It’s possible to ruin a work with too much preamble.
E.g., this clothing ad, from 1996:
It’s punchy, it’s intense, it’s controversial. What does it even have to do with T-shirts? Who knows. In any case, the effect would be weakened if I’d preceded it with a 20 minute explainer. It’s more interesting on its own.
So I’ll do my best to avoid ’explaining’ the piece that follows. But I will buckle, just a bit, to my hope of not being misunderstood, and simply note that:
It won’t work for everyone.
The pacing is odd. (Each ‘aphorism’ might be best considered individually, rather than reading them all at once.)
It’s a polished, re-worked version of a recent Twitter thread of mine.
With that, I’ll let my thoughts, however odd, try to speak for themselves.
Let’s jump into it.
Heroic sincerity in art
The most heroic spirit is the one which writes Cats fanfic, for years.
The utter sincerity, diligence, and insensitivity to opinions that don’t matter. The directed, dedicated, un-self-aware recognition of what is privately known to be good - this is spiritual heroism.
Honesty surpasses quality.
Sincerity as action, not form
People focus too much on genre, not enough on cause-and-effect.
While there’s a difference between the subjective and objective, there are only surface differences between (the effects of) fiction and nonfiction.
Ideas affect people. Words & images effect change. The medium is dispensable.
Thus Cats fanfic guy may speak more truth than Steven Pinker.
Yukio Mishima understood the flexibility of genre:
“I want to make a poem of my life.”
Sincerity and self-destruction
We are all utterly naked. We are all on display.
The artist of spirit makes himself even easier to see. He seeks the scorching vision of others, that it might cleanse and destroy him.
If he wants to be broken by this, he's a jelly-spined simp. If he wants to be made iron in the crucible, he's a man.
In a pinch, either will do.
The mark of spiritual heroism is authenticity, willingness to battle, warring in waiting for glorious Ragnarok. The artist of spirit lives and dies a thousand times, battered and bettered, over and over again.
The one who fears death will not be spared.
While the artist of spirit finds himself worthless & circumstantial, he too is cut from the holy cloth of Creation. If he recognizes this, the very longing to obliterate that ‘self’ which stands between him & his goal may also dissolve his self-destructiveness.
The artist of spirit should never be appreciated for what he ‘may’ become! Coddling is below him.
On the other hand, acting like human things are below him is also below him.
The aspiration self-destroys; this is hilarious.
The art is destroyed, to the artist, the moment it is completed. It is best understood as a process in motion, a snapshot from a video. The spirit is a space-time worm.
The artist abandons hope of acceptance from a world that will not accept him. This damage was fated, but now it makes itself felt; it is utterly crushing.
Nevertheless he survives. Egoism is his refuge from this brutality. This might be necessary.
After years of struggle and the successful conquest of craft, the artist of spirit may begin to find acceptance on his own terms, in part by reshaping himself to broader and less parochial realities than the ones which destroyed him. By this means, he begins to overcome self-obsession.
You’ve watched someone make a terrible error without noticing. How often have you been witnessed doing the same?
If others don’t consciously notice our errors, they may notice them implicitly. If they don’t notice them implicitly, reality is still altered by our passing.
We suggest that our un-measured impact is ‘insignificant’, but this ‘rounding-off’ presumes that we are equipped to judge what we cannot even see! The argument is so weak and self-serving that we could reverse its conclusion with little trouble.
Thus the reality in the myth that God beholds our every move.
Worship is frequently dishonest. Worshippers, discovering this, pray for deliverance from their own insincerity!
This is, of course, insane. But destruction of pretense is a practical matter. Can we do better than living at the cutting edge of our bullshit, melting it at the highest possible speed?
Presumption against art and spirituality
In some cases the very existence of art indicates an error.
A man who fails to shape the earth and mankind to his needs may instead invest his dream’s ‘character’ or ‘impression’ in something else - an object of idolatry, treated as divine yet wrought by human hands.
