Dada Christmas

NOTE: This post is my Christmas card to my fellow members of the Knox Martin Fan Club. Cheers!

My young daughter has installed her own Christmas tree in her room this year. I find it a disturbing trend, a transformation of a family tradition into an individual ritual of Christmastime madness. My feelings, I imagine, are similar to that of Leo X when he learned of that blasted note nailed to the door at Wittenberg. The impudence of our little imp!

Furthermore, she has rigged her individual tree with a Santa trap, which consists of a variety of wires, lights and bells, arranged in such a way so that when Santa carefully places his elf-built presents under said tree, the trap will wake Margaret and allow her to catch Santa in the act! What happens next? I’m not sure she’s thought that far ahead. Perhaps a shared cookie. Some friendly banter. Maybe even a opportunity to search Santa’s bag for a couple of extra presents?

All this begs the question, will Santa actually visit her tree? Is he obligated to visit all trees in a given location? If he does, will we as a family be forced to have two Christmas mornings, one under each tree? Or will the tree schism lead Margaret to have her own individual Christmas morning minus the rest of us? Etc, etc, etc. You see the descent into madness that potential lies ahead for us.

But I digress.

Margaret having her own Christmas tree requires that this tree be decorated with its own lights and ornaments, which she has provided by stealing them from the tree in the living room. We had turned a blind eye to such thievery, Jenny drawing the line at certain choice ornaments which she refused to have pilfered. But then it happened. Our little Borrower, while scurrying back to her lair, dropped one of the shiny Christmas balls, which shattered on our hard tile floor

I shoo-ed the little imp towards barefoot safety, but before sweeping up the sharp little shards of glass, I thought of similarly shattered egg and the cry of “Dada!” that must have rang out during a certain time and place in art history. So I grabbed my camera and recorded the random splendor.

It wasn’t until a few days later, while checking the result on my computer, that I noticed the true force and wonder of Dada. Inside the random shards of Christmas were images of Knox Martin! It seems that the shattering took place adjacent to where our Knox piece is hanging, and the concavity of the inner silvered pieces of glass picked up and reflected the image on to my camera’s sensor. Dada authenticity living within my Dada nostalgia. Unexpected creation with the unexpected creation. A true Dada Christmas miracle!

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Mug Shot

In honor of the many recent visits from the Knox Martin Fan Club – of which I am a card-carrying member – I thought I’d come out of my deep, dark hole and present a mug shot .

As you can see, this picture is of a package full of masculinity, entirely appropriate as a follow-up for Knox.

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Blank Slate or Empty Cup?

I’ve been thinking a lot about how important emptiness is. I think that the human-as-empty-cup analogy is superior to the human-as-blank-slate idea. The three-dimensionalness of the cup combined with the state of emptiness just seem like better starting points for philosophical musings.

LUSK - low-res copy

Plus, you know how I feel about the subversive rise of the second dimension. Better to keep the 2D out of this.

Here’s another great analogy. Shoes. Their value is in their emptiness. They are basically big containers for our feet!

Also, a blank space is basically that – blank. A three dimensional object has an inherent variability built into the analogy and there better represents an individual’s inherent variability together with the input of the non-individual (spirit, culture, whatever) to fill it. A better dualistic “nurture AND nature” model.

Which by extension validates my package series, which is just what I need, speaking of validation, a video entitled “Validation” that someone posted on my Facebook wall today. I didn’t watch it all, didn’t feel it was valid.

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The Empty Cup

A great martial arts teacher was visited by a young, well-known and respected university professor.

“I have come a long way to see you,” he said. “I have heard that you are a great Karate Master, the Art of Empty Self. I have so many questions for you. I, myself, have studied very hard for many years to understand the essence of what you teach. Can you tell me the meaning of Karate? Of Empty Self? How it can bring peace to the world? What is the secret of this teaching?”

The Martial Arts Master was serving the professor tea as the professor rambled on with question after question. The Master poured the visitor’s cup to the brim with tea‚Ķ and then, kept on pouring. Now, the tea was running off the table onto the floor.

The professor watched bewildered until he could no longer restrain himself. Finally, he shouted, “Can’t you see the cup is full! No more will go in!”

“Like this cup,” the Master smiled, “your mind is full of questions and seeking answers! Until you empty your cup, no more can go in. Likewise, until you present me with an empty mind, you cannot learn or receive anything.”

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The Sex of Packages

The headline could have more properly read “gender” instead of “sex,” but I wanted to put sex in the headline to maximize the marketing potential.

Potential being the key word.

A package is full of potential. It is the holder of the mysterious something. The container of our desires or riches, as with the gifts of the Magi or the plenty provided by the cornucopia. Alternately, a package can contain our doom, as with Persephonie or the Trojan Horse.

