About Water and the Sea


Para Liliana y la familia

Like Tarkovsky and other creatives, I like water and I like the sea. I like to look at it and touch it. I don´t know the exact reason for it and it took me almost two years now to sit down and write a note about it (because there will be a short intermission concerning notes atm and so I can fill the hole with water). Obviously I like water because it is meditative, innocent, mindless, as well as „full of secrets“. Don´t look to the ocean, restless in its dreaming / Don´t look to the heavens, for they will tell you nothing (sing Cop Shoot Cop in Room 429, a splending song about, as I guess, intimacy). That Cop Shoot Cop song is both a bit elegic, as well as assertive, there is some tenderness in it, amidst the possible wildness and roughness the sea can relapse into. Water is both more innocent and fresh, recycling, as well as more powerful and ancient than we are. They think it will win over the rock, though finally it will evaporate as the sun gradually dies and inflates, and only rocks will be left. It is, obviously, the necessary element for any organic life to come into existence on a planet. In its mindlessness, it mirrors the innocent, ready-to-be-productive, recpetive mind – because of this, the mind rejoices when meeting its twin, the water. They say the ocean is sublime, as it is envisaged without boundaries. What is sublime strucks awe in us, says Kant, reverence for „the (unknown) law“. What is sublime annihilates the subject, but then empowers it, as the subject recognises itself in its „infinity“ and „endlessness“. In the sublime, the nuanced, sophisticated subject will view itself in its limitlessness and its limitations; realising one´s own limitations will inspire awe for an, at least abstract, instance that is less limited; realising one´s own limitlessness and limitedness will give a sense of compactness as well as openness and will give the sense of a warming ball inside oneself. Furthermore, the ocean gives me a sense for planet. Gazing at the ocean (or the sky) in the southern hemisphere gives me a sense for the existence and presence of that that is the other, of otherness, that is – thank God – tangible and can be internalised (internalising otherness, encircling the earth and becoming psychologically water-like is path to the overman, as we remember). I also like to think of megacities, looked at from above, in the night, Los Angeles for instance, at the great frontier, following the eternal call of the west. The network of millions of lights, seems to imitate and mirror the mind/brain, consciousness. I like to think having my mind amalgamated with the big abstract city at the frontier, mirrored in it. Think of standing at a skyscraper of megacity at night, somewhere in the future, in the mid- or later 21st century. Think of the megacity at night in the later 21st century, and internalise it. That gives a sense of mind, and consciousness. Think of another city, in the southern hemisphere, Buenos Aires. One megacity turns out not to be enough to make up the mind, it has to contain at least two, next round. With this, you will finally reach into the cosmos. When I sat at the Danube, in summer 2016, with Tanja, Xav and some others, who have invited me to Linz to talk about my creative approaches (and not many people followed the invitation), I was talking about the sentiments and concepts water gives to me, improvising. Unfortunately, I never came to exactly remember something of crucial importance that I elaborated then. That´s how it goes. But I remember, introspecting into water is a kind of permanent leaving from and returning to base. A hypercycle.

