Aesthetic Materialism

I have like a bazillion things I've written, sitting on my computer, that the world has never seen.  I'm going to start uploading them here.

Aesthetic Materialism

I happen
To prefer

Everything is a matter of taste.  My preference is for fMRI scans, drivers’ instruction manuals, raw red entrails, landfills, nebulae, sandpaper, a face in the wind....

I like things to be real.  Thick, juicy.  Then again, thinness is a perfectly materialistic trait.    That’s good, too.  So is dryness, and tastelessness.  Chocolate and velocity.  Vapor is a kind of material.  Light is a kind of material.  Thought is a kind of material.

Everything is material, of course.

So then, how can there be a materialism, an advocacy for the material, an identity with the material?  Can one have a preference for everything?
Or could we ask: what is it that makes material material?  I have an answer and a non-answer to this question.  The non-answer is - to ask such a question searches for an essence, which causes us to drift from materialism, without leaving the material.  The answer is - two things: (1) there’s a lot of it, and (2) it’s very complicated.  More than I can deal with.

Materialism is larger than any answers.  Material is downright excessive.  It is full of accidents.  It is unplanned and unplannable.  It’s not found in any map, though the map itself is material.  The world has the capacity to surprise you. 

There’s no need to ban, or even to limit, language and representation, as if these symbols could rob you of the experience of eating a peach.  You have nothing to fear from language.  These symbols will always be insufficient; the material will always escape them, and, at the same time, include them.  The material includes the enjoyment of the sensation of speaking, the composition of bookbinding, the sound of a whisper.

Materialism is resistant to all reduction.  Materialism is resistance.  The material is that which makes theory necessary, and that which resists all theory.  The material is the problematic.  It is material in the sense that it is the material we have to get through, the work that remains to be done, the endless remainder.  From the human perspective, the material always presents itself as work.  (Regardless of whether or not it is “raw”.)

Materialism should not be thought of as a moral injunction or an ethical stance or even a political ideology.  There is no scientific experiment that can prove that materialism is true.  Nor, for that matter, is there a rational logical proof of materialism.  Materialism is an aesthetic.  It is a matter of taste.  It is the love of work, the joy of labor.  It is the delight in details, messy details, facts that don’t add up, parts that don’t fit, left-overs, complications, oversights, that which is outside of any order, any harmony, any geometry.  Materialism is beauty’s self-overcoming.

The opposite of minimalism is not maximalism.  Properly conceived, maximalism is a kind of minimalism, just as love and hate are two sides of the same coin, while the true opposite of love is indifference.  At the opposite end of the spectrum from minimalism is materialism. 

But materialism is not the rejection of minimalism.  On the contrary, they necessitate each other, and cannot exist, as aesthetics, without each other.  Materialism only reveals itself in the heroic endeavor - and tragic failure - of minimalism.

In a similar way, we can think about materialism’s relationship to the absolute.  It is comical to think of materialism as an absolute truth, something known, something to which one dogmatically adheres, an ultimate reality.  “Aesthetic materialism” is a more honest phrase than any “absolute materialism.” 

An aesthetic materialist does not assert that materialism is “the truth” - only that materialism is preferred.  It is a matter of taste.  An aesthetic materialist is anyone who refuses to be closed off to the possibilities of experience and action, by any preconceived idea (including that of materialism).  This is not to say that materialism, as an aesthetics, is subjective, any more than the golden ratio, phi, (1.61803398874989...) is subjective, or unity of time, place, and action are subjective, or the rules of the Natyasastra, or any other system of aesthetics is subjective.  Absolute subjectivity (if this phrase has any meaning) would be a total absence of aesthetics, or at least of any aesthetic system.  To call myself an aesthetic materialist rather than an absolute materialist merely restores my agency and responsibility in this choice, which can be simply put: of all the myths that are available, I choose the materialist myth.

Though it is questionable whether an “absolute materialism” exists, or has any meaning, this does not mean that aesthetic materialism simply rejects the notion of any absolute.  Absolutism and relativism imply each other.  To say that “There are no absolutes” is, itself, a kind of absolute.  One cannot avoid the absolute.  We must put away childish things, grow up, and embrace relativism, for relativism is the highest, best, most sophisticated system.  But relativism requires the absolute in order to function.  And the absolute is only absolute relative to the relative.

A character is developed to the extent that it is realized.  A character is fully realized when she ceases to be an illustration or an example of a principle and stands there, irreducible, a hard nugget of perspective, a perspective you must take into consideration, with her nagging questions digging away at your certainty, her insistent thereness that defies all reflection, all attempt to philosophize her or to give her meaning.  What she said is simply what she said.  What she does is simply what she does.  What she is is what she is.  Asking why is an attempt at revision, an attempt to erase her, to efface her.  In history, there is no criticism.

[click here for part 2]


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