Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Electric Scream

In my current art project, I’m creating variations of one photograph by subtracting or adding to the image with acrylic paint, black permanent marker, graphite or color oil pastel. After which I rephotograph the altered image and modify it using the same methodology to create another variation thus making one artwork comprised of fragments. Indeed as I made each new work I placed the following words on the wall beside them.  Electric Scream. White Noise. Fragment. Space and Silence. Dispersed melancholia. The contemplating object. Refrain. Synecdoche. Variations on a theme.  The original photograph I took was of a 1950s Phillips radio valve that I found at an op shop, which I initially thought was a light globe. The image I am working with is the uppermost part of the value which looked to me like a person screaming (See image number 6 on the top line on the right hand side). Whilst making this work (I’m still working on the fragments) I devised a theory of consciousness.

When we die we are not aware of our death because at the moment of death our consciousness shifts to a previous nanosecond of our life at any point in our age and since we are not aware that we have died (the ‘we’ in this statement does not refer to the material body), we continue in that same life we have previously traversed. Nothing is altered for us in that existence, since although we have begun from the point of death of the body when we arrive through a consciousness shift (a shimmer) our body and our life is experienced as exactly as it was at that particular point in time. This is not so much a shift or travelling into the past, but instead a relocation of consciousness. You will argue and say that consciousness is a product of mind, itself dependent upon functions of the very matter of brain and body and I’m not discounting that, I’m simply proffering that if we imagine that consciousness can shift, then life is a refrain, which is briefly broken only to begin again or continue on that same journey. The body is finite but consciousness is not.

It may be that consciousness is able to inhabit other bodies but the person of that body is unaware of the previous existence of that consciousness or knowing of the underlying consciousness of self in its various refrains. We only know that we are conscious and this is the being that enables this consciousness. I maintain that it is possible that the nature or characteristic of that which we call consciousness, to be fully aware in that moment without comprehension that the body it has previously inhabited has died. It (consciousness) is ignorant of its own qualities and processes. A flame that emerges as a process of combustion is unaware of its volition, indeed it has no intent. I do not believe that consciousness in the manner in which I speak of it is another way of speaking about a soul or spirit, however, I do think that consciousness is a potential - a possibility or likelihood made possible through carnality - fleshiness, not something that invades or inhabits the body, as if it was simply an empty vessel, a receptacle for use by divine governance. We tend to think in terms of finiteness and this is what limits our understanding of a consciousness that shimmers over and over again, enabling no death to the individual. Nietzsche hinted at this eternal occurrence when in The Gay Science he posed the following proposition: What if a demon crept after you one day or night in your loneliest solitude and said to you: This life, as you live it now and have lived it, you will have to live again and again...do you want this again and again, times without number? Would lie as the heaviest burden upon all your actions (1977:149-50). He was advocating that if a person fully embraced life, without a need for an afterlife, then they would not fear this repetition.  ‘Was that—life? I will say to death.  Very well! Once More”’ (1969: 326) says Zarathustra. Nietzsche was advocating an absorption in the moment of being totally at one with the world and although my idea goes to a different place, one that is concerned with consciousness there is something of my idea in that proposed by Nietzsche.

The difference between ‘being conscious’ and the ‘consciousness’ that I have previously been discussing is the fluidity of that state, which although not aware of self (it is not an entity as such), is none-the-less seemingly meshed as part of our ‘being’ consciousness. I don’t believe in a ‘non-being’ state, for non-being can have no state. Although we witness the death of another person's body and witness no evidence of consciousness, it does not necessarily logically follow that consciousness has not shimmered. (I use the word shimmer here as my project is interested in the flicker of light, the gleam and glitter of energy the sudden appearance and disappearance of such and the apparent shift). I am arguing that consciousness always holds memory of the body and as such can shimmer to a memory of that body that is for all purposes real to the body. I can hear your psyche crying out with that ‘heaviest of burdens’ spoken of in Nietzsche’s account of life, but there is no need for anxiety for the you of your consciousness will be unaware that your life is a repeat, you will only be aware, as you have always been that this is the consciousness of life you are living. The death moment only witnessed by others, will never be witnessed by you. Heretical thought? Imagine the grooves in a plastic record that stores a musical track. This information is fixed; it cannot be altered once ingrained into the substantive material. The stylus falls when placed at the beginning of the track and moves through the song smoothly until it reaches the end, unless something occurs to make the stylus suddenly shift back or forward. Imagine your life like the embedded grooves, except that inherent in your ‘being consciousness’ is an underlying consciousness that enables a shimmer to occur that the ‘being conscious’ self is never aware of. Death then remains a non-event to consciousness.

