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The Tyranny of the Horizontal: a Call for a Creative Uprising

The Spectral aspect of the Enlightenment…the “cruel instrumentality of Reason” – “flattens permissible consciousness into one big 2-D map” (Adorno)…Hence the contemporary plague of meaninglessness: we all feel its germs lurking behind some thin scrim of hygienic daylight.  Collapse of ethics.  No thought for seven generations. Stop forest fires by cutting down forests.

– Peter Lamborn Wilson, in 5thEstate,vol. 37 #4

To [do research in “anarchist spirituality”] means participation, a willingness to hallucinate and be swept away beyond the Censor of Enlightened Reason, perhaps even into the daemonic.

– Ibid

The conviction credited to Albert Camus, used by Howard Zinn in his People’s History of the U.S., that says “in a world of conflict, a world of victims and executioners, it is the job of thinking people not to be on the side of the executioners” seems to me to be morally correct, though it’s too “black and white” for modern tastes conditioned to prefer “wiggle room” and gray areas.  Such a peremptory statement is too certain and authoritative for us. It’s not nuanced enough for  the neoliberal environment that allows us to both acknowledge the genocide of native Americans and the slave trade and to treat these as  not sufficiently evil to force us to re-evaluate everything about our way of life within the flattened “2-D” horizontalism we’re left in (since the Death of God).  Fortunately for those like me who are maladjusted to bourgeois amorality, authors are expected to be authoritative, and the greatest of them – writers like James Baldwin, H.D. Thoreau, D.H. Lawrence, Albert Camus, etc., speak with authority, without apology.  In time, often after being reviled in their own time, they become among that “elite” who are commonly cited, and, because they thrillingly exemplify freedom, loved and revered.

To me, this exception we make for literary authors to reflexive liberal anti-authoritarianism, is a clue to the possibility of escape from 2-D reality.  Since the 70’s Feminist movement,  we have learned to idealize horizontal power arrangements over the vertical or hierarchical ones that characterize patriarchy.   At the same time, it is impossible not to notice that top-down power arrangements that serve the few at the top rather than the many at the bottom,  prevail in America today, perhaps even more so than in the 70’s. The intensity on the left when a Supreme Court appointment – that utmost seat of authority – falls to a Republican president,  while the actual ongoing multi-front evils of creeping neoliberalism continue almost unnoticed, may suggest an unconscious obsession with authority.  A huge flaw exists in this ideal of horizontal relationships as  practiced in shared  liberal bourgeois reality. It pretends that genuine authority, i.e., a basis for conviction that motivates action on behalf of the Truth of the in-common, interdependent whole, does not exist. The avoidance of such conviction, such a standpoint,  has left liberal anti-authoritarianism vapid, banal, and bankrupt.  Because of their need for identity and rank in the existing order, liberals ignore the only real existent authority, which is the individual inner authority located in the creative, pluralistic, irrational and organically moral soul.

The reverence I feel for Thoreau or Orwell or John Cowper Powys comes not from their position of authority in a hierarchy of power, but because through their connection to their creative imaginations (or souls), they speak prophetically, which is to say, they speak not only to the rationally thinking  head,  but to the heart.  Through their art, the writers, poets, prophets, that comprise our humanities tradition were able in their time to overcome the horizontal pressure from social peers not to be better than anybody else, or different from everybody else. Through their art, they appropriated hierarchy for the purpose of freedom.   

If there is any hope left for clarity of thought in the midst of pervasive banality, and for moral purpose in the face of aggressive amorality, doesn’t it make sense we each must take the next step and become  in like manner the authors of our own authority?  If we are to have a prayer of living by the values of that better world we dream of, surely we each must claim that authority to speak, just as if it were our dutyto do so.  Conveniently, we  excuse ourselves from the sphere of artists and geniuses whom we elevate to be the creative ones  for the rest of us non-geniuses.  What if, instead, I (and you) take on creative self expression (leaving “art” broadly defined of course) as my duty?  In so taking an action that clearly is not reasonable,  this insurrection against the total oppression of 2-D reality opens a standpoint that otherwise remains hidden.  The artist’s standpoint, located outside the culture, allows the whole to be seen.   No longer speaking for the shallow self-interested egoic “I” that compulsively embeds with capitalism, the authoritative voice speaks for the embodied soul and its never ceasing process, its deep roots connecting all of humankind, all inhabitants of the natural world and nature itself.

On one hand, I’m proposing a very different, less stratified world of art and artists than what we have. The art world does in fact need some leveling.  I’m not saying everyone can be a great artist.  I’m saying, in line with Dr. Jung’s usage, and with meanings derived from classical Latin and Greek languages (and echoed in Picasso’s famous words: “Every child is born an artist.  The problem is to remain one after growing up”) that each individual, at birth, contains a genius or daemon, an existing “seed” or “acorn” that reveals in its unfolding the destiny of that person.  “Genius,” unlike we’re taught, is not rare; it is discernible when individual desire is freed from the top-down suppression of desire that is the rule in our educations.  We learn to fear that freedom more than desire it, but considering the universality of desire and longing, can it be just to encourage the artist or genius in some and not in everyone?

