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Chapter Four

A RETURN TO BEAUTY

In the Aesthetic State everything-even the tool which serves-is a free citizen, having equal rights with the noblest; and the mind, which would force the patient mass beneath the yoke of its purposes, must here first obtain its assent.

Friedrich Schiller, On the Aesthetic Education of Man

Truth is beauty and beauty truth,
That is all ye know on Earth and all ye need to know

John Keats, Ode on a Grecian Urn

As individuals express their life, so they are.

Karl Marx, German Ideology

IN 18TH AND 19TH CENTURY EUROPE, Western theories of value and meaning took a dramatic turn toward a concern with earthly human experience. The aesthetic reformulations by philosophers such as Schiller, together with the bold political-economic formulations of Marxian thought, signaled the advent of a sweeping epistemological revolution, proposing radically new intersections of imminent lived experience and the transcendent powers of truth and authority. Many of these nascent Western visions of an embodied epistemology took aesthetics as both their driving method and metaphor. Others sought to adopt or co-opt the empirical methods and increasingly dominant metaphors of techno-scientific "progress." Of course, the scholars of this period were hardly the first to seek to imagine and define that nexus of the virtual and the natural where humankind might find a happier union and more fully human state of existence. Those such as Protagoras of Attica and the Vedic sages of the Ganges had arrived at this juncture several millennia earlier. In Greece, Protagoras' premises were trivialized and dismissed by Socrates and Plato. In Asia, however, early insights into such a holistic theory of meaning took firm root and flourished. From the most ancient recorded Hindu speculations dating from around 3000 BC, to the concise articulations of Nagarjuna in the 2nd century, the meticulous development of such grounded conceptual frameworks and techniques had long been at the center of these cultures' focused ontological and epistemological inquiries. Equipped with this legacy, the peoples of ancient Asia long ago began the important work of testing, disseminating and evolving their sophisticated and uniquely durable eco-cognitive technologies. These have included those forms of Yoga and Mahayana Buddhist practice discussed in the previous chapter which have survived the experiential test of generation upon generation of men and women up to and including present scientific scrutiny.

____These developments predated by thousands of years the speculations of 18th and 19th century scholars such as Burke, Hume, Kant, Schiller, Hegel, Schopenhauer and Marx, who lived during a time of acute epistemological and ontological crisis. The task thrust upon these scholastics and their contemporaries was nothing less than to realign the entrenched Platonic and Cartesian conceptions of hypostatic and disembodied meaning with immense and plainly visible shifts in the sociotechnical and existential, embodied realities concomitant with the new Industrial Age.

____For the profound transformations of the Industrial Revolution finally sparked that existential crisis in Europe which effectively forced the West down the path toward a newly embodied, ecological epistemology. For many Western scholars living in that historical moment, this was sublimely uncharted territory. Standing before the yawning chasm between rationalism and empiricism, between the transcendent mind and the fallen flesh, these individuals sought solace in cognitive schema such as the "Sublime and the Beautiful," "The Aesthetic State," the "Transcendent Ideal," the "Absolute Spirit." It was Marx, however, who eschewed the ontological compromises offered up by his colleagues' theories and methods. He sought instead a far more radically embodied theory of meaning explicitly designed to ameliorate the intensified reality of human alienation in a thoroughly grounded notion of the self-production of the human species through labor. Indeed Marx' writings on the uniquely human ontogenesis of meaning through production and consumption arguably provided the basis for the West's first genuinely humanist notion of a truly integrative aesthetic, as well as a fully embodied, ecological epistemology. Such a theory of value and meaning was so profoundly revolutionary in the Western context that it was perhaps inevitable that it would spawn a plethora of externalities which Marx could neither have anticipated nor intended. But be that as it may, in this present study of the aesthetic and alienating dynamics of human technologies, Marx must figure heavily.

____After describing these early, urgent days of theoretical grounding and redirection, we move on to seminal works during the late 19th and the 20th centuries by scholars such as Dewey, Husserl, Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty in setting the stage for the current convergence of ancient Eastern precepts and contemporary Western cognitive science. We will then be prepared to propose one formulation of such a confluent conceptual framework, as well as a specific methodology blending traditional and novel, quantitative and qualitative processes consonant with this extruded conception of meaning. Following this will be presented several case studies testing the applicability of the framework and method.

. . .

Newly vital visions of the sublime and the beautiful, art and aesthetics provided for many 18th and 19th century scholars that hopeful intersection between autonomous subjectivity and the larger subjective authority of the increasingly mechanized and disruptive social transformations of that time. These were-and yet remain-rather radical propositions. For Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, the valuation of such an existential aesthetic sensibility would have been anathema to the social order they sought through their emphasis on elite discourse, geometric ratiocinations and fixed forms. As well, Augustine had similarly prescribed a static sacramental conduit between the distinctly opposed realms of sacred truth and lived human experience in the form of the Roman Catholic Church. Eighteenth and 19th century Europe, however, became the arena for a sudden and often conflicted turning toward the aesthetic as its integrative metaphor and method, mending this traditional ontological bifurcation. The seminal philosophers of this period, including Burke, Hume, Kant, Schiller, Hegel and Schopenhauer, all demonstrated in their writings a deep concern with and commitment to the role of the sublime and the beautiful in the attainment of knowledge and truth. I want to argue that this was largely a result of the European individual's newly problematic and estranged relationship with the natural world at the dawn of the Industrial Age-as the steam-breathing machines and products of the sociotechnical realm demanded ever more intensified, embodied devotion in the form of political-economic production and consumption. I believe this aesthetic turn was the inevitable epistemological manifestation of a newly felt existential imperative to overcome the perceptual and cognitive errors which had drawn such concerted and sustained focus in the East beginning 4000 to 5000 BC.

____From the 18th century on in the development of Western theories of meaning, it was no longer practicable that Europe avert its gaze from the pervasive and acutely perceived repercussions of what Turner has described as the "staggering mistake … made two and a half millennia earlier of trivializing the premise of Protagoras." Europe's sometimes romantic thrall with the healing powers of the sublime and the beautiful represented the West's earliest major attempt to craft a theory of meaning-situated within a newly expansive sphere of inquiry-more conducive to a rapprochement between mind and body, mind and nature, man and machine. This was a compelling clarion call to reintegrate the life world with the systems world in a way that might free rather than constrain human experience and possibility. With Judeo-Christian authority increasingly displaced from its Medieval role as final arbiter and primary cohesive force in maintaining social order, and with the sweeping existential transformations brought on by the steady ascendance of capital and accelerating industrialization, the great scholars of Europe were obliged to address the glaring gap between the human subject and both the natural and created object.

