One of the more interesting aspects of Kant's positing of the Subject is its perpetual condition of non-stasis, of motion. This subjectivity-as-moving target in human consciousness inheres, in Kant's schemas, because what he calls the unity of apperception (the cogito, "I think") must constantly re-position itself between levels one and two of his cognitive model (sensibility and understanding). The Subject, within his/her cognitions, interprets the manifold of intuitions drawn from spatial/temporally determined sensibility as a mode of vertical ascension into the formation of conceptions of the understanding as a function of judgment-within-understanding. In other words, the Subject inheres as a go-between for the functional interplay and interaction of levels one and two of the Kantian cognitive model. The point of interest here is the Subject's unrest, non-stasis; and what the significations of a non-static model of Subjects and subjectivity might be. As to the connection between the noumena and the unity of apperception (substance and Ego), as it is posited here- there arises a striking and superficially unlikely contradiction. The noumena, substance, causality accompanies the phenomenal appearance of objects but without being affected by their changing forms- in other words, substance/causality is not supposed to be subject to formal change. The unity of apperception, site/home-base of the Ego in human consciousness, does nothing but move, darting back and forth perpetually between cognitive levels. Thus, there must be a disjunct between the human Ego, as distinguished in human consciousness by Kant, and whatever of the noumena, substance, causality lies hidden behind the phenomenal appearances of interior or exterior temporally/spatially limited forms.
The posited disjunct between the human Ego and the noumena cannot be healed by any readily available connective cognitive tissue. It points back to an issue I raised in the first portion of these notes- whether there is a visible route towards secure belief in the noumena, as defined by Kant, or not. The route to solidifying the noumena, in the manner that Kant has solidified and consolidated the theoretical apparatuses of cognition itself, via his three-tiered model, is one which must first establish a secure relationship to this model- and the mystery inhering in how this might be done has to do with the incompatibility of states of rest and unrest, stasis and dynamism, implacable stillness and change.
The split posited by Kant between phenomena and noumena, effects and causes, creates a strange kind of reductio ad absurdum around subjects and subjectivity. The subject, in Kant, owing to his/her phenomenal appearance in a world of things, is (exists/subsists) as phenomena and noumena, effect and cause- yet, self-reflection, originating from conceptions of the understanding (employing the Kantian cognitive model) reveals the subject (bound to the unity of apperception or cogito) to evince the ability to objectify his/her own consciousness as an object-in-itself, as phenomena and effect- yet this consciousness, inaccessible to others, constitutes the subject's substance/causality for all perceiving subjects other than itself; in other words, the noumena, the thing-in-itself, is also an object for the perceiving subject in whom it inheres- creating the aforementioned reductio ad absurdum when the dialectic, for logic, is around self-reflection and potentialities of the subject's self-knowledge. It leads to the ineluctable reflection, for the perceiving subject- is the noumena there at all; and, if it is, is it completely inaccessible even for the perceiving subject, owing to the constraints of sensibility and understanding?
In another fashion: is the noumena, the thing-in-itself (substance, causality) so merely a subsistent, rather than existent, entity, that what is behind phenomena/effects are a reductio ad absurdum of more effects, more phenomena, and substance impossible even to hypothesize; and, if what constitutes the noumena is subsistent matter (half perceptible/half imperceptible), why the noumena should be presupposed as anything (in our dialectics) but this posited chain of effects/phenomena, in terms of what is available to our understanding; and, if this is so, why Kant's distinction can never touch the subject in such a way that, through self-reflection, the noumena can be grasped or encompassed. In other words: the subject cannot necessarily merely be the noumena for other subjects, or for itself. As to whether subjects should project likeness onto other subjects- the sameness in human subjectivity, as judged by the phenomena of consistent human behavior, may be determinative of the dialectical necessity of a quantitative judgment on this level- of half-causes, half-noumena, half-substance; if Kant's conceptions are to address the empirical reality of human subjectivity to the fullest possible extent.
Keats' "Negative Capability" has become a lit-crit commonplace, so that scholars and readers forget the richness of its significations. To balance psycho-affective polarities without "irritably grasping after reason" (or principles, in the Kantian sense, which specifically suggests deductive reasoning and its sobriety, against the aesthetic) is one cognitive level Negative Capability accounts for; but the other question (which the Odes answer) is how polarities might be expressed in text in a negatively capable fashion. To achieve this end in the most spectacular possible fashion, Keats has recourse to dialects of sense/sensibility, initiated from a subjective stance of acknowledgement of the darkness of physical extinction, while maintaining affective vivacity in relation to his own psycho-affective processes- all the data being processed finds worthwhile and illustrative objective correlatives in what Keats opens textually. Keats' objective correlatives in the Odes- his nightingale, Grecian Urn, autumn, melancholy, and the rest- have a way of jolting his textual gambits up from sensibility to understanding and then (importantly, by induction rather than deduction) distilled/principled reason, not initially grasped for but floated up to gracefully and artfully.
