Notes from ART IN THE DARK by Thomas McEvilley

“This involves a presupposition that art is not a set of objects but an attitude toward objects, or a cognitive stance (as Oscar Wilde suggested, not a thing, but a way.) If one were to adopt such a stance to all of life, foregrounding the value of attention rather than issues of personal gain and loss, one would presumably have rendered life a seamlessly appreciative experience.”

“The idea that the artist is the work became a basic theme of the period in question. […] As early as 1959 James Lee Byars had exhibited himself, seated alone in the center of an otherwise empty room. Such gestures are fraught with strange interplays of artistic and religious forms, as the pedestal has always been a variant of the altar.”

“It should be emphasized that category by forced designation is the basis of many magical procedures. In the Roman Catholic mass, for example, certain well-known objects–bread and wine–are ritually designated as certain other objects–flesh and blood-which, in the manifest sense of everyday experience, they clearly are not; and the initiate who accepts the semantic rotation shifts his or her affection and sensibility accordingly.”

“Rejection of the Dionysian does not serve the purpose of clear and total seeing.”

“The OM Theatre performances open into dizzyingly distant antiquities of human experience. In form they are essentially revivals of the Dionysian ritual called the sparagmos, or dismemberment, in which the initiates, in an altered state produced by alcohol, drugs, and wild dancing, tore apart and ate raw a goat that represented the god Dionysus, the god of all thrusting and wet and hot things in nature. It was, in other words, a communion rite in which the partaker abandoned his or her individual identity to enter the ego-darkened paths of the unconscious and emerged, having eaten and incorporated the god, redesignated as divine. In such rites ordinary humanity ritually¬†appropriates¬†the aura of godhood, through the ecstatic ability to feel the Law of Identity and its contrary at the same time.”

“Euripides, an ancient forerunner of the Viennese artists, featured this subject in several works. Like Nitsch, he did so partly because this was the subject matter hardest for his culture, as for ours, to assimilate in the light of day. In the Bacchae especially he presents the dismemberment as a terrifying instrument of simultaneous self-abandonment and self-discovery. The Apollonian tragic hero, Pentheus, like our whole rationalist culture, thought his boundaries were secure, his terrain clearly mapped, his identity established. rejecting the Dionysian rite, which represents the violent tearing apart of all categories, he became its victim. Disguising himself as a maenad, or female worshiper or Dionysus, he attempted to observe the ritual, but was himself mistaken for the sacrificial victim, torn apart, and eaten raw. In short, his ego-boundaries were violently breached, the sense of his identity exploded into fragments that were then ground down into the primal substrate of Dionysian darkness which both underlies and overrides civilization’s attempts to elevate the conscious subject above nature.”

“Not only the individual elements of these works, but their patterns of combination–specifically the combination of female imitation, self-injury, and the seeking of dishonor through the performance of taboo acts–find striking homologies in shamanic activities.”

“Simeon Stylites, an early Christian ascetic in the Syrian desert, lived for the last 37 years of his life on a small platform on top of a pole.”

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