____If Plato is said to be the "father of philosophy," Augustine the "father of Christian theology," and Descartes the "father of modern philosophy," this is arguably because each of these men most successfully articulated and delineated the "logical" extremes of the West's disembodied and flattened sphere of rationalistic inquiry. Yet, as I have argued previously, these theories of meaning were not born in a vacuum, but were developed and adapted by living, breathing individuals situated within specific historical moments. Aside from the impressive persistence of these epistemological schemas, it is clear that the natural and built environments within which they have been employed have altered dramatically since their inception. We know, for instance, that the Greeks' existential context shaped in fundamental ways their visions of epistemological and ontological possibility. As well, the turbulent realities of Augustine's day, together with his long association with Neoplatonism prior to his conversion, undoubtedly impacted the focus, intent and eventual form of those institutional schematizations which would come to define the functional parameters of Christian theology. It was the sudden tectonic sociotechnical shifts wrought by the Industrial Revolution just over two centuries ago, however, which would wield the most profound and widely felt impacts to the Western individual's life and livelihood. Scholars, statesmen, poets and painters gave voice to the West's inevitable apprehension of these abrupt and vivid changes in the form and content of human experience in the industrialized urban factory-and specifically the alienating affects on the human soul. These sudden existential transformations in the real, tangible interactions of the individual with the objects of the built and natural environments drove Western epistemology's belated turning to the fact of human embodiment and its awakening to the possibilities manifest in a profoundly and genuinely integrative aesthetic.

____A growing number of contemporary scholars have noted the tremendous relevance of this period today because of the remarkable foreshadowing which that first Industrial Revolution offers of our own current era (see, for example, Hardt, Negri, Levy, Czitrom). And so, just as we look to the Greeks to grasp the foundations for our Western conceptions of meaning and value, we look to the seminal thinkers of 18th and 19th century Europe to perceive the means by which the sphere of inquiry was renegotiated to map onto Europe's new ontological realities, the revolution in human experience occurring everywhere these scholars turned their gaze.

____It was in Kantian thought that the two Western paths of rationalism and empiricism appeared to first, finally converge in a single epistemology. Kant accepted that the basis of reason must be found in experience. However, he refused to accept that embodied experience might be the sole source of knowledge and meaning. As he said: "Though all our knowledge begins with experience, it does not follow that it all arises out of experience." Kant argued rather that true meaning arises in those moments when the logical faculties of rationalism and the sensory perceptions which dictate empirical understanding combine in a particular manner of experience. Yet, in his unique synthesis of "transcendental idealism," Kant argued that the human individual could only ever know the "phenomenon" or sensory perception of the actual "transcendental object" or "thing in itself," which lies far beyond any actual human experience. This was clearly a bow to Plato's contention that dialectical ratiocination provided the only means by which humans might point to the perfection of that distant realm of Ideas and Forms.

____Kant's aesthetics also betray his fondness for the a priori, further limiting the usefulness of his epistemology in our current political-economic and environmental context. As the consensus "father of modern aesthetics," Kant rejected Plato's damning appraisal of art and aesthetics. Yet his emphasis on the form of art aspiring to pre-given, universal ideals of beauty, as well as his insistent separation of "disinterested" aesthetic appraisal from moral or pragmatic considerations, reveal his aesthetic theory as shaped by both Plato's conception of a priori transcendent forms and by Aristotle's passive appraisal of the object. In short, Kant's exercise in epistemological and ontological integration does not go nearly far enough for our modern purposes. His aesthetics (like his morality) hinge upon the otherworldly notion of a static, transcendent ideal. Just as with Plato's divine Forms, Kant's "aesthetic form" strives forever toward a vanishing point of moral and aesthetic perfection, which is to say its "Transcendent Ideal." And for this reason, his epistemology is of limited use in moving us toward a fully integrative methodology for understanding our imminent technologies of meaning.

____Several decades later, and very much bathed in the full aura of the Industrial Revolution, Schiller articulated his influential vision of an "Aesthetic State." Here, it is possible to see clear signs of the West's awakening to the notion that art's 'instrumental' quality lies not in its imperfect earthly rendering of an ideal otherworldly form, but rather as the only genuine means to ameliorate the false projection of such cognitive-alienating schisms. For Schiller, the Aesthetic State provided that neutral intersection (or middle path) between the individual and the increasingly mechanized authority of the many. In On the Aesthetic Education of Man, he proposed a therapeutic turn to the aesthetic to "restore … the totality of our nature." In view of the Western epistemological context in which Schiller composed his works, his vision can only be seen as a radical departure and bold affirmation of the individual's salvation through art. Indeed, more than any other European philosopher, Schiller may be most responsible for holding out art and aesthetics as the indispensable key to reconciling the West's entrenched epistemological oppositions of reason and feeling, duty and desire. Yet in this same work, Schiller himself posed the question, "But does such a State … really exist? And, if so, where is it to be found?" His own efforts to respond to this uncertainty suggests a place so private, rarefied and pure, that the reader is left standing at the shadowy edge of what we are assured is a bright and promising vision:

As a need it exists in every finely attuned soul; as a realized fact, we are likely to find it, like the Church and the pure Republic, only in some few chosen circles, where conduct is governed, not by some soulless imitation of the manners and morals of others, but by the aesthetic nature we have made our own; where men make their way, with undismayed simplicity and tranquil innocence, through even the most involved and complex situations, free alike of the compulsion to infringe the freedom of others in order to assert their own, as of the necessity to shed their Dignity in order to manifest Grace.

____And so, though Schiller referred to "education" in the title of his most influential aesthetic treatise, he unfortunately put forward no method, pedagogical or otherwise, to unlocking and entering into this space of aesthetic reconciliation.

