and Faggot. No one believed them, notably as Mary was well known as a habitual liar and boaster who had a highly problematic relationship to most other children whom she hit, beated, bite in an obvious attempt to attract attention. As her ongoing cynicism about the murders became too blunt police took the hints more serious and began to interrogate the girls more systematically (with Mary trying to blame Norma for the murders at first). It turned out Mary was a deeply disturbed child and she got sentenced for manslaughter at Her Majesty´s Pleasure, effectively an indefinite sentence of imprisonment (Norma was absolved but got into conflict with the law later again and was then put under psychiatric supervision). She was released 12 years later, got married and gave birth to a child (the marriage was divorced later). She was granted anonymity but sold her story to the press for money years later, producing an outrage again (and putting her daughter who originally was unaware of her mother´s past in an uncomfortable position). Meanwhile Mary Bell is grandmother. In a book about her published years after the incidents it was thoroughly revealed how Mary was tried to be abadoned or killed several times as a child by her mother, as well as that her mother was a prostitute and dominatrix who forced Mary to engage in violently sexual acts with her clients. Her father was a petty criminal. When Mary was first sent to a community home she developed deep affection for the director whom she viewed as a surrogate father. When she was sent to a juvenile hall some years later (which got opposed by the director) she relapsed into her old habits, broke out of prison at one occasion (and at that occasion also lost her virginity). A female police specialist says girls are a minority out of children who kill, but when they do they usually start earlier and are more violent.

(And now, on occasion, I get reminded about the Winsconsin Death Trip, a documentary I recommend, not only for reasons of enhancing knowledge and awareness but also because the film has a very peculiar atmosphere. Mariana says the book is cool, but I have not read it so far.)

Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller

All acts and gestures of children are graceful since they originate from the fullness of the moment and seemingly actualise the full potential of the moment, free, spontaneous, undisguised and bare of affection, says Fuseli/Füssli in his aphorisms about art. And Kierkegaard says in the moment the temporal and the eternal meet, each moment in time is a cut through the eternal and an epiphany of the eternal. And Schopenhauer says art has to illustrate and comprise entire humanity with no individuals, gestures or scenes being too profane or unimportant as art has to give an idea about humanity in its entirety and its manifoldness. I say graceful gestures uplift the soul and spotting graceful gestures save us from the emptiness that is frequently behind them. I like to spot graceful gestures; they give us an impression/idea of the moment and the transitory as a present that is fulfilled.

If we remember the Biedermeier era again Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller was probably the most prolific painter in Austria. He captured life. He was master at epiphany of the eternal in the transitory, ethical truth in desolation, dissolving heterogeneous and heteronomous realms of culture into a benign nature, etc. In his paintings you have to blossoming of the moment, of the event. Whereas his fellow great Biedermeier painter Amerling was more concerned about depicting the truth of physiognomy Waldmüller was more concerned about the truth in actions and gestures. „Sehr wahr im Ausdruck“ was the highest compliment Waldmüller could have for a painter.

As is common for the art genius Waldmüller had a spiritualised relation to nature. Apart from her beauty, manifoldness, productiveness and hidden treasures of the previously unseen nature strikes us as independent, autonomous, self-contained and original. It is that which predates us, surrounds us and outlives us i.e. giving us an idea of the harmonious whole into which we may immerse and into which we are immersed. To Waldmüller nature is „eternal truth“ and it is not mean or brutal. „The acts of people may occasionally be mean, the forms in which nature expresses itself never are.“

