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Antipostmetasemanticism

Antipostmetasemanticism:

An Alleged Manifesto

 

I.  Art

 

            Art will here be defined as a manipulation of phenomena or material substance whose primary motivation is the intellectual, emotional, psychological, or spiritual effect such a manipulation may have on a real or hypothetical observer or group of observers who experience the result of that manipulation in some way.  This definition intentionally leaves open the means of manipulation and the means of observation by which the observer experiences an artwork.  Art may consist of a thing to be seen, a thing to be heard, a thing to be tasted, or even a thing simply to be contemplated.  It does, however, exclude objects made for a practical purpose unless those objects possess features or attributes which allow for their reception as Art, distinct from any pragmatic assessment of their utility.  Two factors are key to this definition: first, an intention on the part of some person to create art (that is, to engineer artistic experience for some observers) and the reception (willing or unwilling, conscious or unconscious) of that experience by some real or hypothetical observer as an experience of Art.  The artist and the observer may be the same person; the artist may even be the only observer.  An artwork may be created without regard to any human observer with the intention of presenting Art to God (whatever the artist may mean by this). 

 

            A prehistoric man might take a notion one day to stack some rocks on the beach in a way he finds somehow satisfying.  This is art.  The same man might pile rocks onto each other elsewhere to enable him to climb and reach fruit from a tree.  This is not art, unless the man then contemplates the pile in and of itself, and finds it beautiful, significant, or communicative.   The Art-ness of the pile of rocks does not inherently relate to the utility of the rocks.  Rather, it is the relationship created between those rocks and the thinking, feeling, experiencing, and responding mind which makes Art.    The man may show his neighbor the pile on the beach.  The neighbor may share his appreciation for the rock pile, or the neighbor may fail to see any purpose in it, and regard the first man as a fool.   Either way, when the first man says, to himself or to another, that there is value in apprehending the rocks just as they are and just because they are as they are, then Art is born.  If the neighbor does not agree or understand, then the two of them cannot share a discussion of the rocks as Art—only a debate as to whether they are or are not Art, or whether or not the concept of Art is meaningful.

  

            Thus: a decorative sculpture probably qualifies as Art.    A hammer probably does not.  However, a suitably-sized sculpture might be used to drive nails into wood; this would be a non-artistic use of an object intended as art.  A hammer might strike its user as beautiful and inspiring; this would be an artistic reception of an object most people would not describe as Art.  A hammer might be made with a handle carved with illustrations and decorations, and a head cast into a fanciful shape.  These are all ways in which one might blur the distinction between art and non-art.  Such softness around the edges of a definition appears to be unavoidable in discussion of Art; to concede that this means definition is therefore impossible is to abandon the discussion, which we do not propose to do.

 

            Art has many functions, and they are functions of earnest necessity.  The dimmer philosophers may argue over whether a society does better to spend its resources on guns or butter; the human reality is that neither of those will save a society without arts, and without a robust and healthy artistic community.

 

            Art serves to nourish, challenge, and fortify the faculty of imagination.  This is vital not only to cultural life, but to practical life.  Imagination is the crucial mental tool by which we handle all abstract concepts—including all mathematical and scientific principles.  We cannot learn to manage parallelograms, cosines, quaternions, polynomials, or permutations without it.  There is no technological advancement without imagination, nor any scientific theories.  What is even more important, we have no way to learn the basics of morality without being able to imagine ourselves into someone else’s position. “How would you like it if someone did that to you?”  This is a question only imagination can receive.

 

            Art serves to store, interpret, and refresh the moral principles and values without which any society is simply doomed.  It is through stories, pictures, and song that we are taught, and are reminded.  Let it be absolutely clear that the argument being made here does not rest on whether the stories are true or not; either way, it is through art of all kinds that they are preserved and transmitted.  And our need for them is very very clear.  Humans have shown again and again throughout history that they cannot live with each other sanely or productively without a backbone of moral principle- usually both commonly accepted and socially enforced.  It may constrain individual freedom in certain ways, but the alternative (rule by brute force) destroys all freedom and virtue whatsoever.  The amoral systems which ascribe to market capitalism all glory and authority, or which credit evolution and sublimated complexes for all that may be called virtue are simply a solipsistic window dressing on the life of wild animals, who (as far as I know) make no art.

 

            Art serves to ennoble the vital intangibles— such as hope, love, faith, and compassion — which materialism or capitalism lack the tools even to perceive, much less respect.  Tangible and material concerns monopolize human thought and emotion all too easily and completely; we depend on the intangible and non-material to liberate us from these, and art is their chariot.