The time/space coordinates projected by Keats onto his Odal objects create dynamic tensions which torque and transform depending on any given reader's subjectivity- the succession of vignettes in "Nightingale," in particular, create a warped sense of temporal textual succession, in which a succession of disappearances is enacted (the poet, the nightingale, the song, the state of consciousness and entire sensibility which illuminated the succession as a landscape, a forest scene), so that conventional space/time coordinates are replaced as the eruption of time zones is followed by dissolution of the same; and the conceptions which arise from this enactment, animated by the Odal objective correlatives, have to do with an essential mutability inhering in the congealed formal matter of Keats' subjectivity, which it is the unique province of major high art consonant poetry to reveal. This breach in time/space coordinates is explosive, spectacular, compulsively demonstrative; in short, Romantic; and that, the demonstration of psycho-affective mutability potentialities, is what Romanticism at its best brings to the philosophical table, against the conceptually grounded stability of the higher echelons of (philosophic/scientific) prose, their vistas onto human collectives.
The lyric poet, Adorno writes, is self-posited against society; and defines himself in relation to the entire human continuum of types which he is not; isolated by his (or her) capacity for mutability (on psycho-affective levels) and cognitive boundary-dissolution (into, presumably, transcendental realms once conventional frameworks are eliminated), but also ossified into a kind of stunted adolescence by his (or her) inability to view things plainly, and discern profound truth from illusion. That's why, though Keats' textual bravery exceeds Wordsworth's, and his confrontations with mortality are affecting, his appeal still lies in this inducement, often via prosody, of states of intoxication. If textual truth accords with textual beauty (to follow Grecian Urn through), Keats must fare relatively poorly next to philosophic prose, whose concerns and efforts wear more comfortably over long periods of time. Through this textual strainer, Keats' apogee of intoxication is assimilated and the central Romantic fallacy pierced through- that the dissolution of boundaries, psychic and otherwise, is commensurate with a kind of enlightenment, aesthetic or otherwise.
The ultimate edge Keats holds over Wordsworth- of strangeness, odd proportions, the uncanny, intriguing semantic juxtapositions, "heavenly prosody"- is especially apparent once the limitations of Wordsworth's system have defined themselves against textual systems which exceed it. The chiasmus of nature (natural forces) and the mind of man- how nature, once perceived in the most purified light (as, perhaps, a set of principles), imposes heightened cognition, understanding into distilled reason- must fall, once the acknowledgment is made that Wordsworth's system is just another mode of Romantic (at least semi-adolescent, in its projected narcissism) escapism. The escapist valve is towards a subjectively held and maintained psycho-affective transcendence, which the rigorous demands of human society, its labyrinthine, ineluctable complexities could easily disperse into the nothingness of raw sensibility again. The antithesis: an impulse towards understanding and distilled reason not merely as an escape, but as transcendence-via-direct engagement, not seeking understanding in the otherness of natural forces, or pronouncing facile, half-understood blessings on a human continuum falsely linked to natural forms employed as intoxicants. These forms subsist at a distance from human systematic reasoning, or attempts at such.
The manner in which Keats intoxicates himself (and the extent to which his intoxication is a simultaneous movement towards ecstasy and agony, fulfillment and denial, consummation and abandonment) is more grounded in human reality- especially, the confrontation between the human mind and physical mortality. The nature-cocaine Wordsworth imbibes is too much about living forever/eternal life- despite evident technical mastery and a prosaic style fluid, limpid, and complex enough to place the Prelude in proximity to Keats' Odes, Wordsworth's simplified thematic dynamics, and what about human reality is forced by his own systematic fronts to escape notice, relegates him to a position beneath Keats, whose textual bravery and boldness exceed his. Moreover, there are few angles from which the Odes do not appear strange- their formal-thematic angularity and balance of finely crafted and misshapen textual elements render them interesting for reasons past their vaunted Romantic passion, sincerity, and object-animating prosody. In other words, to understand Keats' Odes by the Kantian cognitive model (sensibility-understanding-reason) is to get caught on each level by a kind of camouflage which hides how the circuitry is connected, how it coheres to impose an impression of depth, solidity, inevitability, and formal gorgeousness.