Acts of the Unspeakable

In some of the more recent notes (about e.g. Malevich, Mondrian, Minimalism, in some respects also them about Tapies and Sheeler) you have meditation about art in which there isn´t much in it, or so it seems. Sedlmayr (a conservative/Nazi) is quite aware of progress in art, which to him is exemplification of metaphysical regress throughout modernity nevertheless, he does not deny the innovativeness of Malevich´s Black Square, but he says that it is „untersprachlich“ (sublinguistical), and not „übersprachlich“ (i.e. portraying the Gottmensch, which would be, according to Sedlmayr, the purpose of art). But I like it because of the eloquent silence that it carries. It is meditative, quietist, Zen-like, it confronts you with the mysterious materiality/spirituality of the world, with otherness about which you have to figure out about how it can be adeqately captured, with something that seems both beneath you as well as beyond you, younger than you as well as much more ancient, harmless and inanimate as well as seemingly carrying deadly potential, etc. It refers to the Nullpunkt of creativity as well as to the infinity of universe and things, the pseudo-tabula rasa of mind, the ontological potential of the Matrix. It does not come as a surprise that in your metaphysical quest you come across (and have to go through) the Black Square tunnel, in a quest for purity, originality, being able to construct new forms and the like. In the Book of Strange and Unproductive Thinking, which is about that quest, I wrote a lot of somehow abstract (and seemingly silly and/or funny) texts (which they are, but they are also dead serious and indisputable). As you may remember, I was also fascinated by the task of how to describe how animals think (intelligent crows for instance), or how children learn language – and how is language formed at all? According to a universal grammar (as proposed by Chomsky), or as a quasi-emergent phenomenon that is based on some more primitive primordial tools and man´s situatedness in a social context (i.e. the more Wittgensteinian proposal)? How does protolinguistical experience look like? Is it right to describe the mind of a crow or newborn as a corner of a white space, then there comes some dull and vague sound, maybe also an orange flash? Very interesting to temporarily inhabit the sublinguistic lodges! I guess a creative person will be fascinated by it. It is about the (lower) edges of thought, beyond/below that of what is graspable for us. It signifies a horizon, respectively something beyond the horizon, hence it has to be explored.

Getrude Stein (a genius) was a pioneer in a modernist experiment to subvert language. She took „stream of consciousness“-writing to an extreme insofar as she tried to evade (not only stringency and conclusivenss of plot but) meaning as much as possible, by just writing down what immediately came to her mind. The result were voluminous books full of sentences largely free of meaning – but, as Jonah Lehrer (in his super book Proust was a Neuroscientist) explains: she found out that she could not evade basic grammar! Also other experiments/observations – like, for instance, deaf people developing a sign language, or immigrants developing a pidgin/creolian language: whereas these languages will be primitive in the first generation, the subsequent generation will make it more sophisticated and introduce grammar – seem to indicate that there is actually a universal grammar as something innate to humans in the Chomskian sense. Chomsky´s concept of universal grammar however has always met criticism as well, and for instance more recent research seems to imply that language, and the way infants learn a laguage, is a kind of emergent phenomenon that comes into being via the use of several „tools“, like ability to make analogies, to categorise things, recognise things via schemes (a dog is not likely to have a concept of a steak, but it is likely that a dog will recognise his environment via proto-conceptual schemes) or the reading of communicative intentions. I also consider that likely to be that way, and whether there is a universal/deep grammar or need for universal/deep grammar appears doubtful to me, since the grammar of sentences just reflect the way things are, respectively how man can act in the world – it reflects the structure of our actions and intentions (which would be a somehow empiricist notion, respectively a contact theory of grammar and linguistics) (however, since I am not an expert on liguistics, but it must´ve been that someone has thought about that before). And the Book of Strange and Unproductive Thinking is full of texts that celebrate the chaosmotic architectural/iconoclastic processuality of creative enterprise. (And if there is a deep grammar, why do languages frequnetly happen to be so different and distinguished from each other?)

Concerning the Untersprachlichkeit and the „fascination“ of being inside the mind of animals et al., more recent research (respectively an activation of more ancient knowledge/understandings) seems to indicate that plants are „intelligent“, respectively that they aren´t as „vegetative“ as it may seem. Plants adapt to their environment, they „communicate“ with their environment and with other plants, different species of plants have different „character“ (i.e. plants „fairly“ rewarding insects that carry their seeds, while others, like orchids, tricking them in a nasty way), they have more senses than humans do, and the like. Is it adequate to think that they are conscious and intelligent? Animals are, in a reduced sense, intelligent and conscious, it amazes me to see them play (for what purpose?), to see how eels can „befriend“ humans, or how one of Liliana´s gatas, Lorenzo, has a quite distinguished (and somehow sociopathic, or – to do more justice to him – adventuruous and challgening) personality. Maybe – given the extreme inprobability that our universe can be as fine-tuned as ours – even the universe, and everything in it, is a conscious – there are arguments for and against pan/cosmopsychism.

