Cultural Discourse looks at a broad range of cultural issues.
2nd March 2018

Introducing the Art of Morpheus Lunae: On the Paternal Vulva

On the Art of Morpheus Lunae and the Paternal Vulva

by John David Ebert

“…how with shrinking hands he cut the incision in his thigh and carried him in his man’s womb, father and gracious mother at once, and well he remembered another birth, when his own head conceived, when his temple was big with child, and he carried that incredible unbegotten lump until he shot out Athena scintillating in her armour.” –Nonnos, Dionysiaca, Bk. 1.6-10

For Lacan, the Phallus existed on all three of his registers: on the level of the Real, the phallus is precisely the biological organ which we term the “penis.” But at the level of the Imaginary, the Phallus is a fantasy that the infant identifies with in order to impress his mother. He wishes to be the Phallus for her, the thing that keeps her interest focused on him and away from the Father. But in order for the individual to be properly initiated into the Big Other of society, a symbolic castration must take place, in which the individual realizes that he cannot be the phallus for the mother and that he must accede to the paternal authority which Lacan terms the Name of the Father. For him, the Father is sacrosanct, and the Phallus at the level of the Symbolic Order is precisely his authority. It’s a bit like Greek initiation into the Academy.

Lacan, however, completely ignored the vulva. For him, it had no metaphysical valency whatsoever, but I would suggest that the vulva, too, exists on all three registers: on the level of the Real, it is the pink, fleshy vagina that is the gateway and portal for all entities into this world; but the imaginary vulva is what I term the “metaphysical vulva” and it is not a physical thing at all, but a metaphysical reality that, once appropriated, accedes to the Symbolic Order of a society as a creative signification.

It was Heidegger who invented the so-called “metaphysical age” which he saw as beginning with Plato and continuing all the way down to Nietzsche–an age which Derrida termed “logocentric,” since meaning was firmly anchored in Transcendental Signifieds that were actually, in some way, “out there” and which could be reached by the Knower through a long, Hegelian pilgrimage through the Stations of the Cross, as it were, to match one’s concepts with their ultimate quilting points. All the metaphysical concepts of the metaphysical age, were, according to Lacan, anchored to what he called “quilting points,” and when slippages occurred–i.e. when a signifer came unglued from its signified–a psychosis could result, thus thrusting the individual back out of the Symbolic Order and into that swamp of images, myths and phantasies which he termed, dismissively, the imaginary order.

But it was Peter Sloterdijk who pointed out that the metaphysical age–in which the Paternal Authority reigned supreme–was preceded by a pre-metaphysical age, in which the ruling archai that governed the imaginary significations of a society were all gynocentric, to use Bachofen’s terminology. The signifiers were mythic and firmly rooted in the authority of the Great Mother. The vulva was her primary icon, for it was the source of all life and the ultimate signifier of all gateways to the Underworlds of initiation into her various Mysteries.

Heidegger’s metaphysical age, however, did not begin with Plato, but actually with Homer, and its primary characteristic was an appropriation of the metaphysical vulva from the Goddess and a dethroning and discrediting of her powers. Zeus claims the metaphysical vulva from the goddess and uses it to give birth to Athena, the goddess of wrath and Reason, from out of his skull–which has to be cloven open by the axe of Hephaestus. When Zeus gives birth to Dionysus, likewise, by retrieving his embryo from the shattered ruins of Semele and having it stitched into his thigh, he appropriates it again. (And note that when Hera parthenogenetically gives birth to the smith god Hephaestus, she attempts to reclaim the metaphysical vulva, now, however termed “the paternal vulva” in the metaphysical age [which includes Karl Jasper’s Axial Age and its various prophets–all men–who give birth to the Logos from out of their own skulls, where the paternal vulva now lies]).

Even the Jews got in on the game, for Moses and Homer are equally the architects of this age: when Yahweh takes the rib from the side of Adam and causes Adam to give birth to Eve, it is the paternal vulva at work once again, just as it is when the Christian God gives birth to Christ as the Logos from out of his own mind and appropriates the biological body of Mary as his vessel with which to do so. She, a virgin who never knows the pleasures of the phallus on the plane of the real, actually becomes an instance of the paternal vulva. The “Magnificat” in which she accedes to the Paternal Authority by saying “My soul doth magnify the Lord,” is really a way of saying, “My vagina will become the gateway of your will.”