 

            Art can serve, under the preferable conditions, to provide a life for artists and thinkers who would otherwise perforce be wasted on careers which are unsuitable to them and to which they are unsuitable.  This is an easily-overlooked economic benefit, of which pragmatically-minded politicians would do well to take note.  Not everyone can dig ditches or fell trees, and not everyone should.  Perhaps a percentage of poets, painters, musicians, and philosophers could just as easily live productive lives in the fields of unskilled labor or the service industries; certainly not all, and probably not most.   A specialist in the science of economics could put this point more finely and more comprehensively; I will content myself to state the intuitively obvious: it is better for everybody if artists and poets are making their livings as artists and poets rather than being crammed into ditch-digging, box-shuffling, or telemarketing.  At the very least, it is certain that others exist who need those jobs.

 

            Antipostmetasemanticism is committed to the creation of art on the substrate of written and spoken language, which may be taken hypothetically as the very definition of “poetry”.  (If it is proposed to define the term; such words as “poetry” and “music” may not in fact benefit from rigorous definition.  Defining “poetry” will not be attempted here, in any case.)  Language is a special case in that it is of necessity used nearly all the time by nearly everyone in a purely non-artistic way.  

 

            This denial of the status of “art” to most daily communication is not pejorative; rather, it rests on the recognition of the fact that ordinary speech is generally uttered to some purpose which lies well outside the purview of language itself.  We speak to convey information, or in hopes of receiving it.  We speak to establish our status or acknowledge the status of others.  We may even speak as a socially functional noise, where relationships and roles are affirmed by the act and manner of speaking divorced from the content.  (“How are you?”  “Fine.”)  We speak to persuade others or ourselves.  In such cases, language is not an entity of its own interest; it is a tool.  We do not praise the hammer.   A person of a certain inclination may take the trouble to invest workaday language with artistic quality independent of its communicative or rhetorical function, but even those with the skill to do so will often choose not to invoke it.

 

            It is to be understood that art and function are not mutually exclusive; they are not separate countries with a frontier established by treaty and validated by the blood of patriots.  Rather, they meet and overlap on a continuum, and each has surprising projections and peninsulae which impinge and disrupt the other.  Certainly some of the same crops are grown in both lands, and fast food franchises extend into both.  But the difficulty or impossibility of sharpening a category boundary does not invalidate the distinction.  Artistic use of language values intrinsic beauty quite apart from syntactic meaning.  Creativity, novelty, or unpredictability are a part of its basic requirement, whereas in routine communication these qualities are at best tolerated, but more often deliberately eschewed.  (Routine communication is most efficient when the vocabulary is small, formulaic, and ritualized; consider the success of "emoji" in replacing words.)  Thus, poetry is a major locus of linguistic art, and its relation to language is a crucial issue for the antipostmetasemanticist programme.  

 

            One further note is in order regarding this view of the status and function of art.  In the antipostmetasemanticist view, some things are considered to be art, and some are not.  A boundary line may be difficult to define with precision.  We may be forced to resign ourselves to the state of affairs wherein the status of some things as art or not may be the subject of unresolvable debate.  Nonetheless, Antipostmetasemanticism firmly rejects any philosophical dictum that “everything is art”, not to the denigration or dismissal of those items not regarded as art, but simply to make possible a consideration of the meaning and purpose of art.  If absolutely everything is “art”, then such a consideration becomes an attempt to map out the meaning of absolutely everything, which is clearly beyond the reach of finite discussion.  To assert that “everything is art” in the same spirit in which John Cage asserted that “everything is music” is to empty the word “art” of all possible meaning.  No philosophical prejudice is implied against non-art objects.  Rather, the meaningfulness of all things is elevated when it is possible to consider and compare the properties of some things to those of other things, which can only be done if things can be distinguished from each other.  This point may seem tautologically obvious, and yet it bears reiteration because it is so easily (and frequently) forgotten. 

 

            A similar point can be made about our apprehension of individual human beings:  each individual is valuable, and yet each individual is individual.  A system of philosophy which insists all people are really the same blinds itself to reality, and results in the imposition of injustice under the pretense of justice (for example, by releasing murderers from prison to give them the same rights as non-murderers) and outright falsehood in the name of enlightenment (for example, if an astronomer claims that the moon is made of rock and a mental patient claims that the moon is made of cheese, a requirement that everyone’s opinion is equally valid becomes a requirement to ignore obvious or verifiable facts.)  This is no defense of elitism, nor of any form of fascism, but simply an acknowledgement that reality is complicated, and that Procrustean beds make for a poor hotel.