Then there are people who think that animals are better or more innocent than humans, dolphins more intelligent, etc. However, pigs ( = very intelligent animals) have the cognitive abilities of an average three year old human. Think you are inside the mind of a trout! A trout has an IQ of 4! What would it be like being a creature with an IQ of 4? Think of being a cockroach! AI has invented a creature however that superbly is able to act like a cockroach – the algorithm is: 1) Take flight from bright light 2) If there is not light, take flight from sound 3) If there is neither light nor sound, wait a while, then move. With that program, the behaviour of a cockroach can (basically) be captured. However, hopes that animals can teach us something are likely to be disappointed. Michael Tomasello writes in his book A Natural History of Human Morality how apes are morally quite inferior to men, and basically egocentric, whereas in humans you have a genuine sense for cooperation. Also Laland – in an article about what distinguishes humans from animals – notes that if Apes could talk, they would make poor conversationalists: while they are able to understand (a limited range of) sings, they cannot produce grammar, and their conversation would be utterly egocentric – the longest „translated“ statement by a chimpanzee goes: “Give orange me give eat orange me eat orange give me eat orange give me you” (which, however, carries some resemblances to conversations on social media or Youtube comments). When I gave my text about the trout and its 4 IQ to my friend Dagmar, she responded that it made her think about humans (having an IQ of 4, going with the crowd, being only interested in eating, fucking, sleeping, having no higher moral sense, being envious and egoistic, etc., with women often being the worst to each other)*. In a way, if you think about the subliguistic and its magic and mysteriousness, you frequently have it quite next to you; go, for instance, to the opera and try to empathise with how many of the folks in the opera house have their higher sentiments triggered, their catharsis and the like – when being exposed to the Gralserzählung or the Karfreitagszauber they may actually think about their business or so. Going to the netherworld, where no meaningful thoughts are formed isn´t actually that difficult, it happens all the time around you <3

In Sedlmayr´s opinion, the purpose of art is portraying man made in the image of God. He is aware that this is not a modern option, nevertheless his history of art is a history of a long decay (a quite intelligent and empathetic one however). His hope is that, after a long agony, art of the future will be about the portrayal of the Gottmensch, the divine human being, the finally fully accomplished man, furthermore his hopes adress those who have suffered most from the (modern) human condition (on a metaphysical level) i.e. individuals like Goya, Kleist, van Gogh, Hölderlin, Stifter, Nietzsche et al. to be able to erect or embody the image of the Gottmensch. The Gottmensch is baptised by fire. Kierkegaard, whom I happen the read at the moment (since I want to write about him), on the other hand shortly adresses at the end of his magisterial thesis about the concept of irony with permanent reference to Socrates, that the defining quality of the Gottmensch will be (metaphysical) humor (as something much more skeptical than irony but also containing a much higher positivity than irony) (unfortunately Kierkegaard´s ruminations enter quite abruptly at this point (with the excuse that humor is not a topic in a reflection about irony), yet, upon reflection, although Kierkegaard was among the species of overmen, he actually was overly ironic himself – but not actually funny or humorous, i.e. irony was the realm where Kierkegaard was king, but humor was a demarcation where Kierkegaard ended). I say, the Gottmensch will be so comprehensive as that he reaches into the lowlands and netherworlds as well as into the spheres, as mind and soul of God contains everything. Therefore the übersprachliche Gottmensch will also try to adress that which is untersprachlich, try to put himself inside the mind of a crow or a trout; the untersprachliche Black Square will be the eternal tunnel to wander through the white light from infinity, the silence you can hear from there is message from base. Listen to the voice of nature (which doesn´t really talk of course).

