2004/07/18

Post-modernism (part 2)

The conclusions that one can draw at this point of our discussion are purely prospective, but an effort at thought should be instructive. The least we can say is that the world changes to come will be far reaching.
But again let's simplify. I wrote earlier as conclusion on the atomization leading to confusion that 'we need to construct a kind of 'unified theory' of human relativity' to save humanity from itself.

The depth of Asian cultural values is well known and is without any doubt one of our best hopes that humanity could at last find its senses and could thus have a real chance to abandon the Western primitive principle of brute force derived out of "good against evil" and for the injection of some intelligence in its actions.
The possibility for such a thought to arise should be sufficient in itself to encourage artists and thinkers to go look at what is available there in Asian cultures...

Here is my take on what constitute the most striking differences between West and East:

1. Perception of reality:

- In the East, it is seen as a process of perpetual transformations from one pole, of whatever is considered presently, to the other pole.

- In the west, it is seen as a perpetual fight against evil in the hope to attain good.

2. The individual's target in life:

- In the East, life is seen as a flowing continuity and the individual thus tries to position himself in this continuity in such a way that he and his family feel most at ease.

- In the west, life is seen as a struggle to reach the final destination of good and the individual is thus perpetually in a psychological state of willingness to take on a fight against all that appears disturbing the march towards goodness more recently re-baptized progress.

3. The attitude towards the body:

- The Yellow emperor book of medicine is reported to go back to the Yellow Emperor who around 3000 years bc unified the tribes along the Yellow river and founded the Chinese nation. What is for sure is that the principles embodied in this book are at the core of Traditonal Chinese Medicine (TCM) as it is still practiced nowadays. TCM is a holistic approach toward the human body that is in sink with the foundational building blocks of the Chinese civilization as well as with later philosophical teachings. In one word, the body is conceived as unified by energy (Chi) flowing along pipes connecting to nodes (acupuncture points) and sickness is the result of an interruption of the flow. Remedies are adapted to the type of sickness, the environment, the patient's psychological disposition and other. The panoply of remedies includes: preventive diet, infusions of natural elements (drugs), acupuncture (adjustment of the energetic flow), Chi-gong (mastering the self in order to control the energetic flow) and massage.

- In comparison, the body in the West has been and largely remains ignored until a problem appears. The body is conceived as material versus the human who is thought of as being spiritual. The material, like dirt, is seen as not clean while the spirit connected to god is a kind of ideality. Along the lines of such a view the body is simply forgotten until it aches. It is thus not difficult to understand, that historically, medical knowledge in the west was poor and we have to wait for capitalist-rationalism for Western attitudes to start to change. But being founded upon the ideas and values embodied in the opposition of extremes that is foundational to the civilization, good versus evil, modern Western medicine takes the shape of a battleground. In one word, allopathy is conceived as the destruction of bad, evil in the material body. Drugs and surgery are then used as weapons to eliminate the symptoms of the sickness while the root causes for the sickness' appearance are simply ignored.

4. The attitude towards society:

- In China and by extension in all Confucian countries, society is conceived of as a collective body whose cells are the families. The writings of Confucius (500 BC) are dwelling along the lines of accepted values of his time: families are the cells of the body and society is the body. (an emperor sits at the top of the social pyramid from where he governs the body). The cells act to survive, to reproduce themselves and to nourish the body. Morality is what keeps every cell within the realm of accepted boundaries. The body in return for its nourishing by the cells is morally obliged to satisfy two imperatives of its cells:
* it has to garantee general positive conditions within the body that will allow the cells to generate material well-being for themselves.
* it has to garantee the protection of the cells from the outside. When the body is not able to satisfy one or both of those two imperatives, its representatives lose all moral right to govern and the cells are morally justified to replace them.
The changes of imperial dynasties were the answers of the Chinese society to the non satisfaction of those basic imperatives. The morality which the body used as regulator of the behavior of the cells as well as the state machinery used to exercise the application of this morality were in the hands of the intellectuals (mandarins). They populated the Chinese bureaucracy along the thousand years of its existence and refined a bureaucratic culture and machinery that has been unsurpassed.
Chinese morality excluded the possibility of China attacking or annexing outside territories and the Chinese armies are never seen leaving their territory. It was indeed considered that if the body satisfied its two imperatives, outsiders would come as attracted to China. China nevertheless expanded territorially. This paradox lies in the fact that the outsiders were indeed attracted and came over to China. The most significant invasions came from Mongolia and then later from Mandchouria. Mongols and Man vanquished the Chinese armies and imposed their rule over the territory but managing such a vast empire was beyond their means and so they naturally let in place the mandarins. In the process they forgot their own culture and oh, they sinisized! The Chinese empire thus grew from the action of the outside and the Chinese can thus in no case be held as invaders of the newly acquired territories. From the Mongolian conquest of China, China inherited Tibet, Xinjiang and Mongolia (60% of China's present territory) and from the Man conquest, it inherited the so called Manchourian territories.

