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Monthly Archives: August 2015

After all the heavy philosophy present in my “Knowledge and Imagination” series, I figure we could all use some lighter stuff. So, I thought this might be a good time to respond to the people who ask me about my art project. Specifically, what it means, how to read it, and if they “get” it or not.

Okay, so first, let me give my disclaimer. I believe every tool we’ve ever developed can be useful. However, I am also sensitive to our tendency to overuse tools, causing us to forget that others may be available and more fitting for the current moment and need. For example, as a college instructor, I’ve come to believe that we over-learn the lessons of grade school; namely, conformity and learning to “pay attention” to the teacher. We often learn those tools so well, that we forget to think and feel and formulate from within. And then we might not even recognize that we might want to  bring those formulations out for ourselves and others to hear expressed.

This art project is composed of writings that are, in their nature, ambiguous and ambivalent. I want the forces within them to tug at you and pull in different directions, to break apart your habitual perceptions and understandings in order to see what else might come out. It’s true that these writings come from this mix of a person called “kjirsten” –but my personal stories within them are peripheral. Even sacrificial. The best recommendations I can make to those who wonder how to view these pieces are as follows.

First, understand there is nothing to “get”. There is no single message in them. They are inert until you enter the scene. Your “you-ness” activates them. Whatever you feel, you find, you think is their message to you about you. They act as mirrors. Funny mirrors. What we find in them, what we experience from them is information about ourselves. They are not saying anything at all without you.

Second, trust yourself without rushing to “know”. These pieces are challenging for many of us because we may be accustomed to those lessons we’ve received since grade school:

Don’t raise your hand unless you know the right answer!
If you feel confused, you do not know the right answer!
There is no other answer except the right answer!

This art project is meant to assist us in exercising abilities that are neglected and devalued within our current cultural atmosphere. What do you feel? What brought on those feelings? Can you relax not “knowing”? Once we relax without knowing the “right” answer, our “selves” are free to roam into the art pieces, pick up what we may and create an incredibly unique, personal experience with that piece.

These pieces come from a manuscript that I call an unnarrated memoir. It is my unnarrated memoir, but when you entertain the pieces from that manuscript, interact with them, have experiences with them, they become your unnarrated memoir. They are mirrors that reflect a story of you. And if you re-read them at a later time, you might, like me, find that your memoir changes as the stream of life continues to flow through you. Often, new readings of them will bring insights pertinent to the current moment of my becoming me. May they do the same for you!

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Last month, our story finished with a demonstration of how imagination is already quite active in how we create knowledge. However, these days, its participation is overshadowed by its dominant sibling, reason. Rational examination receives the lion’s share of recognition in how we humans “know” anything. However, this was not always the case.

Human knowledge began as an oral tradition. This tradition was rich with metaphor, myth and symbol – all are used to help the listener receive a certain “knowing” about what it is to be alive and a part of this world. As I demonstrated in the last post, it is the imagination that enables us to extract knowledge from myth, metaphor and symbol. We did not lose this system of “knowing” with the written word; however, as we will see by the end of this post, with time, especially here in the West, it does eventually get squeezed out.

Imagination is effective with symbol, metaphor and myth because they all rely on the mystical as their center. There is an “unknowing” inherent with each of them. There is not a “certain” truth within any of them, but a living relationship between the words (or design) and the listener/reader. The mystical is the pure mystery –that which exceeds all our categories of thought, in other words, the purely Unknowable. Imagination, myth, metaphor and symbol all radiate from this unknowing – they are all trying to express that which cannot be said directly. Imagination is the ability to draw knowledge from a recognition of this mystical core.

Reason is often seen as the exact opposite. People generally assume that reason is not based on this purely Unknowable, but instead is situated on sure and solid ground. (The last two posts went into detail in order to show that this is not the case. Reason has no sure footing.) Here is the surprise. We did not always view reason this way. It, too, aligned with imagination, was seen to have a mystical center. Even as late as the birth of this nation, reason was seen as having a mystical core.

How did that change?

One key factor comes from the change in our concept God. “God” once upon a time signified pure mystery. Now, the dominant concept God is something that can be known, “I know God, he is that perfect human, a loving father, a man with a plan, maybe even an old guy with a long white beard. That’s what God is.”

This shift in the concept of God has altered our sense of reason. The phrase “God is the eye of reason” common in the 1700s (just look at your dollar bill and see the top eye at the top of the pyramid) delivers a very different message if “God” is a knowable concept, than it delivers if “God” is the symbol for divine mystery. God as a knowable concept covers over that mystery is at the core of reason , it covers over that the heart of reason is a leap of faith, not certainty.

So now, not only is reason seen as the opposite of imagination, but reason is misunderstood and regarded as some sort of antidote to pure mystery. We take the findings from our rational inquiries and we build “the truth” and we hold up the banner of truth (I know what is going on here!) to cover over the much more challenging and possibly more enriching aspect of being alive as humans: We don’t know what the heck is going on here! ALL ways of knowing depend upon pure mystery in order to generate any story, any “truth”. Underneath all our “truths” remains the Unknowable. The Mystery. The Mystical.

This post is an invitation to no longer misunderstand reason. Reasoning and rational inquiry and beautiful! But they do not and cannot deliver any “knowledge” without relying on the mystical. Reason, in itself, acknowledges the mystical. It is our misperception of it that has buried the mystical from our sight. It is our misperception of reason that has pitted it against imagination. It is our misperception of reason that has led to a devaluation of imagination. It is our misperception of reason that has drained our world of much of the beauty and “juice” that comes from acknowledging the pure mystery of being alive as these weird reflective creatures.

So, now you’re probably wondering, “Kjirsten, what do I do? I don’t want my life dried and devoid of the juiciness that acknowledging the mystical can bring me. A little help here?

Here you go!

  • Remind yourself that all your knowledge has no sure base. Be kind, aim to see how other people’s points of view developed. Allow yourself to feel their path.

 

  • Don’t take everything so literally. Let your imagination exercise itself. All our stories (academic, religious, pop cultural, etc.) are expressions that can be taken as metaphors, as symbols, as myths – stories that deliver “truths” about the human experience hidden in the words, not from the claims of the words themselves.

 

  • Come to Visage, 1046 NW Johnson, on Monday, August 10th. Doors open at 7:30pm. At 8pm or so, I’ll be talking about the magic of words beyond their logical, rational, and literal functions. And there will be about five or six new pieces hanging on the walls! I’d love some company!