 

 

II.  Poetics above and beyond language

 

            Antipostmetasemanticist Poetry rests on the manipulation of words at multiple levels, and is resolved that meaning at one level must not hold any permanent or dogmatic superiority over the others.  At most, antipostmetasemanticism is only loosely committed to meaning at any level; rhetoric is not forbidden, but it is allowed no special privilege.  Instead, there will be a deliberate effort to explore the possibilities of all levels – the lexical, the sublexical, and the supralexical.

 

            The lexical level is that of ordinary, grammatical meaning; here words assemble according to the rules of language to form recognizable and perhaps intelligible statements.   The likelihood is strong that you are reading this right now at the lexical level.  Rhetoric belongs squarely to the lexical level, as does allegory; narrative has at least one foot if not both planted here.

 

            Sublexical is sounds, syllables, semi-words and squawks sailing sub rosa sub sub rosa sub sub infra substratical summery summary soon soon soon.  Saw saw saw!  Soon soon soon.   Sense no? Sense yes?  Sensey Sensei sending senility censors on a far ship ship drip drip drip.  Dropped.  Slopped.  Stopped.  Save our souls, Sir Serious Sirius, See? The Sea stopped.

 

            Supralexical space is the level concerned with larger structures. Underappreciated by many, it is poetry of sentences rather than words. Perhaps it is to language what form is to music. Reifying the larger order of language in a poetic sense is another component to the puzzle of expanding the realm of the communicative. Antipostmetasemanticism at the supralexical level deals with this hidden structure in a way which does looks past the meanings of individual words, just as lexical understanding neglects the supralexical level.  

            All levels yield themselves to treatment in a musical way, as antipostmetasemanticism is a musician’s idea of poetry.  Thus, it throws out arms to converse with stream-of-consciousness writing, with poetic Symbolism, with surrealist painting, with the interpretation of dreams, and with the play of children before adults have crumpled them up into the pork-rusting rules of real life.  An antipostmetasemanticist must in some ways be easily amused, and dedicated to the mission of teaching the rest of the world to be more easily amused.   Being concerned with the sensitive interplay between consciousness and meaning, antipostmetasemanticism is quite congenial to referential and tokenistic stratagems, provided their presence does not become too formulaic or dogmatic.

 

            Antipostmetasemanticism is not designed to address the kind of issues a political movement would need to address; it lacks all the obvious tools to do so.   What is more, its purpose is wholly other and probably incompatible.  Materialistic concerns, or the contests for worldy power create an atmosphere in which the broader and more sensitive inquiries of the spirit simply cannot breathe; those who insist that the former are the only real or legitimate matters are the figures which antipostmetasemanticism must implacably oppose.  Therefore, antipostmetasemanticism may ask questions, but answering them (or asking answerable questions) could hardly be considered good form.   If it has a concern, it is with that shadowy triple frontier between knowledge, known experience, and unknown being, a land unplottable by logic – an itchy land just between the shoulder blades of logic which logic can’t quite scratch.  Antipostmetasemanticism accepts empirical knowledge, but not Empiricism; likewise, material existence is acknowledged, but not worshipped.  These realms touch the border, but do not subsume it.  Modern philosophy has tended to concede the border and all neighboring countries to their rule; this begets the emptiness and the destructiveness of modern philosophy, and the state of the modern world is witness to the catastrophic inadequacy of the dogmas which have reigned these last two centuries.

 

 

III.  Aesthetics and Reality United

 

            Antipostmetasemanticism is wistful and playful.  It is science and it is not-science.   It is everything that can be done with words other than talking.  It never lies.  Antipostmetasemanticism has no truck with philosophical relativism, regarding the problem of truth as a result not of any failure of truth to exist, but the failure of human language and human users of language to adequately express it.  Therefore, antipostmetasemanticism does not attack knowledge, but rather it attacks the complacent and slovenly way in which humans construct and use language, seeking to express such truth as can only be expressed in transcending the quotidian world and the empty banality of ordinary discourse.   Antipostmetasemanticism labors to build a platform from which the final attack may be launched against the cowardly refusal of modern thought to address truth or beauty, or be informed by them. 