____But the role of art and aesthetics was to lose ground once again in the epistemology propounded by arguably the most influential scholar of the 19th century. Hegel roundly rejected Kantian transcendental idealism and particularly his predecessor's proposition of the "thing in itself." Instead, he argued that both mind and matter are derived from the "Absolute Spirit" through the universal, rational process of dialectic. Hegel's own revision of the Platonic dialectical method consisted of the dynamic interplay between thesis, antithesis and synthesis, which he argued, weeds the irrational from human cognition, and strives toward the ultimately clairvoyant vision and realization of the rational. For Hegel, knowledge begins with sensory perception, which becomes more rational through the dialectical purification of sense perception. Humankind's aim is thus ultimately to attain that level of self-knowledge of the Absolute Spirit.

____With regard to his aesthetics, Hegel has commonly-and erroneously-been grouped together with Schiller and Schelling as regarding art as the highest form of human activity. It is true Hegel applauded Schiller for recognizing art's role in effecting "unity and reconciliation" between the conflicting aspects of human experience so pronounced in industrialized German society. Yet Hegel also criticized Schiller's failure to impose further teleological imperatives on what he argued to be the proper and necessary function of aesthetics. Schiller had written that it is "only through beauty that man makes his way to freedom," and proposed that, through the cultivation of the subjective aesthetic, the individual is empowered to make his way with "undismayed simplicity and tranquil innocence" amidst the cacophonous demands of Modern existence. Hegel, on the other hand, argued that Schiller had failed to see the essential telos of serious art, insisting that all beauty was the "sensible manifestation of the Idea," that ultimate, rational reality which Hegel believed to govern and give meaning to all human experience. For Schiller, the purpose of art and aesthetics was rooted in emergent experience, providing that crucial point of conciliation between individual vision and the panoptic vision of cultural authority. For Hegel, by contrast, the telos of all art and beauty lay in its pre-rational role in manifesting the Idea and Absolute Spirit. Further, though Hegel is commonly credited for suggesting that, together with philosophy and religion, art belongs to the realm of Absolute Spirit, he was quite explicit in stating that art is inferior to those other means by which God is said to reveal himself to humankind. In fact, he went so far as to state that "art has ceased to be the extreme need of the spirit" as it had been in an earlier, less rational era. The arrival of the Age of Reason, he held, had signaled art's inevitable irrelevance and eventual departure. Art, Hegel wrote, was finally "coming to an end." Indeed, in the late 19th century, he claimed it had already become "a thing of the past." Thus, in Hegel's profoundly influential epistemology, the West was once again cast back into a theory of transcendent meanings and a priori origins. Here, art does not so much reconcile mind and body and nature, but rather (for the time being) seeks and serves the higher purposes of a pure and transcendent Ideal. Again, hope for an aesthetic, integral relationship of human cognition, embodiment and environment seemed to be dashed against the bulwark of preternatural Western Reason. Imminence had again come to serve transcendence. Emergence crawls from the shadows toward the light of static value and meaning.

____Yet it is important to note that Hegel's thought was sufficiently complex to hold a great many ironies and sizable paradoxes. He offered aesthetics as one of precious few paths to Absolute Spirit, though he announced the end of art. And, though he devoted his career to invoking the presence of a final, fixed point of unpolluted reason, he also condemned the human propensity to hypostasize its cognitive constructs. Indeed, in a passage quoted earlier, he coined the term entfremdung (alienation), sowing a pivotal insight in Western philosophy and political economic theory: "What the mind really strives for is the realization of its notion," Hegel wrote in his Philosophy of History. "But in doing so it hides that goal from its vision and is proud and well satisfied in this alienation from its own essence." Of course, one individual more than any other fixed upon this critical insight and devoted his career to addressing its Modern manifestations in the age of capital's rapid industrialization.

____Whatever epithets have been applied to Marx, there can be no doubt that, in elucidating the sources of alienation in Modern political economy and in prescribing his ultimately incendiary solution, he carried out the most explicit and ambitious re-envisioning and reintegration of Western epistemology the West had seen since Socrates and Plato dismissed such a theory of value and meaning two thousand years earlier. Marx's provocative thought involved a carefully selective synthesis of Kant's transcendental idealism, Hegel's dialectical dynamics, and the most advanced social and physical sciences of his day. Yet he specifically refuted Kant's transcendentalism, as well as Hegel's abstract invocation of Absolute Spirit and other transcendental aspects of his philosophy, as he found these to be impediments to explaining the dynamic, interactive relationship of the living individual and his environment. In Marx's thought perception is reborn as vital, co-creative interaction between the subject (knower) and the object (the known). For Marx, humankind is characterized by the "principle of movement" which is to be understood not mechanically, but as a creative vitality, what Alexander terms eros. Human passion for Marx "is the essential power of man striving energetically for its object." In this newly dynamic framework of meaning, both knower and known are in a constant and continual state of mutual adaptation. The object is transformed in the process of becoming known. As for the subject, value and meaning are generated through the cognitive and somatic process of acting in and on the world around us. The validity of this knowledge and meaning are then always, inevitably tested in the quality of the lived moment of action and, specifically in labor. That is, humankind's active, mutually creative engagement with its environment.

____It should be clear at this point that this view is remarkably in tune with the most basic, driving tenets of Mahayana Zen Buddhism. And, as I will show, such thinking also clearly anticipated Dewey's conception of living art, Merleau-Ponty's embodied phenomenology, as well as recent findings in the cognitive sciences. The unmistakable parallels between Marx's epistemological revolution and these other theories of meaning-both ancient and modern-become ever more extraordinary the more closely one examines Marx' insights into labor and his prescriptions for addressing what he perceived to be the core problem of human alienation in capital's appropriation and virtualization of value and meaning.

