The Phenomenology of the Artist
Looking for Help to Grasp New Ontoepistemologies and Metaphysics
Much of O.G. Rose suggests a “conditional” metaphysics, ontology, and epistemology, all of which can seem strange, mystical, and paradoxical. These are fair points of contention, but I think what is proposed in Rose is a lot more tangible and practicable than it might at first seem: we are basically grounding our “abstract work” in the “concrete” experience of being an artist, creator, designer, or the like. “The creative act” is the experience at the center of our thinking, and by examining it closer, a better hold around the ideas of Rose becomes possible.
Creatives are at the center of phenomenological experiences which could ground philosophy, I believe, but unfortunately art and philosophy seem to have been at war for the last two hundred years, and philosophy has instead (at least in America) centered on “pragmaticism.” Funny enough though, in my view, this “pragmaticism” has been “captured” by what the socioeconomic order defines as “practical,” and sine art is not considered practical, “the practices of artists” have been excluded from philosophical developments of pragmaticism. This is what I strongly resist: I have no problem with “pragmatism” as long it takes into account artists. This leads into what I call “Phenomenological Pragmaticism,” which also resists conflating “pragmaticism” and “empiricism”—another terrible mistake.
I have resisted a phrase like “Aesthetic Pragmaticism,” for I don’t want to slip into a “monotheory” that treats the experience of the artist as all we need to account for: rather, I want to include the scientist, engineer, artist, etc. in “the same boat,” which means I simply want to expand “pragmaticism” to include and integrate with “phenomenology” in general. That said, the particular “phenomenology of the creative act” might be uniquely useful in helping us “get a grasp” around some of the philosophical concepts explored in O.G. Rose. It is to make this case that I have written this short document.
I want this piece to be very straightforward, so I am going to list as a title a main idea, and then under that idea list a “practical” act of the arts which can be studied to metaphorically, analogously, and/or phenomenologically approach the thinking of Rose. Moving forward, whenever I mention “lack,” for example, readers can consider the experience of Tolstoy writing War and Peace, an idea/novel that was “a present absence.” “Lack” is a strange concept, located between “being” and “nothing,” but if we imagine what it’s like to write a novel, we can start to get a better hold on how something can be “present and absent” at the same time. We can also understand how something can be “present” like a completed novel and yet also not feel like it's “totally here” (many writers will talk like their books are failures). By focusing in on the phenomenology of the artist, we can gain imagery and language to better approach the topics of O.G. Rose.
Please note that if not everything makes sense just yet, advancing in the work of O.G. Rose will hopefully at least prove easier with these metaphoric and analogous connections to which we can refer. I will not promise to cover all the main subjects that I explore, but hopefully these will provide some examples of why considering the arts might be useful for understanding the ontology, epistemology, and metaphysics I like to explore. Admittedly, based on where this short piece ends up in (Re)constructing “A Is A,” there might be a number of terms and constructs readers have not encountered yet. Forgive me for that, but I’m actually hoping that by introducing readers to the metaphoric schemas first, it will be easier to make sense of the concepts when readers encounter them more abstractly (like a hook waiting to hold our hats). For now, if any of the ideas listed below are new or unclear, please just let them “wash over you” — there will be much more explanation later on in the book. Mainly, my hope is to establish early that “thinking aesthetically” and “considering the phenomenology of the artist” is a useful way (if not the best way) to approach and consider the thinking of O.G. Rose.
In the experience of writing a novel, painting a painting, etc., the object we are trying to create is “here,” and yet at the same time it is not: it is “a present absence.” And yet the artist organizes and lives their life according to “this present absence,” unless that is the artist slips into despair and starts to believe “the work isn’t worth doing” or “this work will never get done” (which they might be right about, since they are “the contingent element” who influences what turns out to be the case). This is to slip into nihilism, while the artist who “keeps going” can be someone who “accepts lack” and “integrates with it,” aware that whatever they ultimately create may not be accepted or “it” (like a person who gets married aware that he or she will not find “complete wholeness” in that marriage and yet still marries).