 

            Mind must command the words, and Being must order the mind.  Thus, materialism is also impossible; the claim of materialism is that mind and being are both commanded by the motion, ultimately chaotic, of matter. If such were the case, there would be no thought to express, for “thought” and “express” would alike be noises devoid of content.  The failure of language would be unlamentable, and unassailable, since no one would exist to lament or assail it.  It matters not how much progress is made in the field of neurology; Mind and Being can never ever be found thus, and anything that is found thus is thus demonstrated not to be either; opening the television set does not reveal tiny actors inside.

 

            But antipostmetasemanticism rejoices with exuberant hope that language, shaken from its quotidian prison of conformity masqueraded as reason, can itself become a force of liberation and join in that flaming impulse of spirit which moves every great achievement, the wholesome joy of growth and pain of learning.  Through the expansion of sounds and the liberation of language from what is commonly called communication, mind can truly, finally, move.  Words flow from mind, which flows from Being, which is fully itself in all places with and without motion. 

 

            Antipostmetasemanticism creates— it does not destroy.  Even when it says nothing it says everything; the power of being courses even through nonbeing.  Absurdity creates a gap in the walls of reason through which we may pass into truth and beauty, finding them reconciled at last after their long battles over reasonable wallpaper.  Thus, contradiction is not the negation of language, nor of thought; rather, it is the building-block of a healthy and necessary absurdity.  Those walls still stand; but they are no longer an airtight seal; rather, they support the ceiling while still allowing people in and out.

 

            This is the distinction between antipostmetasemanticism and other movements which have made an apparently similar use of the abstract, the opaque, and even the absurd.  While theirs is a deconstruction of language, art, and truth born of a fundamental nihilism, antipostmetasemanticism affirms the power and relevance of all these; a superficially similar incongruity or opacity belongs not to the negation of truth or beauty, but rather to the organic expansion of them from their constituent ingredients.  Perception and consciousness are studied and challenged not to reduce them to non-being, but rather to tease out their untapped depths.  Assumptions will have to be challenged, and the prejudices of modern skepticism, materialism, and the self-satisfied creation of new mythologies of emptiness must sooner or later be exposed to the light of beauty through art.

 

            Because Antipostmetasemanticism is resolutely constructive rather than destructive (or merely deconstructive), its use and concern with absurdity and non-meaning are channeled in some directions and away from others in pursuit of its goal deluxe.  This is an expansion on the distinction between antipostmetasemanticism and some of its modernist avant-garde fourbears such as Dadaism, acmeism, and futurism.  A politicized absurdity can only function destructively.  Its manipulation of linguistic forms and norms, being pressed into the service of a social or material porridge, can never discover or build on the potentialities and hidden secrets of language.  The delight and surprise of poetic exploration depend on a freedom that political art can never have.  

 

            Antipostmetasemanticism is not merely postmodern; it is post-time, and it is past time.  “Postmodern” is a terrible term, and its existence is the punishment on our cultural criticism for coining the term “Modernism” in the first place.  The calendar was never going to reveal truth to us; when we give it crowns and sceptres, it does nothing but flatter our own conceits while it imprisons us.  Grievous fallacies have pervaded all of human history because of this misapprehension of time, the twisting of eternal Flow into the false idol of ‘progress’.   The future does not supersede the past, but both are mere tailings of the eternal Now.  Now is not the future of the past, nor the past of the future, but the fixed point of all being, where the circle and the line touch.  Every minute of every day it is always Now, and never then.  It has never been Then, and it never will be.  Now is the post of all signs, including all the signs of language in all their honesty and semi-oddity.  Only from the vantage-point of now can we see a man tick through time, having never met but only imagined all future and past which are not times, and tie them all together in beautiful truth.

 

IV.  Behind Method and Meaning

 

            There is all the difference in the world between expanding language and simply abusing it, between transcending grammar and simply neglecting to learn it.  Profundity and profanity are opposites, not synonyms.  Likewise there is a vast and significant gulf between expanding the recognition of beauty and willful ugliness.  This perennial confusion between surpassing and failure is an old disease of the semi-learned, and a hallmark of misguided relativism.   Ugliness is not an alternative kind of beauty, no matter how much we want it to be.  The denial of truth destroys all thought, and no beneficial growth comes cheaply.  Manipulation of language which is perfunctory, or pragmatic, or born of sloth is mere murder, not art—it maims rather than magnifying.  Modern and postmodern philosophy, by denying the validity of these categories, excludes the possibility of comprehending the difference between growth and curtailment, between strength and atrophy, flourishing and withering.  