In the Medieval epoch, the spear wound inflicted upon the side of Christ on the Cross was specifically meant to refer to the paternal vulva with which Adam gave birth to Christ. Here is an image of the vaginal wound from a fourteenth century psalter made for the Duchess of Burgundy:

Which brings us to the artwork of the new German artist Morpheus Lunae, in whose painting entitled “Folds VI: The Breaking Part,” he has perfectly compressed the image of the Crucifixion–a dead Transcendental Signified–with the paternal vulva. Myth is all about compression. It is actually the reverse of psychoanalysis, which attempts to decompress such images and sort them out and, especially in Lacan, to lift them out of the swamp of the imaginary register and transform them into the linguistic signifiers of the symbolic register, thus freeing the hapless patient from what Slavoj Zizek once derided as “the Plague of Fantasies.”

Fantasies, however, are not a plague. They are composed of images in the form of mythic compression of signifiers that have been densely interwoven as messages from deeper oracular zones within us. Each one of us, that is to say, contains a miniature Delphic Oracle within us from whence these mythically compressed images arise and which function as messages to us. Learning to read and decipher them is what straightens people out. Crushing and dismissing them via the Lacanian L-shcema is a complete failure to listen. Lacan comes to the Delphic Oracle like Apollo and kills its Python, thus wiping it out with his phallic sun rays. No more messages from the maternal vulva, but only from the Name of the Father, which is simply another name for the Paternal Vulva.

The paternal vulva is currently working out the final stages of the metaphysical age through science, in the form of in vitro fertilization, cloning, genetic engineering and test tube babies. These are all concretizations of the mythic vulva of the goddess now appropriated by Father Science. Indeed, there is currently a struggle going on for possession of the metaphysical vulva, and this forms the subtext of films such as the Alien and Blade Runner movies which do, indeed, come to us from the level of the imaginary. As James Hillman pointed out, they do not need to be translated into logocentric concepts in which their multiple meanings and ambiguities are crushed in the Name of the Father. Derridean sliding of signifiers, in which meaning proliferates like the heads of the Hydra, is the more apt image here.

What does the paternal vulva mean? The German artist Morpheus Lunae invites us to consider it through the process of aesthetic arrest before a single image which compresses multiple meanings into it. It is currently the hidden signifier of our culture, and the battle for its possession is the ultimate and final outcome of Heidegger’s metaphysical age.

I foresee a great future for Morpheus Lunae, who is following in the tradition of such great European surrealists as H.R. Giger and Zdzislaw Beksinski.

The art of Morpheus Lunae may be purchased here: https://www.etsy.com/shop/MorpheusLunae

And his Patreon page is available here: https://www.patreon.com/posts/folds-vii-viii-v-11587750

 

 

 

 

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15th January 2018

Heather Neil’s “The Bog Cutter,” A Cultural Archaeology

Heather Neil’s The Bog Cutter: A Cultural Archaeology

by John David Ebert

Heather Neil is an East Coast artist whose work is currently represented by the Sugarman-Peterson Gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Her various paintings are extraordinary works of Realism–although that term can, of course, be deceptive–but it is her 2014 masterpiece The Bog Cutter that I wish to focus on here as an example of the process of what I term “cultural compression.” Artists often paint in layers: Heather Neil, for instance, lays down a coat of gesso and then adds layer upon layer of paint on top of that, creating very dense and detailed images. But the psyche, too–as Freud pointed out–is capable of image compression, a phenomenon in which one image will contain many other images embedded inside of it. Only a cultural archaeology can dig out these images to reveal their stacked complexity. To do so is to reveal the particular Unconscious of the work of art in question. Each work, as we will see, comes equipped–just as each individual does–with its own collective unconscious.