Thus, the Odes for me are strangely fascinating and enduring- no less systematic than the Prelude, but the inscrutability of whose system makes the Odes seem to torque or twist each time they are encountered. That sense- that the Odes themselves have a manner of being sentient, evincing sentience- is unique in the canon of English-language poetry. It also has a way of making the Odes a kind of last word in poetic avant-gardism- because the Odes have inhering in them this strange, vibrant, oscillating light of change/dynamism, they cannot leave the cutting edge, no matter who then or later was or is cast up as standing in an aesthetic position of extremity and innovation. The contradiction- the Odes are largely about disappearances (on physical and metaphysical levels), yet they refuse to disappear- is their principle, and then the compelling power of strangeness, the glory/gorgeousness of the misshapen.
Keats, and what the phantasmagoric has to offer in coherence/complexity- the phantasmagoric being a mode of the visionary- Keats' phantasmagoric approach in "Nightingale" argues for the manifest complexity/density of mere subjectivity, and this argument is a critical commonplace in relation to Romanticism, but lifted into a kind of textual ether by a dazzling array of polarities, swimming in and out of textual focus. They all vie for predominance, generating friction which gives off an intense visceral heat, heightened by melopoeiac/prosodic mastery, into a sense of the text as a juggernaut or conflagration, an intense, sustained, and burning moment. This is the unique province of major high art consonant poetry over prose. The momentary nature of the lyric poem- maximum coherence/maximum complexity as an inspiration, in and out, and over- has, as its principle, and as Keats noticed himself, intensity as its signature virtue against prose and other forms of literature. Why the Odes establish Keats as an almost peerless lyric poet is that when a phantasmagoric edge is added to cognitive-affective intensity, the lyric poem creates a map of creative cognitive consciousness which prose, for all its expansive objectivity and perspective adumbration, cannot.
Phantasmagoric vistas, the romanticism of extreme momentary intensity- in short, genuine poetry- the principle to achieve these effects is inclusion, movements towards things (material and cognitive) and embraces of them. Wordsworth enacts the same textual process, even in his semi-objective Prelude. Prose writers are compelled by other imperatives- yet, genuine cognitive ascension towards profound understanding and solid principles is more fulfilled by the objectivity of the non-romantic plain glance. Ultimately, the two approaches don't need to negate each other- the 60-40 advantage I give to objectivity and prose (especially in relation to philosophy and science) owes to the inaccessible nature of real intensity in the human world, and the Odes especially are such rare birds that they cannot age completely gracefully over the larger, more imposing realities of human life as they manifest, and permanently so, and as consciousness ages towards understanding of sense past sensibility and the allure of the momentary and its phantasmagoria.
Towards the end of the composition of Apparition Poems, there was a serious fire three doors down from me (I lived in apartment 408) in Westminster Arch. It happened in the early morning hours, when (it so happens) I liked to write. I heard the alarm, and wandered into my hallway- it was filled with smoke. I was in a numbed-out enough writing-trance not to notice too much, and calmly found my way down the stairwell four floors to the lobby. Shortly, the whole building was in the lobby in their pajamas, as a squad of firemen entered Westminster Arch with their axes. It turns out that the guy, my neighbor, had left a candle burning overnight, and somehow the flame had latched onto something else. The apartment in question was absolutely gutted; nothing left standing, everything charred. The firemen were compelled to force my door open and open my windows to fumigate the fourth floor. There is a punchline to this story- the firemen wedged my door open with a copy of Coleridge's Biographia.
By the day of the fire, I was using some pretty arcane methods to loosen myself up creatively. One of my tricks that January and February was what I called the "pile of books" trick. Because my bookshelves were directly to the left of my desk and desktop, I thought it would be interesting to attempt this kind of serendipitous composition- pick books semi-randomly, speed-read a page of them, then write Apparition Poem. This was especially helpful when I made the decision to do a run of Apps which directly addressed philosophy and philosophical issues:
Follow Abraham up the hill:
to the extent that the hill is
constituted already by kinds
of knives, to what extent can
a man go up a hill, shepherd
a son to be sacrificed, to be
worthy before an almighty
power that may or may not
have had conscious intentions
where hills, knives, sons were
concerned, but how, as I watch
this, can I not feel that Abraham,
by braving knives, does not need
the one he holds in his rapt hands?
On the other side of things, I dared descend to the homely Amer-Lit of Jonathan Franzen and David Foster Wallace to retrieve this nugget:
Here’s where shifts (red shifts)
happen in perspective, I thought,
slopping dark meat onto my plate,
here’s where angles converge to
put me past the nest. General
laughter over pictures, womb-
like spaces, but I was in hers as
I was in with them. It hurts, but
he’s dead, I never met him. It’s
a shame, I never met him. Blood
moves through air: between her,
me, them— leaves on concrete.
