The numinous, subversive power of art in an artificial age: Talking with J. F. Martel



Now live: my interview with Canadian filmmaker J. F. Martel, author of the just-published — and thoroughly wonderful — Reclaiming Art in the Age of Artifice, which should be of interest to all Teeming Brainers since it comes with glowing blurb recommendations from the likes of Daniel Pinchbeck, Patrick Harpur, Erik Davis, and yours truly.

Here’s a taste of J. F.’s and my conversation:

MATT CARDIN: How would you describe Reclaiming Art in the Age of Artifice to the uninitiated, to someone who comes to it cold and has no idea what it’s about?

J. F. MARTEL: The book is an attempt to defend art against the onslaught of the cultural industries, which today seek to reduce art to a mindless form of entertainment or, at best, a communication tool. In Reclaiming Art I argue that great works of art constitute an expressive response to the radical mystery of existence. They are therefore inherently strange, troubling, and impossible to reduce to a single meaning or message. Much of contemporary culture is organized in such a way as to push this kind of art to the margins while celebrating works that reaffirm prevailing ideologies. In contrast, real works of art are machines for destroying ideologies, first and foremost the ideologies in which they were created.

MC: What exactly do you mean? How do real works of art serve this subversive function?

JFM: A great art work, be it a movie, a novel, a film, or a dance piece, presents the entire world aesthetically — meaning, as a play of forces that have no inherent moral value. Even the personal convictions of the author, however implicit they may be in the work itself, are given over to the aesthetic. By becoming part of an aesthetic universe, they relinquish the claims to truth that they may hold in the author’s mind in the everyday. This, I think, is how a Christian author like Dostoyevsky can write such agnostic novels, and how an atheistic author like Thomas Ligotti can create fictional worlds imbued with a sense of the sacred, however dark or malignant. Nietzsche said that the world can only be justified aesthetically, that is, beyond the good-and-evil binary trap of ideological thinking. The reason for this is that when we tune in to the aesthetic frequency, we see that the forces that make up the world exceed our “human, all too human” conceptualizations.

FULL INTERVIEW: “Reclaiming Art in the Age of Artifice

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Posted on February 17, 2015, in Arts & Entertainment, Paranormal, Psychology & Consciousness, Society & Culture and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. J F Martel, you say that aesthetic is an objective force independent of ideology – what are your thoughts on the opposing concept that aesthetic is something both subjective but also contagious? One of the most important contagious experiences I’ve had as a child in hindsight that surprised me in its later significance was the mahjong sets my grandparents had brought back from Chittagong, in particular the four Winds. In later life I had seen a review of mahjong by boardgames with Scott on youtube and he called it “an inspired game in that everything has meaning -behind- it” with quite a degree of awe and reverence . Some people would say that these are just tiles and there is nothing mythological about them, but I wonder if people would have the same meaning of those tiles without a playgroup. Are the mahjong tiles imbued with talismanic reverberating power touching upon anyone who looks at them or is it more of a tribal thing in which it is more depending on your playgroup and meaning ascribed to the word themselves, as an oral history? As I go backwards through my life , past my various reincarnations and episodes, I encounter radically different voices and ideologies, whole histories of life, like a magic lantern cycle projecting through my physical life as a tabula rasa . These various reincarnated souls are believed to descend from a lineage of emptied masters , hollowed piously and abased, however each individual soul has its own experience that colours experience when they’re impressed upon someone. I recommend reading.. Covert Shin by Clark Chilson , about Pure Land Buddhism for this idea of lineage descent of reincarnated Buddhas on a string, which for them is a rather spectral and intangible existence yet lacking rebirth which is not the same thing.. for which concept I’d recommend Haunting the Buddha by Robert DeCaroli … I find the idea of the singularity highly capitalistic , and not reflecting well on these individual coloured experiences.

  2. The idea of the soul as a memory or history independent of its physical shell lacking any willpower is sort of the model I adhere to, yet capable of being entreated as well as disrespected. If you disrespect a possessing spirit it will fly away. These personalities are not part of any singularity they’re independent. A great book on these concepts another I could recommend is Hien Van Nguyen’s Journey of a Healer Mediums and Sorcerers of South Viet Nam, and a good buddhist text on emptiness, piety, dread and fear of the unknown and so on is the Vimuttimagga . The theme that rings out from this esoteric text is “nothing is sacred”.

    ‘DWELLING AMONG THE GRAVES’ — Vimuttimagga

    How does one undertake to observe (the austerity of) ‘dwelling among the graves’? One who dwells in other places becomes careless and does not fear wrongdoing. One sees these faults and the merits of ‘dwelling among the graves’ (and undertakes thus:) “I avoid other places from today and observe (the austerity of) ‘dwelling among the graves’ “.- This is the under-
    taking to observe.