The Bog Cutter depicts a man who is a stonemason by trade, although he agreed to pose for Neil in the attitude of one who digs up peat moss in order to use it for fuel for burning. (It is perhaps not insignificant that the melting of peat bogs in Russia is a major contributor to global warming, since these bogs contain highly compressed amounts of CO2 within them).

The image ghost of Jean-Francois Millet’s 1850 painting The Sower is unmistakably buried in Neil’s painting.

 

 

Millet’s painting is an example of strict realism, however; whereas the weird unearthly light that falls upon Neil’s bog cutter is mysterious: it looks as though it may emanate from a spotlight, and it catches him in a static pose, whereas Millet’s protagonist is in rapid, dynamic motion as he spreads his seeds across the ground, oblivious of an observer. Neil’s bog cutter is quite aware that he is being observed and even seems a bit irritated by the fact.

In 1888, Van Gogh produced three paintings which are embedded in Neil’s Bog Cutter. First, he did a reworking of Millet’s painting entitled The Sower with Setting Sun, as follows:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We note that the light source is now located behind the sower, although Van Gogh represents the world as though it were entirely self-luminous, like a piece of stained glass. For Millet, the sower is simply a matter of fact inhabitant of the countryside, but for Van Gogh, the entire world is a manifestation of Divine Radiance that shines with revelatory power through all things. The sower is no longer even the protagonist, but rather the power of Transcendence itself that luminesces through the whole canvas.

Also in 1888, Van Gogh painted a self-portrait of himself On the Way to Tarascon, in which he represents himself in the mode of a sort of artist as pilgrim along the Way. Now there is a distinct shadow represented on the ground beside him, almost as though it were another figure, the shadow side of Van Gogh’s troubled, unstable bipolar personality that would eventually consume and destroy him, just as this painting was destroyed during the Allied firebombings of World War II.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 1957, the great British painter Francis Bacon reworked Van Gogh’s painting in a work that he titled Study for a Portrait of Van Gogh. For Bacon, the shadow on the ground haunting Van Gogh takes on a becoming-animal quality and very much resembles a dog on a leash, as though to bring out the visceral, feral quality of the shadow that lived inside Van Gogh, and ultimately tore his psyche to pieces, like the hounds of Artemis who went after Actaeon after he dared glimpse her bathing nude. Bacon paints Van Gogh as though he were a shade encountered in some journey of the artist to the Underworld of art history, where all its iconotypes and shadow forms dwell.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 1888, Van Gogh also painted Pollard Willows with Setting Sun, in which three willow trees are represented as gnarled, bony figures very much resembling the three crosses of the traditional iconotype of the Crucifixion. It is as though Van Gogh had taken the figure of his own shadow from the ground and multiplied it threefold to produce a “natural crucifixion.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Returning now to Heather Neil’s The Bog Cutter of 2014, we note that the shadow that is cast on the ground at the bog cutter’s feet very much resembles a Crucifixion. The West’s great Master Signifier, that is to say–its ultimate iconotype and Transcendental Signified–now exists only in shadow form at the feet of a bog cutter whose process of digging up peat moss will contribute to the planetary crucifixion of global warming. Iconotypes in contemporary art haunt its various figures and images as shadow forms: that is to say, they still exist as shaping archetypes that glow through the images and which can be unearthed only by the process of the kind of cultural image archaeology that I have just demonstrated in this essay. It is also ironic that the source of the light that is casting the crucifixion shadow may not even be natural, but rather a studio light shining on a stonemason who has agreed to pose for Neil’s painting.

The Bog Cutter is a masterpiece of contemporary art.

Heather Neil’s work may be obtained by contacting the Sugarman-Peterson Gallery in Santa Fe. Their website is http://www.sugarmanpetersongallery.com/

Their phone number is 505 820-0010.

 

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12th December 2017

Introducing the Art of Annie Dover

On The Art of Annie Dover

by John David Ebert

Walking the salmon pink streets of the Plaza in Santa Fe, my attention was momentarily distracted by a small painting hanging on the wall of the Sugarman-Peterson Gallery. The painting, as it turns out, is entitled Streaming Light, and it depicts a lone woman in a blue dress sitting at a table in the Blue Corn Cafe quietly perusing a menu. She is the only person depicted in the painting, and I was at once drawn into the private world interior of her quiet, pensive silence. The emotional space drew me in like a planet pulled in by the curvature of the space warped by the mass of large stellar objects: her silence was the loudest thing on the street.

