ART AND THE INTOXICATION OF REALITY by Richard Godwin

There have been many debates about art and where it comes from and what rules   govern it and at the end of the day maybe no one knows.

Friedrich Nietzsche posited the theory that it stems from a basis tension between the old Greek gods Apollo and Dionysus, Apollo representing law and Dionysus chaos.

In his first seminal work ‘The Birth of Tragedy’ he wrote:

‘…we have considered the Apollonian and its opposite, the Dionysian, as artistic energies which burst forth from nature herself …first in the world of dreams, whose completeness  is not dependent upon the intellectual attitude or the artistic culture of any single being; and then as intoxicated reality…’.

This idea of intoxicated reality runs like an undercurrent through all the theories of creativity.

There is a central issue of control. If you paint with watercolour you have to let go of control. The colours run. That is why Turner is probably the greatest watercolourist and a great oil painter, he knew his media. He also cleverly created many paintings of the sea, which is fluid.

It’s like tipping the monster out of the pot.

During the 1960’s and 1970’s in the US a number of works were performed which transgressed the traditional boundaries of Western genre in the arts.

Jim Morrison urged his fans to ‘ride the snake’. Morrison also spoke of his reading in ‘The Birth of Tragedy’ of the primal Dionysian art as the spirit of music.

Morrison moved his performances towards shamanistic theatre.

Interestingly Mircea Eliade, author of Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy writes of shamans:

‘they express on the one hand the diametrical opposition of two divine figures sprung from one and the same principle and destined, in many versions, to be reconciled at some illud tempus of eschatology, and on the other, the coincidentia oppositorum in the very nature of the divinity, which shows itself, by turns or even simultaneously, benevolent and terrible, creative and destructive, solar and serpentine.’

Morrison’s ‘The Lizard’ took nearly half an hour to perform in concert and is an act of descent.

We’re into the underworld and back to the same divide.

Aristotle based much of his philosophy around a basic opposition and Alfred Korzybski, the Polish semanticist argues in ‘Science and Sanity ’ that mental pathology within Western cultures stems from a basic confusion of signifier with signified, in other words thinking that a table is identified with the verbal label we attribute to it.

Like John Cage, Morrison was drawn to the Lord of Misrule’s carnival.

David Bowie said ‘I know one day a big artist is going to get killed on stage.’

Alice Cooper enacted much of the Dionysian on stage, throwing live chickens into the audience, axing dolls to death.

The acid trip, under the influence of Timothy Leary became a religious experience a sign for the Trips Festival read: ANYBODY WHO KNOWS HE IS A GOD GO UP ON STAGE.

There is a strong sexual element to this, as Euripides’s play ‘The Bacchae’ illustrates, Bacchus being the Roman version of the Greek God.

When Dionysus sheds Eros his energy turns negative.

He becomes the Devil, as Norman O. Brown shows in ‘Life Against Death’ as the form of excrement, waste and ‘filthy lucre’.

Then something happened at Altamont.

After Santana opened a freaked out kid tried to get on stage. The Rolling Stones had hired Hell’s Angels as body guards, they dived into the crowd with five-foot pool cues.

While the Rolling Stones waited for darkness the Hell’s Angels taunted the crowd with contempt. Then they parodied the rituals of religious cults. Sol Stern, a former Ramparts magazine editor, wrote: ‘One of them, wearing a wolf’s head, took the microphone and played the flute for us – a screeching, terrible performance; no one dared to protest or shut off the microphone.’

Why?

Why didn’t they protest?

Because they were caught up in group psychology.

The Mediterranean wolf cuts and the flute music of Dionysus, the wild music of the joujouka – the vestigial music of the God which had entranced Brian Jones, Bryan Gysin, William Burroughs, Paul Bowles and Ornette Coleman – had come to this, a preparation for a star.

Into the darkness of Altamont, through the protective circle of the Angels on the blood-spattered stage, came the Stones, led by Mick Jagger in a black and orange cape and tall hat.

They played well but their music spoke out the interface between savagery and erotics, between the controls of art and the controls of magic, between Apollo and Dionysus. Jagger began ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ – ‘They call me Lucifer and I’m in need of some restraint’. The earlier Angels’ attacks now climaxed. In the spotlights, when Jagger went on singing this number, they stabbed to death a black youth from Berkeley named Meredith Hunter. Panic-stricken Jagger tried to cool the screaming people, but the death ritual operated as part of his own performance.

The antithesis maybe at the root of art and sexuality.

Cultures create their own paradigms.

I examine these themes in my novels Apostle Rising, in which a killer targets politicians and in Mr. Glamour , in which  a group of people are owned by designer goods and under constant surveillance by a predator in their midst.

You can find out more about me here www.richardgodwin.net

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Richard Godwin writes dark crime fiction, among other genres. He is the author of critically acclaimed bestselling novels Apostle Rising, and Mr. Glamour.  He writes horror fiction as well as poetry and is a produced playwright. His stories have been published in over 28 anthologies, among them The Mammoth Book Of Best British Crime and The Big Book Of Bizarro.

Apostle Rising, published by Black Jackal Books, is a dark work of fiction exploring the blurred line between law and lawlessness and the motivations that lead men to kill. It digs into the scarred soul of a cop in the hunt for a killer who has stepped straight from a nightmare into the waking world.

The sequel is due out soon in mass market paperback.

Comments

  1. AJ Hayes says:

    Interesting essay and, as intended, sparked an idea, my friend. If String Theory and Chaos Theory and the current thinking in physics are vaild, it would seem to indicate that the old boys and their Boolean Algrbra premises were on to something. If time, space, in fact the whole magilla are points on a string, then everything happens, happened or is happening. So then indeed Jagger was killed at Altamont. Dyonesus and Appolo meet in the middle and spark a new brane universe every second — possibly many more if you throw Dark Matter into the equation. As a practical example (stupid statement, I know) I think I have been killed six times. At least I was in a place and an event that should have killed me and was only averted by the merest spark of time — or maybe not. I know I’m still walking around, but deep down in my mind there is a sure conviction that I didn’t survive any of those events. What this means to me is not clear right now but, thanks to your essay, I’ve got some further thought processes to initiate. Thanks for that, Richard. This should be a curious journey. I’ll let you know where it takes me.
    Cheers.

  2. Thanks Bill.

  3. A Dionysian delight as always, Mr Glamour. That incredible power is something to swim in if you can keep your head about you. I was talking with someone just the other day about drumming at a ritual invoking Baron Samedi and what an incredible experience it had been.

    And AJ! Love that idea.

  4. Thanks Kate.

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