(Paradox, “Be-coming,” etc.)
The artist works in a coffee house but also writes: because the socioeconomic order doesn’t tend to support artists, the artist cannot often identify with their job, and they also are in a state of trying “to become” successful. Yes, successful artists can “be” their job, but that proves to be a risk: success can kill “the fire of artists.” In this way, artists often find themselves having to live “a double life,” not necessarily because they want to live “two different lives,” but because they find themselves having to do so to survive. People just don’t accept artists, and so artists tend to end up having to “be” someone they also are not just to get by.
Artists are familiar with imagination (as are children), and for a writer to really “write” their story, they basically have to “become it” and “enter it” in a very profound and deep way. Caddy basically “becomes” a real person to Faulkner, and Hemmingway experiences his characters as flesh and blood individuals who he “recalls” (which is how it feels versus “creating”). Dancers and actors “become” their characters and performances: we fail to really capture “it” if we say dancers and actors only “perform,” as if there is a division between them as people and them as artists. Similarly, when children play games and pretend to be animals, they really “are” kittens and puppies: they do everything in their power to engage in “self-forgetfulness” (to use Timothy Keller’s amazing language), and yet at the same time they never stop being themselves. They enter into a space of “both-ness,” and funny enough it would seem artists and children are just “making vivid” and “bringing to the forefront” the truth about all of us — that we are A/B and not A/A — and yet we tend to accuse artists and children of being “impractical” and silly. In truth, they are some of the few people who are actually “practicing” who they “are” (and isn’t it irrational to define pragmaticism according to any other standard?).
Lastly, there is a humility and bravery involved in creativity: it requires us to “open ourselves up” to something bigger than ourselves, to let that “muse” have its way with us, and also artists have to often accept the insults and rejections of the society. It is also brave because the artist really might fail, because anything can come out in the creative process (suppressed traumas, painful memories, etc.), and because the artist might have an idea that he or she might then feel deeply responsible to bring into the world. The risk here is great.
(W)holeness, (In)completeness, (Re)turn, etc.
(Elaborations on A/B ontologies and “between” terms)
In O.G. Rose, “incomplete” and “(in)complete” are not identical, though they sound very similar, which firstly alludes to Derrida’s “différance” and secondly suggests Hegelian negation/sublation. We discuss how “completeness” is problematic (an effacement), but it’s also the case that we don’t merely want to accept “incompleteness,” for that would run the risk of nihilism. Rather, we seek to “integrate with lack,” which is to “find completeness in incompleteness,” per se, which means our goal is something like “(in)completeness,” “(w)holeness,” and the like (“lack” itself exists “between” being and nothing, not being merely one or the other).
It might sound strange to live in a state of “(in)completeness,” but it can be understood better if we examine the artist. The writer has a book that isn’t finished and yet the writer works on it each day: the writer has to find stability and motivation in this strange “already not yet.” The book is done in the writer’s mind (or at least “completable”), and yet the book isn’t done in the world: the writer has to live with a “complete being” in his/her head while working to make that being “be-come” into the world through his or her pen or keyboard. Furthermore, the writer can complete a book and always wonder what people think about it: I can speak from experience that even when you finish a story, you can find yourself always wondering if you should change something, if it’s actually any good, or the like (and someone can always come along three years later and make you realize there was a story element you overlooked). Relating to old work in art is very strange, and also as soon as you finish one project you can feel yourself already “toward” the next: “finishing something” and “having something else to do” constantly feel in concert together. Artists are ostensibly never completely finished, and yet it’s also not the case that artists don’t ever complete anything. It’s both. It’s “(in)completeness.”