            Antipostmetasemanticism rejects this willful blindness utterly.  Human endeavor may never quite reach the light of truth, but the fault is in ourselves, not our stars.  The fact that the endeavor does not reward us with a final triumph is irrelevant to the validity and importance of truth; rather, the reward lies in what we learn from the endeavor itself.  For this reason, abandoning the attempt is not enlightenment; rather, it is the straight road to brutalism, and history shows it.  Always, when Right is sacrificed, Might eagerly takes its place. 

 

            We infer the galaxies; but we are concrete.  We construct models of space by measuring and calculating, but we experience ourselves first-hand, even if never fully.  It is a disastrous error of homo scientificus to begin regarding the stars as objective and ourselves as the illusion; disastrous because it pins our thoughts on the things we know least well and blinds our eyes to the first thing we can know, and without which no knowledge can be: Being.  And being is not first of all to calculate or to conclude, but simply to play. Speculation comes of play, theories come of speculation, and the testing of theories brings us back to play.  Play is detailed; it is elaborate, and accepts no limit to elaboration.  It strays from the point if it wants to.  Play is life in the way that conformity to pseudo-reason is death; through it has come every great insight and all beauty.  

 

            Play mingles matter with meaning at many levels; play is the way, perhaps the only way, to find new levels at which to mingle matter with meaning.  Extension and expansion are organic; they can only be done by living art.   Dissection and deconstruction require a dead subject; thus the scientific and the pseudo-serious attacks on language must kill their specimens before getting to work.  Play is life, and life plays.

 

            The results obtained from play are far less predictable, often unreproducible, and therefore less safe than those of more systematic inquiry.  However, they are in every way superior in reality and truth.  It is only by surrendering safety and control that we learn.  It is only by becoming vulnerable to beauty and truth that we can receive them.  The rationalist delusion that the universe can be brought under some kind of ego control by delineating its equations and legislating its particles is a grave barrier to the transcendent flowers whose aroma we were made to enjoy and inspire.  Methods constrained by design to see only certain types of phenomena will see only those; play transcends where systems sink.

Words may be peeled apart and put back together, made up from scratch, or replaced with numbers, tones, or sounds.  Grammar may be used heavily, lightly, or not at all.  Anything may connect to anything.  Play may even be serious, provided its seriousness is integral to its honest self rather than a false badge of superiority to wield over and against the frivolous. The Serious must be a part of truth and (no less so) beauty; when it is in opposition to either, it is no longer meritorious.

 

            And even the most grave attack on the weighty world may rise from hidden depths of the secret inner fire, and the great labors of living sprout from the inexplicable ludus verbalis, lex vivendi.  Much is translated in the losing, just as it is lost in the movement form one square to another of the gridded gravity well-being and time.  Yes!  Time is not, and yet it is; and that which is not is chosen to bring to nothing that which is.  Is, is, is, is are was were has have or had is yes, seen with eyes of being and fullness, eyes with the being inside them and full, overflowing and overflowering with the life of truth and beauty, the salve of sureness and sooth.  The secret is safe; the combination is locked away inside it.

 

            A word is a can to put a thought in.  A word is a cant to put a thought in.

            

            A word is multivalent.  It has at least one literal, semantic meaning, but usually more, since its existence sprouts backward through centuries and sideways to the other languages, closely or distantly related, through which it has passed or which it has visited.  It also bears connections to other words by every kind of association, grammatical, lexical, and morphological.  Even merely as a noise, it carries an import to the ear that hears it or the mind which imagines it.  And as a noise, it relates both to other words as noises (similar or contrasting), and also to other sounds – non-verbal, even inorganic.  The act of speaking (or not speaking) carries yet other messages unrelated to the words or sentences used.  If one chooses to speak, or to write, or to compose, the choice in and of itself is a kind of music, along with every other level of the act down to the finest details of content.  Antipostmetasemanticism embraces all these levels, with a mind to unite and coordinate them, that they might enrich each other.

 

            A rightful balance between the organized mind and the loving, living, laughing organism which knows nothing it does not bless is the key to antipostmetasemanticism, and that banner will be to the bane of all false rationalism’s bondage; its chains shall fall away in cascades and canticles, to the delight of all innocence—the relevant elephant in the rumination, that elevating quality that cannot be manufactured, only revered.  Viva la revelation!

 

Draw your own avant-garde artistic movement here:

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