2.1-2.3 More Crumbling Dualities (Charles Eisenstein)
In Session 1 the panel has been demolishing key dualities, such as mind/body, reason/emotion, and human/nature. That is not to say that these dualities shed no light on the human being, but that when reified they become polarizing lenses that filter out the entanglements between them. Now we move on to form/content, as well as two more implicit binaries: in 2.1, that implied in the word “aesthetic,” which for a long time (at least since Kant) has carried connotations of formalism and anti-utilitarianism, and in 2.2, the distinction between symbol and object implied by “meaning.” So I think the panel will probably proceed to dismantle these dualities as well. I’ll start us off: The herbalist-philosopher Stephen Harrod Buhner makes a strong case that the vaunted human uniqueness of the use of symbol is just another anthropocentric conceit. What qualitative difference is there, he asks, between insect pheromones and spoken words? His point is all the more valid when we accept the somatic dimension of cognition. When we can’t isolate cognition in the brain (or nonmaterial mind), then necessarily the distinction between symbol and direct causal agent breaks down as well. This has obvious consequences for the question of meaning in art raised in 2.2. We cannot separate it from the physical impact on the body – which of course depends on the full set of embodied relations referred to in 2.1. Ultimately, the breakdown of these dualities entails the breakdown of the distinction between fine and applied arts, and even the category of art altogether. I’m sure scholars have discussed in exhaustive depth the definitions and undefinability of art, so I’ll end here before I venture too far out of my depth.