*„Die Forelle finde ich klasse wobei ich für mich den Gedanken weiter spinne… ist nicht die Allgemeinheit wie eine Forelle (4 IQ essen trinken in die selbe Richtung schwimmend wie die anderen Forellen ) … Moralisches streben in der heutigen zeit ist ein sehr löbliches Ziel und du bust wahrscheinlich einer der wenigen menschen auf.diesem durchgeknallten planeten der es wohl schaffen könnte. Der rest der menschheit ist neidisch verschlagen link nur auf seinen vorteil bedacht prakmarisch materiell und wirtschaftlich ausgerichtet … Und zum.teil oft so dumm in seinen ansichten und oberflächlich ich bin.oft so froh wenn ich mich nicht damit auseinandersetzen muss … Und frauen sind mit abstand oft am ärgsten zueinander und das meist wegen einem.mann wie grotesk ist den das könnte bücher füllen mit geschichten darüber glg sent from mobile“

Minimalism and Object Ontology

„Now the world is neither meaningful nor absurd. It simply is… In place of this universe of „meanings“ (psychological, social, functional), one should try to construct a more solid, more immediate world. So that first of all it will be through their presence that objects and gestures will impose themselves, and so that this presence continues thereafter to dominate, beyond any theory of explication that might attempt to enclose them in any sort of a sentimental, sociological, Freudian, metaphysical or any other system of reference.“

 (Robbe-Grillet, cited in Barbara Rose: „ABC Art“, an influential article about minimal art published in „Art in America“ in 1965)

Call it the Apollonian, but reduction to essence, bringing into form, carving the unnecessary out, introducing some silence, being elliptic is a major element within the art conquest; in becoming ever more minimalistic, stuff seems to become ever more invincible and undisputable – think of a child wrapping a box up respectively making something like the box via minimalistic wrapping, busily and affirmingly it says „So!“, „So!“, „So!“ when completing each step towards perfection, finally there is this silly, silent box and the child standing there, looking up to the grown up (or to deity), arms crossed behind the back: as if it says: „I have done everything right! There is nothing to be disputed anymore! You cannot catch and nail me anymore! You can groan and moan as much as you want, but…“, etc. Hail to the child! Likely, within all that the human child is a bit unsure, as it lacks orientation in the world, and eschatological knowledge, but in wrapping up the minimalistic box it has come up with something assertive and is aware of that; the adult-deity may rejoice or at least twist his mouth and move his head back a bit, as he is defeated, at least for a while. Hail to the child! It has achieved some manifestation in the world. Take a look at Robbe-Grillet´s statement there above! Aaahh… the world, and its metaphysics not being made by reference to the celestial world, but by the blunt encounter and relationships between subjects and objects within the world, maybe unforeseeable in their implications, yet often, and normally, to remain only a reference to an empty potential! Minimalists challenged the notion of sculpture and object in the 1960s as they placed some minimalistic forms in space, opening the possibility of interaction with the recipient (for instance also to be experienced as an obstacle that stands in the way)! The grid of the world as a relational structure! By reducing stuff into minimalistic forms that, due to their sharp and essential geometry, are both more real and less real than the objects you encounter in the world, you have, in minimalism, the disposability (and Zuhandenheit) as well as the unavailability of things, and of the things that make up this world. Remember that numbers or ideal geometric forms refer to the virtual, and therein also minimal art refers to the virtual via a paradoxial intervention, as, by taking out any specific content, those artworks actually refer to nothing, they´re neutral and inexpressive. But what they are is that they are present, and therein, you encounter presence in both its most manifest as well as elusive form. You have a metaphysics of pure presence, as well as a metaphysics of neutrality and a metaphysics of boredom. Somehow, those minimalist works seem to be so autonomous (and, as feminist critics claimed, masculine-sharp-assertive, whereas in the works of female artists somehow linked to minimal art, like Eva Hesse, you have some quasi-organic, soft, biomorphic forms and flows and the like). Due to not having much in them, minimal art refers to quietism, to Zen, to a transsubjective world-continuum – and Lucy Lippard calls Robert Morris a „master of formal silence“. For the creative mind, silence contains the virtuality of the clamour of being, therein, minimal art indicates the possibility of all creation. Those minimalistic forms are enigmatic, as they both refer to basal elements of construction, yet also to virtual ideals that are beyond any construction. Ahhh, what a dialectics! It brings opposites together, the small and the infinite (?)! Pseudo-immanence and pseudo-transcendence! Those squarelike forms of minimal art adress the square in me! The boxes of Donald Judd are some kind of rivets that hold the subjective and the objective universe together, they´re an encounter (like the installations of Sarah Sze)! Very mysterious, all this! In another context, there may be a trajectory from minimal art to degeneration of art via the growing preeminince not of the artwork but of the kunstähnliche Gegenstand (artlike object) from the 1970s onwards. Finally, indeed, there is actually not so much to say about them minimal objects, but that is good, since it binds the hallucinatory endless depths of imagination back to something solid and concrete, an anchor. In a world of ambiguity, objects attached with meaning etc. you encounter pure, literal forms that have nothing to tell and signify and you can endlessly explore what they speak to you. Glory! Glory! Glory! Glory!