After inquiring of the owner, I discovered that the painting was done by one Annie Dover, a periodic occupant of Santa Fe, with her primary home situated in San Diego. And to my delight, the owner revealed a whole collection of paintings by this extraordinary Southwestern artist who has busied herself with mapping out the emotional contours of the Internet Age, an age which supposedly, through electronic technology, includes everybody, but which yet–as is evident in the art of Annie Dover–has ejected the individual subjectivity into ever more private, withdrawn and isolated emotional interiors.

“Who, if I cried out, among the angelic hierarchies / would hear me?” announced the poet Rilke in the first of his 1923 Duino Elegies. That annunciation was echoed by Heidegger in his 1927 Being and Time, in which he revealed that the ontological status of the contemporary inhabitant of the twentieth century was characterized by being-in-the-world as being thrown into the world, and therefore excluded from all cosmic immune systems. As the philosopher Peter Sloterdijk puts it, there have been three metaphysical world ages in the first of which being-in-the-world in the pre-metaphysical age meant being taken up into the body of the Great Mother during the epoch of Egypt and ancient Sumer. With the rise of the metaphphysical world age in the time of Homer and Moses, however, being-in-the-world meant being in the mind of the Father, for with the second generation of high civilization the powers of the Great Mother have been appropriated by the paternal vulva which has taken from the Great Mother her creative powers and turned them over to demiurges like Zeus and Yahweh who give birth to the logos from out of their own heads, just as Athena, the goddess of reason, is born, not from the mother’s body, but from the head of Zeus. In the post-metaphysical age, however, the individual has been simply thrown into the world in a state of shell-lessness, unprotected by any immune systems whatsoever, and exposed to the hazards of a world interior that has deworlded him from any and all locality whatsoever.

Observe the plight of the young woman in Waiting: she sits on a couch, by herself, in a tasteful living room gazing away from the viewer and looking quietly out the window. What she is waiting for we do not know: perhaps it is an Orpheus whom she is yearning will come to liberate her from captivity in the Underworld of global capitalism in which electronic technologies that have rendered the far near and the near far have come to exclude them.

The woman at her laptop in Greensleaves, with her back, significantly, turned away from the viewer, in a corner of some global cafe, is in dialogue with the art of German Romantic painters like Georg Friedrich Kersting’s Woman Embroidering who likewise sits with her back to the viewer as she works upon some hidden textile.

The difference, however, between the two worlds is one of entirely differing ontologies: in Kersting’s art, his protagonists are embedded in the metaphysical world of Infinite Space in which strong Subjects confronted Objects in a realm in which meaning was guaranteed and anchored in the various Transcendental Signifieds that guaranteed that there was a meaning to the world they occupied; whereas the protagonists of the art of Annie Dover exist in private world spaces into which they have been cast off by a public sphere that has failed to take them into account, and situate them in a horizon of meaning. Dover’s subjects are “beings who have been abandoned by Being,” as Heidegger would put it.

The woman in Expresso, gazing into the electronic window of her laptop is participating in a technology that, far from what it advertises as “social media” is making her feel more alone than ever before. The virtual entities and avatars animated by the world space of cyberspace have receded away from her across a horizon that is ever more and more remote. As the world interior of capital has grown, so the micro-spaces of individuals who feel excluded from it has receded into ever smaller and more remote world corners. Like the various objects of the art of Joseph Beuys–pianos covered in felt, or records soaked in paint–which have receded from functionality and withdrawn from any ability whatsoever to communicate their traditional functions as objects embedded within a world horizon that gave them their meaning–what Heidegger called Zuhandenheit--so the entities in the broken, fragmented worlds of Annie Dover have inexplicably lost their ability to communicate.