This brain-shattering compositional technique is one I haven't dared to employ since Apparition Poems- books like Cheltenham and The Posit Trilogy are too specific, too goal-directed, even in the tiniest of their specific parts, to allow anything this loose or free-ranging to enter. It's also the case that Apparition Poems' method of being "tight but loose" is closer to the expansiveness of the epic form, initiated in Greece, to anything else I have written; which is why I like to call the book an epic of fragments: a representatively American epic.
It was also in February '10 that I arranged with Matt Stevenson to do an Apparition Poems video, and record some Apparition Poems to send as mp3s to PennSound, at the Eris Temple in West Philly. The Eris Temple is so located (52nd and Cedar) that it hinges, from West Philly, on North Philly, and the neighborhood is a dangerous one. We shot the video in the Temple's front room, with its east-facing facade, high white coffered ceiling, and derelict/ghetto ambiance. I was still into wearing the flannel I'd picked up in New Hampshire in '05 (thanks Jon Anderson for the ride to the Concord Wal-Mart) with the little scarf I'd found at Barnes and Noble in the early Aughts. This was still a remnant of Aughts Philadelphia- no make-up was applied, and the video was a first-take, as were (mostly) the mp3s. Matt and I were still on friendly terms- but there already wasn't much from my Aughts Philadelphia life left standing.
I watched President Obama’s victory speech from Dirty Frank’s at 13th and Pine with a few friends. It was quiet in the bar; you could’ve heard a pin drop; and I was anticipating something, and someone, extraordinary. We all were; and when all we got was a bunch of tired, crass, generalized clichés, we made (I noticed then) a silent collective decision not to notice it. Broad Street was crazy that night— everyone was out celebrating. Aughts Philly had its levels of oddity and irony, one of which was that, for all our joie de vivre, the Republican regime in control of Washington and its attendant media juggernaut was a continual, joy-inhibiting bummer for us. Obama was supposed to deliver us into a new, politically liberated era; yet, that November night in ’08, I feared the worst— that we were looking at a different version of the same corruption and complacency, and that the change which had come to America was none at all. Obama, indeed, was perfunctory that night; and Dirty Frank’s and Broad Street were perfunctory for me, too. It was the culminating moment of my, and our, strangest Aughts year (2008); one which passed without a sense of distinction, and with a sense of Aughts Philly in general drifting out of focus and towards the sense of stalemate which ushered in the Teens. If I linger on 2008 now, it’s because I’m fascinated by my own inability to pin it down, define it, give it a determinate shape the way I can all the other Aughts years, including the 2009 which followed from it.
Among other things, it is the year I came closest to actual alcoholism (thus catching up, finally, to Mike, Nick, and Jeremy); my life at Temple was so full of drudgery and thankless compromises that just to get through the nights which followed the days, I’d have to knock back several Jack and Cokes. Some of the pictures taken of me at the time show me looking uncharacteristically soggy and fish-faced.When I moved, that summer, from 21st and Race to 23rd and Arch, it was a down-sized and down-sizing move; the new flat had low ceilings, a rancid view of parking lots, and I felt claustrophobic in it. Mary and I had broken up again in late ’07; yet we couldn’t get out of each other’s pockets, and when she showed her Eden portrait of us at PAFA that spring, I was very proud. I was also amused that the portrait seemed to suggest me on solid, balanced ground and Mary falling all over herself— that’s not how I felt. Abs was still showing on First Fridays and elsewhere, but she was off my radar at the time— I hadn’t yet noticed that she’d transformed herself into a first-rate artistic genius. She was also, I later discovered, flailing on other levels. Jeremy had disowned me completely— and when he began a reading series in ’08 called “Toiling in Obscurity” with some U of Arts foundlings, and affixed the tag-line “even our minor accomplishments are overshadowed by our utter anonymity,” I could sense there was a strange and ghastly crescendo issuing from all Philly Free School sides. Jenny Kanzler consolidated all these snafus in my conversations with her then.