But what is the gender of a package? This question has been on my mind quite a bit lately.

I’m going to say female right now, and then try to circumambulate the idea over the next few days

Sow why is a package feminine? Because a woman has a womb, the container of life. A pregnant woman is a human package. And inside her? A gift, our desire, and our doom.

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Empty

Have I finally emptied myself?

It’s been a week since I last wrote here. That’s my longest break since I began in the Fall. What’s up with that?

I think it’s a bunch of things, a swirling mess of career transition, economic gloom, deteriorating family health, painting, the prepress swamp, and of course the South Florida Season getting into full swing, all circumambulating a growing void of self-doubt that’s gnawing away at my joy of creating and communicating.

I guess that explains it.

Thank God for Husserl! Yes, of course his brand of phenomenology has been a cornerstone for me ever since “Experience and Judgement.” And I’ve long suspected that Jung was student of Husserl, but that’s for another post. And not what I mean here.

I’m talking rather about Husserl’s nagging self-doubt. This man was a genius. His clarity in the depths of psychological explorations blew away the mystification of Hegel and the psychosis of Nietzsche. Yet, this giant was constantly unsure of himself and his work.

I’m no Husserl, but I find great comfort in his uncertainty. If a lion can be filled with self-doubt, then it must certainly be OK for an ant to feel the same way, too.

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Paracelsus and the Grail

I finally finished re-reading The Grail Legend, and now better understand its place within the Jungian world view. In particular, the remarkable conflict between the natural and the spiritual within the individual and collective consciousness, and how that dynamic can be understood by analyzing the writings of the times.

The dawn of the second millenium was a time of rising dominance of the Christian mindset among the peoples of northwestern Europe. The spirits that animated the natural environment were being pushed back into the unconscious to make way for the Spirit that came from above. That Spirit, together with God the father and that most powerful symbol of the Self, Jesus Christ, left no room in consciousness for nature spirits. The Church had moved in, a kind of spiritual Walmart that suffered no competition from the local mythologies, to supply all the spiritual needs.

But those nature spirits did not simply go away — they are a fundamental component of the human psyche. So back they went, not into the forests, but into the unconscious.

For Jungians, the Grail legends are a way to analyze the collective unconscious of the times. The myth becomes the dream of the age, which can be studied and understood as any dream. Merlin is the key symbol for the nature spirit; he is a bridge as it were for the coming of this new spirituality. It is he who establishes Arthur and the round table and the quest for the Grail, thus setting the stage for a new social order that would bring Europe out of the dark ages. And when his task is done and Percival takes his place as the new Grail king, back Merlin goes, back into the forest.

In the last few pages of The Grail Legend, von Franz quotes early from Jung’s Alchemical Studies about the role of the 15th century alchemist Paracelsus as a symbol for the return of the nature spirits. It has to do with the fundamentally different place of humans in relationship to the Spirit. With Christianity, humans were subject to the will of God and bound to serve this outside Spirit that could come down from heaven and influence humans. With the rise of alchemy, we saw the return of the idea that there is a divine spirit within Nature, and that it was up to humans, especially alchemists, to unlock the spirit from matter. This is the key transformational idea that ultimately defines to the age of reason: that humans were the central force in understanding the world. Alchemy, as a proto-science, unlocks the door to the daemons that early Christianity had banished.

Hirschvogel Paracelsus

Hirschvogel Paracelsus

So back from the unconscious came the influence of the animal spirit, only this time its not out on the surface for everyone to see. Rather, it stays unconscious to a very large degree. Despite Paracelsus convoluted (proto-post-modernist)?) ramblings about the alchemical secret of freeing the spirit from matter, consciously he is still a practicing Christian. Alchemy is framed as this huge secret that only the “worthy” can truly understand. High spirituality with dark materialism: It’s a paradox of opposites that soon became a critical force in the evolution of society.

In many ways, the influence of the animal spirit and the belief in its power became more like a spiritual possession by the material world, a condition that fundamentally defines our current psyches. The alchemical process provided a formal, systematic approach to unlocking the secrets of nature. Its successes and failures, particularly in medicine, created a framework for experimentation that any “reasonable” man could follow and expand upon.

Today, we live in an age of human-centered dominance of the natural world. But have we really dominated the material world? Or have iron and fire been liberated to dominate us?

I would argue that we have become possessed by the things that we have created. We have surrendered up our lives in the pursuit of making things and acquiring thing. The secrets of nature are revealed, and then come back to bite us in the ass.

We make packages. We buy packages. We discard packages. All for the things inside the packages. Yet in many ways our lives are still empty. Just like the packages when we’re done with them.

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