Indeed, the very fact that they never meet the viewer’s eye emphasizes and highlights their disengagement from all human feedback loops. Unlike the portrait studies of the various individuals of Renaissance and Baroque art, who meet the viewer’s gaze as transcendental Subjectivities embedded in a functioning macrosphere, the entities in Dover’s works have come unplugged from all collective social assemblages whatsoever. The world into which they are supposed to be protected by meaningful metaphysical immune systems has failed them. They have been disincluded from the world interior of capital.

The girl in Street Singer who plays her guitar on the street in front of the cafe window has averted her gaze from the viewer and is focused only upon the object that gives her any kind of meaning at all. The failure to meet the viewer’s gaze suggests a breakdown and fragmentation of the social order. The viewer, try though he or she might, simply cannot reach into the worlds of these individuals and connect to them. The age of connectivity does not, it seems, apply to the social order, but only the gadgets that illuminate a virtual world from within.

It was Gunther Anders who said that the advent of the television into the living room significantly changed the seating patterns of what had previously been the Family Dinner: instead of meeting each other’s gazes directly across the table and fostering community and conversation, the television averts their gazes from each other to form an intersubjective communion with the new Electronic Presence that cuts through such relationships and melts them down with its swimming-pool blue plasma.

The art of Annie Dover is an art that drew me out of my own private space as a flaneur and brought me, through their powerful emotional cartographies, into the quiet corners of the various cafes and restaurants in which such lonesome and solemn individuals go on with their lives disconnected from Being. She is a profound poet of the soul of contemporary hypermodernity: her work belongs to the same world horizons as the poetry of Rilke or the paintings of Edward Hopper. They seem to suggest that there is something in the human soul that is not being reached by the new technologies of planetary shrinkage that make the earth ever smaller in direct proportion to the degree to which it makes individuals ever more and more cut off from one another. The various feedback loops created by smartphones and laptops increasingly disconnect the relations of individuals from one another and foster linkages with tiny self-luminous machines that beckon with a phantasmatic power for them to leave their bodies and become avatars in an electronic phase space that retrieves the age of stained glass with all its Biblical denizens and their profound and meaningful agonies. The avataric entities in the electronic phase space, however, are slick, glib and essentially meaningless. They touch only the surfaces of the human subjectivity and fail–as was the job of poetry once upon a time–to reach inside their souls and turn the inner world into the outer landscape of social significations.

You cannot afford to overlook her art and it is now available for sale at the Sugarman-Peterson gallery in Santa Fe.

Here is the link to their website: http://sugarmanpetersongallery.com

The paintings are affordable and I highly recommend snatching them up before they recede into the world interior of capitalism itself that is currently encasing the planet in an etheric hypersphere of deworlded entities and circulating numbers.

 

 

 

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16th April 2017

Ebert’s new Gilgamesh Epic is out!

 

 

An excerpt from Gilgamesh Redux by John David Ebert:

This book can be ordered here: https://www.amazon.com/Gilgamesh-Redux-John-David-Ebert/dp/1545388962/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1492470617&sr=8-1&keywords=gilgamesh+redux

LUGALBANDA

 

the army of enmerkar on its way to aratta:

a horizon splayed with sticks of bronze spears heavy chariots copper helmets human swarm of living flies ravaging the planar surface of the flat carnelian desert

coffee brown fog of dust sand debris unleashed from a cleft in the earth that stains the lapis blue sky to erase the sun a dim copper disk wan and pale in the vanilla air eyes ripped out of their sockets teeth made into mortars and pestles grinding sand a dustrain that draws the onagers pulling the carts to a dead stop

a sickness ravaged lugalbanda the eighth son of enmerkar and he plunged to the sand a mud effigy as his seven brothers surrounded him raised him up and carried him upon their shoulders a pale christ walking mourners in a death dirge to the mouth of a nearby cave an ancient paleolithic mausoleum for the gods uttu ninhursag and inanna would not heed them and he was laid out flat on his back gone wasted and wrack with fever and ruinous dread of the demon that the sandstorm had blown inside of him some wayward creature with blue splayed batwings thin spindly legs and a ruinous gibbering toothless mouth that had blown into him and now had him turned upside down

Read the rest of this entry »

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17th May 2016

Ebert’s New Book is Out!