When I think of my own 2008 as a complete gestalt entity, including risky affairs I had going at the time, I think of Aughts Philly starting to go cock-eyed— yet, everyone was still in the bars and in the streets, and a sense of isolation didn’t seem to be a problem yet. 2008 was my first adult “bridge year,” with, in it, a sense of the liminal and of blinkered confusion. I wrote "Chimes" as I was moving that summer, in a great deal of emotional pain from the necessity of reliving my childhood, and with a sense of foreboding about what awaited me at Temple that fall; by which time, Otoliths was putting out "When You Bit..." and, as usual for that era, the reaction online was intense, while the crooked, vituperative Philly poetry scene continued to cold-shoulder me. That Philadelphia poetry world— of clowns, impostors, and henchmen— was not intriguing to me on any level. I was, as of '08, still having better poetry luck with Chicago, both online and in the flesh. One night, on returning to Logan Square from a reading in South Philly, I was mugged at gunpoint, and had my wallet stolen. My assailant actually stuck the pistol into my ribcage— yet, I had an intuition he wouldn’t shoot me. The whole year was jagged— I even (if you can believe this) saw an identifiably angelic being on 21st Street one July afternoon. If ’08 needs to be remembered distinctly for how non-distinct it was in the run of major Aughts Philly years, its because the weird evanescent character it has will remain frozen forever in what we created and disseminated that year. The most important facet of ’08 for me personally is that it is the last of my Mary years— one in which we were together, at least in spirit. After ’08, we kept in touch, but things could never be the same again between us. To see that cycle of death and rebirth turning, with some hindsight, is as terrible and beautiful as it was to live the agonies, ecstasies, and convulsions of the first time through.
Ideology, Romanticism, Neo-Romanticism, and Aughts Philly
How scholar Jerome McGann defines romanticism in his notable tome “The Romantic Ideology”— an unthinking, unquestioning belief in a certain circumscribed ideology/set of ideological assumptions, aesthetic and otherwise— does apply, in a more limited sense, to the Philly Free School and most of the other key players in the Aughts Philadelphia Renaissance. Yet, as I noticed while studying for my comp exams at Temple in the late Aughts, there is a double-bind and a contradiction built into McGann’s famous, and famously ambiguous, formulation— the entire gist of ideology (and ideologies) is that different groups and sub-groups expend cognitive effort to develop and establish ideologies, so that no worked-over ideology does not have cognitive effort built into it; in other words, developed ideologies presuppose thoughts and questions. What McGann seems to be suggesting about English Romanticism (first and second generation included) is this: once the ideological parameters around their artistic endeavors were set, no more earnest cognition was devoted to anything but ideological consolidation— the Romantic Ideology was taken to be axiomatic enough that ideological interrogations and revisions were deemed unnecessary. The Romantics were self-expressive, self-reflective, and self-determinative; they saw and toiled to manifest the explosive potentialities of the subjective. To be reductive (and cute), they put the “I” in ideology, and sought the indirect route to objective truths through subjective ones.
Here’s another split between myself and most of Aughts Philly— if, as a collective, we have a patron saint among the English Romantics, it must, for a number of key reasons, be John Keats. One reason his Odes have aged so beautifully is that, despite (like his cronies) putting the “I” in ideology and developing his subjectivities in characteristic Romantic fashion (torch filched from Wordsworth/Coleridge by imaginative cunning), Keats presents himself and his visions in a prescient (anticipating not only Neo-Romanticism but countless strains of century XX culture before us) mode of “noir” or “deep noir”; the darkness and monotony of Regency London, in the midst of an impinging and strictly-speaking unnatural Industrial Revolution and factory-culture, and the place of a classical-minded (enlightened elitist/classicist) poet generating friction-sparks by struggling against it. Among the Odes, "Nightingale" and "Grecian Urn" create a gestalt-world not unlike "The Lost Twins" and "The Skaters"— all is shadowy, spectral, and obsessed with an evanescent past; and all manifest meanings are multiple, and create cognitive multiplications for their audience. The implicit split, for me personally, from Aughts Philly had come to fruition in Apparition Poems, and has to do with William Wordsworth, and an odd aesthetic attachment I had/have to him, even in the turbid depths of deep noir; a kind of compact I refused to break. Wordsworth’s aesthetic, much more so than Keats’, includes vistas suggestive of moral interests— that high art need not evade morality and moral issues, but take cognizance of them as an act of defiant, comprehensive courage and courageous, passionate humanism.