____It is important here to recall that, though Marx offered the West's fully articulated epistemology which directly confronts the problem of alienation, the phenomenon found its earliest expression in the Old Testament in the concept of idolatry. The deadness and emptiness of the idol is expressed in the Old Testament in the passage: "Eyes they have and they do not see, ears they have and they do not hear." As Fromm noted, the essence of what the Judeo-Christian prophets call "idolatry" is not that humankind worships many gods rather than one. It is that the idols are the work of humankind's own hands; they are things, and humankind bows down and worships things-worships that which he creates himself. In so doing, he transforms himself into an alienated object. The individual transfers to the object of his creation the life force which originated in him, and instead of experiencing and losing himself in the creative act of art, he is in touch with himself only through the worship of the idol.
The more man transfers his own powers to the idols, the poorer he himself becomes, and the more dependent on the idols, so that they permit him to redeem a small part of what was originally his. The idols can be a god-like figure, the state, the church, a person, possessions. Idolatry changes its objects; it is by no means to be found only in those forms in which the idol has a so-called religious meaning. Idolatry is always the worship of something which man has put his own creative powers, and to which he now submits, instead of experiencing himself in his creative act.

____Again, among the extant forms of alienation, the most frequent one is alienation in language and language's associated cognitive schema. This is also Arendt's "metaphysical fallacy." It is Dewey's "philosophical fallacy." And it is cognitive error which has always been at the root of "existential egotism," or what the ancient Vedic sages identified as abidharma.

____It is this conception of idolatry, cognitive error or alienation which compelled Marx to conclude in Capital that "As in religion man is governed by the products of his own brain, so in capitalist production he is governed by the products of his own hands." In the current analysis, Marx's definition of "religion" would extend to any and all epistemological frameworks in which Ideas, Forms, Transcendent Ideals or other cognitive constructs are said to be a priori and static meanings. Later in Capital, Marx famously described the transition from the old-world modes of "handicraft" and "manufacture" labor with the suddenly new and disruptive mode of factory labor which was at that time rapidly supplanting the traditional forms of production:

In handicrafts and manufacture, the workman makes use of a tool; in the factory the machine makes use of him. There the movements of the instrument of labor proceed from him; here it is the movement of the machines that he must follow. In manufacture, the workmen are parts of a living mechanism; in the factory we have a lifeless mechanism, independent of the workman, who becomes it mere living appendage.

In his theory of meaning, Marx laid the foundations for all later existentialist thinking in his analysis of the alienation and automatization of humankind in Western industrialism, which he observed in its nascent, burgeoning form in 19th century Europe. This humanist philosophy found its most explicit expression in Marx's German Ideology and in his Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts in which the central issue is that of the existence of the individual human being, who is what he does, and whose nature and meaning reveals itself in history. Here, Marx states simply and unequivocally that, "Consciousness can never be anything other than conscious existence, and the existence of men in their actual life-process." It is thus the individual's active engagement with the sociotechnical and natural objects of his environment which gives shape to his thinking and desires. In German Ideology Marx described this existential ontogenesis of meaning clearly and concisely: "[Labor] is a definite form of activity of … individuals, a definite form of expressing life, a definite mode of life on their part. As individuals express their life, so they are. What they are, therefore, coincides with their production, both with what they produce and how they produce." Marx was strongly critical of the then-prevalent notions of transcendental aesthetic ideals and of art's aspiration toward Absolute Spirit as advanced by Kant and Hegel respectively. Yet the above statements could hardly be closer to the sentiments of the Zen sages and poets. And in placing affective-embodied experience at the center of the newly mechanized political economy, he also anticipated the core dynamics of the Affect Economy by nearly one hundred and fifty years.

____And so, in Marx's radically grounded epistemology, for perhaps the first time since Protagoras, we find the West's first unabashed, explicit claim that the human individual creates meaning in the moment of full somatic interaction with her environment. Suddenly, in Marx, transcendent truth descends to Earth and becomes profoundly imminent. Fixed forms metamorphose into emergent meanings rooted in lived human experience. This is undeniably the language of Protagoras and Nagarjuna. It is the language of Dewey, Merleau-Ponty and today's cognitive science. And it is also a language consonant with today's perpetual innovation economy and its ever-growing dependence on creative production, as well as ever more powerful eco-cognitive technologies.

____Before moving on to the 20th century, it will be helpful to our later discussion of our evolving theories of meaning in the contemporary political economy to point to two closely-related amendments and updates to Marx's conceptions of alienation specifically in relation to technology.

____First, Marx quite underestimated the progressive scientific flattening of experience and the reach of alienation in the evolution of industrialization. In Capital, he wrote: "Within the capitalist system all methods for raising the social productiveness of labor are brought about at the cost of the individual laborer … they estrange from him the … potentialities of the labor process in the same proportion as science is incorporated in it as an independent power." Marx recognized what becomes of human needs functioning within such a systems world, and he saw with nearly prescient clarity the progression of this process through to the present day. In his epistemological framework, the focus of human activity must be redirected "to the wealth of human needs, and consequently also to a new mode of production and to a new object of production," to "a new manifestation of human powers and a new enrichment of the human being." In the flattened, fragmented world of alienation and idolized technologies, these needs are no longer genuinely human. Need becomes the insatiable accumulation of dead idols, rather than the creative innovation of new meanings. The individual who has become subject to the frozen, alienated object becomes "a mentally and physically dehumanized being … the self-acting and self-conscious commodity." This commodity man-what Jung would later term the "organization man"-relates to his environment by having it and consuming it. Marx put it quite simply and succinctly when he said, "The less you are, the less you express your life, the more you have, the greater is your alienated life…."

____The necessary correction is this; Marx believed that the working class was the alienated class and therefore that freedom from alienation would occur with the liberation of the working class. It may be, however, that Marx did not fully grasp the depth to which the condition of alienation is rooted in the most fundamental dynamic of human cognition-the vital, dynamic relationship of human and technology-which had given rise to the very political economic manifestations so dramatically apparent in Marx's time of manic industrialization. Neither could he have foreseen the extent to which alienation would come to dominate the labor and lives of the rapidly expanding portion of the global population who today manage and manipulate symbols and human beings rather than the machines of Marx's day. These symbol manipulators are hired not only for their skill, but for all those personality qualities which make them 'attractive personality packages,' easy to handle and manipulate. They are the true "organization men"-more so than the skilled laborer-their idol being the corporation. Alienation and idolatry, however, continue on their accelerating trajectory in such an environment:

But as far as consumption is concerned, there is no difference between manual workers and members of the bureaucracy. They all crave for things, new things to have and to use … They are not related to the world productively, grasping it in its full reality and in this process becoming one with it; they worship things, the machines which produce the things-and in this alienated world they feel as strangers and quite alone.