As also explored in The Absolute Choice regarding Hegel and “Absolute Knowing,” when we read a book and there is a movie playing in our head, we exist in a very strange “double place”: we are sitting in a chair reading black marks on white paper, and yet at the same time we are watching Frodo and Sam climb Mount Doom. There is a “movie playing in our heads” that we “see,” and yet we don’t see it — a bizarre phenomenological experience that suggests precisely why A/A is inadequate and A/B more “fitting” for human existence. This “double place” is what I call “here/there,” and I will describe this experience in the context of memory, imagination, and Hegel, and it suggests how we are able to think according to two different dimensions simultaneously. Likewise, we are able to think of things “as being themselves” and yet also as “not being themselves,” which suggests the “contradiction” of Hegel that Dr. McGowan stresses. Reading suggests that we are not bound by our immediacy, that we are capable of a radical “both-ness.”
Artists understand that “blue” and “azure” don’t mean the same thing, even if they refer to a similar tint of color. Words and details matter, and yet artists also know that words have to be played with and destabilized to “point to” the visions they are trying to craft and articulate. Shakespeare invented many words, and notably poets will search for ways to use language in new ways so that that we can “see” new realities that we might have faced our entire lives without realizing it. Artists realize that the languages we learn and use actually impact how we see and understand the world around us: words impact our eyes; they are not arbitrary.
Writers understand words are very strange: they are black marks on white paper, and yet they create “movies in our heads.” They are images, and yet not merely images, and if a single comma is misplaced in a sentence, the entire “effect” of the sentence could be thrown off. In this way, artists (especially writers) are deeply familiar with the strange ways that language suggests metaphysics, “points” beyond itself while also being itself, and how a sentence has to be “just right” (perfectly conditioned) to create the right effect. If a word is misspelled, the sentence can fail, but if not, the sentence can strike us “just right,” as if it was “always just right.” In this way, language incorporates Conditionalism and “flip moments,” existing in this amazing space where realities are created “out of nowhere” but only if all the pieces are in the right place at the right time (a stress of “Conditionalism,” as brought out in studying In Praise of Shadows by Tanizaki, for example).
Zach “High Root” Fishman noted the importance of using the same term to communicate a negation/sublation, stressing the difference between “being a rock-climber,” and “being a rock-climber,” and how a slightly different stress on the term “rock-climber” can completely transform the meaning of the same term. There is problematic “wholeness” (effacement), “hole-ness,” but then there is “(w)holeness,” which “sounds like wholeness” but is no longer an effacement and instead a negation/sublation. Mr. Fishman stresses that we need to use the same word (“w-holeness”) to communicate this negation/sublation, but if we introduce a new term, that will suggest an entirely new and different intellectual schema versus something Hegelian. In this way, Mr. Fishman suggests how the same language in a different circumstance means something entirely different: based on the “conditions,” what emerges and arises can be entirely new.
The difference between “wholeness” and “(w)holeness” might sound strange, but writers are much more familiar with word-plays, the difference between visually seeing a word and audibly hearing one, and the ways in which terms can change their meanings through times. All of this suggests different ways according to which artists approach and think about language, which is to say that words are not merely “vessels of information” spreading ideas, but entities we experience and that suggest strange metaphysical dimensions that cannot be easily captured in raw materiality. So it goes with paints, the movements of the body in dance, the frequencies of sounds in music — all of these are suddenly “what they are not.” In this way, “the aesthetic experience of language” is what we need to incorporate into our thinking and to take seriously.
Between Absolutism and Relativism, “Conditionalism” is meant to suggest that there are “concrete truths” and “realities” which arise when “the right conditions are met.” To create a shadow (and allude to the work of Tanizaki), for example, I must position an object in front of a light source — does this mean “shadows are relative?” Not really: it means that shadows cannot come into existence “noncontingently,” universally, generally, or the like: their existence is observable and “concrete,” and yet their existence isn’t “given” relative to any and all circumstances. Please note that if a truth or reality must be “universal” and/or “noncontingent” in order to be considered “true” or “real,” then basically our only choices are Absolutism or Relativism, the first of which can lead to totalitarianism while the second can lead to epistemic nihilism. Sure, there is something “relative” about Conditionalism, but it is also far more “concrete” than what “relativism” usually suggests (or at least in my view).