Problematic to some will be how this can occur without a material body that has continuity. How can consciousness exist outside the body? It maybe that the consciousness I speak of, once fully developed within each individual body holds the complete memory within its non-dimensional, unseen and unquantifiable ‘isness’. That consciousness has no intent to reproduce the body or the memories of that particular body, it is a process, non-judgmental, non-selective, it simply continues to lodge at some point in that life already lived at the moment of the death of the body. Consciousness is awareness of something theorized as, or considered as possible or enabled by the senses. I can imagine that although consciousness may spontaneously arise in the body that once evolved in this particular and peculiar consciousness it is linked forever with this (our, my) body. It is a process that does not, like us, question its existence, since it essentially resides nowhere after the demise of the body, but is an energy with the sole process of reproducing the exactness of that person’s life. This self-generating mechanism shimmers but can never be other than itself. It is not in the business of changing that life or reinventing it, it is an all powerful repository, pure ‘isness’. We can be ‘unconscious’ but alive, meaning that although most of the major organs of the body are still functioning that part of the brain that affects awareness has been all but diminished. It is possible to arrive at the conclusion that, if the living body may be ‘unconscious’ then the corpse could be imagined as containing the ‘consciousness’ I speak of. The alternative is that there is nothing after the death of the individual body, no awareness by the dead that they are dead, no knowledge or memory that they had ever lived their life. Nothing, nothing! a thought that would be terrifying to most people unable to unhinge the ego from the physical self. I understand how unusual my theory sounds for in my scenario everyone living at this present time may actually had already died in some distant reality and it is their ‘consciousness’ that is repeating that experience. How could this be so when our reality is so immediate, visually and aurally potent, in other words, so real? How could an apparently insubstantial consciousness without boundaries or physical form be so powerful as to hold the ability to create this seamless state that is, as we perceive it, life? Surely this is as adequate as notions of a spirit or soul, but bereft of any religious connotations?

My theory differs from the idea that the body contains an eternal soul or spirit; theories that maintain that each body is a host or vessel for an immortal soul and that maintain each soul was created by an omnipotent God, that who, after giving human beings free will to choose between good and evil judges that life at the moment of death and will determine whether that soul is taken into heaven or is punished in the burning flames of a hell. It differs also from notions that the soul or spirit is reincarnated and lives many times with the body of another human, animal or vessel, living out an eternal  higher or lower life determined by karma gleaned from how they lived their life; or with ideas that surround the idea that the soul wanders aimlessly through a void and appears to those only who believe in its existence. Unlike these ideas my theory is not hierarchical and affords consciousness itself as all powerful. It is based on the notion of living in the moment or being fully conscious, as much as any of us can be fully conscious since we are most selective on or discriminating in what we absorb from our environment.

There is matter, but there is also anti-matter, there is space and there is black holes. The fact is that no-one know what occurs after death. We assume that when the sense shut down and eventually dissipate that the underlying consciousness also disappears and ceases. I continue to make and think. I have become in this moment the Electric scream of that first photograph I took. Make of this what you will.

For at least five decades I’ve been an avid viewer of science fiction films and television series as well as filmic events that addressed the paranormal. I’m absolutely certain that the theory I’ve put forth here was in part influenced by the matter transporter in Star Trek in which a sophisticated technological apparatus enables an individual’s physical body and psyche to remain intact whilst being transported through time and space to another location.  The notion of the shimmer is most probably an unconscious remembrance of one of the episodes of Charmed (1998-2006) television series in which a spirit/demon/white or black lighter quickens into view and then just as quickly disappears. I think this action was referred to as shimmering.

I had previously read Hans Moravic’s 1988 book Mind children: the future of robot and human intelligence, in which he proposed that human beings are information-processing creatures and that there may be a future in which consciousness may be down loaded into a computer (Cambridge, Massachucetts:  Harvard University Press, pp. 109-110), a notion exploited in the science fiction film Transcendence (Wally Pfister, 2014). The notion that the body is merely prosthesis of the mind, in other words, cognition privileged over embodiment,  was exploited in Strange Days (Kathryn Bigelow, 1995) in which the experiences of an individual could be captured within a virtual reality head set to be accessed and experienced by the wearer of that device.  There is however a contrary argument that suggests that memories are floating bits of information that recede and resurface, and are dependent upon certain stimuli received from our five senses and that memories as such are not stored in a separate compartment of the brain, but may in fact reside, if you like, within the very cells of the human body. Consciousness - immediacy, memory and projected thought cannot be unhinged from the body.
On thinking about what I have written and after reading several books on truth (notably: Felipe Fernandez-Armesto (Truth, A History and a Guide for the Perplexed, Black Swan, London, 1997 and Bernard Williams, Truth & Truthfulness, an Essay in Genealogy, Princeton University Press, Princeton and Oxford, USA, 2002)  over the past few weeks I’m content to regard this writing as much a piece of valid fiction as any of the other fictions that we as a people and as a society readily accept in our lives. To some death is JUST death nothing more. To others it is a portal, a gateway to another existence that they still imagine will still be linked with the corporeal. Even this notion has been perpetrated by science fiction and horror genre in which there is a limen or threshold that divides the dead from the undead, the body from the spirit. The way in which these ideas evolve from this project and the project from the ideas is he nexus between the body and the absence of that body. In the past few weeks I’ve been reading Elizabeth Stephens wonderful book Anatomy as Spectacle: Public Exhibitions of the Body from 1700 to the Present, Liverpool University Press, 2011. These words stood out in my mind ‘this disappearing body, always threatening to vanish’ (p.141), of course she was talking about the history of the display of the body, but I was interested in the notion of the disintegration and evaporation of the thing that we call body.