____The second and related amendment important here has to do with the shifting relationship of man and machine in the era of digital technology. As we have seen previously, in an economy increasingly driven by the innovation of new technologies, new "content," new meanings, our ancient and flattened methods of ratiocination no longer suffice. The manifestation of our internal cognitive realities in external digital networks requires that embodied affect find its place in our epistemologies just as it has in our emergent political economic paradigm. This is because novel human meanings, by definition, cannot emerge from technologies of meaning shut off from affective embodiment. And again, this fact has hardly gone unnoticed by today's networks of capital accumulation. Content today refers to all memetic and genetic dimensions of cognitive and somatic meaning. The human subject's relationship to its creations has not fundamentally changed in this new technological environment. But the issue has taken on an entirely new centrality and urgency. The question today is whether we choose to project an ancient Western epistemological bias onto our global, digital networks of value and meaning which has been shown to both deplete the human soul and its environment. Or will we choose to build on the Marx's epistemological revolution, consciously extrude our sphere of inquiry, and resolve to evolve fully embodied, ecological theories of meaning and methods? The answer to this question is far from clear.

____By any measure, Soviet, Chinese and other abuses and misappropriations of Marxian thought over the past 150 years have proven disastrous to both the human subject and its environment. In the capitalist economies as well, the interim since Marx has been an unfortunate time for the political economic manifestation of an embodied, ecological theory of meaning. Accelerating capital-driven production and hyper-consumption have expanded globally and deepened the felt, existential reality of both alienation and ecological degradation. Yet seminal scholars of the 20th century, such as Husserl, Heidegger, Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, Wittgenstein, James and Dewey, devoted much of their respective careers to placing the aesthetic co-creation and co-existence of the human organism and its environment at the heart of contemporary philosophical discourse. And through the course of these most recent epistemological developments, we also see an exponentially intensified correspondence between Western theories of meaning and the venerable epistemologies and methods of the East.

____By the close of the 20th century, Marx's reformulation of the parameters of the epistemological and ontological sphere of inquiry had become almost universally adopted in Western thought. It was as if, after two millennia of wandering in the desert, Western philosophy had found its bearings and was racing forward with a newly invigorated and integral view of ontological possibility. And this trajectory was increasingly aligned with both Eastern philosophy and praxis. As Fromm has suggested, philosophy in the West since Marx in many ways became an existentialist rebuttal of the venerable dichotomies and transcendental, otherworldly aspirations of earlier theories of meaning. In the works of the American Pragmatists, and most notably John Dewey, it may be argued that this existentialist trajectory reached its theoretical culmination, awaiting only the empirical backing of today's ongoing cognitive, social and political-economic research to finally emerge as the full modern-day articulation of that embodied, ecological theory of meaning first proposed by the likes of Protagoras and Nagarjuna.

____In the development of American Pragmatism, and in the seminal works of scholars such as James, Dewey and Mead, the American perspective began for the first time to figure into Western epistemological explorations in a profoundly meaningful manner. After Dewey in particular, only those scholars who either chose to stubbornly adhere to traditional Western dichotomies such as mind and body, mind and nature, art and technology, or were simply unaware of Dewey's stunning articulation of integral and "consummatory" experience, would henceforth be confined to previous epistemological and ontological constraints. Dewey's conceptions of art and technology cleared the way for later formulations of embodied mind. They also laid the necessary theoretical foundation for this book's formulation of the integrative (eco-cognitive) and disintegrative (cognitive-alienating) dimensions of all human constructs. As well, Dewey was perfectly clear about the means and methods required to apprehend and grasp these interdependent and complementary forces.

____Toward the end of a career of pioneering thought, and as his culminant philosophical act, Dewey came to embrace art and the aesthetic as that unique moment when the quintessential need for human meaning and value are satisfied. For Dewey, his writings on art and aesthetics summed up "in itself all the issues which have been previously considered." And, as we have seen, in Art as Experience, he stated unequivocally that the aesthetic theory of any philosopher "is a test of the capacity of the system he puts forth to grasp the nature of experience itself. There is no test that so surely reveals the one-sidedness of a philosophy than its treatment of art and aesthetic experience." It is in this intensified focus on art and aesthetics toward the end of his career where we find Dewey's most explicit and powerfully useful dissolution of classic European dualisms and dichotomies into the complementary and mutually-dependent forces so reminiscent of Eastern thinking. In Art as Experience, Dewey argues that the pretence that there is, on a "remote pedestal," a special and separate class of "works of art" which offer a sui generis mode of experience, constitute an artificial category, a classification due not to intrinsic, distinguishing qualities (as had been argued by everyone from Kant to Bell), but to purely sociological factors such as the institutionalism of museums and private collecting of the aristocracy of old and modern-day nouveaux riches. Dewey held that art embraces countless human products, not just those canonized as works of art. Importantly, Dewey also argued for the inclusion of science and technology within the larger, encompassing realm of such creative human artifacts. Similarly, aesthetic experience, in Dewey, was finally integrated and involved in all ordinary, mundane human activities-and certainly not confined to the rarefied and artificially separate realms of high art and high tech. In short, Dewey's arguments dissolved the false, time-honored distinctions between art (and technology) and daily, lived experience.

____This newly integral "continuity" of experience was, of course, a decisive factor in Dewey's effective dismantling of the venerable dualistic categories upon which Western epistemology had built its theoretical frameworks and methods for so long. Experience is not for Dewey tied either to notions of introspective analysis or empirical induction. Nor is it something tied exclusively to "inner" sensation or feeling. Experience, and certainly integral, consummatory experience, must always be grounded in the social and the event. It is this essential human experience which will have a characteristic movement and "rhythm," that of "loss of integration with environment and recovery of union." In this sense, the truly "live creature" is always being challenged by its unruly surroundings to act upon them, or reinterpret them, so as to recover a sense of harmony with them. In Dewey's insight into the human impulse to relieve the tension of discord inherent in humanity's relationship with its environment, lies "art in its germ." For, in the fleeting sense of harmony, of things fitting together with one another and oneself, resides aesthetic pleasure in its broadest sense. When Dewey called "the idea of art … the greatest intellectual achievement in the history of humanity," he was explicitly recognizing the act of making art in order to produce harmony and union out of discord. And it is just such aesthetic, creative labor which has always been central to developing the "cognitive ecology" which enables a more harmonious coexistence between humanity and nature. Art in the narrower, conventional sense is merely an especially focused and often contrived form of the universal human aesthetic impulse. In Deweyan thought, great, noted works of art are said to successfully embody the achievement of harmony and union. The works of a Bach or Monet exemplify the successful culmination of these individuals' yearning for "experience in its integrity" and which all live creatures strive for in our daily creative constructions and innovations-whether in our simple conversations or in our more explicitly poetic efforts and aspirations.