Minimalist sculptures somehow challenge ancient notions as they are not, tradionally, sculptures, also not, traditionally, objects – they are rather forms and work as systems or systemic inventions in environment (or carry within themselves the possibility of their own extension or reduction like in the cases brought upon by Sol de Witt).  However, they create the impression of dumb objects, of materiality, or of ideal forms, to try to push and slide and emerge into this world, make themselves important, underline their presence; seem to say „Here I am, man… what will you now do against me?“ They´re there. They´re, maybe, middle-range objects that came to inhabit this world as well, out of unknown reason and for unkown purpose, and where dialogue and domestication is, to some degree, possible, to some other degrees not (check out also the note about Charles Sheeler and his eloquently silent industrial architectures). They seem to be vivid, stupid, and mysterious, follow their own (reduced, but also ungraspable) logic, like Kafka´s Odradek. In Realismus Jetzt, a Merve book edited by Armen Avenessian which is about speculative philosophy and metaphysics for the 21st century, there is a contribution by philosopher Graham Harman about his „Object Orientated Ontology“ (OOO) in which he wants to give dignity to things and tries to introduce an understanding of things being an essential element of metaphysics and to be philosophised upon (he even says that, corresponding to the „linguistic turn“ in 20th century philosophy, we´d need an „object turn“ in our century). He makes reference to Heidegger´s tool analysis (which he claims to be the hidden truth of all Heidegger´s metaphysics), and also to the „humming universe“ of the friendly metaphysicist Whitehead. Remember that Heidegger speaks of zuhandenem Zeug, objects/tools that are there in the world and, as tools, may change man´s possibilities of access to the world, respectively the world itself, implicating that objects/tools is stuff that is metaphysically relevant, that seem to be somehow autonomous, carry potential and may be game-changing (what is not mentioned in the short article is Heidegger´s philosophy about technology, as a force that, in a somehow conservative fashion, he saw as alienating and incorporating a life and logic of its own that is somehow stronger than that of man and therefore, finally, a heteronomy upon the man´s world). (Opposed to other philosophical traditions, Heidegger´s philosophy does away with a lot of categorial stuff and focuses on man as being rather „spontaneously“ in the world and navigating through the world, and changing it, i.e. Heidegger´s man is not a well-defined (and therein limited) man, but a rather fluid creature, i.e. Heidegger´s epistemology is rather a contact theory, like the one I have recently encountered in the book by Hubert Dreyfus and Charles Taylor.) Whitehead, as we remember, develops an ontology where everything (every single entity, as basal elements of reality) is connected in a network that makes the („humming“) universe. That is nice and friendly. However, says Graham, where Heidegger does not have a lot to say about things as that they both reveal (entbergen) and conceal (verbergen) themselves, Whitehead somehow implicates a notion of an instable or overly colourful universe that can be changed every instant, which is rather not the case: in doing away with the notion of substance – which seems to implicate a stickiness that isn´t exactly there –, network ontologies like that of Whitehead seem to do away with structure and seem to implicate a flexibility (or creativity) that is also not exactly there (although there is only an indication but not necessarily a reason for coming up with such a critique since substance-ontologies may contain network-notions and vice versa, and if I remember correct, Whitehead is not stupid or one-dimensional in his thinking). At other occasions (lectures to be found on Youtube) Graham Harman stresses the importance of an object orientated ontology by saying that if we reduce (meta)physics of objects, we could not explain phenomena of emergence, whereas if we put to much emphasis on substantial notions we could not explain change (hm…). OOO introduces some mysteriousness into the world, a notion of the cryptic potency of inanimate things that is potentially much more potent than pure human potency, and he also makes reference to aesthetics and the arts – that the notion of a world that is not completely „given“ at any moment, but a world that is partially withdrawn is actually what is captured/reflected in the arts, respectively illuminated in the multidimensional mind of the artist that „reveals“ the hidden truths of man and the universe (Graham, by contrast (on that occasion) says that in the arts objects become „mysterious“ and „withdrawn“ —– let us remember that in art the place of objects and the meanings of things become dislocated and put into other context, therefore you may have a certain disassociation: but for the reason of showing how the thing actually works and to reveal its existential ontology and its meta-noumenon!). (Graham also discusses minimalism shortly in here (47:30) <3 although the connection between minimalist art and object ontology sprang to my mind independly.) In diving into the hidden depths of the „withdrawing“ world, Graham Harman also mentions the „negative theology“ of Pseudo-Dionysius (i.e. that God indicates himself in this world via an absence that can be mystically approached and experienced, and that the light of God is a „dark“ light).