- In the West, things were quite different. Mediterranean lands got roughly a thousand years worth remembering but that is not really Europe. What is called Europe developed later and farther north: France, Benelux, Germania, and Britain. They were integrated late in the roman empire through the construction of roads and military posts. Only small minorities of locals absorbed the Roman customs (language, ideas and fashions), the populations largely continued to follow their local ways, tribal and early agriculturalist. The fall of Rome left a political vacuum that the Christian church tried to fill by institutionalizing along the lines of the empire with Latin as it common language and dark times will cloud Europe. For over 1000 years, Rome will control the brains which in some way, yes unifies Europe. In the meantime, Knights offer some protection from outsiders in their manors and in return will gain authority over the locals so slavery and serfdom will be the general lot of the populations. After the start of the crusades, some serfs flee the manors to live in uncontrolled territories that will gradually develop into cities while knights fight among themselves for the control of larger territories. This is the history of the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie (people living in the 'bourgs', French word for town). Centuries of infighting between bourgeois, aristocrats and clergy will lead to the creation of nations at the hands of kings. Where the king does not adapt to the necessities of his time as in France, he'll be replaced by a President. But in the end, one has the feeling that Western societies were never closely knitted by a shared worldview, a common understanding of reality or of humanity that was based upon observation. Sure there is the Christian religion that imposed its creed by force of fire for over 1000 years, sure there are the knights and the aristocracy that secured some protection for the locals towards marauding outsiders and later the bourgeoisie that with the help of its material wealth took over the levers of political power and imposed its rationality but all those seem to be not more than moments on the ladder of history, moments without binding treads other than those foundational blocks of good versus evil.

5. The attitude towards art:

- One word defines the East, it is 'refinement'. As far as one can look back in history, visual arts are seen as producers of interior embellishment and take generally two roads: the formal and the essential.
* The formal approach is Gongbi painting, it is realist in nature. Its subjects are landscapes, portraits and stills. The style is delicate, researched in the details.
* The essential approach is Xieyi painting. It is the painting of the educated of the wise. Xieyi is a trial at rendering the essence of things represented, their inner being. One could say that Xieyi is the visual arts approach of philosophers. I went earlier into detail on this subject so I'll limit the description here.

- In Europe, visual arts don't follow a continuum. From prehistoric times, we inherited some animist productions: cave paintings and small objects. Greece and Rome had their moment of glory that eventually extinguished but the real Europe was mired in primitivism well till the end of the dark ages. The crusades and more generally the contact with a more developed outside has been the real awakener. I described this in detail in other chapters. The important thing here is to notice that there is no tread underlining the history of Western visual arts. We have historical sequences of functionality: functionality for the church, functionality for the bourgeoisie, mass market functionality.

Let's now come back to post-modernism in visual arts. From our comparative approach and other analyses, I retain the following points that unmistakably will exercise a determining influence on the future of our visual expressions:

- our perception of reality will be shifting gradually toward a more Asian form. Science is pulling us in the direction of a polar worldview with the principle of transformation as our future paradigm of a reality made of complexity. Rear guard reactions will try to push on the brakes but this will not stop the train. Our visions will unify behind scientific observations.

- our sense of belonging to the village “world” will give us access to the complete village library of images and ideas. We each will have access to the same global library and thus our visions will gradually tend to unify in a very wide diversity.

- atomization will lead to more personal visual representations. One will more and more dare to follow his own instincts distancing oneself from school credos and accepted forms.

- the artist is gradually becoming a thinker who will want again to give a vision to society at large a little bit in the same vain as the wise man in animist times was using chalk stones, charcoal and dirt oxides to give his people visual representations of his understanding of reality.

- all those elements lead me to think that we will gradually want to distance ourselves from the absurdities that are resulting out of the confusion of our present day world reality.

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