Waldmüller announces the actual endeavour of art is „the portrayal of man as the subject of action which in the form of beauty encourages the spirit of goodness“. Art is an ethical enterprise and is powerful in the respect as it stimulates imagination i.e. it adresses not only the mind but also the sensual and the soul. Negativistic shitheads may belittle the pastoral idyll Waldmüller frequently portrays as unrealistic if not phony. Let them be told that criticism was not encouraged in the Biedermeier era therefore artists had to be tacit. Waldmüller did make explicit social commentary and it may come in as quite powerful like the depiction of Exhausted Strengh of a single mother or in the paintings about the Seizure. The children Waldmüller frequently depicts (as children symbolise innocence, purity, vitality and playfulness and intimate contact with nature) often work or have to follow duties but seem vital, happy and blossoming, their clothes may be old and botchy but they are neat, they walk barefoot but their feet are clean, etc. They express dignity and integrity even under dire conditions. From a realistic perspective that is actually not what you get when you go to the countryside and among the poor; the countryside may be even worse than polis and the poor more degenerated than the rich, granted: but art is also about purification and refinement of man, therefore also about purification and refinement in the portrayal of man (which is largely forgotten today) and whilst Waldmüller´s pastoral idylls may not be realistic they carry (ethical) truth.

  Although dismissive of other genres in painting than the depiction of (ethical) man embedded in circumstances, saying that depiction of landscapes or still lives are merely for sensual pleasures, Waldmüller also was a prolific painter of portraits and landscapes. His portraits had similarity with them of Ingres. In the Biedermeier era the bourgeoisie was not interested in idealised and canonical portraits of themselves like the aristrocrats, proud of their acquired wealth and status they were longing for expression of their true individuality. As a painter of landscapes and unanimated scenery Waldmüller was primarily concerned with how light is truly reflected. That allowed him to depict people and objects in space more truthful, at times isolated objects become, due to their illumination and masterful depiction, even hyperrealistic, in later years he fell from grace in the Viennese academy (and got expelled) for his extremely immersive depictions of landscape in bright sunlight – a personal tragedy frequently to occur for the anti-academic genius iconoclast. After his death Waldmüller received praise particularly from impressionists and the Secessionists, yet although Waldmüller depicted the transitory and was analytical concerning colour he was not particularly a (proto-)impressionist since the contours remain valid and the draughtsmanship pronounced. Waldmüller´s depiction of nature was incredibly detailed, in his later paintings he seems to anticipate Klimt – although this is an auxiliary construction since it is difficult to decipher them ex post. Like any great painter Waldmüller was immersing his vision and the components of vision and the expression of vision into themselves so as they emerge in a new quality out of themselves (die Vision in sich hineintreiben, damit sie verstärkt und erneuert aus sich heraustritt, as I use to say but unfortunately cannot find an adequate translation for hineintreiben). It is true that Biedermeier paining remained „petty“ and local, isolated in itself and this is also true for Waldmüller who is, despite his greatness, not very well known. Yet it was Waldmüller who pushed the inside perimeter of Biedermeier art in Austria into the great wide open and the spherical. (Apart from that he makes it clear that WE have the best of nature; WE, hahaha! – I also remember a globetrotter who told me the most striking mountains on the globe are neither, for instance, the Andes or Himalaya but the ALPS. Hahahahaha!)

Occasional Note about Dichterwahnsinn

Doing innovative art happens in a painful isolation, the artist does not know what he is doing yet senses what he is doing is right yet society may not be confirming, the artist cannot compare himself and his productions to others, individualisation reaches such a degree that the artist is more or less effectively cut off from the whole despite him being the one who effectively relates to the whole and not the others, communication is impaired, and these alienations may well be resemblant to neurosis. The intensity of the inner processes of the artist (including the permanent (contrasting) juxtapositions thrown up by his associative intelligence) may aggravate the situation into (quasi)psychosis or (quasi)psychotic depression. That is the reality behind so-called „Dichterwahnsinn“ („poet´s frenzy“).

If we push this to further extremes it may come to mind that a lady who knew Kafka said about him that this apparently highly neurotic individual was the only person who thought like a human should think and who felt like a human should feel. I.e. despite probably having an avoidant personality disorder Kafka was completely anti-neurotic. We may call the poet who is completely anti-neurotic and who is the only who thinks like a human should think and who feels like a human should feel the omega poet.

It is apparent that the vision of such an omega poet would be one of a bizarre nightmarish world where nothing and no one is and behaves how it should be, if the way they behave is not needlessly grotesque, absurd or brutal at all. And that´s what you have in the vision of Kafka.