____The only qualification I want to make here to Dewey's dramatic, integrative reframing of the human aesthetic impulse is simply this: art (and by extension technology), in both its "securing" and "unsecuring" dynamics, serves the task of manufacturing the full ebb and flow of lived experience. This amendment is merely to suggest that the paradoxical nature of successful art will simultaneously deconstruct and transform the sociotechnical schema from which it has emerged in its subjectively unique figuration. Such a proposition would be in keeping with Dewey's own conception of "continuity." As Alexander has noted, continuity is more that sheer identity or sameness in repetition. There must be difference and identity in both the subject and its aesthetic act, but it must grow out of a prior condition. Both the aesthetic act and its art product seek to create a space for resonant difference while simultaneously embodying unity. If our newly extruded epistemology is truly to encompass the full ebb and flow of experience, then this super- or pre-rational ambiguity must be embraced and articulated. Like the elemental metaphor, technology generates both identity and difference, unsecuring even as it innovates new schematic platforms of value and meaning from which new values and meanings may again be generated. This is the essence of what Turner has termed "the ontogenesis of meaning." It is also the core dynamic of Varela's "codependent arising," and of the Zen Buddhists' "Middle Path." And, as we have seen, in carefully contrived postmodern settings, the market environment is manipulated to provide both the alienating stimulant and the prescribed solution in the commodity object.

____The aesthetic act and its product which lean too far toward the operational dynamic, of course, run the risk of achieving not only the function of "securing," but also of alienation and fragmentation. As Marx argued, a political economy which relies on the instrumental mode of production and consumption in order to sustain itself perpetuates (and indeed requires) the condition of alienation. And it was Dewey who added that an epistemology or mode of thinking which leans too heavily toward the operational runs the very real and dangerous risk of constructing cognitive, linguistic, social and material artifacts which perpetuate only alienation, and fragmentation, and which ultimately eliminate the possibility for value and meaning.

____Dewey may well have been the first among 20th century existentialist thinkers to foresee the full human and social impacts of such an alienating mode of thought. Where Marx's eye was focused for most of his career on the political economic dynamics of industrialization and the technology of capital, Dewey's lifelong placement of human experience and education at the core of his epistemological formulations meant that he would eventually come face to face with the diminishment of human potential due to the hyper-magnification of the instrumental, rationalistic mode of thought in Western thought and practice. The Western propensity to seek the absolute in the hypostatization of meaning, Dewey saw, had led to the 20th century manifest realization of "disorganization" in countless sociotechnical forms, from our educational institutions to our military technologies of mass destruction. And so, in the revitalization and reassertion of Art-or more precisely in the vital aesthetic act-Dewey saw hope for a reestablished equilibrium and return to health.

____Back in Europe, Husserl and his most prominent students, Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty, must also figure prominently in this account of the West's return to an aesthetic, embodied and ecological theory of meaning. Husserl's philosophy orbited around the relationship between the cognate individual and his environment. His philosophical inquiry into the interaction between the human subject and objects in the world, of course, laid the foundation for phenomenology. Husserl pointed to the gap between the physical objectivism laid down in Aristotelian thought manifested in modern science since Galileo, and Kant's transcendental idealism, the roots of which were in Socratic and Platonic thought. This, for Husserl, highlighted the importance of making conscious, direct experience the practical focus of philosophical inquiry. Though Husserl's epistemology was not explicitly grounded in political economic dynamics, he was clearly indebted to Marx's existential emphasis. His narrower focus, however, was rather on elucidating the interactions between "pure consciousness" and objects in the world. Such pure conscious, he suggested, could be reached through a method of "phenomenological reduction" by which all factual knowledge and reasoned assumptions about a given phenomenon are set aside so that pure intuition of its essence may be brought forth and analyzed.

____Heidegger's epistemology extrapolates from Husserl's phenomenology in its intensified focus on what Heidegger termed the Dasein, or "being in the world." Heidegger, like his teacher Husserl, built directly upon Marx's notion of existential labor, emphasizing, however, that "practical behaviors or actions," such as "producing something" or "having to do with something," "must employ theoretical cognition." Thus in Heideggerian thought, the a priori status of the cognizing human individual is subtly but firmly reestablished over the pre-cognate existence or experience. Yet our Dasein exists in active relationship with the objects of the world, no longer a detached spectator in the Aristotelian sense, but rather emergent through the dynamic interrelationship of cognition and volition. In his lectures on the Origin of the Work of Art, Heidegger provides a pivotal deconstruction of Western notions of both art and the technological artifact. These three lectures are widely viewed as revolving around the problematic of works of art and instrumental technology as means by which Being "reveals" itself in history. As earlier noted, however, Rutsky takes issue with the convention of interpreting Heidegger's conceptions of art and technology and the common English rendering of the term Entbergung as "revealing." Rutsky argues that a more accurate translation of the German would be "unsecuring." Again, this issue of interpretation is pivotal to this discussion because it raises the possibility that Heidegger may have first articulated the role technology serves in "unsecuring" previously stable schema of knowledge and 'truth,' and thus reopening the possibility for the dynamic ontogenesis of human meaning. Whether or not Rutsky is correct in his reinterpretation, and even regardless of whether Heidegger could have anticipated such debate over the implications of this concept, such discourse among contemporary scholars itself serves as a crucial opportunity for the articulation of an embodied, ecological epistemology appropriate and useful to the emergent global political economy. For, in the resonant new meanings spawned by the 'cognitive technology' which is Entbergung, Heidegger opened the way for a dramatic further refinement of Marx's notion of embodied, environmental existentialism providing a newly grounded sphere for Western epistemological and ontological inquiry. Within Heidegger's notion of Entbergung lies the seed of a radically new perception of art and technology's symbiotic relationship to humankind in the ongoing ontogenesis of value and meaning which increasingly underlies postmodern political economy. Heidegger expressed his concern about the widespread lack of non-operational thinking. He argued that "calculative thinking" was indispensable in its limited sphere, but that a reliance on this mode of thinking laid humanity bare to being victimized by its own technological creations. Here again one sees clear parallels to both Buddhist notions of the roots of human suffering, as well as Marxian conceptions of alienation. Unfortunately, Heidegger's proposed responses to the dangerous shortcomings of calculative thinking tend to be obscure and difficult to discern, wrapped as they are within his famously idiosyncratic formulations of notions and terms such as Being and Entbergung, and his unique delineation of "Being" in new and ambiguous categories such as his "natural objects," "equipment," and "high art".

