Sunday, January 25, 2009

Freedom from the Known When the Known is Everything We Know

“How can I love what I am doing if I am all the time driven by ambition, trying through my work to achieve an aim, to become somebody, to have a success? An artist who is concerned with his name, with his greatness, with comparison, with fulfilling his ambition, has ceased to be an artist; he is merely a technician like everybody else."--Krishnamurti

I've been gorging on J. Krishnamurti, and applying it not only to my sense of being in the world (a solution which can be reduced in words to "pay attention," or as Ram Dass would have it, Be Here Now) but to my sense of myself as a writer, even a blogger.

As to my Internet presence, Krishnamurti adds this (from Freedom from the Known):

“I discover for myself that I depend on something—an audience, say, which will stimulate me. I derive from that audience, from addressing a large group of people, a kind of energy. And therefore I depend on that audience, on those people, whether they agree or disagree."

Why are we all online? Why all this publishing/blogging/yelling? Have I lost my way in ambition? As William Deresiewicz has it in his article in The Chronicle Review, the postmodern property is "visibility"; i.e., "look at me."

But why look at me? Because my opinion "matters." Because in a world where we've lost the respect given to true authorities, the result is everyone is an expert (Keith Kahn-Harris and David Hayes have an excellent article on the politics of Me at Open Democracy).

The result, of course, is a surge of Relativism (read Anthony Daniel's fine article in The New Criterion) and art that is reduced to utter Subjectivity (see Theodore Dalrymple's essay in the New English Review). Everyone, apparently, needs an audience.

And so everywhere I look is the Internet equivalent of the need to be seen, to be visible, to connect: Facebook, Good Reads, blog after blog, and so on. This is what Krishnamurti calls "stimulation," the kind that deadens the mind and kills real creativity as we grow dependent on others for validation, for confirmation of our opinion, for whatever reward the ego demands. He connects it with a move away from nature and towards urbanity:

“Most of us have lost touch with nature. Civilization is tending more and more towards large cities; we are becoming more and more an urban people, living in crowded apartments and having very little space even to look at the sky of an evening and morning, and therefore we are losing touch with a great deal of beauty…Having lost touch with nature we naturally tend to develop intellectual capacities. We read a great many books, go to a great many museums and concerts, watch television and have many other entertainments. We quote endlessly from other people’s ideas and think and talk a great deal about art. Why is it we depend so much upon art? Is it a form of escape, of stimulation?...Perhaps it is because you do not know how to look at all the things about you that you resort to some form of drug to stimulate you to see better.”

Naturally, I am fully included. Namasté.


Sam said...

Lots of tasty links to peruse. This Krishnamurti chap sounds interesting – I hadn’t heard of him until today, so thanks for sharing your gorging habits : )

I think the audience thing is true; most people appear to be performing in their face-to-face interaction, so online platforms can be (or at least appear) cunning ways to stage yourself, or the self you're desperate to create/project.

I'm averse to the likes of facebook as it all seems very 'look at me! look at me! are you looking yet? do you love me yet??' I went to Dublin with a friend a couple on months ago and every time something vaguely interesting/witty occurred the first thing she'd say was 'OMG I have to update my status' (yikes, even in my head she uses text speak). The first thing I heard from her after was: 'WHERE ARE MY PHOTOS???' - it's almost as if the experience itself is secondary to how she can present the evidence/witty anecdotes on facebook.

On the other hand, I sort of feel its important that we try to make some noise - we're submerged in all this Spectacle (not that we complain) and so if blogging makes us feel a little bit less passive, then I guess at least it means we're trying to think critically about what's being thrown at us rather than lapping it all up and wondering around in a daze.

That said, it would be better to skip all the online folly and find a way to really engage with the world around us. Art isn't meant to be something exclusive, something we go to see and talk about; it should be something we all do (if we so desire). Debord wanted to make every moment poetic, to create moments free from Spectacle, where the supposed 'real' can be glimpsed and enjoyed. But, um, he also thought that heavy alcohol abuse was admirable, so his ideas have to be interpreted with care : )

Sean said...

Sam, by all means, check out Krishnamurti. Once you do that, I suggest an excellent Jill Bolte Taylor's lecture on TED, on her "Stroke of Insight" at

I am also on Facebook, and more and more I see how terrifying it can be. If I go on, I am assaulted by people's ridiculous "updates." I try to use it as a tool. Whereas Jill Bolte Taylor has actually EXPERIENCED the connection with the universe, most of us don't; I think Facebook, blogging, etc is not only about "look at me," though it certainly is that (who doesn't want validation?), but also a means to CONNECT. To something, anything outside ourselves.

At the same time, you're right about wanting to contribute something. This morning I came to work at this high school in Oregon to realize two female students had been shot in downtown Portland over the weekend. One, 16, was killed; the other, 17 and an exchange student, is in serious condition. What else could I do? I went to All Voices and posted a story; people need to know these things happen.

We need to keep pushing the frontiers of our consciousness (and, thereby, our conscience) not to achieve nirvana, or some abstract reward, but to achieve a level of reality and connection to both ourselves AND the universe so that we may ACT from a real place. The mysterious realm, the astonishing discovery Krishnamurti talks of. In this way I believe we can, as you say, truly engage with the world.

But it means going inward without being self-absorbed or self-obsessed. Only there will we find ourselves.

Thanks for your insightful comment.

Sam said...

Oh definitely, the connect thing is eternal I think. Our defining characteristic even(other than maybe greed or something nasty). I'm not sure how far all the jazzy internet stuff goes to help or hinder this seemingly endless search. I can't imagine many people (other than the stalker types) looking at their friends' profiles as much as they would like to think. It seems more of a forum for preening and presentation more than a fulfilling way to connect and interact - but then again I suppose it's whatever people make of it, and maybe I just came across some very one-way people.

Your shooting story would no doubt have reached the masses from several different sources, I'm sure. Were you compelled more to share your own thoughts/reaction or was there a (secret) element of wanting to get something of a scoop? (That's just a normal question, not a rhetorical one!) All Voices is an interesting idea though, hopefully breaking down some of the barrier between the mainstream media's 'voice' and that of those who are usually just the audience.

That said, the pursuit of a more meaningful way to engage with the world and the people around us it a worthy one, and hopefully, a fascinating one. Do keep us updated on your philosophical adventures (both in reading and reality)as I think it's something a lot of us would like to learn more/hear more about.

Cindy said...

Well, blogging is about audience, but I would argue that all writing is an attempt to communicate, to gain attention if not for oneself then at the very least for one's thoughts or ideas. Maybe it was Hemingway who made it famous, but it's a common "truth" that as long as a person is writing, she has not given up on the world because of that communication factor. Without that, why create at all? Even if the communication is that the world is a bunch of idiots who will never possibly understand the writing, the fact of its existence is at least a stance of hope to the contrary. Or so goes the conventional wisdom.

But anyway, K sounds like an insteresting guy. Will be reading more from him.

Sean said...

Off of Cindy's comment (sorry for the delay), I started thinking about Martin Buber, a Zionist mystic who really gets into the meat of this "communication." On my own blog a while back (at built a kind of thesis off Buber's most well known book, I and Thou, in which he tries to define this give-and-take...perhaps as Socrates does, or as John Donne does in his poem "The Ecstasy". But I think I'll have to save all this for the next blog, yes?