I both do and do not mean to imply that Aughts Philly was characterized by immorality, or immoral impulses or amoral ones. It was not particularly questioned, in our collective ideology, that all of us were on a vision quest for personal socio-aesthetic and socio-sexual fulfillment, and did not very much mind applying a little elbow grease to ride roughshod over people and situations which stood in our way. The conflict of wills among us could be terrible— yet one thing we had going for us, also, was a streak of Romantic Sincerity, which guaranteed that, despite all the circumstantial twists and turns of our lives, we were (many of us) able to cut through the bullshit and commiserate with each other on profound levels. We embraced emotions, and passions, and lived in them without the thought of too much objectivity— in other words, we were authentically young. Whether McGann could align us successfully with the English Romantics is an interesting question— but the key weakness in McGann’s formulation, from the beginning, is that he never seems to stop and think how his Romantic Ideology paradigm applies to any artist or art-group worth their salt— for genuine artists, unsettling ideological assumptions is less important than remaining emotionally, sexually, socially, and creatively fluid and fluent, and ideology itself be damned.
Organized culture certainly has some obnoxious aspects, one of which is the clannish instinct by which groups of artists segregate themselves in an exclusive fashion, creating charmed circles bound together by closed circuits. When Gaetan Spurgin and I were doing the This Charming Lab shows in 2000, which we both found disappointing, Gaetan complained (and I agreed at the time) that the Philadelphia cultural mentality had to do with establishing a clan and then huddling together for warmth in a corner; Philly artists, and art-groups, were lousy at self-transcending and working together towards shared goals. This Charming Lab, in retrospect, was a warm-up for and way-station towards PFS and the Highwire Gallery shows of the mid-Aughts— I was learning effective, competent event-planning piece by piece, and also gaining competence skills at juggling artists’ demands and egos. That having been said, most of the This Charming Lab shows, though staged at decent venues (Khyber, Dobbs, Killtime Warehouse), were pretty tepid, and felt hollow to me. By the time PFS established itself in the mid-Aughts, some individuals remained the same (Matt Stevenson and Gaetan were still around), but most of the TCL crew had to be dropped. The price I paid for making This Charming Lab non-exclusive is that everyone signed on to pursue their own agenda, rather than enacting the co-op set-up I hoped would manifest; and, rather than huddling in a corner for warmth, everyone claimed our corner for their own and went out of their way to thwart, hoodwink, and one-up everyone else.
Fast-forward four years— the Philly Free School shows are underway at the Highwire Gallery. The four-person management system in place was unique; but, on a day-to-day basis, it was really myself and Mike Land exerting the most strenuous efforts and pulling the boldest, foxiest moves to make the shows (and the general PFS scene) happen. My management skills by then were well-honed; and, because I’d gained the requisite skill in ego-juggling, the shows often took the form of hyper-aesthetic three-ring circuses. Were we exclusive? The weird riff on this form of PFS and exclusivity is that Mike and I especially went out of our way to demonstrate an expansive sensibility in our Philly Free School-related dealings; nevertheless, the four of us together on the bar circuit was so unique an admixture of looks and temperaments, that our very collective magnetism could be repulsive, and we, as a social nexus, wound up effortlessly excluding anyone in our path who couldn’t deal with four highly educated, tall, brown haired, brown eyed, highly sexed, promiscuous, non-dealing, straight-shooting aesthetes with a penchant for seduction, fast action, bacchanalian reverie, and general impetuous combustibility.
As needs be made clear, neither Abs nor Mary knew themselves to be PFS or Neo-Romantic artists; I stuck the labels PFS and Neo-Ro on my Aughts friends and lovers, to make clear both the coherence, on aesthetic levels, and the cohesiveness of what was created among us in Aughts Philly. Now that PFS has migrated from the Highwire, four-guy orientation to Adam-Abs-Mary-Jeremy-Jenny, I have to say that it is difficult not to disclose a revelation of pure, unadulterated artistic exclusivity in what/who is being represented— the enlightened elitist/classicist orientation I have already brought to the surface and addressed, which can only express enthusiasm for and identification with the most sublime/Mandarin cultural products, egalitarianism be damned. If anyone is an outsider in this context, it is Jeremy- his studied flaneur pose tended to disdain the haute, in favor of the quotidian and the arbitrary. With Abs, Mary, Jenny, and myself, we set the bar as high as our boundless idealism and stern concentration-ethic could set it; and, what creates real, durable exclusivity in the arts over long periods of time is just this kind of steel-willed ambition, not to sell, not to hit demographics, not to create a new self-image, but to create on the highest possible level, against those whose cultural small-mindedness knows no bounds. If I sound sanctimonious, it is for the simple reason that the highest, most durable art and artistic expression was literally sacred and sanctified for/to us. And the only business an artist has being exclusive is if what they’ve created lives up to a standard of centuries: not of months, years, or decades.