The writer realizes that if she wants to emotionally move her reader, she needs to “meet the condition” of not having any grammar mistakes in her sentence, of picking the right words and placing them in the right order, of making sure the imagery flows together smoothly, and so on: like the chef picking ingredients, the painter picking colors, the architect choosing materials — everything has to be “just right.” If the words in the sentence are beautiful but too sophisticated, the reading experience will be hindered; if the imagery is stunning but distracting from the story, the reader might grow bored; if the characters are interesting but the dialogue between them rigid, the book might end up on a shelf forgotten; and so on. Does the word “Absolutism” or “Relativism” capture the craft of the writer? I don’t believe so, and it is by considering the work of the creator that we can better grasp the logic and points of Conditionalism.
Philosophy often seems more like an art-form than a science (even when about science), and if art is best understood through Conditionalism, than we should expect the same of philosophy, which would suggest trying to understand philosophy in terms of Absolutism and/or Relativism has been a “reductionist” mistake, like trying to fit something into a cookie-cutter. Please also note that, as argued in “Experiencing Thinking” by O.G. Rose, just because something isn’t a science doesn’t mean it is “less true” than something that is: science deals with “low order causality” (generally involving a single ontology like Physics or Chemistry), while the arts can be more focused on “high order causality” (involving multiple ontologies, say the interplay between Mind and Physics). By “high” and “low,” I don’t mean to establish a hierarchy, for indeed both are necessary and vital at different times: rather, my point is only to say that while science is perhaps better suited to be associated with Absolutism and/or Relativism, Conditionalism is better for philosophy and the arts. (Please note that the work of Alexander Bard and Alexander Elung on “Vector Theory” would be useful here to consider.)
Dialogos, Participatory Knowledge, “Philosophical Practices,” and the Like
The topic of “Dialogos,” as coined by John Vervaeke, is readily discussed throughout the new emerging online spaces, and it is the idea that there is a kind of conversation where something can “emerge” which cannot be reduced to the participants and that’s “birth” cannot be readily understood except by those who participate in the Dialogos. This thought is overlain with “participatory knowledge” (which brings to mind Michael Polanyi), and generally the idea is that there are things we cannot know or understand except by “doing them.” If someone were to ask from outside, “How does that work?” — silence would likely be the response. It is not easy to say “how” Dialogos works, and yet there is indeed a logic to it. It is not random. It is not “anything goes.” Like the artist, even when we don’t know what we’re doing, we know once we’ve done it.
“Labels, Names, and Poems” by O.G. Rose elaborates on this point, but we can think of “participatory knowledge” as like what is found in a jazz improvisation. Nobody knows what is going to happen ahead of time, and yet there is still a “right and wrong” way to play. The pianist simply can’t play anything, as cannot the saxophonist, and yet it can “seem that way” from the outside (and when we ask the performers how they knew what to play and they struggle to offer a convincing response). Improvisations are not random, but to know what should be played (and when), we really must be part of the action. Action we are not part of is inactively watched.
And so on.
There are other macro-concerns of O.G. Rose, such as “Aesthetic Epistemology” and the topic of beauty in general, but I don’t think I need to make a point to metaphorically connect those with the Phenomenology of the Artist. Unfortunately, I fear the antagonism which has arisen between “philosophers” and “artists” has contributed to philosophers not looking to the arts for metaphors and “representative schemas” by which new ideas could be mined and explored. As a result, A/B ontologies, “lacks,” Conditionality — many useful ideas have been missed and ignored.
Looking ahead, the artist knows the strange tension between “observing” the world and thinking about it, which is a movement between “thinking” and “perceiving” — a distinction at the heart of O.G. Rose. Flannery O’Connor stressed the need to “stare” and really look at things, as did Cezanne, Nishitani, and many others who understood the secret to imagination was really “taking in the world,” which we all naturally think we do, and yet few of us actually do so with the seriousness required for quality creation. Again, this suggests a distinction to which we will turn to in “On Thinking and Perceiving” by O.G. Rose.
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