Anthony Wilden argues in System and Structure: Essays in Communication and Exchange, London: Tavistock Publications, that ‘boundaries are the condition of distinguishing the “elements” of a continuum from the continuum itself’ (1980:185). He states also that 'digital distinctions introduce GAPS into continuums…whereas analogue differences, such as presence and absence, FILL continuums’ (1980:186). An example that could be considered is the flickering of a light, which suggests presence and absence, a light switch (and consequently, the light) is either on or off.  0 +1 – the digital paradigm – gate closed, gate open. There is always a becoming other (another state). Becoming is according to Deleuze and Guattari akin to a rhizome, it can’t be fixed, it has no borders, and its branches keep shooting off in all directions.  Becomings never become anything because they are part of another becoming. Becoming assumes change; however, it is part of a continuous flow or unfolding, and it is only when the flow is arrested and quantified, as Wilden (1980) suggests, that one state of being is demarcated from another. Death is most arresting it makes of us very still. By this reckoning we living beings hold within us always the state of being concurrently dead and undead. I am reminded of Mina in Dracula (Francis Ford Coppola, 1992) who implores Dracula to render that bite that would allow her into the world of the vampire,  to live forever, indeed take her ‘away from all this death’!  

The electric scream happened by accident.  I was viewing a photograph I took of a 1950s Philips valve that I found in an opportunity shop. I photographed it on a black background and when I viewed it in close up on my computer I identified what I considered to be a scream emanating from a face on the uppermost part of the body of the valve. The scream is in my mind is indicative of the scream we may all experience from time to time in our interactions with technology. For me the scream has mainly to do with the way that the screen interferes with my brain, it disturbs to such an extent that I’ve had to limit my exposure to it.  Within the history of art it is Edvard Munch’s Der Schrei der Natur (The Scream of Nature) (1893) and Francis Bacon’s The Screaming Pope (1953), it is the shriek of terror in making art at all, it is the human condition, screaming in the face of the knowledge of our death and the death of all we hold dear.

Months later, after thinking about what I had written I felt that I needed to explain further or re-state what I had previously said in a different way. The problem of course, is with language and in particular the image that somehow we return to life and in a way it does appear as a return, but allow me to explain. There is no leap from darkness to light, life to death to life. The shimmer maintains a seamless continuous reality. The shimmer is the mechanism that instigates and maintains the conscious state. No, I have no evidence of this, I’m basically making philosophy. Imagine that your life experiences leaves a material and non-material imprint and the shimmer or moment of death enables a return to part of that imprint (yes, I know that I originally used the metaphor of stylus on a record, an old technology by today’s standards), bringing with it a vivid, inescapable, immediate, inclusive, urgent reality, exactly similar to your original existence that you as shimmer will have no way of knowing that you are in this shimmering state – one that you have already experienced in your pre-shimmer life. Whether you are living in your original life or living your shimmering existence makes absolutely no difference to you since the reality is so potent; for the exactitude of the spatial/temporary consciousness of both is what is. I will use here cinematic imagery. See if you will a body in action, then see the light fade and the body disappear. In an almost exact second that body again comes into focus and imagine in this micro-instant of the alive body, dead and in the dark moves instantaneously (shimmers) again into reality, but in a different point in time. That point may be five to five on a date prior to their sixth birthday. Being unaware of their (from their point of view) future including their demise they live the life already lived until the shimmer again occurs. This is less about life after death and move about life after life. Even thinking about the shimmer does not mean that you will ever recognise it when it occurs. Do you remember the moment prior to your conception? Of course not, how can we be conscious of a non-existent, non-conscious state?  It is sobering to consider Richard Dawkin’s observation that ‘not a single atom that is in your body today was there when you were a child. (The God Delusion, Bantam Press, 2006:371). I am arguing that the shimmer is a portal, not from one state to another but from one state to the same state. The shimmer cannot occur without life and the state of existence gives rise to the shimmer. Consciousness precedes the shimmer and the shimmer precedes consciousness. Question: Where does this vivid memory, reality, consciousness reside since the original body of the individual has all but disappeared? Could it be that since consciousness is immaterial that it may continue in the manner in which I’ve described? There is no surety in my mind for this is speculative. It’s not at all like the scenario in the film ‘Ground Hog Day’ because we do not know that we have experienced our life before, so it’s not a continuous loop that we are trapped in – a kind of hell, no, not at all.

Strangely, wonderfully, as if magic (well perhaps not magic) but certainly fortuitous, my hand landed upon Richard Flanagan’s novel Gould’s Book of Fish. I was in a thrift shop, not looking for anything in particular on 22 September. I bought the book and began to read it on the tram. I felt somehow vindicated when I read what he had written on page one when he describes his feeling on discovering the book and I quote:

What was it about that gentle radiance that would come to make me think I had lived the same life over and over, like some Hindu mystic forever trapped in the Great wheel? That was to become my fate? That stole my character? That rendered my past and my future one and indivisible? Was it that mesmeric shimmer spiralling from the unruly manuscript...

Julie Clarke©2014/2015

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