For Neo-Romanticism, as a collective, to cut through the blarney, all the blarneying levels of post-modernity as a construct, we chose a tack of extremity, extreme disobedience- enlightened elitism/classicism, expressed with edges left in of doubt, foreboding, ghostly/apparitional presences, which accrued to all of us as we ploughed through the Aughts in Philadelphia. It's not just that, as has previously been stated, we skipped intermediate steps from post-modern comic auto-destruct modes to our own version of centuries-encompassed-from-America apotheosis- the lot of us, individually and together, were little thugs, and, in an ironic fashion, the "thug" image of Philadelphia in the American press does work for Philly Free School. Elitist/classicist/thug-ism- that's a new one for the American art scene to deal with, and one which (to my knowledge) has never been seen in America before.
Dovetailing with this, it needs to be said, for those who care- despite the non-encumbrance of socio-sexual and socio-aesthetic freedom in Aughts Philly, the landscape we inhabited was not without violence. That's one constituent level of the PFS aesthetic which should make New York cringe, whether they then opt to turn away or not- the edge expressed around carnality, where sex and death manifest simultaneously, and the urgency around carnality and its contexts carries with it darkling undercurrents of physical violence, murder, mayhem, and the dissolution of boundaries which renders these things cognitively discrete.
If I stand like a thug behind our collective thug-ism, it's because the elitism/classicism built into our creations' formality and formal renderings in general lends the entire PFS enterprise enough elegance and starkly imaginative gorgeousness that whoever in the United States elects to butt their heads against our brick walls will probably lose a substantial amount of blood. The whole broke-down contextualization of PFS might be a joke if we weren't also funnier than Richard Prince, Jeff Koons, Andres Serrano, Bruce Nauman, Judy Chicago, Miranda July, and the rest of the semi-serious New York joke anti-art/junk-art crew, who (their master narrative runs) make us laugh to ourselves in our despair, or make us laugh now to despair later, but may have to face a long-term socio-historical prognosis of cat-calls and thrown tomatoes, from a Campbell's soup can or not.
Another important level of awareness, for those interested in PFS, and the unique congeries of contexts around us, socially and sexually- PFS, and, in fact, all the major Philadelphia Renaissance sectors, were as completely and totally street as we could possibly be. We weren't watching Philly street-life from the sidelines and taking notes- most of us spent most of the Aughts on the front-lines. By the time I wrote Apparition Poems, the vitality of Aughts Philly street-life was receding into entropy and atrophy- but the book, nonetheless, is a reaction to a decade spent living in the street, as it were- and doing so by maintaining at least some thug-level street-smart survival skills, against the dealers, impostors, and clowns who perpetually threatened me, and us.
In fact, given how tight certain restraints are on Philly street-life, it is amazing to me that we were granted a solid decade to play around in. I did feel, especially in the early Aughts, a sense of being personally charmed- that when I walked and rode the Philly streets, a beneficent cosmic force was covering me, encasing me in a kind of shield- nothing could hurt me or touch me unless I wanted it to. I was young, of course, and wrong- but standing at the corner of 13th and Ellsworth in South Philly at 2 am, or walking home at dawn from Nemon Buckery's Halloween party on 49th Street to 21st and Race, that sense of being guarded was acute. Abs, Mary, Jeremy, Jenny (maybe)(not to mention Mike Land, here pictured) all seemed to feel the same way- and we would hit the streets, go anywhere and do anything. Had we not been thugs, or at least partly carried ourselves as such, I'm sure someone would've killed us, and Philly Free School, before we began; and there's nothing soft about our body of work, either.
Fit Audience Though Strange: Skipping Steps, Sublimity, and PFS
The manner in which Schopenhauer defines "sublimity"- an aesthetic object which simultaneously seduces and threatens the human will- is as good a starting point as any for attempting to come to grips with the body of artistic work left by the Philly Free School. In the paradigm shift from post-modernity to new modes of self-consciously high art, we skipped several steps- the most obvious step skipped being representations of the merely beautiful or charming, as (again) defined by Schopenhauer. By building sublimity into "The Lost Twins," here shown, "Apparition Poems" and the rest, we assured ourselves a reaction from beleaguered post-modernists, of extreme fear, mistrust, and loathing.
"The Lost Twins," in particular, manifests so many levels of sublimity that it seems impossible that Abby should've painted it, even in Aughts Philadelphia, against an aesthetic back-drop which not only devalued (and devalues) painting, but one strictly focused on what I might call, as a legitimate inversion, the anti-sublime (as a branch of anti-art) - ironic conceptual jokes, cloying politically correct installation art which aims to press all the most facile, cozy PC-consonant buttons; video art, fanciful and Dada-esque in its execution, which, underneath a patina of artistic daring, plays to the self-congratulatory peanut galleries of curators, investors, and art press bound by a play by the post-modern rules mentality.