____Merleau-Ponty took a more direct and explicit tact in arguing for the centrality of embodied experience and perception in epistemological discourse, reformulating Husserl's phenomenology, as Galen Johnson notes, "By pushing Husserl's remnant intellectualism based on the primacy of consciousness downward toward a new philosophy of the human body" (1993, 9). By "perception" Merleau-Ponty referred to our kinesthetic, pre-scientific lived-bodily presence in the world. Merleau-Ponty's direct and unambiguous refutation of traditional delineations and dichotomies has made him something of a (retrospective) champion of today's convergent cutting edge in the cognitive and social sciences. He argued more explicitly than his predecessors or contemporaries that all perception must be bodily cognitive action, which is necessarily pre-reflective. He famously argued that consciousness is "not a matter of 'I think that' but of 'I can.'" In Sense and Non-Sense Merleau-Ponty wrote that it is only through the body that we can perceive the world around us and comprehend the meanings we inherit in our social environments. He noted the telling ambiguity in the body's presence as both "subject" and "object" within the Western epistemological tradition. The "body-subject," as he termed the individual, does not simply "exist" in the Cartesian conception of self-conscious affirmation, but rather dwells in the world here and now. In an address summarizing and defending his Phenomenology of Perception shortly after its publication, Merleau-Ponty noted that, "the perceived world is the always presupposed foundation of all rationality, all value and all existence." He went on to point out that, although "there is a whole cultural world which constitutes a second level about perceptual experience," perception is nonetheless "the fundamental basis which cannot be ignored." In traditional Platonic, Augustinian and Cartesian thought, of course, such perception had not only been ignored but it had been systematically and relentlessly denigrated for two millennia. In Western thought after Merleau-Ponty, however, the human body becomes a pivotal, metaphorical nexus for renewed epistemological and ontological possibility.

____And in Merleau-Ponty's aesthetics, we have at last a system of thought we can build on in articulating this study's proposed theory and method. Merleau-Ponty joined with Heidegger, Sartre and other existentialist thinkers in decrying the increasingly conspicuous limitations which operational thinking had placed on the West's epistemological explorations and ontological potentialities-particularly in art and technology's role in enabling the ontogenesis of value and meaning. In Phenomenology of Perception, Merleau-Ponty outlined his phenomenology of art and found in the artist Paul Cézanne's painting in particular an aesthetic enactment of his own efforts to articulate a philosophical way between empiricism and rationalism, subjectivism and objectivism. He wrote that the philosopher and the artist share the same problem, namely "expressing what exists." He quoted Novotny's analysis of Cézanne's art as the attempt to paint the "pre-world," the physiognomy of things in their sensible configuration as they effortlessly arise from nature. In his essay "Cézanne's Doubt," Merleau-Ponty stresses that the artist does not "imitate" nature as in the ancient notion of mimesis, nor is artistic creation an act of cognitive "imagination" projecting an inner world outward. Rather, what we discover through art is a fusion of self and nature in which the world is re-constructed. This is enaction and the essence of eco-cognitive technology. In one of the most insightful passages in "Cézanne's Doubt," pertaining to this self-world fusion in artistic creation, Merleau-Ponty quotes Cézanne as saying, "The landscape thinks itself in me, and I am its consciousness." This is art's promise-and the essence of the perpetual innovation of value and meaning in the co-creation of humanity and its world through the paradox of technology.

____Having come all this long way toward a convergence of Eastern and Western theories of meaning, toward a sound theoretical framework for an integral, aesthetic methodology, we must revisit our contemporary foils to such an embodied epistemology and method. For in Fukuyama and Baudrillard we find ourselves once again at the doggedly divergent positions at either end of subject-object polarities and of today's political-economic spectrum. A brief look at the defining characteristics and teleological biases of their influential and representative thought will prove instructive in our discussion of the 'radical middle path' between these absolutist and nihilistic poles, respectively.

____As previously described, Fukuyama offers a picture of bourgeois rationality wherein capitalism enabled through democracy provides the total means by which all individuals may fulfill what he identifies as that which defines us as human. That is, thymos, or the irrepressible need for public recognition of the heroic, superior self. As we have seen, Fukuyama's invocation of thymos as that crucial, core characteristic of human nature is the a priori foundation upon which the entirety of his argument precariously rests. Market capitalism, enabled by a supportive ideological infrastructure of liberal democracy provides the final, perfected means of channeling the human subject's ego-drive toward economically productive ends. Fukuyama's persistent concern is only that the status-leveling effects of democratic institutions will inevitably drain this vital life-force from the human soul and irretrievably diminish humankind's drive for individual and species supremacy, or, as he puts it, the impulse "to be recognized not just as equal, but as superior to others" (1992, p. xii).

____What is certainly most striking about such a position in the present context is the degree to which Fukuyama's vision of human nature clings with such desperation to an ancient notion of the human self articulated through a Greek theory of meaning we now know to be dangerously faulted. Varela, Thompson and Rosch describe this view as bound by one of the most elemental linguistic technologies:

We believe that the view of the self as an economic man, which is the view the social sciences hold, is quite consonant with the unexamined view of our own motivation that we hold as ordinary, nonmindful people. Let us state that view clearly. The self is seen as a territory with boundaries. The goal of the self is to bring inside the boundaries all the good things while paying out as few goods as possible and conversely to remove to the outside of the boundaries all of the bad things while letting in as little bad as possible. Since goods are scarce, each autonomous self is in competition with other selves to get them (246).

