[-empyre-] of pain and others

Alan Sondheim sondheim at panix.com
Sun Oct 28 13:55:44 EST 2012

On Sun, 28 Oct 2012, Jonathan Marshall wrote:

> Hi Alan,
> I'm still not sure here. For example, to use some other easily 
> referenced points can we really describe ecstacy? even a moderate 'real' 
> orgasm? then there is the often remarked failure of the mystics to 
> convey the 'union with god', the breakdown of language - to some extent 
> this might also be about the failure of represenation when there is 
> no-person to do the representing, and others do not have a similar 
> experience, to resonate.

No emotion can be perfectly expressed, but unutterable pain or death can't 
be expressed at all it's different - it's why there are tests, as long as 
one can answer them.
> What i would say is that maybe i've had experiences of sheer joy a 
> couple of times in my late teens early twenties. The amount of art i 
> have experienced, which can help recall those experiences, or sustain 
> them is miniscule when compared to the amount of art which can sustain 
> or induce the sense of depression, meaninglessness, pain, pointlessness, 
> negation etc. (especially post mid 19th Century art)

Again, this is taste; I can name any number of artists who give me joy 
from that period. There's no verification procedure here; even someone 
like Rimbaud can be read as ecstatic or depressive.

> So my conclusion would be that it is far easier (or considered 
> important) to 'do' art around pain (in our world anyway).

Bad sociology! First you're using your reactions to the work and then 
making a sociological generalization from them. Good grief art can work in 
any number of ways around any number of themes; I just don't want to name 
names here, that's not relevant, and would only be my take on stuff.
> That it is not to say that it is easy to do art that maintains empathy 
> or overcomes state barriers or exclusions etc (which is a different 
> issue). That i think is very hard (and very worth attempting) and is why 
> songs with the potential to raise pity and self questioning are roughly 
> banned. There is perhaps no other defense - but the banning *can* add to 
> the potency, because it may make us listen harder to find what led to 
> the banning.
Confused - other than that Israeli song, I can't think of any that were 
banned. Even pop stuff, listen to Morrissey or the old U2 - none of this 
stuff was banned.

> unutterable joy. But that does not suppose a continuum, other than from 
> the *representable* to the *unrepresentable*, to the *hintable*...

Confused what you're saying here, apologies -

> But quite frankly, how do i 'know' what anyone means, or is attempting 
> to convey?
You don't which is why one take on language from AI is that it's the 
"mutual orientation of cognitive domains" which doesn't mean they're 
mappable or convey the same.

> each word, each gesture, may not only be social, but it is also 
> profoundly individual. it has particular meanings that are unique, but 
> it is not individual as it lives in interaction

Of course, language is both a commonality, consensus, and idiolect.
> Perhaps the more complex the statement, or the art, the more this is the 
> case. And indeed the more 'real' the art, the more it seems like it 
> stands on its own , being so rich in what it can provoke/say

Again, I don't understand your aesthetics; I don't know what "the more 
'real' the art" means at all, what it means for art to stand on its own, 
etc. etc.; to quote badly Foucault, art is a discursive formation.

> Ultimately i probably don't understand anyone, but at the same time if i 
> work (and art and communication require empathetic work from the 
> audience, even if it is only beforehand), i may gain an inkling.

Depends what you mean by "understand" - there's no "ultimately" but there 
is consensus enough so that, if I visit you, as I did, and say something, 
we can actually have a conversation.

> and that is true of anything not 'just' pain. Pain brings the 
> incomprehension to the fore, makes it harder to ignore, but it is always 
> there.

Argh, again pain is different, as is death. Think for a second, 
incorrectly, of pain as "just this side of death" - maybe that will help.

> However, of course, if we (as a moral decision) may want to act towards 
> the pain of others for alleviation or sympathy or coaction etc, then we 
> may decide those in pain need/require (not the right words, but let 
> communication fail) our attention and work more than those in 'harmless' 
> joy.... but let us not think that joy is easy to express and may not 
> separate.

I agree with the first part, not the second. Even popularly "Laugh, and 
you laugh with others; cry, and you cry alone." "Joy is contagious."

Mirror neurons! Empathy!

- Alan

> Perhaps i don't even know what i'm attempting to say
> jon
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