Perhaps all artists share the dream of Pygmalion: that their misplaced creations will somehow come to life, by means of love alone.
The artist’s ability to channel his specific spirit into matter gives him a sliver of sovereignty, but he is a weak approximation of a truly sovereign individual. True sovereignty shapes history.
But, the dance of spirits is part of history.
Spirituality is probably not ultimately a cope, but very often it is. Mundanity is underrated.
One can always ask why a person has tried to answer a spiritual question, rather than a material one.
Yukio Mishima was not perfect, but by God did he carry a fragment of divinity within him. His greatest crime was failure.
Thus the old samurai quote, which Mishima must have known by heart:
“To die without attaining your aim is a dog’s death, but there is nothing dishonorable in that.”
Self-love and self-destruction
We tie ourselves in knots trying to love ourselves, trying to prevent others from hating us, even trying to prevent others from hating themselves. But while self-hatred is its own kind of madness, replacing it with a new madness won’t help.
You *are* bad. But die a thousand deaths, never the deaths you expected, and a thousand things will change.
You are dim and worthless compared to the greats, but so are they.
Chaos and subversion
Much of life can be described simply: ‘the spirit tumbles through chaos’.
If we act too late, this might be our bitter epitaph: ‘the spirit tumbled through chaos.’
Is this true of some lives, or all? Is this a modern problem, or an eternal human problem?
Good questions, but irrelevant to the one who is tumbling. He once grasped at words and descriptions as he plummeted by the sheer cliff face, clawing at rock to arrest his descent. But the rock did not slow him down; it simply set him spinning, and bloodied his hands.
So he falls. He turns his tumble into a dive.
He counts his blessings. He’s not dead yet; perhaps there’s time to think and plan. The way ahead is shrouded in mist; perhaps something there will be of use.
This scenario is admittedly rather odd and concocted, so he wages war on the narrator. Perhaps he’s falling up, not down. Perhaps he’s not falling at all.
We constantly compare our own perspectives to an external one, one we describe as objective. But the external perspective mostly doesn’t carry the objectivity of reality, but rather the ‘objectivity’ of society.
By this means we self-manage 'for our own good.' These poisons sink to the bone.
Social submission begets alienation from the self, but the self is one's primary epistemic instrument. Thus social submission begets ignorance. The worst is the social submission which pretends to confer knowledge, as in the ugly parts of the academy.
Distraction and illusion
Bad intentions make bad art. But there are matters of degree; a true villain, wreaking havoc on Order, is crueller but more admirably-intentioned than a self-obsessed wretch. Thus Milton’s Lucifer is far more beautiful than the sad concoctions of art school.
If all the spirit sees is art, its creations will be as wretched as the artist, who suffers in isolation, degenerately pawing at the bars of a psychic prison.
Thus art is the purview of generalists.
Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto: ‘I am human, and I think nothing human is alien to me.’
Nihilistic art is fine, but wretched. Wretchedness shrinks away from reality; wretchedness is a thing to be overcome.
Honest nihilism (a rare thing indeed) is a hair’s breadth away from divine insight - or perhaps more importantly, mundane insight!
When the soul yearns and tries to die, a lot of ‘art’ gets produced along the way. This is understandable; man buckles under the thundering weight of Despair.
But when we're done being sad, we need to conquer the galaxy. It’s as simple as that; shuddering convalescents deny this.
Hedonism is a riddle, a divine joke; it is (local) beauty which is not truly (globally) beautiful. Understand this, and you’ll find the seed of virtue in the palm of your hand.
Most tragedy is pretense. Oh, the joys of self-flagellation!
You’re not alone in anything
You’re not alone in wanting to be
- Bright Eyes, The People’s Key, Ladder Song
Or as Toynbee said:
“One of the perennial infirmities of human beings is to ascribe their own failure to the operation of forces which are entirely beyond their control and immeasurably wider in range than the compass in human action. This mental manoeuvre, which promises to convert an importunate sense of humiliation into a new assurance of self-importance—by setting the great engine of the Universe in motion in order to break one human career—is among the most insidious of ‘the Consolations of Philosophy’.”