____This definition of the human self, rooted in the cognitive error of the subject-object split, seeks its final ground in what Lakoff's research identifies as the primary container metaphor. And Fukuyama seeks a simple affirmation for what he presents as an absolute, immutable 'truth' in an ancient Greek conception of thymos. It would be difficult to imagine a conception of humanity more at odds with all that we have seen thus far about Eastern thought, enactive cognitive science, as well as evolving conceptions of value and meaning in a perpetual innovation Affect Economy. We do not have the luxury of falling back onto such facile solutions. Fukuyama's marking of "the end of history" and his premature nostalgia for that "last man" within whom thymos yet lives and breathes has been met with all the well-reasoned counter-charges one might expect of the author's celebration of American conservatism and free market rhetoric.

____Yet, again as we have seen, Baudrillard, Foucault and other prominent postmodernists ostensibly giving voice to more progressive views from the left have, albeit for rather different reasons, similarly concluded that we are at the end of the road for the political economy and the dialectical reason which has carried us safely to this towering precipice. Baudrillard, drunk on the rarified atmosphere of his labyrinthine, linguistic landscapes, sees the signs everywhere and all too clearly-untethered as they are from their earthly referents in his vertiginous, syntactic virtuality. In Baudrillard's prose, the center cannot hold in this maelstrom of unbounded signification, expanding and contracting between its dyadic polarities, doubling back again, folding in upon itself in a virtual, linguistic reverie. This is the quality to which Butakman refers when he confers upon Baudrillard a "privileged niche" among the postmodern philosophers, producing "a particular language that shares everything with the hypertechnologized language of the science fictional paraspace" (1997, 17). For Baudrillard clearly inhabits the simulacrum of his own language, imbuing his words with his unique brand of synaesthetic dissonance. And yet, like all creatures inhabiting flattened dialectical space, this postmodernist is both enabled and ineluctably constrained by the very instrument he wields to carry his meaning, which is, as Butakman notes, his unique brand of rhetoric. In Baudrillard's vernacular, we have collectively responded to the "uncertainty and randomness" of our digital, postmodern era with a redoubling of causality and teleology in this moment of "hypertelic growth." The inertial cancer of this age procreates "beyond its own ends," beyond any semblance of meaning. Here beauty becomes mere fashion, sex seeks obscenity, and the commodity-object is absolute in "the ecstatic amplification of just about everything." And, if this hyperrealized, hypertelic chaos were not enough, Baudrillard further invokes Canetti's "tormenting thought." Beyond a given point in history, we may no longer extricate ourselves from this infernal implosion of meaning. This is the "dead point" beyond which we are forever collectively lost in ecstatic "noncontradiction." In this nightmare, we do not know where this point may be, where we might have passed it by. Further, if the assurances of linear time have come to an end, no miracle can save us from our own fatal theories and strategies. This is the language of nihilism, the despair of-having lost hope in an absolute ground-we are thrown into a dizzying hell of chaos and confusion.

____But what if, as we have argued throughout this study, we were to find in that place beyond linear time that we no longer require contradictions and dualisms to drive history (which would have come to an end anyway!)? What if we were to find that the "dead point" was not to be feared after all? That this point is the very center and the quiet eye of that dyadic storm? That the "neutral point" is not the negation of the Word and symbolic law, but is rather a "thunderous silence" of origin and the seat of renewed meaning? Suzuki suggests that this "Silence resembles the eye of a hurricane; it is the center of the raging storm and without it no motion is possible." Eye and hurricane conjointly constitute the whole. And yet, as Suzuki observes, "Dualists generally miss the whole in its coherent concrete totality." And so the dualist's final crisis becomes our final opportunity.

____Baudrillard argues that "the drive to spectacle is more powerful than the instinct of preservation, and it is on the former that we must rely." Replace the word 'spectacle' with 'beauty' and we seem to have a redoubling of Keats' famous stanza equating truth and beauty. And thus what if it is not so much spectacle we crave, but a renewed, complete and intregal beauty? Then perhaps there is hope that this insatiable human appetite for authentic beauty, a more whole aesthetic, will allow us to embrace with our theories both the raging storm as well as the silent point at its center. I wish to believe that this is where Baudrillard seeks to go with his repeated questions, his apparent yearning "to pass on the side of the object" and "return things to their enigmatic ground zero." After all, as Baudrillard himself suggests, "God knows where the unleashing of meaning will lead when it refuses to produce itself as [mere] appearance."

____Baudrillard thus joins Fukuyama in announcing humankind's teleological arrival-the only difference being one of ontological perspective. Where we have the capitalist's hypostasized, free-market rapture, we would also seem to have the postmodernist's vision of a species paralyzed and prostrate before its commodity-object which, like a teleological horizon event, sucks all light, meaning and value into its infinite mass. But in arriving at and adhering to their respective political-economic and teleological extremes, both reveal that absolutism and nihilism go hand in hand. On the Right we see the glorification and absolute validation of that human construct which is free market capitalism. In the same breath, however, we are told that this moment marks the beginning of the end of human nature as we know it. Thymos, and all that has made man glorious and great, cannot breathe in such a climate of ontological homogeny. From the Left, we are told that, in truth, the victory of accelerated commercialism and hypertelic economic growth has imprisoned the human species within this paraspatial purgatory. But there is perhaps some hope in Baudrillard's nihilism after all, if we are willing to take the next necessary step. This will mean nothing less than stepping beyond these dualisms, and finally turning to developing theory and method which embraces epistemic groundlessness and prescribes work from our own local, situation-grounded premises. This is the project of the second part of this study.

 

The profound transformations of the Industrial Revolution finally sparked that existential crisis in Europe which effectively forced the West down the path toward a newly embodied epistemology.

 

CONTENTS

_ | Summary
0 | Introduction
1 | The Affect Economy
2 | Meaning Within Reason
3 | Meaning Beyond Reason
4 | A Return to Beauty
5 | Designing Value & Meaning
6 | Real World Case Studies
7 | Virtuality in the Flesh

 

 
 

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