Order here: https://www.createspace.com/6281634

myths gods

Preface

The essays collected in this book constitute, as it were, a sort of retrospective of two decades as an American cultural critic. None have previously appeared in book form, however, and most of them have never been published before. Only the first two essays, “Visions of a Biomechanical Apocalypse (First Version)” and “Ancient Myth and Modern Science” were published in periodicals (the now defunct Lapis and Parabola magazine, respectively).[i] I did “publish” my essay about the Unabomber on my blog at cultural-discourse.com, and also my piece on Thomas Pynchon’s novel V. that concludes this collection, but those essays are no longer available on my web site. The rest of the essays were simply lying around on my laptop in varying stages of completion, and all have been rewritten, polished, and given new coats of paint.

The essays were selected by me for this collection because they all hover around what has been the core theme of my career as a cultural critic: namely, the tensions between ancient ritual, symbol and myth on the one hand, and the constant barrage of technological innovations on the other, innovations that have destabilized these traditions, sometimes wiping them out completely, and at other times discrediting the transcendental spinal axes holding them upright. Gianni Vattimo has not called this the age of “soft truths” for nothing.[ii]

As any reader of my books knows very well, I never arrange my essays haphazardly, and the case is no less so with the present collection despite its apparent diversity, for it is arranged in “epochs” in order to tell a story: the history of the transformation of the gods into consumer icons and pop culture signifiers. The opening two essays in the section entitled “Tensions Between Myth and Science” form a sort of prologue that sets up some of the basic problems: the first essay, “Visions of a Biomechanical Apocalypse (First Version)” raises the possibility that one day our Western civilization may crumble into ruins like the shattered Roman Colosseum pictured in Thomas Cole’s 1832 painting Interior of the Colosseum, or the rubble of antiquity that is so frequently depicted in the art of Frederic Edwin Church. The essay should be regarded, then, as a sort of literary equivalent to one of those paintings, although it takes the perspective of someone from the future looking back on the ruins of Technological Civilization.

The second essay, “Ancient Myth and Modern Science” suggests that scientists, when creating theories about the origin and evolution of the universe may be unconsciously drawing upon mythic structures to organize their narratives (a point not original with me, however, for it has been made by William Irwin Thompson and others).[iii] But the essay therefore suggests the possibility of a mythologized science, one which does not discredit myths but actually returns them to us in a new guise. Indeed, science may one day rescue metaphysics for us from the rubble heap of the collapsed metaphysical age, since the stories brought back from near death survivors, if true, tell of a strange and beautifully luminous Other World that may exist beyond death. Nietzsche’s critique of the fable of the “true world” created by humanity as a metaphysical comfort for the sufferings of this one may turn out to have been wrong after all.[iv]

The book’s second division, “The Pre-Metaphysical Age: From the Neolithic to Ancient Sumer,” is composed, likewise, of two essays. The metaphysical age is a concept that was invented by Heidegger,[v] which he demarcated as extending from Plato to Husserl and then theoretician Peter Sloterdijk added his concept of a pre-metaphysical age[vi] (equivalent to Jean Gebser’s mythical consciousness structure), whereas Gianni Vattimo (and others) has mostly worked out the consequences of the post-metaphysical age of contemporary modernity.

The first essay of this section, “On the Symbolism of Tools: Hoe and Sickle” sketches out the idea that most tools do not, and have not, originated with pure functionality in mind, but almost always as part of a ritual context controlled by mythological signifieds. Hence, the genealogical line that can be traced from the Acheulean hand axe of Homo erectus—too heavy to be of any practical use—to Thor’s hammer to the judge’s gavel traces out the evolution of the implement from a mythological to a merely secularized juridical context. Mythological signifieds act as controlling ideas on technical implements until their original meanings are forgotten and they are displaced to other contexts, becoming semantically depleted in the process. It is a bit like visiting ancient Hohokam ruins in the Arizona desert, wondering what happened to all the people who once lived there and have now left behind only enigmatic crumbling shells whose meaning and significance are long since forgotten.