Very interesting and metaphyscial! I have got me some books by Graham Harman and want to get more closely in touch with OOO and then maybe write a note about it (which could make a Postscript to the Metaphysical Note about Extreme Metal). I think with his notion of a „withdrawing“ world that is never fully given he may refer to complexity – and it may be that complexity is a true phenomenon there in the world i.e. that is ontologically given (complicatedness means: something is more or less complicated and difficult to see through, but can be solved and defined; complexity means: you have an ever changing system whose interactions cannot be entirely foreseen — in his lecture Graham Harman refers to the social sciences as a science that has to operate with a complex flux, but also economics may come to mind (or meterology, or hydrodynamics, etc.). In his paper The Trouble With Macroeconomics Paul Romer explains how describing and computing an economic system involves a matrix of mxm parameters, but their interdependence is described by only m equations; hence complex systems probably cannot ever be captured by mathematics, implying that mathematics is not the deep/universal language of the universe, etc.) I also ask myself the question what is the Ding an sich of a car? Or of petrol? Or of a toaster? Or of an institution? That is relatively easy to say, think however of how the ancient wheel relates to the car etc. Feynman says, what we can construct we understand (with reference e.g. to the brain or consciousness which we cannot construct so far and probably never can), does that mean we see the thing in itself of the respective issue? I also wonder how potent things/objects/tools ever are; some popular notions, like that of McLuhan describe medias/tools as extensions/protheses of man; however when I read ancient Chinese literature like the Classic novels of China, I am astonished how similar people actually are across time and across culture; also Stanislaw Lem mourns or satirises about far (technologically) advanced future civilisations which are, to considerable extent, primitive and childish nevertheless (i.e. maybe tools and machines aren´t actually that important).


Dear Phillip:

Thanks for the nice post! It is well-written and well-informed. And I share your instinctive liking for minimalism.
There are only two points where I disagree. Or rather, one where I disagree and one where I sort of disagree.
The first: „whereas if we put to much emphasis on substantial notions we could not explain change (hm…).“
Actually I defend substance. The philosophy that cannot explain change, in my opinion, is the philosophy of actions or events that does not allow for an underlying hidden substance.
Also, complexity theory isn’t quite what I’m doing. Objects can be quite simple, where complexity theory talks about the complexity of relations, and OOO is above all an anti-relational philosophy.
Anyway, thanks again for the interesting post.
all the best,