- Arnold Toynbee, A Study of History, Vol. 4
Return to society
Whether an artist can be honest, in the sense of willingness to die in spiritual Ragnarok, is the first test of his strength & sincerity.
Gaining technical skill and deep self-awareness is next.
Last and most important is his civic sense; his spirit's specific relation to society. He begins to accept responsibility for his disorientation, and turns back towards the world.
Virtue loves God, and loves mankind. But this is no cheap thing. Lovers know that love is the cousin of pain and hatred. Purest hate is more loving than wretchedness.
Turning towards the world, one encounters politics.
Art is inherently political, but it is not inherently politically relevant; this is just a matter of scale. On the local level, social relations are political, and these are the politics of smaller-minded artists.
Art is inherently political, but it is not inherently subversive: behold Virgil, whose Aeneas is the image of Augustus. Behold the Renaissance cathedrals.
The best case for art being inherently subversive might be that it speaks to the spirit, and perhaps society always denies the spirit to some degree. On the other hand, our modern society might just be especially bad on this front. The pagans probably had a better time of it.
One’s era is a thing to be overcome. The ugly suppositions of our era are invisible to us.
But living in the past is ugly too. The artist of spirit embraces and wrestles with his era; never avoiding it or prematurely 'transcending' it.
Most people are not intellectually sovereign, so most art is not intellectually sovereign. But perfect originality is a dubious goal; what is wrong with your heritage, your world, your society? Such a spirit risks spinning off into space.
Return to reality
Much of ignorance is not cause by lack of learning, but by shielding oneself from chaos. While foolish in excess, this is understandable. Who can say that he always looks the beast in the eye?
The worship of childlike innocence is despairing. It is obvious that kids aren’t to be imitated, overall.
But we don’t know what to be, and we fear that our knowledge contaminates us, so we place our hope in something unformed.
That hope is self-undermining. There will be no return to innocence. A return to joy, however...
Bad art is the image of a mind; good art is the image of a mind which has taken the image of reality. The mind may then be set aside, if for a moment; a brief reprieve from illusion.
“The great poet makes us feel our own wealth, and then we think less of his compositions. His best communication to our mind is to teach us to despise all he has done. Shakspeare carries us to such a lofty strain of intelligent activity, as to suggest a wealth which beggars his own; and we then feel that the splendid works which he has created, and which in other hours we extol as a sort of self-existent poetry, take no stronger hold of real nature than the shadow of a passing traveller on the rock.”
- Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Over-Soul
The ‘self’ is the vehicle of self-expression, and knowledge shapes the self. Thus ignorance worsens both one’s expression, and one’s aesthetic.
No science is alien to the man of spirit.
The self-expression of an ignorant or virtueless person is idiotic. This is displayed so openly, and yet is so hard for so many to see!
Innocence is a different thing; unformed, but uncorrupted.
The most valid self-expression is reality-complete.
Return to mundanity
Self-awareness may be a disease, but the only way out is through. Or perhaps you should eat a sandwich and get a job.
The koi grows listless and unhealthy in an empty pond, but strengthens itself if there’s a rock to swim around; mankind needs something to sharpen himself on. What could be more important than craft, which turns the striving spirit into something glorious and mundane?
Suffering for your art does not make you saintlike, it makes you an idiot. Perhaps a heroic idiot, like Quixote, or perhaps just the lame kind. It’s clearly better to get paid.
If you can’t see mundane things like this you should take some time off from ideology.
Startupiness, practicalness, are not to be avoided. Commercialism can be dope or lame.
No one said it better:
“For me, dopeness is what I like the most. People who wanna make things as dope as possible. And by default, make money from it. The thing that I like the least, are people who only wanna make money from things whether they're dope or not, and especially make money from making things [the] least dope as possible.”
- Kanye West