The second essay in this section tells the story of the tensions between two ancient Sumerian deities, one an agrarian god and inventor of the plough named Ninurta, and the other a patron god of craftsmen named Enki. The chapter describes the battles between these two gods, one from the more northerly city of Nippur and the other from the southernmost city of Eridu, and finds that even back then, more than five thousand years ago, there were tensions between farmers and craftsmen of the towns inside the walls like blacksmiths.

The next section, “The Dawning of the Metaphysical Age,” is composed of only one essay, an analysis of the imagery of this book’s cover painting by the Dutch Utrecht artist Dirck van Baburen entitled Prometheus Being Chained by Vulcan. The deed, as Hesiod makes clear, is an epochal one that brings the Golden Age to a close and inaugurates the rule of Zeus with his victory over the pre-metaphysical age Titans, crowned by his stealing the metaphysical vulva from the Great Mother and giving birth to Athena, goddess of the age of (logocentric) wisdom and rationality that will soon follow. From Athena—who condemns the pre-metaphysical age Furies of matriarchy—to Plato’s separation of Being from Becoming through elevation of the Forms to pure transcendence, there is only a short leap. Both are masculinist feats which inaugurate Heidegger’s metaphysical age.

The book’s final section, “The Post-Metaphysical Age” is composed of four essays: the first is an analysis of the great writer Paul Bowles, who was a sort of tangential member of the Beats, and whose 1949 novel The Sheltering Sky was already moving ahead into the post-metaphysical age—just as Mark Rothko’s paintings were doing at about the same time[vii]—and showing us the consequences of the collapse of the Transcendental Signifieds that once anchored the Western tradition in an age of ritual, myth and philosophical metaphysics. With those signifieds gone, the couple who form the protagonists of the novel find themselves—as do we moderns—adrift, floating across the Saharan desert without aim, purpose or direction only to end up with disastrous consequences (a fable that perfectly describes our contemporary situation).

In the next essay, “Heidegger vs. Coca-Cola,” the ancient tradition of the conservative agrarian (or in Heidegger’s case, rustic) who objects to the technological transformations of modernity are scaled down to two signifiers as metonyms to make the case that not everyone is so enchanted with all these gadgets —which Heidegger calls “mere objects” as opposed to “Things,” the former abandoned and cut off from Being while the latter remain anchored precisely in Being.[viii] Heidegger was one of the first thinkers to warn of the consequences of nihilism and superficiality that such a consumer world—which I have simplified in the essay to the signifier of “Coca-Cola,”—cut adrift from everything local and rooted in meaning and tradition, would bring about.

In the penultimate essay on Ted Kaczynski, the rustic’s resentment against Industrial modernity becomes deadly and degenerates from the plane of the Imaginary and the Symbolic back to the zoological violence of the Real that begins, and also ends, every high civilization (all of them eventually disappear into a cloud of vaporized signifiers—whether they are “vaporized” by Christian lynch mobs, say, or philosophical extermination, as in the case of the wiping out and absorption of Buddhism in India). Kaczynski tried to play the game first on the plane of the Symbolic with his essay on “Industrial Society and its Future” but did not have the patience or tenacity to learn the craft of writing and go through the agon of finding a market for his ideas. So he resorted to another craft altogether, that of bomb-making, and began mailing bombs to the various men of science whom he saw as the originators of the shallow signifiers of consumer society floating all around us. By deleting those men from existence, he supposed that the source of such signifiers—Coca-Cola, for instance—would simply disappear and Industrial society eventually crumble and collapse in on itself: exactly the vision that I sketched out in this book’s opening essay.

The concluding essay, then, comes back full circle—in mythical fashion—with a discussion of Thomas Pynchon’s novel V., just as it opens with a brief image from that novel in the inceptual essay. But this time the consequences of the floating signifier known as “V.” are fathomed, for Pynchon represents it as a signifier that simply will not stick to any Signifieds whatsoever. Herbert Stencil’s inability to even verify the existence of the woman “V” is testament to the fact that meaning now in the post-post-modern age is nowhere to be found since all signifiers are sliding and skidding free of their signifieds and can therefore be made to refer to anything whatsoever.