On the other hand, the routine discarding of  inborn “genius” in order to make a living on capitalism’s terms,  amounts to the renunciation of innermost authentic authority in favor of outer authority (i.e., state, government, schools and all other institutions including families) and thus has political consequences, i.e.,  a preference for obedience and passivity over initiative, creativity and leadership. Unaware of their dutyto their creative genius, withits mythic-level unfolding story, people can be only partial, their spirit and spiritual strength fatally hobbled. Too weak for freedom, they are dependent always upon a consensus agreement coming down from the dominant social order to confirm for them that they are on the “right” side.  Disobedience to this unspoken rule that rules out eros would make a more effective call to revolution than Marxism, Socialism, or even Anarchism.  If the “left” is ever to regain a moral authority, not to mention energy and a sense of humor, it is in our common interest that the “artist” or “genius” in each person develop and be expressed.  Surely a just, egalitarian, and free society would insist on this, rather than insisting, as ours does, on more “STEM” curricula in public and charter schools to produce more servants for the technocracy.

For those stakeholders in the art world who insist that art must be for arts’ sake alone, we assure them we are not talking about socialist or political art.  We are saying art-making depends on roots nourished in the common ground of the universal creative soul.  To claim to be above or apart from humanity’s struggle – to be free not enslaved, to be sovereign rather than ruled and exploited for others’ purposes, etc.  – leaves the artist a member of an exclusive club in a hierarchy of talent.   The self-identified artist owes herself and us a confession; she must reveal her/his “standpoint,” and not hide it behind conceptual intellectualism.  She has to plainly indicate her art is not on the side of the executioner without fear that such naked revelation may hinder her being considered for an NEH grant, or for publication in the New Yorker, or her making that big sale, or that it may incur the disapproval of colleagues.  There will be a cost.  Not every artist who courageously resists the horizontally tyrannical system ends up a Neil Young or a Bob Dylan.  For most it will mean a lifelong befriendment of poverty.  We must believe however, or know, that what we create from this devotion to the creative genius will touch and enliven the souls of others.  It will make a bond with our fellow humans at a deep and soul-nourishing level that most people, by now areligious and “apoetic” as well as apolitical, have lost the language for.  It will embody the anarchist vision of an interdependent egalitarian and just world for everyone.

With humanity degraded and diminished in our time, it may be difficult to see that what I’m really asking for is not “only” for people to serve their creative geniuses, but for the return of men and women actors to the stage of history.  A man who is a man serves his innermost authority, his soul or conscience and its  feminizing influence–not the flag or the military might of the nation, not the world as defined by MSNBC and the New York Times, not the subtler pressure of his friends and family. True men and true women following personal visions for  a better world arepitted directly against the horizontal pressure to conform that is neoliberal capitalism’s “trump” card.  By its measure, their behavior is irrational, foolish, perhaps insane, definitely stupid.   Creative people who do not correctly understand their relation to the dominant and ongoing dehumanization, will likely fall into the trap of defining their uphill struggle in terms of their own inadequacy, or in terms of their living in the wrong place, or other outer-imposed limitations, rather than understanding that their vision, their desire, opposes them to the top-down neoliberal context that is not benign.   Currently, I fear some of our community visionaries here in Utica, those starting much needed small businesses or community-serving non-profits lack the understanding that their struggle to realize their vision is the struggle of humanity for its right to exist.  It is the struggle for the “bottom-up,” locally-bonded, stable conditions that have been shown over time to be human-supporting. They do not realize that their small business is insurgent.  In the eyes of the hegemonic capitalist reality their upstart enterprise places them not among the bourgeois but with “the rabble,” the fear of whose uprising by those at the top, beginning with the Founding Fathers, has cost us the promised freedom and justice for all.

Though in the neoliberal world fascism now wears a confusingly benign face (for white people) behind which all institutions and the media manage never to hint that the world is made up of victims and executioners – in the sea of banality – the avenue to not being on the side of the executioner still exists. Even though the 60’s revolutionary spirit was lost due to failure to realize the revolution is duty [to God or gods now hidden in immanence],it is never too late to challenge fascistic authority at its  frontline in the individual soul and thereon build a world safe for all souls.

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Kim C. Domenico, reside in Utica, New York, co-owner of Cafe Domenico (a coffee shop and community space),  and administrator of the small nonprofit independent art space, The Other Side.  Seminary trained and ordained,  but independently religious. She can be reached at: kodomenico@verizon.net.

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