Make no mistake- Schopenhauer's sublime is menacing- and, by daring to be a menace, and one not to be lightly dismissed on any level, Abs guaranteed herself an indefinite media/gallery/museum quarantine. That is, perhaps, one reason Abs sees her twins as "lost"- they dare to engage painting in all its primal and primordial (sublime) splendor- and, as voyeurs to their voyeurism, we overhear their overhearing what the illustrious past of painting has been, and how stranded in the darkness of ignorance it has become- devalued by charlatans, perpetuated by tepid quacks, shrouded in the chiaroscuro of an uncertain future.
"The Lost Twins," in fact, may be taken as a dazzlingly complex self-portrait, of an artist not menaced into silence by depth, shadow, and thematic complexity. If anything in the 20th century compares, including Picasso, I am not aware of it and have not seen it. Abby's sublimity has a brick wall quality, the implacable quality of a work of resolutely high art, which compromises nothing to a desire to please or sell.
The parallelism between myself and Abby is profound- in terms of pendulum-swinging, from the dross of thoughtlessness and post-modern cliche to the loftiest, most cognitively challenging form of high art, Apparition Poems enacts the same kind of internal drama that "The Lost Twins" does. Apparition Poems has received reviews, but none which evince any critical authority- if the book is to be reviewed by critics with no thorough knowledge of Keats and Shelley, or even Yeats and Eliot, then it is easy to get the feeling of what the losses imposed by post-modernity on literature are. A typical literary critic, from this context, can't put Apparition Poems in any perspective, can't see it clearly or begin to define its parameters in an original way, formally or thematically.
One thinks of Milton's "fit audience though few" paradigm, and us, and is then hit on the other side of it by the fact that we do have some visibility and popularity. It's an awkward situation, man...very awkward indeed. By pole-vaulting over the ridiculous and into the sublime, and not making any concessions to the ridiculous, Philly Free School and Neo-Romanticism has created an extended moment and a socio-aesthetic context so stark and challenging that, for the time being, only the venturesome may approach us in good faith.
Notes on Subsistent Matter as a Triadic Number Sequence (1-2-0)
Regarding subsistent matter: note that the number sequence 1-2-0 is capable of representing how cognitions, conditioned by the constraints of existence (time/space/causality), must attempt to represent to themselves what is subsistence/subsistent matter, which cannot be completely represented within these constraints-
In this context, any copula becomes "subsistent matter is (1)- subsistent matter is not (2)- fall past representational limits (0), which potentially erases 1-2 (1-2), or may not erase it (1-2-0), etc.
In ontological terms, Kether can be designated as Idea or Idealism, in its pure state; Malkuth as Will; both within the formal parameters of existence (space, time, causality); Tiphareth and Yesod are both within the formal parameters of (mere) subsistence; void-space matter, causality, substance; Tiphareth as matter stable-within-subsistence; Yesod as matter unstable within subsistence.
As for formulated paths, Kether-Tiphareth as a chiasmus- Kether down to Tiphareth is the path of philosophy; Tiphareth up to Kether the path of science; Yesod-Malkuth as a chiasmus- both paths, up and down, express degradation, decomposition and decay; Yesod-Tiphareth as a chiasmus- from Tiphareth down to Yesod is the path of damnation; from Yesod up to Tiphareth the path of redemption.
Tiphareth and Yesod, which represent subsistence past existence, are the two most protected stations on the Tree of Life; the formal parameters of existence (space, time, causality) which bind the other stations subject their energies to deluges of distraction and impurity; Tiphareth, also, represents unimaginable harmony, while Yesod represents unimaginable discord; neither form/un-form of energy is directly accessible to human consciousness.
A postulate derived from a reading of Schopenhauer
Substance, causality, that-which-is, can be represented from two sides- as abstract object for a perceiving subject, who projects the a priori forms of time and space onto it; that is, from the side of existence, the posited existence of substance, matter, causality; and, represented from the side of existence, matter extends infinitely (or into infinity) for a perceiving subject into an infinite past and future, and through an infinite present moment; or then as a non-object, perceived by no perceiving subject, not subject to the a priori formal imposition of time and space; that is, from the side of pure subsistence, the posited pure subsistence of subtance, matter, causality; and represented from an imagination of pure subsistence, matter takes on a "void form," as self-subsistent, or as an unimaginable void, subsistence within a void state; or as merely subsistent matter; so that matter, substance, causality, without a subject's imposition, both is and is not, must be and must not be.