So, those are the nine or so exhibits that form this author’s retrospective glance backwards at a two-decade long career as an American cultural critic in an age when the publishing ecosphere that once enabled such individuals to thrive has simply popped like one of Peter Sloterdijk’s macrospheres and disappeared, leaving the individual to become a rogue scavenger foraging for sustenance entirely on his own.

The essays, then, tell two stories: the obvious one is that just outlined above, of the gradual transformation of those Transcendental Signifieds—Derrida’s term[ix]—once known as the gods into Plato’s Forms and the Christian Logos, and then eventually into the philosophical signifieds of philosophers like Kant and Hegel that anchored the metaphysical tradition’s last century of existence before it was ruptured by Nietzsche and Heidegger, and then later with French postmodern thought. With the semiotic vacancies left in the Western metaphysical Clearing opened up, ads, icons (in their semantically depleted sense) and commercials instead of Ideas began to “unconceal” themselves from out of the darkness of the Heideggerian woods and to substitute a world of rapidly evanescent signifiers for one anchored in meaning and tradition.

The other story told by this retrospective is a disguised autobiography, one that tells the tale of a cultural critic’s evolution from the study of comparative mythology to that of Critical Theory and media studies. Unlike most critical theoreticians of today, I began in the field of ritual, symbol and myth—which I studied for about a decade and a half from 1990 to approximately 2005 or so—and then gradually moved out of it when I realized that the field was becoming depleted of ideas and so moved on into the fields of media studies and finally contemporary postmodern philosophy, where ideas were still rich and full of possibilities. I saw that there was much work to be done in combining all three fields—comparative mythology, media studies and continental Critical Theory—to be applied toward an analysis of our contemporary moment.

It has been difficult, however, if not impossible, to make a living doing this sort of thing these days outside the university system—and even there, professors tell me it is becoming more and more difficult to survive at all—but at least I have managed to do it, against all advice from friends and family members, for two decades, and have produced 19 books, a website and countless YouTube video lectures as a result of my stubborn tenacity.

I hope you enjoy the retrospective.

                                                                                                           –April, 2016 (Mesa, Arizona)

 

Preface

[i] For “Visions of a Biomechanical Apocalypse,” see Lapis #5, 1997, although the essay has been slightly rewritten and polished up for inclusion in the present volume. The Lapis essay was expanded, revised and changed completely to become a chapter in my second book Celluloid Heroes & Mechanical Dragons, but it scarcely resembles its original prototype, which is why I have included it here and called the “First Version.” For “Ancient Myth and Modern Science,” see Parabola magazine, Fall, 2008, although here again I have revised and slightly rewritten the essay.

   [ii] See Gianni Vattimo, A Farewell to Truth, trans. William McCuaig, (Columbia University Press, 2014).

   [iii] For instance see William Irwin Thompson, Imaginary Landscape: Making Worlds of Myth and Science (NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 1989) or Misia Landau, Narratives of Human Evolution (Yale University Press, 1991).

   [iv] See “How the ‘True World’ Finally Became a Fable” in Twilight of the Idols, collected in The Portable Nietzsche, ed. and trans. Walter Kaufmann, (NY: Penguin Books, 1968), 485ff.

   [v] See “The End of Philosophy and the Task of Thinking” in Martin Heidegger, Basic Writings, trans. David Farrell Krell (NY: Harper Perennial, 2008), 427ff.

   [vi] See Peter Sloterdijk and Hans-Jurgen Heinrichs, Neither Sun Nor Death, trans. Steve Corcoran (Los Angeles: Semiotexte, 2011), 167.

   [vii] See the chapter “Mark Rothko” in John David Ebert, Art After Metaphysics (NY: Create Space, 2013), 53ff.

   [viii] Martin Heidegger, Country Path Conversations, trans. Bret W. Davis (Indiana University Press, 2010), 128.

   [ix] See “Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences,” in Jacques Derrida, Writiing and Difference, trans. Alan Bass (The University of Chicago Press, 1978), esp. 280.

 

 

 

 

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