“Behind the shelter in the middle of a roundabout / The pretty nurse is selling poppies from a tray / And though she feels as if she’s in a play / She is anyway”Paul McCartney (Penny Lane)
I am currently working on a psychological thriller that engages the question, generally speaking, “What constitutes reality – order or disorder?”
Assuming there is such a thing as reality, and that it is meaningful to ask what sort of thing it is, one might approach an answer in terms of the distinction between material and form. Think of a statue… oh, I dunno… of some slave-owning war hero from the South… or of that defiant little girl in NYC that folks seem to think is sociologically momentous… or a monument to your dog licking itself. Who cares? Just think of some sort of statue.
Now, when you point to that statue and ask, “What is that?” will you answer “That’s Buford B. Buchanan,” or “That’s a brave little girl,” or “That is my doggie, Mr. Stinkums – idn’t he cute?” Hopefully not. Why? Because what you’re pointing to is bronze, or marble, or plastic, or some other material. This material can take the form of any of those subjects, but it will never be those things. It will always remain itself. The form, however, that some material takes is temporary, and it does not change the essence of the material.
Put simply: forms come and go; material abides. All, in fact, that really exists is shapeless, ever-flowing, disorderly stuff. Order is arbitrary – a temporary artificiality.
Order is art and art is order. Think of a photo of womem dancing. The photo is static, artificial, flat – even colorless, in comparison to the vivid and varied hues of the original. The photo depicts an event frozen in time, and thus says very little accurate about it – the women’s beauty, the movement of their limbs, their facial expressions, the excitement they radiate, their curves in motion.
In fact, if folks today weren’t so accustomed to pics and selfies, one might find a depiction of a dancing figure frozen in time puzzling and unattractive. Why is she holding her arm up over her head all jagged-like? Why is she squinting her eyes and contorting her face so awkwardly? She’s supposed to be having fun, right? Where’s the life?
This is all to say that reality is curvy, constantly moving, and a bit clumsy. It is not a magazine photo of a Victoria’s Secret model standing still, face caked with paint, waxen body posing for the camera. Art is fake, flat, plastic and rigid. This goes for sculptures, photos, paintings, performances, records, books, and all other forms of expression that attempt to simplify, flatten, and freeze the flow of nature. Art is artificial.
Art, like all forms of order, seeks to capture, to restrict, to bind, to hold in place. It serves to filter out what is real, to simplify what is natural and complex, to block and interrupt flow, to process, package and sell.
Art and order must be imposed on material. Like the form of a sculpture, they constrict consciousness. They delineate boundaries that separate what the mind ought to include and exclude. Ultimately, however, this amounts to carving lines in the sand, inevitably to be dissolved without a trace by the flow of the tide.
Reality is continuous. It is what it is. It doesn’t depend on a name or a label. It isn’t here or there, now or then. Reality doesn’t exist in discrete chunks. It’s definitely not 1s and 0s – not a digital recording, nor even vinyl. Reality is a live outdoor performance on an unexpectedly cool evening, with a mildly inebriated conductor leading an ensemble of unfocused, fidgety performers playing slightly off-key. Reality is senseless and ugly. It’s uncomfortable and unacceptable.
Which is real? A stray, smelly mutt scrounging the trash for food, snarling at passers-by, relieving itself whenever and wherever it has the need? Or a freshly groomed, tagged, and leashed purebred, possibly even sporting a sweater boasting the logo of a college football team, posing calmly with its ‘owner’ for a selfie (though it craves nothing more than to tear the furniture to shreds)? Reality is smelly, messy, vicious.
Order is imposed by pressure, by squeezing a square peg into a round hole. The dog behaves as you wish because it fears you will force its nose into the mess it makes. But only what is unreal and insecure would need to resort to threats in order to exist. The dog is you – you are the god. Reality doesn’t need to be sold or pushed. It doesn’t need to be saved and is never at risk.
Order is nothing more than an imposed construct – an illusion that good boys and girls are trained to view as real. Just think of all the things that comprise this “reality”:
- Social norms and rules, manners, rituals
- Laws, ordinances, oaths, and contracts
- Religions, the concept of god, prayer
- Holidays, dates, times
- Morality, good and bad, right and wrong, left and right – all dichotomies
- Political parties and issues; voting
- Nations, cities, roadways, landscaping
- Rights, possessions, and property (outside of one’s own mind and body)
- Tribal associations, race, teams, jobs, titles, gender identifications
- Your name – first, middle, and last
- Celebrity status, entertainment, the ‘news’, and other forms of make-believe
- Signs, labels and tags, uniforms and badges
- Cosmetics, clothing, bodily fashions
- Family ties and the so-called ‘bond’ of marriage
- Technology, convenience, simplicity, automation
- Myth, scientific explanation, education
- Numbers, concepts, and language itself
- The verb ‘is’ (the biggest lie ever told).
None of this is reality. All are fabrications forced upon the mind in an attempt to bring order to chaos. All are filtered, censored, simplified imitations. At best, they are artificial, flat, rigid symbols – like an anorexic model, a street map, a child’s toy, a calendar, the hands and face of a clock. Imagine the world stripped of these illusions.
Order is repetitive, circular, complete, and closed. It is the ring that binds the finger. Reality is unending, open, and indefinite. It is unfaithful and selfish. Chaos is king – disorder, his decree. Control, but a castle in the sky.
Order is a drug that pacifies and tranquilizes the unsettled mind, channeling its focus into fixed, prescribed locations, like television programming, social media memes, and advertising. God forbid the mind experience unsettled thoughts, unanswered questions, unclassifiable feelings. God forbid the mind be free and original! Human beings are as fake as they are slavish.
Order is a sedative, a stage performance that demands the crowd’s quiet submission and assimilation. It is the suburban housing association that forces you deal with the scariness of flux by imposing the illusion of uniformity and security. But neither bedtime story nor automatic gate can soothe the fear. No costume or badge can arrest decay. Reality is cancer. It’s hideous. Monsters in motion are all that’s real.
“God is a concept by which we measure our pain.”John Lennon (God)
© Joshua Reynolds 2018. All rights reserved.