SHOOTING AT RANDOM
Embarking on a creative pursuit in the visual arts can be like assuming the character of Alice in Lewis Carroll's, Through the Looking Glass, the sequel to his classic, Alice in Wonderland. The camera, for example, like Alice's mirror, can be an agent of altered perception and a metaphor for visual creativity. "Our ordinary waking consciousness is but one form of consciousness," wrote William James. "All around us lie infinite worlds, separated only by the thinnest veils." In Lewis Carroll's tale, the "veil" is lifted in a way that renders Alice's ordinary consciousness more permeable and open to experience in playful, imaginative ways. "Let's pretend the glass has got all soft like gauze, so we can get through," says Alice. On the other side of her mirror, she finds a great chess game in progress in a dreamlike, Kafkaesque world inhabited by weird, illegitimate beings where nothing is what it seems.
Like Alice, visual artists may experience similar processes of ego alteration and realize that their conventional mental conditionings are mutable via creative acts due to the amazing neuroplasticity of the human brain. Marcel Duchamp once prophesized that artists of the future would "be led to pass through the looking glass of the retina, to reach a more profound expression." In fulfilling Duchamp's prediction, human perception of the phenomenal world as solid and substantive, for instance, may through art reveal how living phenomenon are as evanescent as bubbles floating briefly in the air. "Like air bubbles," writes Jayaram V on Hinduwebsite.com, "each being is swayed by the winds of karma in the mortal world. Just like the human being, each bubble has a brief existence at the end of which it vanishes without a trace." Such insights may also facilitate greater alignment with the laws of Thermodynamics, and perhaps, as in the story of Charles Baudelaire's Le Flaneur, make it possible to see the spiritual nature of reality with one's inner eye and discover "it's an immense pleasure to take up residence in multiplicity, in whatever is seething, moving, evanescent and infinite," as the great French poet describes the experience. "You're not at home, but you feel at home everywhere; you see everyone; you're at the center of everything yet you remain hidden from everybody--these are just a few of the minor pleasures of those independent, passionate, impartial minds which language can only awkwardly define. The observer is a prince who, wearing disguise, takes pleasure everywhere . . . The amateur of life enters into the crowd as into an immense reservoir of electricity."
Shootingatrandom.com, this site's domain name, was inspired by that consummate amateur André Breton, poet, anarchist, anti-fascist, and founder of Surrealism, best known for his comment that the simplest Surrealistic act consisted of firing a revolver at random into a crowd, without any moral concerns. Breton, of course, conceived the idea metaphorically as "pure psychic automatism," not in terms of literally shooting people on the street as errant Trumpians have been inspired to do by their leader with his fear mongering and divisive speech that ultimately led to violent insurrection during his last days in office. On Wednesday, January 6, 2020, reports Heather Cox Richardson on her SubsStack column Letters From An American, "Egged on by Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani, Representative Mo Brooks, 'Don Jr.', and especially Trump himself, Trump supporters stormed the Capitol just as Congress was meeting in joint session to confirm Democrat Joe Biden as our new president . . . As videos have emerged and timelines established, it has become apparent we came seriously close to seeing our elected representatives taken hostage or even executed on the makeshift gallows the rioters set up outside the building."
I suspect Breton would agree that Americans endured in the erstwhile Trump presidency a truly Surreal situation indeed, which is to say, bizarre, jarring, incongruous, and perfidious, like the moronic policy positions of the Donald's administration that made no sense within the context of the ecological realities we face as a nation. Robert Zarestsky, writing in the August 11, 2017 Los Angeles Times pointed out, "Trumpian word salads bear the surrealist seal of absurdity," as do the president's inane boasts about his performance that bear no resemblance to reality. "I don't know how you can impeach somebody who's done a great job," Trump famously said, "so I give myself an A-plus."
"Among the dozens of isms used to explain the Trump presidency--from isolationism and plutopopulism to narcissism and authoritarianism--none does a better job than surrealism in capturing the current mood," concludes Zarestsky. Add to that the incessant flow of misinformation still emanating from conservative propaganda mills like Fox News amidst the echoes of the bizarre, illogical, disorienting tweets of our erstwhile president, that daft, orange-haired, climate change and virus denying, law and order bully, Donald J. Trump. Now that the insane "Coronavirus in Chief," as CNN chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta called the president, is out of the White House, perhaps there is hope for more creatively nuanced, non-violent mediums of expression for challenging the illusionary spectacle of late stage predatory capitalism, the "petty system of debasement and cretinization" Breton was so eager to dismantle.
For those who deem Surrealism misapplied as a reflection of our cultural milieu today, Peter Schjeldahl's point made in his review of the Metropolitan Museum show "Surrealism Beyond Borders" in The New Yorker, November 1, 2021 issue, opens the doors of perception. "Man Ray idealized original art as 'a creation motivated by desire,'" Schjeldahl writes, "That for me, is the keynote of Surrealism, which was dedicated to anarchic motives that brooked no institutional authority. Each work is a jailbreak, successful or not, from a civilization that could be held responsible for spirit-crushing conformity and, in the annals of war and injustice, systemic lunacy. In the end, Surrealism came down to gamy incoherence. But its gospel of liberty encourages a rethink, even now, of what cultural adventure is all about."
George Packer writing in the October, 2020 Atlantic, makes the case that
the catastrophic Trump era and the accompanying pandemic has fostered a readiness for adventure in terms of substantive political change in America. "What explains it? Nearly four years of a corrupt, bigoted, and inept president who betrayed his promise to champion ordinary Americans," writes Packer. "The country is at a low point--our civic bonds frayed. Our politics toxic. But we may be on the cusp of an era of radical reform that advances citizens' rights, restores opportunity and repairs our broken democracy."
Packer goes on to cite philosopher Gershon Scholem's idea of history's "plastic hours,"* those critical crisis moments when it is possible to implement radical changes for the better, such as president-elect Biden's agenda, a policy platform Packer characterized as "breathtaking" and of which Bernie Sanders said, "If implemented, will make Biden the most progressive president since FDR." But Packer also acknowledges "an ambitious legislative agenda isn't enough, because the problem extends far beyond Washington, deep into the republic. Americans have lost faith in institutions, in one another, in democracy itself. Everything conspires against our role as citizens--big money, indifferent officials, byzantine election rules, mutual hatred, mutual ignorance, the Constitution itself. There is no remedy except the exercise of muscles that have atrophied. Not just by voting, but by imagining what kind of country we can live in together. We have to act like citizens again."
* We'll see what happens. Democracy thrives on diverse points of view and lively conversation. We don't have a democracy now; if American democracy depends on the principle of majority rule requiring political equality and sovereignty for all, not just the elites, then the government as now organized with a corrupt two-party system beholding to corporate control is a plutocracy, not a democracy. What we've got is a one-way plutocratic monologue, but it's possible to change that. And maybe in these rare "plastic hours" we can even solve mankind's literal "plastic" problem, a looming threat to fish and humans around the world. According to impacthub.net, 8.3 billion tons of plastics have been produced since 1950. In the US only 14 percent of plastic waste is recycled, the rest ending up in landfills. Annual plastic production today worldwide averages 300 million tons of which 8 million tons is dumped in the oceans. Plastic waste is expected to quadruple by 2050 when it's predicted there will be more plastic than fish in the seas.
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Chess Piece, Mr. Fish's recent masterpiece, makes a "surreal" point about inequality in the global capitalist economy as the pawns make the first move in an uphill battle for truth and justice .