    What are the merits of the observance of ‘(dwelling) among the graves’ ?
    One understands the feeling of the time of death. One perceives that all is
    impure. One acquires the homage of non-humans. One does not cause
    heedlessness to arise, overcomes passion and is much detached, One does
    not fear what common folk dread. One contemplates on the emptiness of
    the body and is able to reject the thought of permanence. This is an obser-
    vance of good men. This observance is doubt-free.

    Q. (What are the merits of ‘dwelling among the graves’?). Where
    should one dwell? What is the observance? How does one fail?

    A. If in a place of graves there is always weeping and wailing and smoke
    and fire, one should consider, find out a calm place, and go to dwell there.

    If a bhikkhu dwells ‘among the graves’, he should not build a hut or
    make a comfortable bed. He should sit with his back to the wind. He should
    not sit facing the wind. He should not fall into deep sleep. He should not
    eat fish. He should not drink milk or buttermilk or eat sesamum or flesh of
    animals. He should not dwell in a house or use a platter. When a
    person taking his mat and robes leaves (the monastery) and goes to dwell
    ‘among the graves’, he, as it were, flings all his belongings afar. At dawn,
    he takes mat and robes and returns to the monastery and avoids other dwelling-
    places. If he dwells in any other place, he breaks or fails in the observance
    of ‘dwelling among the graves’.

  3. the purpose of the Graveyard Austerity is acquiring the homage of non-humans, and breaking from lineage. Leaving the monastery! It’s about denying the singularity. Denying authority.

  4. As a rule for texts like that they rely on lineage sure and paying attention to the breath particularly each individual nostril each individual eye each individual ear and so on. As a kid my parents told me to hold your breath when you pass a graveyard today I would concur. The other thing that texts relies for meditation is not to imagine a fake bell but to set your mind to a real bell that you know in real life when it concerns ideas like Similes of the Bell as a meditation. and for simile of the bathtub , actually do the meditation in a ritual dip in your actual bathtub.. actually go to a graveyard for the graveyard meditation might be a bit awkward today. but these meditations are not “metaphors” they are taken literally. In the nostrils and out the mouth. Allow diversity to colour your experiences. Acquire new histories. Get possessed by someone else for a day. That’s hardcore creativity.

  5. I messed up a bit.. the acquiring of non-humans (free-souls) is still in a lineage (otherwise you’d have no “breath” to do it) but the personality you’re getting out of it is not the same as the soul given to you when you were initiated. To be initiated the way this kind of monk’s manual is talking about means you are killed and a hungry/deified ghost is given over to thee. It`s an important thing to be able to initiate other people. Most sorcerers (whether buddhist monks or otherwise) don`t know how to do this . For instance I had considered confirmation service in Anglicanism but you need it done by a priest of “higher rank“ than priest. I decided against it because there were no ordained women to do it where I live in Montreal. I had also met locally some Vietnamese, two different groups.. anyway was actually told to initiate would have to travel to Cambodia. They were very sincere and had actually offered to pay my whole way all I seriously would have needed was a passport, but my point is in telling the story that the people I met didn`t think they were able to do it. so how is it done . the idea i have to propose is that it is something bodily and physical that has to be experimented with, and most people aren`t willing or able to do it. people will often say God does it or something but I don`t buy that. if it`s the way i think it is it means that many westerners from my knowledge and impression aren`t actually being taught how to develop their own lineages and this disturbs me.

  6. Same thing actually for the local Cambodian Wat (temple or pagoda) by my place is to practice and quasi initiate was told to go do Vipassana which takes 10 days , at a retreat and I`d imagine it is much the same thing there is nothing magical about it has to do with they know how to do it and the people who go to the Wat i`ve been at were doing yoga or that and the monks there weren`t actually performing any of the rites for them. How this is done is important to me because it changes what your model of the soul is, completely, and as far as first cause for supernatural events I would root it in lament and daemonic-dread, so it hinges ultimately on horror fiction. This all seriously bugs me I can`t get over it . I considered doing Zen with Robert Low he`s a Montreal Zen master and English. Though I`m not sure if that is the sort of thing I want. I`ve had mystical experiences but didn`t jazz well with whatever I did and whatever there are issues I have with esotericism. It shocks me that what is on the cover of Clark Chilson`s book (just look at it) is so new to a lot of people. Yes. Ghosts.

  7. Yeah I’d like any thoughts on the idea of art as contagion and contagion as something numinous or that has a peculiar powerless identity. I was really surprised when I had seen this review (and his channel is a great resource for hobby table-top gaming in general) because as a child I had immediately gotten the sense that the game had a spiritual undercurrent . A better way that I like and have heard to think about breaking the wall in the set up of the game is opening the gates. It’s a game of chance with huge windfalls and impossible fortunes. I’m very interested actually in gaming and spirituality whether video games or table-top, magic the gathering is another great example, and especially with multicultural playgroups it is interesting.

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